Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews
by Thomas Henry Huxley
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Ce qu'il y a d'etonnant, est que pour arriver a ces connoissances il semble avoir perverti l'ordre naturel, pui-qu'au lieu de s'attacher d'abord a rechercher l'origine de notre globe il a commence par travailler a s'instruire de la nature. Mais a l'entendre, ce renversement de l'ordre a ete pour lui l'effet d'un genie favorable qui l'a conduit pas a pas et comme par la main aux decouvertes les plus sublimes. C'est en decomposant la substance de ce globe par une anatomie exacte de toutes ses parties qu'il a premierement appris de quelles matieres il etait compose et quels arrangemens ces memes matieres observaient entre elles. Ces lumieres jointes a l'esprit de comparaison toujours necessaire a quiconque entreprend de percer les voiles dont la nature aime a se cacher, ont servi de guide a notre philosophe pour parvenir a des connoissances plus interessantes. Par la matiere et l'arrangement de ces compositions il pretend avoir reconnu quelle est la veritable origine de ce globe que nous habitons, comment et par qui il a ete forme."—Pp. xix. xx.

But De Maillet was before his age, and as could hardly fail to happen to one who speculated on a zoological and botanical question before Linnaeus, and on a physiological problem before Haller, he fell into great errors here and there; and hence, perhaps, the general neglect of his work. Robinet's speculations are rather behind, than in advance of, those of De Maillet; and though Linnaeus may have played with the hypothesis of transmutation, it obtained no serious support until Lamarck adopted it, and advocated it with great ability in his "Philosophie Zoologique."

Impelled towards the hypothesis of the transmutation of species, partly by his general cosmological and geological views; partly by the conception of a graduated, though irregularly branching, scale of being, which had arisen out of his profound study of plants and of the lower forms of animal life, Lamarck, whose general line of thought often closely resembles that of De Maillet, made a great advance upon the crude and merely speculative manner in which that writer deals with the question of the origin of living beings, by endeavouring to find physical causes competent to effect that change of one species into another, which De Maillet had only supposed to occur. And Lamarck conceived that he had found in Nature such causes, amply sufficient for the purpose in view. It is a physiological fact, he says, that organs are increased in size by action, atrophied by inaction; it is another physiological fact that modifications produced are transmissible to offspring. Change the actions of an animal, therefore, and you will change its structure, by increasing the development of the parts newly brought into use and by the diminution of those less used; but by altering the circumstances which surround it you will alter its actions, and hence, in the long run, change of circumstance must produce change of organization. All the species of animals, therefore, are, in Lamarck's view, the result of the indirect action of changes of circumstance upon those primitive germs which he considered to have originally arisen, by spontaneous generation, within the waters of the globe. It is curious, however, that Lamarck should insist so strongly[64] as he has done, that circumstances never in any degree directly modify the form or the organization of animals, but only operate by changing their wants and consequently their actions; for he thereby brings upon himself the obvious question, how, then, do plants, which cannot be said to have wants or actions, become modified? To this he replies, that they are modified by the changes in their nutritive processes, which are effected by changing circumstances; and it does not seem to have occurred to him that such changes might be as well supposed to take place among animals.

When we have said that Lamarck felt that mere speculation was not the way to arrive at the origin of species, but that it was necessary, in order to the establishment of any sound theory on the subject, to discover by observation or otherwise, some vera causa, competent to give rise to them; that he affirmed the true order of classification to coincide with the order of their development one from another; that he insisted on the necessity of allowing sufficient time, very strongly; and that all the varieties of instinct and reason were traced back by him to the same cause as that which has given rise to species, we have enumerated his chief contributions to the advance of the question. On the other hand, from his ignorance of any power in Nature competent to modify the structure of animals, except the development of parts, or atrophy of them, in consequence of a change of needs, Lamarck was led to attach infinitely greater weight than it deserves to this agency, and the absurdities into which he was led have met with deserved condemnation. Of the struggle for existence, on which, as, we shall see, Mr. Darwin lays such great stress, he had no conception; indeed, he doubts whether there really are such things as extinct species, unless they be such large animals as may have met their death at the hands of man; and so little does he dream of there being any other destructive causes at work, that, in discussing the possible existence of fossil shells, he asks, "Pourquoi d'ailleurs seroient-ils perdues des que l'homme n'a pu operer leur destruction?" (Phil. Zool., vol. i. p. 77.) Of the influence of selection Lamarck has as little notion, and he makes no use of the wonderful phaenomena which are exhibited by domesticated animals, and illustrate its powers. The vast influence of Cuvier was employed against the Lamarckian views, and, as the untenability of some of his conclusions was easily shown, his doctrines sank under the opprobium of scientific, as well as of theological, heterodoxy. Nor have the efforts made of late years to revive them tended to re-establish their credit in the minds of sound thinkers acquainted with the facts of the case; indeed it may be doubted whether Lamarck has not suffered more from his friends than from his foes.

Two years ago, in fact, though we venture to question if even the strongest supporters of the special creation hypothesis had not, now and then, an uneasy consciousness that all was not right, their position seemed more impregnable than ever, if not by its own inherent strength, at any rate by the obvious failure of all the attempts which had been made to carry it. On the other hand, however much the few, who thought deeply on the question of species, might be repelled by the generally received dogmas, they saw no way of escaping from them, save by the adoption of suppositions, so little justified by experiment or by observation, as to be at least equally distasteful.

The choice lay between two absurdities and a middle condition of uneasy scepticism; which last, however unpleasant and unsatisfactory, was obviously the only justifiable state of mind under the circumstances.

Such being the general ferment in the minds of naturalists, it is no wonder that they mustered strong in the rooms of the Linnaean Society, on the 1st of July of the year 1858, to hear two papers by authors living on opposite sides of the globe, working out their results independently, and yet professing to have discovered one and the same solution of all the problems connected with species. The one of these authors was an able naturalist, Mr. Wallace, who had been employed for some years in studying the productions of the islands of the Indian Archipelago, and who had forwarded a memoir embodying his views to Mr. Darwin, for communication to the Linnaean Society. On perusing the essay, Mr. Darwin was not a little surprised to find that it embodied some of the leading ideas of a great work which he had been preparing for twenty years, and parts of which, containing a development of the very same views, had been perused by his private friends fifteen or sixteen years before. Perplexed in what manner to do full justice both to his friend and to himself, Mr. Darwin placed the matter in the hands of Dr. Hooker and Sir Charles Lyell, by whose advice he communicated a brief abstract of his own views to the Linnaean Society, at the same time that Mr. Wallace's paper was read. Of that abstract, the work on the "Origin of Species" is an enlargement; but a complete statement of Mr. Darwin's doctrine is looked for in the large and well-illustrated work which he is said to be preparing for publication.

The Darwinian hypothesis has the merit of being eminently simple and comprehensible in principle, and its essential positions may be stated in a very few words: all species have been produced by the development of varieties from common stocks by the conversion of these first into permanent races and then into new species, by the process of natural selection, which process is essentially identical with that artificial selection by which man has originated the races of domestic animals—the struggle for existence taking the place of man, and exerting, in the case of natural selection, that selective action which he performs in artificial selection.

The evidence brought forward by Mr. Darwin in support of his hypothesis is of three kinds. First, he endeavours to prove that species may be originated by selection; secondly, he attempts to show that natural causes are competent to exert selection; and thirdly, he tries to prove that the most remarkable and apparently anomalous phaenomena exhibited by the distribution, development, and mutual relations of species, can be shown to be deducible from the general doctrine of their origin, which he propounds, combined with the known facts of geological change; and that, even if all these phaenomena are not at present explicable by it, none are necessarily inconsistent with it.

There cannot be a doubt that the method of inquiry which Mr. Darwin has adopted is not only rigorously in accordance with the canons of scientific logic, but that it is the only adequate method. Critics exclusively trained in classics or in mathematics, who have never determined a scientific fact in their lives by induction from experiment or observation, prate learnedly about Mr. Darwin's method, which is not inductive enough, not Baconian enough, forsooth, for them. But even if practical acquaintance with the process of scientific investigation is denied them, they may learn, by the perusal of Mr. Mill's admirable chapter "On the Deductive Method," that there are multitudes of scientific inquiries, in which the method of pure induction helps the investigator but a very little way.

"The mode of investigation," says Mr. Mill, "which, from the proved inapplicability of direct methods of observation and experiment, remains to us as the main source of the knowledge we possess, or can acquire, respecting the conditions and laws of recurrence of the more complex phaenomena, is called, in its most general expression, the deductive method, and consists of three operations: the first, one of direct induction; the second, of ratiocination; and the third, of verification."

Now, the conditions which have determined the existence of species are not only exceedingly complex, but, so far as the great majority of them are concerned, are necessarily beyond our cognizance. But what Mr. Darwin has attempted to do is in exact accordance with the rule laid down by Mr. Mill; he has endeavoured to determine certain great facts inductively, by observation and experiment; he has then reasoned from the data thus furnished; and lastly, he has tested the validity of his ratiocination by comparing his deductions with the observed facts of Nature. Inductively, Mr. Darwin endeavours to prove that species arise in a given way. Deductively, he desires to show that, if they arise in that way, the facts of distribution, development, classification, &c., may be accounted for, i.e. may be deduced from their mode of origin, combined with admitted changes in physical geography and climate, during an indefinite period. And this explanation, or coincidence of observed with deduced facts, is, so far as it extends, a verification of the Darwinian view.

There is no fault to be found with Mr. Darwin's method, then; but it is another question whether he has fulfilled all the conditions imposed by that method. Is it satisfactorily proved, in fact, that species may be originated by selection? that there is such a thing as natural selection? that none of the phaenomena exhibited by species are inconsistent with the origin of species in this way? If these questions can be answered in the affirmative, Mr. Darwin's view steps out of the ranks of hypotheses into those of proved theories; but, so long as the evidence at present adduced falls short of enforcing that affirmation, so long, to our minds, must the new doctrine be content to remain among the former—an extremely valuable, and in the highest degree probable, doctrine, indeed the only extant hypothesis which is worth anything in a scientific point of view; but still a hypothesis, and not yet the theory of species.

After much consideration, and with assuredly no bias against Mr. Darwin's views, it is our clear conviction that, as the evidence stands, it is not absolutely proven that a group of animals, having all the characters exhibited by species in Nature, has ever been originated by selection, whether artificial or natural. Groups having the morphological character of species, distinct and permanent races in fact, have been so produced over and over again; but there is no positive evidence, at present, that any group of animals has, by variation and selective breeding, given rise to another group which was even in the least degree infertile with the first. Mr. Darwin is perfectly aware of this weak point, and brings forward a multitude of ingenious and important arguments to diminish the force of the objection. We admit the value of these arguments to their fullest extent; nay, we will go so far as to express our belief that experiments, conducted by a skilful physiologist, would very probably obtain the desired production of mutually more or less infertile breeds from a common stock, in a comparatively few years; but still, as the case stands at present, this "little rift within the lute" is not to be disguised nor overlooked.

In the remainder of Mr. Darwin's argument our own private ingenuity has not hitherto enabled us to pick holes of any great importance; and judging by what we hear and read, other adventurers in the same field do not seem to have been much more fortunate. It has been urged, for instance, that in his chapters on the struggle for existence and on natural selection, Mr. Darwin does not so much prove that natural selection does occur, as that it must occur; but, in fact, no other sort of demonstration is attainable. A race does not attract our attention in Nature until it has, in all probability, existed for a considerable time, and then it is too late to inquire into the conditions of its origin. Again, it is said that there is no real analogy between the selection which takes place under domestication, by human influence, and any operation which can be effected by Nature, for man interferes intelligently. Reduced to its elements, this argument implies that an effect produced with trouble by an intelligent agent must, a fortiori, be more troublesome, if not impossible, to an unintelligent agent. Even putting aside the question whether Nature, acting as she does according to definite and invariable laws, can be rightly called an unintelligent agent, such a position as this is wholly untenable. Mix salt and sand, and it shall puzzle the wisest of men, with his mere natural appliances, to separate all the grains of sand from all the grains of salt; but a shower of rain will effect the same object in ten minutes. And so, while man may find it tax all his intelligence to separate any variety which arises, and to breed selectively from it, the destructive agencies incessantly at work in Nature, if they find one variety to be more soluble in circumstances than the other, will inevitably, in the long run, eliminate it.

A frequent and a just objection to the Lamarckian hypothesis of the transmutation of species is based upon the absence of transitional forms between many species. But against the Darwinian hypothesis this argument has no force. Indeed, one of the most valuable and suggestive parts of Mr. Darwin's work is that in which he proves, that the frequent absence of transitions is a necessary consequence of his doctrine, and that the stock whence two or more species have sprung, need in no respect be intermediate between these species. If any two species have arisen from a common stock in the same way as the carrier and the pouter, say, have arisen from the rock-pigeon, then the common stock of these two species need be no more intermediate between the two than the rock-pigeon is between the carrier and pouter. Clearly appreciate the force of this analogy, and all the arguments against the origin of species by selection, based on the absence of transitional forms, fall to the ground. And Mr. Darwin's position might, we think, have been even stronger than it is if he had not embarrassed himself with the aphorism, "Natura non facit saltum," which turns up so often in his pages. We believe, as we have said above, that Nature does make jumps now and then, and a recognition of the fact is of no small importance in disposing of many minor objections to the doctrine of transmutation.

But we must pause. The discussion of Mr. Darwin's arguments in detail would lead us far beyond the limits within which we proposed, at starting, to confine this article. Our object has been attained if we have given an intelligible, however brief, account of the established facts connected with species, and of the relation of the explanation of those facts offered by Mr. Darwin to the theoretical views held by his predecessors and his contemporaries, and, above all, to the requirements of scientific logic. We have ventured to point out that it does not, as yet, satisfy all those requirements; but we do not hesitate to assert that it is as superior to any preceding or contemporary hypothesis, in the extent of observational and experimental basis on which it rests, in its rigorously scientific method, and in its power of explaining biological phaenomena, as was the hypothesis of Copernicus to the speculations of Ptolemy. But the planetary orbits turned out to be not quite circular after all, and, grand as was the service Copernicus rendered to science, Kepler and Newton had to come after him. What if the orbit of Darwinism should be a little too circular? What if species should offer residual phaenomena, here and there, not explicable by natural selection? Twenty years hence naturalists may be in a position to say whether this is, or is not, the case; but in either event they will owe the author of "The Origin of Species" an immense debt of gratitude. We should leave a very wrong impression on the reader's mind if we permitted him to suppose that the value of that work depends wholly on the ultimate justification of the theoretical views which it contains. On the contrary, if they were disproved to-morrow, the book would still be the best of its kind—the most compendious statement of well-sifted facts bearing on the doctrine of species that has ever appeared. The chapters on Variation, on the Struggle for Existence, on Instinct, on Hybridism, on the Imperfection of the Geological Record, on Geographical Distribution, have not only no equals, but, so far as our knowledge goes, no competitors, within the range of biological literature. And viewed as a whole, we do not believe that, since the publication of Von Baer's Researches on Development, thirty years ago, any work has appeared calculated to exert so large an influence, not only on the future of Biology, but in extending the domination of Science over regions of thought into which she has, as yet, hardly penetrated.


[61] On the Osteology of the Chimpanzees and Orangs: Transactions of the Zoological Society, 1858.

[62] Colonel Humphreys' statements are exceedingly explicit on this point:—"When an Ancon ewe is impregnated by a common ram, the increase resembles wholly either the ewe or the ram. The increase of the common ewe impregnated by an Ancon ram follows entirely the one or the other, without blending any of the distinguishing and essential peculiarities of both. Frequent instances have happened where common ewes have had twins by Ancon rams, when one exhibited the complete marks and features of the ewe, the other of the ram. The contrast has been rendered singularly striking, when one short-legged and one long-legged lamb, produced at a birth, have been seen sucking the dam at the same time."—Philosophical Transactions, 1813, Pt. I., pp. 89, 90.

[63] Recent investigations tend to show that this statement is not strictly accurate.—1870.

[64] See Phil. Zoologique, vol. i. p. 222, et seq.





In the course of the present year [1864] several foreign commentaries upon Mr. Darwin's great work have made their appearance. Those who have perused that remarkable chapter of the "Antiquity of Man," in which Sir Charles Lyell draws a parallel between the development of species and that of languages, will be glad to hear that one of the most eminent philologers of Germany, Professor Schleicher, has, independently, published a most instructive and philosophical pamphlet (an excellent notice of which is to be found in the Reader, for February 27th of this year) supporting similar views with all the weight of his special knowledge and established authority as a linguist. Professor Haeckel, to whom Schleicher addresses himself, previously took occasion, in his splendid monograph on the Radiolaria,[65] to express his high appreciation of, and general concordance with, Mr. Darwin's views.

But the most elaborate criticisms of the "Origin of Species" which have appeared are two works of very widely different merit, the one by Professor Koelliker, the well-known anatomist and histologist of Wuerzburg; the other by M. Flourens, Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences.

Professor Koelliker's critical essay "Upon the Darwinian Theory" is, like all that proceeds from the pen of that thoughtful and accomplished writer, worthy of the most careful consideration. It comprises a brief but clear sketch of Darwin's views, followed by an enumeration of the leading difficulties in the way of their acceptance; difficulties which would appear to be insurmountable to Professor Koelliker, inasmuch as he proposes to replace Mr. Darwin's Theory by one which he terms the "Theory of Heterogeneous Generation." We shall proceed to consider first the destructive, and secondly, the constructive portion of the essay.

We regret to find ourselves compelled to dissent very widely from many of Professor Koelliker's remarks; and from none more thoroughly than from those in which he seeks to define what we may term the philosophical position of Darwinism.

"Darwin," says Professor Koelliker, "is, in the fullest sense of the Word, a Teleologist. He says quite distinctly (First Edition, pp. 199, 200) that every particular in the structure of an animal has been created for its benefit, and he regards the whole series of animal forms only from this point of view."

And again:

"7. The teleological general conception adopted by Darwin is a mistaken one.

"Varieties arise irrespectively of the notion of purpose, or of utility, according to general laws of Nature, and may be either useful, or hurtful, or indifferent.

"The assumption that an organism exists only on account of some definite end in view, and represents something more than the incorporation of a general idea, or law, implies a one-sided conception of the universe. Assuredly, every organ has, and every organism fulfils, its end, but its purpose is not the condition of its existence. Every organism is also sufficiently perfect for the purpose it serves, and in that, at least, it is useless to seek for a cause of its improvement."

It is singular how differently one and the same book will impress different minds. That which struck the present writer most forcibly on his first perusal of the "Origin of Species" was the conviction that Teleology, as commonly understood, had received its deathblow at Mr. Darwin's hands. For the teleological argument runs thus: an organ or organism (A) is precisely fitted to perform a function or purpose (B); therefore it was specially constructed to perform that function. In Paley's famous illustration, the adaptation of all the parts of the watch to the function, or purpose, of showing the time, is held to be evidence that the watch was specially contrived to that end; on the ground, that the only cause we know of, competent to produce such an effect as a watch which shall keep time, is a contriving intelligence adapting the means directly to that end.

Suppose, however, that any one had been able to show that the watch had not been made directly by any person, but that it was the result of the modification of another watch which kept time but poorly; and that this again had proceeded from a structure which could hardly be called a watch at all—seeing that it had no figures on the dial and the hands were rudimentary; and that going back and back in time we came at last to a revolving barrel as the earliest traceable rudiment of the whole fabric. And imagine that it had been possible to show that all these changes had resulted, first, from a tendency of the structure to vary indefinitely; and secondly, from something in the surrounding world which helped all variations in the direction of an accurate time-keeper, and checked all those in other directions; then it is obvious that the force of Paley's argument would be gone. For it would be demonstrated that an apparatus thoroughly well adapted to a particular purpose might be the result of a method of trial and error worked by unintelligent agents, as well as of the direct application of the means appropriate to that end, by an intelligent agent.

Now it appears to us that what we have here, for illustration's sake, supposed to be done with the watch, is exactly what the establishment of Darwin's Theory will do for the organic world. For the notion that every organism has been created as it is and launched straight at a purpose, Mr. Darwin substitutes the conception of something which may fairly be termed a method of trial and error. Organisms vary incessantly; of these variations the few meet with surrounding conditions which suit them and thrive; the many are unsuited and become extinguished.

According to Teleology, each organism is like a rifle bullet fired straight at a mark; according to Darwin, organisms are like grapeshot of which one hits something and the rest fall wide.

For the teleologist an organism exists because it was made for the conditions in which it is found; for the Darwinian an organism exists because, out of many of its kind, it is the only one which has been able to persist in the conditions in which it is found.

Teleology implies that the organs of every organism are perfect and cannot be improved; the Darwinian theory simply affirms that they work well enough to enable the organism to hold its own against such competitors as it has met with, but admits the possibility of indefinite improvement. But an example may bring into clearer light the profound opposition between the ordinary teleological, and the Darwinian, conception.

Cats catch mice, small birds and the like, very well. Teleology tells us that they do so because they were expressly constructed for so doing—that they are perfect mousing apparatuses, so perfect and so delicately adjusted that no one of their organs could be altered, without the change involving the alteration of all the rest. Darwinism affirms, on the contrary, that there was no express construction concerned in the matter; but that among the multitudinous variations of the Feline stock, many of which died out from want of power to resist opposing influences, some, the cats, were better fitted to catch mice than others, whence they throve and persisted, in proportion to the advantage over their fellows thus offered to them.

Far from imagining that cats exist in order to catch mice well, Darwinism supposes that cats exist because they catch mice well—mousing being not the end, but the condition, of their existence. And if the cat-type has long persisted as we know it, the interpretation of the fact upon Darwinian principles would be, not that the cats have remained invariable, but that such varieties as have incessantly occurred have been, on the whole, less fitted to get on in the world than the existing stock.

If we apprehend the spirit of the "Origin of Species" rightly, then, nothing can be more entirely and absolutely opposed to Teleology, as it is commonly understood, than the Darwinian Theory. So far from being a "Teleologist in the fullest sense of the word," we should deny that he is a Teleologist in the ordinary sense at all; and we should say that, apart from his merits as a naturalist, he has rendered a most remarkable service to philosophical thought by enabling the student of Nature to recognise, to their fullest extent, those adaptations to purpose which are so striking in the organic world, and which Teleology has done good service in keeping before our minds, without being false to the fundamental principles of a scientific conception of the universe. The apparently diverging teachings of the Teleologist and of the Morphologist are reconciled by the Darwinian hypothesis.

But leaving our own impressions of the "Origin of Species," and turning to those passages specially cited by Professor Koelliker, we cannot admit that they bear the interpretation he puts upon them. Darwin, if we read him rightly, does not affirm that every detail in the structure of an animal has been created for its benefit. His words are (p. 199):—

"The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest lately made by some naturalists against the utilitarian doctrine that every detail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor. They believe that very many structures have been created for beauty in the eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory—yet I fully admit that many structures are of no direct use to their possessor."

And after sundry illustrations and qualifications, he concludes (p. 200):—

"Hence every detail of structure in every living creature (making some little allowance for the direct action of physical conditions) may be viewed either as having been of special use to some ancestral form, or as being now of special use to the descendants of this form—either directly, or indirectly, through the complex laws of growth."

But it is one thing to say, Darwinically, that every detail observed in an animal's structure is of use to it, or has been of use to its ancestors; and quite another to affirm, teleologically, that every detail of an animal's structure has been created for its benefit. On the former hypothesis, for example, the teeth of the foetal Balaena have a meaning; on the latter, none. So far as we are aware, there is not a phrase in the "Origin of Species," inconsistent with Professor Koelliker's position, that "varieties arise irrespectively of the notion of purpose, or of utility, according to general laws of Nature, and may be either useful, or hurtful, or indifferent."

On the contrary, Mr. Darwin writes (Summary of Chap. V.):—

"Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound. Not in one case out of a hundred can we pretend to assign any reason why this or that part varies more or less from the same part in the parents.... The external conditions of life, as climate and food, &c. seem to have induced some slight modifications. Habit, in producing constitutional differences, and use, in strengthening, and disuse, in weakening and diminishing organs, seem to have been more potent in their effects."

And finally, as if to prevent all possible misconception, Mr. Darwin concludes his Chapter on Variation with these pregnant words:—

"Whatever the cause may be of each slight difference in the offspring from their parents—and a cause for each must exist—it is the steady accumulation, through natural selection of such differences, when beneficial to the individual, that gives rise to all the more important modifications of structure, by which the innumerable beings on the face of the earth are enabled to struggle with each other, and the best adapted to survive."

We have dwelt at length upon this subject, because of its great general importance, and because we believe that Professor Koelliker's criticisms on this head are based upon a misapprehension of Mr. Darwin's views—substantially they appear to us to coincide with his own. The other objections which Professor Koelliker enumerates and discusses are the following:[66]—

"1. No transitional forms between existing species are known; and known varieties, whether selected or spontaneous, never go so far as to establish new species."

To this Professor Koelliker appears to attach some weight. He makes the suggestion that the short-faced tumbler pigeon may be a pathological product.

"2. No transitional forms of animals are met with among the organic remains of earlier epochs."

Upon this, Professor Koelliker remarks that the absence of transitional forms in the fossil world, though not necessarily fatal to Darwin's views, weakens his case.

"3. The struggle for existence does not take place."

To this objection, urged by Pelzeln, Koelliker, very justly, attaches no weight.

"4. A tendency of organisms to give rise to useful varieties, and a natural selection, do not exist.

"The varieties which are found arise in consequence of manifold external influences, and it is not obvious why they all, or partially, should be particularly useful. Each animal suffices for its own ends, is perfect of its kind, and needs no further development. Should, however, a variety be useful and even maintain itself, there is no obvious reason why it should change any further. The whole conception of the imperfection of organisms and the necessity of their becoming perfected is plainly the weakest side of Darwin's Theory, and a pis aller (Nothbehelf) because Darwin could think of no other principle by which to explain the metamorphoses which, as I also believe, have occurred."

Here again we must venture to dissent completely from Professor Koelliker's conception of Mr. Darwin's hypothesis. It appears to us to be one of the many peculiar merits of that hypothesis that it involves no belief in a necessary and continual progress of organisms.

Again, Mr. Darwin, if we read him aright, assumes no special tendency of organisms to give rise to useful varieties, and knows nothing of needs of development, or necessity of perfection. What he says is, in substance: All organisms vary. It is in the highest degree improbable that any given variety should have exactly the same relations to surrounding conditions as the parent stock. In that case it is either better fitted (when the variation may be called useful), or worse fitted, to cope with them. If better, it will tend to supplant the parent stock; if worse, it will tend to be extinguished by the parent stock.

If (as is hardly conceivable) the new variety is so perfectly adapted to the conditions that no improvement upon it is possible,—it will persist, because, though it does not cease to vary, the varieties will be inferior to itself.

If, as is more probable, the new variety is by no means perfectly adapted to its conditions, but only fairly well adapted to them, it will persist, so long as none of the varieties which it throws off are better adapted than itself.

On the other hand, as soon as it varies in a useful way, i.e. when the variation is such as to adapt it more perfectly to its conditions, the fresh variety will tend to supplant the former.

So far from a gradual progress towards perfection forming any necessary part of the Darwinian creed, it appears to us that it is perfectly consistent with indefinite persistence in one state, or with a gradual retrogression. Suppose, for example, a return of the glacial epoch and a spread of polar climatal conditions over the whole globe. The operation of natural selection under these circumstances would tend, on the whole, to the weeding out of the higher organisms and the cherishing of the lower forms of life. Cryptogamic vegetation would have the advantage over Phanerogamic; Hydrozoa over Corals; Crustacea over Insecta, and Amphipoda and Isopoda over the higher Crustacea; Cetaceans and Seals over the Primates; the civilization of the Esquimaux over that of the European.

"5. Pelzeln has also objected that if the later organisms have proceeded from the earlier, the whole developmental series, from the simplest to the highest, could not now exist; in such a case the simpler organisms must have disappeared."

To this Professor Koelliker replies, with perfect justice, that the conclusion drawn by Pelzeln does not really follow from Darwin's premises, and that, if we take the facts of Palaeontology as they stand, they rather support than oppose Darwin's theory.

"6. Great weight must be attached to the objection brought forward by Huxley, otherwise a warm supporter of Darwin's hypothesis, that we know of no varieties which are sterile with one another, as is the rule among sharply distinguished animal forms.

"If Darwin is right, it must be demonstrated that forms may be produced by selection, which, like the present sharply distinguished animal forms, are infertile when coupled with one another, and this has not been done."

The weight of this objection is obvious; but our ignorance of the conditions of fertility and sterility, the want of carefully conducted experiments extending over long series of years, and the strange anomalies presented by the results of the cross-fertilization of many plants, should all, as Mr. Darwin has urged, be taken into account in considering it.

The seventh objection is that we have already discussed (supra, p. 329).

The eighth and last stands as follows:—

"8. The developmental theory of Darwin is not needed to enable us to understand the regular harmonious progress of the complete series of organic forms from the simpler to the more perfect.

"The existence of general laws of Nature explains this harmony, even if we assume that all beings have arisen separately and independent of one another. Darwin forgets that inorganic nature, in which there can be no thought of a genetic connexion of forms, exhibits the same regular plan, the same harmony, as the organic world; and that, to cite only one example, there is as much a natural system of minerals as of plants and animals."

We do not feel quite sure that we seize Professor Koelliker's meaning here, but he appears to suggest that the observation of the general order and harmony which pervade inorganic nature, would lead us to anticipate a similar order and harmony in the organic world. And this is no doubt true, but it by no means follows that the particular order and harmony observed among them should be that which we see. Surely the stripes of dun horses, and the teeth of the foetal Balaena, are not explained by the "existence of general laws of Nature." Mr. Darwin endeavours to explain the exact order of organic nature which exists; not the mere fact that there is some order.

And with regard to the existence of a natural system of minerals; the obvious reply is that there may be a natural classification of any objects—of stones on a sea-beach, or of works of art; a natural classification being simply an assemblage of objects in groups, so as to express their most important and fundamental resemblances and differences. No doubt Mr. Darwin believes that those resemblances and differences upon which our natural systems or classifications of animals and plants are based, are resemblances and differences which have been produced genetically, but we can discover no reason for supposing that he denies the existence of natural classifications of other kinds.

And, after all, is it quite so certain that a genetic relation may not underlie the classification of minerals? The inorganic world has not always been what we see it. It has certainly had its metamorphoses, and, very probably, a long "Entwickelungsgeschichte" out of a nebular blastema. Who knows how far that amount of likeness among sets of minerals, in virtue of which they are now grouped into families and orders, may not be the expression of the common conditions to which that particular patch of nebulous fog, which may have been constituted by their atoms, and of which they may be, in the strictest sense, the descendants, was subjected?

It will be obvious from what has preceded, that we do not agree with Professor Koelliker in thinking the objections which he brings forward so weighty as to be fatal to Darwin's view. But even if the case were otherwise, we should be unable to accept the "Theory of Heterogeneous Generation" which is offered as a substitute. That theory is thus stated:—

"The fundamental conception of this hypothesis is, that, under the influence of a general law of development, the germs of organisms produce others different from themselves. This might happen (1) by the fecundated ova passing, in the course of their development, under particular circumstances, into higher forms; (2) by the primitive and later organisms producing other organisms without fecundation, out of germs or eggs (Parthenogenesis)."

In favour of this hypothesis, Professor Koelliker adduces the well-known facts of Agamogenesis, or "alternate generation;" the extreme dissimilarity of the males and females of many animals; and of the males, females, and neuters of those insects which live in colonies: and he defines its relations to the Darwinian theory as follows:—

"It is obvious that my hypothesis is apparently very similar to Darwin's, inasmuch as I also consider that the various forms of animals have proceeded directly from one another. My hypothesis of the creation of organisms by heterogeneous generation, however, is distinguished very essentially from Darwin's by the entire absence of the principle of useful variations and their natural selection; and my fundamental conception is this, that a great plan of development lies at the foundation of the origin of the whole organic world, impelling the simpler forms to more and more complex developments. How this law operates, what influences determine the development of the eggs and germs, and impel them to assume constantly new forms, I naturally cannot pretend to say; but I can at least adduce the great analogy of the alternation of generations. If a Bipinnaria, a Brachialaria, a Pluteus, is competent to produce the Echinoderm, which is so widely different from it; if a hydroid polype can produce the higher Medusa; if the vermiform Trematode 'nurse' can develop within itself the very unlike Cercaria, it will not appear impossible that the egg, or ciliated embryo, of a sponge, for once, under special conditions, might become a hydroid polype, or the embryo of a Medusa, an Echinoderm."

It is obvious, from these extracts, that Professor Koelliker's hypothesis is based upon the supposed existence of a close analogy between the phaenomena of Agamogenesis and the production of new species from pre-existing ones. But is the analogy a real one? We think that it is not, and, by the hypothesis, cannot be.

For what are the phaenomena of Agamogenesis, stated generally? An impregnated egg develops into an asexual form, A; this gives rise, asexually, to a second form or forms, B, more or less different from A. B may multiply asexually again; in the simpler cases, however, it does not, but, acquiring sexual characters, produces impregnated eggs from whence A once more arises.

No case of Agamogenesis is known in which, when A differs widely from B, it is itself capable of sexual propagation. No case whatever is known in which the progeny of B, by sexual generation, is other than a reproduction of A.

But if this be a true statement of the nature of the process of Agamogenesis, how can it enable us to comprehend the production of new species from already existing ones? Let us suppose Hyaenas to have preceded Dogs, and to have produced the latter in this way. Then the Hyaena will represent A, and the Dog, B. The first difficulty that presents itself is that the Hyaena must be asexual, or the process will be wholly without analogy in the world of Agamogenesis. But passing over this difficulty, and supposing a male and female Dog to be produced at the same time from the Hyaena stock, the progeny of the pair, if the analogy of the simpler kinds of Agamogenesis[67] is to be followed, should be a litter, not of puppies, but of young Hyaenas. For the Agamogenetic series is always, as we have seen, A: B: A: B, &c.; whereas, for the production of a new species, the series must be A: B: B: B, &c. The production of new species, or genera, is the extreme permanent divergence from the primitive stock. All known Agamogenetic processes, on the other hand, end in a complete return to the primitive stock. How then is the production of new species to be rendered intelligible by the analogy of Agamogenesis?

The other alternative put by Professor Koelliker—the passage of fecundated ova in the course of their development into higher forms—would, if it occurred, be merely an extreme case of variation in the Darwinian sense, greater in degree than, but perfectly similar in kind to, that which occurred when the well-known Ancon Ram was developed from an ordinary Ewe's ovum. Indeed we have always thought that Mr. Darwin has unnecessarily hampered himself by adhering so strictly to his favourite "Natura non facit saltum." We greatly suspect that she does make considerable jumps in the way of variation now and then, and that these saltations give rise to some of the gaps which appear to exist in the series of known forms.

Strongly and freely as we have ventured to disagree with Professor Koelliker, we have always done so with regret, and we trust without violating that respect which is due, not only to his scientific eminence and to the careful study which he has devoted to the subject, but to the perfect fairness of his argumentation, and the generous appreciation of the worth of Mr. Darwin's labours which he always displays. It would be satisfactory to be able to say as much for M. Flourens.

But the Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences deals with Mr. Darwin as the first Napoleon would have treated an "ideologue;" and while displaying a painful weakness of logic and shallowness of information, assumes a tone of authority, which always touches upon the ludicrous, and sometimes passes the limits of good breeding.

For example (p. 56):—

"M. Darwin continue: 'Aucune distinction absolue n'a ete et ne peut etre etablie entre les especes et les varietes.' Je vous ai deja dit que vous vous trompiez; une distinction absolue separe les varietes d'avec les especes."

"Je vous ai deja dit; moi, M. le Secretaire perpetuel de l'Academie des Sciences: et vous

'Qui n'etes rien, Pas meme Academicien;'

what do you mean by asserting the contrary?" Being devoid of the blessings of an Academy in England, we are unaccustomed to see our ablest men treated in this fashion even by a "Perpetual Secretary."

Or again, considering that if there is any one quality of Mr. Darwin's work to which friends and foes have alike borne witness, it is his candour and fairness in admitting and discussing objections, what is to be thought of M. Flourens' assertion, that

"M. Darwin ne cite que les auteurs qui partagent ses opinions." (P. 40.)

Once more (p. 65):

"Enfin l'ouvrage de M. Darwin a paru. On ne peut qu'etre frappe du talent de l'auteur. Mais que d'idees obscures, que d'idees fausses! Quel jargon metaphysique jete mal a propos dans l'histoire naturelle, qui tombe dans le galimatias des qu'elle sort des idees claires, des idees justes! Quel langage pretentieux et vide! Quelles personifications pueriles et surannees! O lucidite! O solidite de l'esprit Francais, que devenez-vous?"

"Obscure ideas," "metaphysical jargon," "pretentious and empty language," "puerile and superannuated personifications." Mr. Darwin has many and hot opponents on this side of the Channel and in Germany, but we do not recollect to have found precisely these sins in the long catalogue of those hitherto laid to his charge. It is worth while, therefore, to examine into these discoveries effected solely by the aid of the "lucidity and solidity" of the mind of M. Flourens.

According to M. Flourens, Mr. Darwin's great error is that he has personified Nature (p. 10), and further that he has

"imagined a natural selection: he imagines afterwards that this power of selecting (pouvoir d'elire) which he gives to Nature is similar to the power of man. These two suppositions admitted, nothing stops him: he plays with Nature as he likes, and makes her do all he pleases." (P. 6.)

And this is the way M. Flourens extinguishes natural selection:

"Voyons donc encore une fois, ce qu'il peut y avoir de fonde dans ce qu'on nomme election naturelle.

"L'election naturelle n'est sous un autre nom que la nature. Pour un etre organise, la nature n'est que l'organisation, ni plus ni moins.

"Il faudra donc aussi personnifier l'organisation, et dire que l'organisation choisit l'organisation. L'election naturelle est cette forme substantielle dont on jonait autrefois avec tant de facilite. Aristote disait que 'Si l'art de batir etait dans le bois, cet art agirait comme la nature.' A la place de l'art de batir M. Darwin met l'election naturelle, et c'est tout un: l'un n'est pas plus chimerique que l'autre." (P. 31.)

And this is really all that M. Flourens can make of Natural Selection. We have given the original, in fear lest a translation should be regarded as a travesty; but with the original before the reader, we may try to analyse the passage. "For an organized being, Nature is only organization, neither more nor less."

Organized beings then have absolutely no relation to inorganic nature: a plant does not depend on soil or sunshine, climate, depth in the ocean, height above it; the quantity of saline matters in water have no influence upon animal life; the substitution of carbonic acid for oxygen in our atmosphere would hurt nobody! That these are absurdities no one should know better than M. Flourens; but they are logical deductions from the assertion just quoted, and from the further statement that natural selection means only that "organization chooses and selects organization."

For if it be once admitted (what no sane man denies) that the chances of life of any given organism are increased by certain conditions (A) and diminished by their opposites (B), then it is mathematically certain that any change of conditions in the direction of (A) will exercise a selective influence in favour of that organism, tending to its increase and multiplication, while any change in the direction of (B) will exercise a selective influence against that organism, tending to its decrease and extinction.

Or, on the other hand, conditions remaining the same, let a given organism vary (and no one doubts that they do vary) in two directions: into one form (a) better fitted to cope with these conditions than the original stock, and a second (b) less well adapted to them. Then it is no less certain that the conditions in question must exercise a selective influence in favour of (a) and against (b), so that (a) will tend to predominance, and (b) to extirpation.

That M. Flourens should be unable to perceive the logical necessity of these simple arguments, which lie at the foundation of all Mr. Darwin's reasoning; that he should confound an irrefragable deduction from the observed relations of organisms to the conditions which lie around them, with a metaphysical "forme substantielle," or a chimerical personification of the powers of Nature, would be incredible, were it not that other passages of his work leave no room for doubt upon the subject.

"On imagine une election naturelle que, pour plus de menagement, on me dit etre inconsciente, sans s'apercevoir que le contre-sens litteral est precisement la: election inconsciente." (P. 52.)

"J'ai deja dit ce qu'il faut penser de l'election naturelle. Ou l'election naturelle n'est rien, ou c'est la nature: mais la nature douee d'election, mais la nature personnifiee: derniere erreur du dernier siecle: Le xix^e ne fait plus de personnifications." (P. 53.)

M. Flourens cannot imagine an unconscious selection—it is for him a contradiction in terms. Did M. Flourens ever visit one of the prettiest watering-places of "la belle France," the Baie d'Arcachon? If so, he will probably have passed through the district of the Landes, and will have had an opportunity of observing the formation of "dunes" on a grand scale. What are these "dunes?" The winds and waves of the Bay of Biscay have not much consciousness, and yet they have with great care "selected," from among an infinity of masses of silex of all shapes and sizes, which have been submitted to their action, all the grains of sand below a certain size, and have heaped them by themselves over a great area. This sand has been "unconsciously selected" from amidst the gravel in which it first lay with as much precision as if man had "consciously selected" it by the aid of a sieve. Physical Geology is full of such selections—of the picking out of the soft from the hard, of the soluble from the insoluble, of the fusible from the infusible, by natural agencies to which we are certainly not in the habit of ascribing consciousness.

But that which wind and sea are to a sandy beach, the sum of influences, which we term the "conditions of existence," is to living organisms. The weak are sifted out from the strong. A frosty night "selects" the hardy plants in a plantation from among the tender ones as effectually as if it were the wind, and they, the sand and pebbles, of our illustration; or, on the other hand, as if the intelligence of a gardener had been operative in cutting the weaker organisms down. The thistle, which has spread over the Pampas, to the destruction of native plants, has been more effectually "selected" by the unconscious operation of natural conditions than if a thousand agriculturists had spent their time in sowing it.

It is one of Mr. Darwin's many great services to Biological science that he has demonstrated the significance of these facts. He has shown that—given variation and given change of conditions—the inevitable result is the exercise of such an influence upon organisms that one is helped and another is impeded; one tends to predominate, another to disappear; and thus the living world bears within itself, and is surrounded by, impulses towards incessant change.

But the truths just stated are as certain as any other physical laws, quite independently of the truth, or falsehood, of the hypothesis which Mr. Darwin has based upon them; and that M. Flourens, missing the substance and grasping at a shadow, should be blind to the admirable exposition of them, which Mr. Darwin has given, and see nothing there but a "derniere erreur du dernier siecle"—a personification of Nature—leads us indeed to cry with him: "O lucidite! O solidite de l'esprit Francais, que devenez-vous?"

M. Flourens has, in fact, utterly failed to comprehend the first principles of the doctrine which he assails so rudely. His objections to details are of the old sort, so battered and hackneyed on this side of the Channel, that not even a Quarterly Reviewer could be induced to pick them up for the purpose of pelting Mr. Darwin over again. We have Cuvier and the mummies; M. Roulin and the domesticated animals of America; the difficulties presented by hybridism and by Palaeontology; Darwinism a rifacciamento of De Maillet and Lamarck; Darwinism a system without a commencement, and its author bound to believe in M. Pouchet, &c. &c. How one knows it all by heart, and with what relief one reads at p. 65—

"Je laisse M. Darwin!"

But we cannot leave M. Flourens without calling our readers' attention to his wonderful tenth chapter, "De la Preexistence des Germes et de l'Epigenese," which opens thus:—

"Spontaneous generation is only a chimaera. This point established, two hypotheses remain: that of pre-existence and that of epigenesis. The one of these hypotheses has as little foundation as the other." (P. 163.)

"The doctrine of epigenesis is derived from Harvey: following by ocular inspection the development of the new being in the Windsor does, he saw each part appear successively, and taking the moment of appearance for the moment of formation he imagined epigenesis." (P. 165.)

On the contrary, says M. Flourens (p. 167),

"The new being is formed at a stroke (tout d'un coup), as a whole, instantaneously; it is not formed part by part, and at different times. It is formed at once; it is formed at the single individual moment at which the conjunction of the male and female elements takes place."

It will be observed that M. Flourens uses language which cannot be mistaken. For him, the labours of Von Baer, of Rathke, of Coste, and their contemporaries and successors in Germany, France, and England, are non-existent; and, as Darwin "imagina" natural selection, so Harvey "imagina" that doctrine which gives him an even greater claim to the veneration of posterity than his better known discovery of the circulation of the blood.

Language such as that we have quoted is, in fact, so preposterous, so utterly incompatible with anything but absolute ignorance of some of the best established facts, that we should have passed it over in silence had it not appeared to afford some clue to M. Flourens' unhesitating, a priori, repudiation of all forms of the doctrine of the progressive modification of living beings. He whose mind remains uninfluenced by an acquaintance with the phaenomena of development, must indeed lack one of the chief motives towards the endeavour to trace a genetic relation between the different existing forms of life. Those who are ignorant of Geology, find no difficulty in believing that the world was made as it is; and the shepherd, untutored in history, sees no reason to regard the green mounds which indicate the site of a Roman camp, as aught but part and parcel of the primaeval hill-side. So M. Flourens, who believes that embryos are formed "tout d'un coup," naturally finds no difficulty in conceiving that species came into existence in the same way.


[65] "Die Radiolarien: eine Monographie," p. 231.

[66] Space will not allow us to give Professor Koelliker's arguments in detail; our readers will find a full and accurate version of them in the Reader for August 13th and 20th, 1864.

[67] If, on the contrary, we follow the analogy of the more complex forms of Agamogenesis, such as that exhibited by some Trematoda and by the Aphides, the Hyaena must produce, asexually, a brood of asexual Dogs, from which other sexless Dogs must proceed. At the end of a certain number of terms of the series, the Dogs would acquire sexes and generate young; but these young would be, not Dogs, but Hyaenas. In fact, we have demonstrated, in Agamogenetic phaenomena, that inevitable recurrence to the original type, which is asserted to be true of variations in general, by Mr. Darwin's opponents; and which, if the assertion could be changed into a demonstration, would, in fact, be fatal to his hypothesis.



It has been well said that "all the thoughts of men, from the beginning of the world until now, are linked together into one great chain;" but the conception of the intellectual filiation of mankind which is expressed in these words may, perhaps, be more fitly shadowed forth by a different metaphor. The thoughts of men seem rather to be comparable to the leaves, flowers, and fruit upon the innumerable branches of a few great stems, fed by commingled and hidden roots. These stems bear the names of the half-a-dozen men, endowed with intellects of heroic force and clearness, to whom we are led, at whatever point of the world of thought the attempt to trace its history commences; just as certainly as the following up the small twigs of a tree to the branchlets which bear them, and tracing the branchlets to their supporting branches, brings us, sooner or later, to the bole.

It seems to me that the thinker who, more than any other, stands in the relation of such a stem towards the philosophy and the science of the modern world is Rene Descartes. I mean, that if you lay hold of any characteristic product of modern ways of thinking, either in the region of philosophy, or in that of science, you find the spirit of that thought, if not its form, to have been present in the mind of the great Frenchman.

There are some men who are counted great because they represent the actuality of their own age, and mirror it as it is. Such an one was Voltaire, of whom it was epigrammatically said, "he expressed everybody's thoughts better than anybody."[68] But there are other men who attain greatness because they embody the potentiality of their own day, and magically reflect the future. They express the thoughts which will be everybody's two or three centuries after them. Such an one was Descartes.

Born, in 1596, nearly three hundred years ago, of a noble family in Touraine, Rene Descartes grew up into a sickly and diminutive child, whose keen wit soon gained him that title of "the Philosopher," which, in the mouths of his noble kinsmen, was more than, half a reproach. The best schoolmasters of the day, the Jesuits, educated him as well as a French boy of the seventeenth century could be educated. And they must have done their work honestly and well, for, before his schoolboy days were over, he had discovered that the most of what he had learned, except in mathematics, was devoid of solid and real value.

"Therefore," says he, in that "Discourse"[69] which I have taken for my text, "as soon as I was old enough to be set free from the government of my teachers, I entirely forsook the study of letters; and determining to seek no other knowledge than that which I could discover within myself, or in the great book of the world, I spent the remainder of my youth in travelling; in seeing courts and armies; in the society of people of different humours and conditions; in gathering varied experience; in testing myself by the chances of fortune; and in always trying to profit by my reflections on what happened.... And I always had an intense desire to learn how to distinguish truth from falsehood, in order to be clear about my actions, and to walk surefootedly in this life."

But "learn what is true, in order to do what is right," is the summing up of the whole duty of man, for all who are unable to satisfy their mental hunger with the east wind of authority; and to those of us moderns who are in this position, it is one of Descartes' great claims to our reverence as a spiritual ancestor, that, at three-and-twenty, he saw clearly that this was his duty, and acted up to his conviction. At two-and-thirty, in fact, finding all other occupations incompatible with the search after the knowledge which leads to action, and being possessed of a modest competence, he withdrew into Holland; where he spent nine years in learning and thinking, in such retirement that only one or two trusted friends knew of his whereabouts.

In 1637 the firstfruits of these long meditations were given to the world in the famous "Discourse touching the Method of using Reason rightly and of seeking scientific Truth," which, at once an autobiography and a philosophy, clothes the deepest thought in language of exquisite harmony, simplicity, and clearness.

The central propositions of the whole "Discourse" are these. There is a path that leads to truth so surely, that if any one who will follow it must needs reach the goal, whether his capacity be great or small. And there is one guiding rule by which a man may always find this path, and keep himself from straying when he has found it. This golden rule is—give unqualified assent to no propositions but those the truth of which is so clear and distinct that they cannot be doubted.

The enunciation of this great first commandment of science consecrated Doubt. It removed Doubt from the seat of penance among the grievous sins to which it had long been condemned, and enthroned it in that high place among the primary duties, which is assigned to it by the scientific conscience of these latter days. Descartes was the first among the moderns to obey this commandment deliberately; and, as a matter of religious duty, to strip off all his beliefs and reduce himself to a state of intellectual nakedness, until such time as he could satisfy himself which were fit to be worn. He thought a bare skin healthier than the most respectable and well-cut clothing of what might, possibly, be mere shoddy.

When I say that Descartes consecrated doubt, you must remember that it was that sort of doubt which Goethe has called "the active scepticism, whose whole aim is to conquer itself;"[70] and not that other sort which is born of flippancy and ignorance, and whose aim is only to perpetuate itself, as an excuse for idleness and indifference. But it is impossible to define what is meant by scientific doubt better than in Descartes' own words. After describing the gradual progress of his negative criticism, he tells us:—

"For all that, I did not imitate the sceptics, who doubt only for doubting's sake, and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole intention was to arrive at certainty, and to dig away the drift and the sand until I reached the rock or the clay beneath."

And further, since no man of common sense, when he pulls down his house for the purpose of rebuilding it, fails to provide himself with some shelter while the work is in progress; so, before demolishing the spacious, if not commodious, mansion of his old beliefs, Descartes thought it wise to equip himself with what he calls "une morale par provision," by which he resolved to govern his practical life until such time as he should be better instructed. The laws of this "provisional self-government" are embodied in four maxims, of which one binds our philosopher to submit himself to the laws and religion in which he was brought up; another, to act, on all those occasions which call for action, promptly and according to the best of his judgment, and to abide, without repining, by the result: a third rule is to seek happiness in limiting his desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them; while the last is to make the search after truth the business of his life.

Thus prepared to go on living while he doubted, Descartes proceeded to face his doubts like a man. One thing was clear to him, he would not lie to himself—would, under no penalties, say, "I am sure" of that of which he was not sure; but would go on digging and delving until he came to the solid adamant; or, at worst, made sure there was no adamant. As the record of his progress tells us, he was obliged to confess that life is full of delusions; that authority may err; that testimony may be false or mistaken; that reason lands us in endless fallacies; that memory is often as little trustworthy as hope; that the evidence of the very senses may be misunderstood; that dreams are real as long as they last, and that what we call reality may be a long and restless dream. Nay, it is conceivable that some powerful and malicious being may find his pleasure in deluding us, and in making us believe the thing which is not, every moment of our lives. What, then, is certain? What even, if such a being exists, is beyond the reach of his powers of delusion? Why, the fact that the thought, the present consciousness, exists. Our thoughts may be delusive, but they cannot be fictitious. As thoughts, they are real and existent, and the cleverest deceiver cannot make them otherwise.

Thus, thought is existence. More than that, so far as we are concerned, existence is thought, all our conceptions of existence being some kind or other of thought. Do not for a moment suppose that these are mere paradoxes or subtleties. A little reflection upon the commonest facts proves them to be irrefragable truths. For example, I take up a marble, and I find it to be a red, round, hard, single body. We call the redness, the roundness, the hardness, and the singleness, "qualities" of the marble; and it sounds, at first, the height of absurdity to say that all these qualities are modes of our own consciousness, which cannot even be conceived to exist in the marble. But consider the redness, to begin with. How does the sensation of redness arise? The waves of a certain very attenuated matter, the particles of which are vibrating with vast rapidity, but with very different velocities, strike upon the marble, and those which vibrate with one particular velocity are thrown off from its surface in all directions. The optical apparatus of the eye gathers some of these together, and gives them such a course that they impinge upon the surface of the retina, which is a singularly delicate apparatus, connected with the termination of the fibres of the optic nerve. The impulses of the attenuated matter, or ether, affect this apparatus and the fibres of the optic nerve in a certain way; and the change in the fibres of the optic nerve produces yet other changes in the brain; and these, in some fashion unknown to us, give rise to the feeling, or consciousness, of redness. If the marble could remain unchanged, and either the rate of vibration of the ether, or the nature of the retina, could be altered, the marble would seem not red, but some other colour. There are many people who are what are called colourblind, being unable to distinguish one colour from another. Such an one might declare our marble to be green; and he would be quite as right in saying that it is green, as we are in declaring it to be red. But then, as the marble cannot, in itself, be both green and red, at the same time, this shows that the quality "redness" must be in our consciousness and not in the marble.

In like manner, it is easy to see that the roundness and the hardness are forms of our consciousness, belonging to the groups which we call sensations of sight and touch. If the surface of the cornea were cylindrical, we should have a very different notion of a round body from that which we possess now; and if the strength of the fabric, and the force of the muscles, of the body were increased a hundredfold, our marble would seem to be as soft as a pellet of bread crumbs.

Not only is it obvious that all these qualities are in us, but, if you will make the attempt, you will find it quite impossible to conceive of "blueness," "roundness," and "hardness" as existing without reference to some such consciousness as our own. It may seem strange to say that even the "singleness" of the marble is relative to us; but extremely simple experiments will show that such is veritably the case, and that our two most trustworthy senses may be made to contradict one another on this very point. Hold the marble between the finger and thumb, and look at it in the ordinary way. Sight and touch agree that it is single. Now squint, and sight tells you that there are two marbles, while touch asserts that there is only one. Next, return the eyes to their natural position, and, having crossed the forefinger and the middle finger, put the marble between their tips. Then touch will declare that there are two marbles, while sight says that there is only one; and touch claims our belief, when we attend to it, just as imperatively as sight does.

But it may be said, the marble takes up a certain space which could not be occupied, at the same time, by anything else. In other words, the marble has the primary quality of matter, extension. Surely this quality must be in the thing, and not in our minds? But the reply must still be; whatever may, or may not, exist in the thing, all that we can know of these qualities is a state of consciousness. What we call extension is a consciousness of a relation between two, or more, affections of the sense of sight, or of touch. And it is wholly inconceivable that what we call extension should exist independently of such consciousness as our own. Whether, notwithstanding this inconceivability, it does so exist, or not, is a point on which I offer no opinion.

Thus, whatever our marble may be in itself, all that we can know of it is under the shape of a bundle of our own consciousnesses.

Nor is our knowledge of anything we know or feel more, or less, than a knowledge of states of consciousness. And our whole life is made up of such states. Some of these states we refer to a cause we call "self;" others to a cause or causes which may be comprehended under the title of "not-self." But neither of the existence of "self," nor of that of "not-self," have we, or can we by any possibility have, any such unquestionable and immediate certainty as we have of the states of consciousness which we consider to be their effects. They are not immediately observed facts, but results of the application of the law of causation to those facts. Strictly speaking, the existence of a "self" and of a "not-self" are hypotheses by which we account for the facts of consciousness. They stand upon the same footing as the belief in the general trustworthiness of memory, and in the general constancy of the order of nature—as hypothetical assumptions which cannot be proved, or known with that highest degree of certainty which is given by immediate consciousness; but which, nevertheless, are of the highest practical value, inasmuch as the conclusions logically drawn from them are always verified by experience.

This, in my judgment, is the ultimate issue of Descartes' argument; but it is proper for me to point out that we have left Descartes himself some way behind us. He stopped at the famous formula, "I think, therefore I am." But a little consideration will show this formula to be full of snares and verbal entanglements. In the first place, the "therefore" has no business there. The "I am" is assumed in the "I think," which is simply another way of saying "I am thinking." And, in the second place, "I think" is not one simple proposition, but three distinct assertions rolled into one. The first of these is, "something called I exists;" the second is, "something called thought exists;" and the third is, "the thought is the result of the action of the I."

Now, it will be obvious to you, that the only one of these three propositions which can stand the Cartesian test of certainty is the second. It cannot be doubted, for the very doubt is an existent thought. But the first and third, whether true or not, may be doubted, and have been doubted. For the assertor may be asked, How do you know that thought is not self-existent; or that a given thought is not the effect of its antecedent thought, or of some external power? And a diversity of other questions, much more easily put than answered. Descartes, determined as he was to strip off all the garments which the intellect weaves for itself, forgot this gossamer shirt of the "self;" to the great detriment, and indeed ruin, of his toilet when he began to clothe himself again.

But it is beside my purpose to dwell upon the minor peculiarities of the Cartesian philosophy. All I wish to put clearly before your minds thus far, is that Descartes, having commenced by declaring doubt to be a duty, found certainty in consciousness alone; and that the necessary outcome of his views is what may properly be termed Idealism; namely, the doctrine that, whatever the universe may be, all we can know of it is the picture presented to us by consciousness. This picture may be a true likeness—though how this can be is inconceivable; or it may have no more resemblance to its cause than one of Bach's fugues has to the person who is playing it; or than a piece of poetry has to the mouth and lips of a reciter. It is enough for all the practical purposes of human existence if we find that our trust in the representations of consciousness is verified by results; and that, by their help, we are enabled "to walk surefootedly in this life."

Thus the method, or path which leads to truth, indicated by Descartes, takes us straight to the Critical Idealism of his great successor Kant. It is that Idealism which declares the ultimate fact of all knowledge to be a consciousness, or, in other words, a mental phenomenon; and therefore affirms the highest of all certainties, and indeed the only absolute certainty, to be the existence of mind. But it is also that Idealism which refuses to make any assertions, either positive or negative, as to what lies beyond consciousness. It accuses the subtle Berkeley of stepping beyond the limits of knowledge when he declared that a substance of matter does not exist; and of illogicality, for not seeing that the arguments which he supposed demolished the existence of matter were equally destructive to the existence of soul. And it refuses to listen to the jargon of more recent days about the "Absolute," and all the other hypostatized adjectives, the initial letters of the names of which are generally printed in capital letters; just as you give a Grenadier a bearskin cap, to make him look more formidable than he is by nature.

I repeat, the path indicated and followed by Descartes which we have hitherto been treading, leads through doubt to that critical Idealism which lies at the heart of modern metaphysical thought. But the "Discourse" shows us another, and apparently very different, path, which leads, quite as definitely, to that correlation of all the phaenomena of the universe with matter and motion, which lies at the heart of modern physical thought, and which most people call Materialism.

The early part of the seventeenth century, when Descartes reached manhood, is one of the great epochs of the intellectual life of mankind. At that time, physical science suddenly strode into the arena of public and familiar thought, and openly challenged, not only Philosophy and the Church, but that common ignorance which passes by the name of Common Sense. The assertion of the motion of the earth was a defiance to all three, and Physical Science threw down her glove by the hand of Galileo.

It is not pleasant to think of the immediate result of the combat; to see the champion of science, old, worn, and on his knees before the Cardinal Inquisitor, signing his name to what he knew to be a lie. And, no doubt, the Cardinals rubbed their hands as they thought how well they had silenced and discredited their adversary. But two hundred years have passed, and however feeble or faulty her soldiers, Physical Science sits crowned and enthroned as one of the legitimate rulers of the world of thought. Charity children would be ashamed not to know that the earth moves; while the Schoolmen are forgotten; and the Cardinals—well, the Cardinals are at the oecumenical Council, still at their old business of trying to stop the movement of the world.

As a ship, which having lain becalmed with every stitch of canvas set, bounds away before the breeze which springs up astern, so the mind of Descartes, poised in equilibrium of doubt, not only yielded to the full force of the impulse towards physical science and physical ways of thought, given by his great contemporaries, Galileo and Harvey, but shot beyond them; and anticipated, by bold speculation, the conclusions, which could only be placed upon a secure foundation by the labours of generations of workers.

Descartes saw that the discoveries of Galileo meant that the remotest parts of the universe were governed by mechanical laws; while those of Harvey meant that the same laws presided over the operations of that portion of the world which is nearest to us, namely, our own bodily frame. And crossing the interval between the centre and its vast circumference by one of the great strides of genius, Descartes sought to resolve all the phaenomena of the universe into matter and motion, or forces operating according to law.[71] This grand conception, which is sketched in the "Discours," and more fully developed in the "Principes" and in the "Traite de l'Homme," he worked out with extraordinary power and knowledge; and with the effect of arriving, in the last-named essay, at that purely mechanical view of vital phaenomena towards which modern physiology is striving.

Let us try to understand how Descartes got into this path, and why it led him where it did. The mechanism of the circulation of the blood had evidently taken a great hold of his mind, as he describes it several times, at much length. After giving a full account of it in the "Discourse," and erroneously describing the motion of the blood, not to the contraction of the walls of the heart, but to the heat which he supposes to be generated there, he adds:—

"This motion, which I have just explained, is as much the necessary result of the structure of the parts which one can see in the heart, and of the heat which one may feel there with one's fingers, and of the nature of the blood, which may be experimentally ascertained; as is that of a clock of the force, the situation, and the figure, of its weight and of its wheels."

But if this apparently vital operation were explicable as a simple mechanism, might not other vital operations be reducible to the same category? Descartes replies without hesitation in the affirmative.

"The animal spirits," says he, "resemble a very subtle fluid, or a very pure and vivid flame, and are continually generated in the heart, and ascend to the brain as to a sort of reservoir. Hence they pass into the nerves and are distributed to the muscles, causing contraction, or relaxation, according to their quantity."

Thus, according to Descartes, the animal body is an automaton, which is competent to perform all the animal functions in exactly the same way as a clock or any other piece of mechanism. As he puts the case himself:—

"In proportion as these spirits [the animal spirits] enter the cavities of the brain, they pass thence into the pores of its substance, and from these pores into the nerves; where, according as they enter, or even only tend to enter, more or less, into one than into another, they have the power of altering the figure of the muscles into which the nerves are inserted, and by this means of causing all the limbs to move. Thus, as you may have seen in the grottoes and the fountains in royal gardens, the force with which the water issues from its reservoir is sufficient to move various machines, and even to make them play instruments, or pronounce words according to the different disposition of the pipes which lead the water.

"And, in truth, the nerves of the machine which I am describing may very well be compared to the pipes of these waterworks; its muscles and its tendons to the other various engines and springs which seem to move them; its animal spirits to the water which impels them, of which the heart is the fountain; while the cavities of the brain are the central office. Moreover, respiration and other such actions as are natural and usual in the body, and which depend on the course of the spirits, are like the movements of a clock, or of a mill, which may be kept up by the ordinary flow of the water.

"The external objects which, by their mere presence, act upon the organs of the senses; and which, by this means, determine the corporal machine to move in many different ways, according as the parts of the brain are arranged, are like the strangers who, entering into some of the grottoes of these waterworks, unconsciously cause the movements which take place in their presence. For they cannot enter without treading upon certain planks so arranged that, for example, if they approach a bathing Diana, they cause her to hide among the reeds; and if they attempt to follow her, they see approaching a Neptune, who threatens them with his trident; or if they try some other way, they cause some monster who vomits water into their faces, to dart out; or like contrivances, according to the fancy of the engineers who have made them. And lastly, when the rational soul is lodged in this machine, it will have its principal seat in the brain, and will take the place of the engineer, who ought to be in that part of the works with which all the pipes are connected, when he wishes to increase, or to slacken, or in some way to alter, their movements."[72]

And again still more strongly:—

"All the functions which I have attributed to this machine (the body), as the digestion of food, the pulsation of the heart and of the arteries; the nutrition and the growth of the limbs; respiration, wakefulness, and sleep; the reception of light, sounds, odours, flavours, heat, and such like qualities, in the organs of the external senses; the impression of the ideas of these in the organ of common sense and in the imagination; the retention, or the impression, of these ideas on the memory; the internal movements of the appetites and the passions; and lastly, the external movements of all the limbs, which follow so aptly, as well the action of the objects which are presented to the senses, as the impressions which meet in the memory, that they imitate as nearly as possible those of a real man:[73] I desire, I say, that you should consider that these functions in the machine naturally proceed from the mere arrangement of its organs, neither more nor less than do the movements of a clock, or other automaton, from that of its weights and its wheels; so that, so far as these are concerned, it is not necessary to conceive any other vegetative or sensitive soul, nor any other principle of motion, or of life, than the blood and the spirits agitated by the fire which burns continually in the heart, and which is no wise essentially different from all the fires which exist in inanimate bodies."[74]

The spirit of these passages is exactly that of the most advanced physiology of the present day; all that is necessary to make them coincide with our present physiology in form, is to represent the details of the working of the animal machinery in modern language, and by the aid of modern conceptions.

Most undoubtedly, the digestion of food in the human body is a purely chemical process; and the passage of the nutritive parts of that food into the blood, a physical operation. Beyond all question, the circulation of the blood is simply a matter of mechanism, and results from the structure and arrangement of the parts of the heart and vessels, from the contractility of those organs, and from the regulation of that contractility by an automatically acting nervous apparatus. The progress of physiology has further shown, that the contractility of the muscles and the irritability of the nerves are purely the results of the molecular mechanism of those organs; and that the regular movements of the respiratory, alimentary, and other internal organs are governed and guided, as mechanically, by their appropriate nervous centres. The even rhythm of the breathing of every one of us depends upon the structural integrity of a particular region of the medulla oblongata, as much as the ticking of a clock depends upon the integrity of the escapement. You may take away the hands of a clock and break up its striking machinery, but it will still tick; and a man may be unable to feel, speak, or move, and yet he will breathe.

Again, in entire accordance with Descartes' affirmation, it is certain that the modes of motion which constitute the physical basis of light, sound, and heat, are transmuted into affections of nervous matter by the sensory organs. These affections are, so to speak, a kind of physical ideas, which are retained in the central organs, constituting what might be called physical memory, and may be combined in a manner which answers to association and imagination, or may give rise to muscular contractions, in those "reflex actions" which are the mechanical representatives of volitions.

Consider what happens when a blow is aimed at the eye.[75] Instantly, and without our knowledge or will, and even against the will, the eyelids close. What is it that happens? A picture of the rapidly advancing fist is made upon the retina at the back of the eye. The retina changes this picture into an affection of a number of the fibres of the optic nerve; the fibres of the optic nerve affect certain parts of the brain; the brain, in consequence, affects those particular fibres of the seventh nerve which go to the orbicular muscle of the eyelids; the change in these nerve-fibres causes the muscular fibres to change their dimensions, so as to become shorter and broader; and the result is the closing of the slit between the two lids, round which these fibres are disposed. Here is a pure mechanism, giving rise to a purposive action, and strictly comparable to that by which Descartes supposes his waterwork Diana to be moved. But we may go further, and inquire whether our volition, in what we term voluntary action, ever plays any other part than that of Descartes' engineer, sitting in his office, and turning this tap or the other, as he wishes to set one or another machine in motion, but exercising no direct influence upon the movements of the whole.

Our voluntary acts consist of two parts: firstly, we desire to perform a certain action; and, secondly, we somehow set a-going a machinery which does what we desire. But so little do we directly influence that machinery, that nine-tenths of us do not even know its existence.

Suppose one wills to raise one's arm and whirl it round. Nothing is easier. But the majority of us do not know that nerves and muscles are concerned in this process; and the best anatomist among us would be amazingly perplexed, if he were called upon to direct the succession, and the relative strength, of the multitudinous nerve-changes, which are the actual causes of this very simple operation.

So again in speaking. How many of us know that the voice is produced in the larynx, and modified by the mouth? How many among these instructed persons understand how the voice is produced and modified? And what living man, if he had unlimited control over all the nerves supplying the mouth and larynx of another person, could make him pronounce a sentence? Yet, if one has anything to say, what is easier than to say it? We desire the utterance of certain words: we touch the spring of the word-machine, and they are spoken. Just as Descartes' engineer, when he wanted a particular hydraulic machine to play, had only to turn a tap, and what he wished was done. It is because the body is a machine that education is possible. Education is the formation of habits, a superinducing of an artificial organization upon the natural organization of the body; so that acts, which at first required a conscious effort, eventually became unconscious and mechanical. If the act which primarily requires a distinct consciousness and volition of its details, always needed the same effort, education would be an impossibility.

According to Descartes, then, all the functions which are common to man and animals are performed by the body as a mere mechanism, and he looks upon consciousness as the peculiar distinction of the "chose pensante," of the "rational soul," which in man (and in man only, in Descartes' opinion) is superadded to the body. This rational soul he conceived to be lodged in the pineal gland, as in a sort of central office; and, here, by the intermediation of the animal spirits, it became aware of what was going on in the body, or influenced the operations of the body. Modern physiologists do not ascribe so exalted a function to the little pineal gland, but, in a vague sort of way, they adopt Descartes' principle, and suppose that the soul is lodged in the cortical part of the brain—at least this is commonly regarded as the seat and instrument of consciousness.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse