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CONTENTS OF VOL. IV.
IRONCLAD FIELD ARTILLERY. By Colonel C. B. Brackenbury.
LIBERTY IN GERMANY. By Leonard A. Montefiore
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE REVIVAL OF GREEK INDEPENDENCE.' By the
THE BANKRUPTCY OF INDIA. By H. M. Hyndman
THE FUTURE OF INDIA. By Sir Erskine Perry
No. XVII.-JULY 1878.
THE PLACE OF CONSCIENCE IN
Of all the objections and difficulties that sprang into life the moment that the doctrine of evolution was propounded for our acceptance, very few indeed (exclusive of the purely scientific ones) now give evidence of persistent vitality. Time, which, if age and experience can give wisdom, ought to be so much wiser than any of us, has consigned the greater part of them to oblivion, and evolution is taking its place, one might say, as part of the furniture of the human mind. Chief among these objections was the assertion that evolution could give no satisfactory account of the origin of morality and the genesis of conscience.
Many persons, religious thinkers especially, among whom Mr. Charles Kingsley may be cited as an instance, while willing to accept any reasonable conclusion of science as to the origin and constitution of man, appeared determined to reserve conscience as something inexplicable by any effort of human thinking, and therefore as a direct gift of God to His creatures : others, again, have gone so far as to assert that the idea of duty as of divine obligation must perish, if the nature and growth of conscience could be explained, as part of the evolution of the race, by natural causation. This feeling, natural and indeed honourable, was strengthened by the fact that the explanation given of the place of conscience in evolution seemed to un prejudiced minds—seemed also to that communis sensus which is VOL. IV.-No. 17.
after all the ultimate court of arbitration in these matters on the whole inadequate to account for the phenomenon for which explanation was desired. These persistently averred that they were conscious of something within them which no considerations derived from utility or from social life, or from the transference of external sanctions to the inward individual consciousness, at all explained or enforced. To a certain extent this feeling was itself a justification of resistance to the claims of evolution to be regarded as a sufficient history of the creation of man. The evolutionists had claimed to be able to make clear to its possessors the mystery of conscience, and if reasonable men asserted that, so far as they were concerned, the sense of mystery remained, it was clear that the last word on the subject was not yet spoken.
I am certainly very far from thinking that the last word will be spoken for some time to come, but I make bold to believe that it is possible to throw further light upon the subject without at all departing from the general principle of evolution to which I have for long given such intellectual adherence as was in my power. Let us then begin by endeavouring to understand what were the precise features in the power called conscience, which seemed to intuitional thinkers to baffle and defy the explanations of the evolutionists.
Their general point of view may be fairly expressed by the statement that the conscience must have had an existence prior to the conditions out of which it was supposed to have been evolved. Drawn out in detail, this statement contains the three following propositions :
(1.) Conscience is instantaneous—that is, innate—in its origin, and therefore not to be accounted for by the supposition that by degrees it was impressed upon the mind from without. It bears so strong a resemblance to the other faculties, the senses and emotions, that, like them, it must have formed part of the original constitution of man. When examined it seems to testify that it is in no sense a composition, not made up of long and varied experiences, but the result of a single creative act, or at any rate the instantaneous product of certain conditions brought for the first time into relation with each other. In other words, the length of time postulated by evolutionists for the development of man is not granted them in the case of conscience. We shall see presently whether they really require it.
(2.) Conscience is instantaneous—that is, intuitional-in its operations, and therefore not to be accounted for by the action and reaction of social relationships. Had there been but one man, that one man would have been able to say, 'I must do this;' and, again, there must have been a sense that it was right to combine for social purposes of mutual help and comfort before men could have conceived the idea of doing so. The notion that I ought to act in a certain way towards my neighbour is, if not a primary, at least a
very easy one, whereas the notion that I ought to act in a certain way, because it is for his or our advantage, seems primâ facie a much later one. There is, in short, a correlation between the conscience and an external rightness, which is just as natural, as rapid, as unaffected by later relationships, as is the correlation between the eye and light. In primeval man the conscience detects, however dimly and imperfectly, morality in actions just as the eye detects shape and colour in objects. Social and civilised life may enable him to see more clearly and explain more completely, but it cannot give him either the eye or the conscience.
(3.) Conscience is also instantaneous—that is, imperative--in its commands. It never stops to argue when once the right is, or is thought to be, ascertained. But if mankind had reached the lofty heights of duty by the ladder of utility or the gradually growing influence of external sanctions, it might have been expected that some fragments of the ladder, some traces of the process, some memory of the time when ought' was a word of dubious meaning and uncertain cogency, would have been preserved. The evidence derivable from the histories of savage existence seems plainly to indicate that this imperativeness of conscience is inseparable from the most rudimentary stage of moral and social life. In short, to put the matter as briefly as possible, those who object to the theory of evolution maintain that it is impossible to conceive of any creature entitled to the name of a human being who was not as much furnished with a conscience as any of his successors. True, the primeval conscience had not begun to construct moral rules any more than the primeval eye had formed theories of light and form ; but the existence of both was equally indisputable and essential to the idea of man.
Now, if it can be shown that there is a place in evolution for the formation of a conscience fulfilling all these conditions-if, that is, the theory of evolution can be proved to account precisely for those phenomena that seem primâ facie to militate most strongly against it-if this feature, which I have called instantaneousness, and have exhibited in three of its leading characteristics, is exactly what one might expect to find in the evolution of the human race--then I submit we have obtained a confirmation of the truth of the said theory of that nature which appeals most forcibly to the common sense and practical judgment of mankind. Let this, then, be the judge as to whether all that is instantaneous in conscience is not fully accounted for by the considerations I am about to urge.
In seeking to account for the origin of man by evolution we are obliged frequently to confess that the entire absence of contemporary evidence compels us, at any rate for the present, to say of many phenomena, that if we knew more we should be able to answer difficulties and clear up perplexities which seem at this present