« PreviousContinue »
The sphincter muscle of the mouth may do the same, when any object comes within its grasp ; and then the child needs but a single inspiration, which automatically recurs at every instant, with perhaps a little aid from the parent, in order to have its first pleasant experience of the gratification of appetite. When this pleasure has been a few times repeated, the habit, aided by the uneasiness of hunger, becomes so strong, though at the same time so blind, that the infant eagerly sucks every object presented to its mouth. It is this eagerness, manifested at so early a period, which has led most observers to consider the action as instinctive.
When the means are very closely connected with the end, it is often difficult, as in the case of sucking, to say whether the action is properly instinctive, or the result of mere appetite. In respect to the instincts of animals this doubt seldom arises ; for in most of them the means are separated, so to speak, by a wide interval from the end, the utility of the action being wholly prospective. Thus, the bee builds an unusually large cell for the accommodation of a future queen, though the royal egg be not laid yet. It is very certain that there are no instincts of this sort in man. In the case of animals, too, the means are often complex and intricate, as well as far-reaching ; while in the commonly alleged instance in the human subject, the means are of the simplest character, the result, most probably, of a single volition. We have, then, only to suppose this simple action to be agreeable in itself, and it ceases to be a means, and the act loses every characteristic of instinct. If agreeable food be placed in the mouth, the gratification of the palate, or the inconvenient position of the food, especially if it be liquid, when it comes near the æsophagus, may lead to the attempt to swallow it. Deglutition certainly is not a very complex process; and the infant's first few experiments in this way, as its posture usually brings the power of gravitation to aid it, may reasonably be thought sufficient to render it soon very expert in the process. Dr. Darwin maintains that the fætus learns to swallow by its experience in utero. Whatever may be thought of this opinion, it is certainly more plausible than that of Dugald Stewart, who ascribes the operations not only of suction and swallowing, but even of respiration, to instinct. He mentions the fact, that thirty pair of muscles must be employed in every draught, and seems to believe that a distinct volition is required for the movement
of each pair ; though the well known facts respecting the catenation of the muscular actions might have convinced him of the absurdity of such a theory. It is quite remarkable that a philosopher, usually so well informed and so judicious, could make the following statement :
“An infant, the moment it is brought into the world, performs with the most perfect success the function of respiration; a function which requires the alternate contraction and relaxation of certain muscles in a regular order and succession. The infant has certainly no idea that breathing is necessary to life, nor any knowledge of the means by which that end is accomplished.” — Philosophy of the Mind, Vol. 111., p. 242, Am. ed.
Having already pointed out the error of confounding the phenomena of life with those of instinct, we may pass over this strange passage without further comment. Some remote and beneficial purpose is always answered by the gratification, within due limits, of all the appetites ; yet the act is performed not from a regard to that purpose, but under the immediate impulse of blind desire. Thus, taking food preserves life; yet men do not usually eat because they are afraid of death, but because they are hungry. Great uneasiness or pain is the consequence of an attempt to hold the breath for a single minute ; so far as the act is at all under the control of the will, we breathe to avoid this pain. But the act of respiration, in great part, is unquestionably mechanical, – as much so as the beating of the heart, or the secretion made by the liver.
Whether we have rightly limited the meaning of the word instinct, so as to exclude from it all operations of this class, all the appetites and passions, and the indirect consequences of gratifying them, is a question which relates merely to the propriety of language, and does not at all concern the truth of our present theory. It has now been conclusively shown, if we mistake not, that a class of phenomena are manifested by the lower animals, which may be as sharply distinguished from the effects of human reason, on the one hand, as from those of appetite and natural desire on the other; and these phenomena alone are attributed to a power which we have chosen, for the purposes of convenience, to call instinct. Give it any other appellation, and it will answer the purpose just as well.
All the lower animals manifest it, - man never
does ; – these are the only propositions with which we are now concerned.
The Scotch school of metaphysicians, which Mr. Stewart adorned with his learning and the graces of his character and style, more than with the novelty of his views or the profundity of his reasoning, is noted for its inclination to multiply the number of ultimate and unaccountable facts in human nature. In so doing, they have often, in popular phrase, “ found a mare's nest," or made a great mystery out of a very simple thing. Stewart's naïve astonishment, that an infant, as soon as it comes into the world, should know how to breathe “ with the most perfect success,” is certainly an amusing instance of this weakness. The instinct of brutes is, doubtless, a mysterious faculty ; and the Scotch philosophers have therefore sought with great eagerness for proofs that this marvellous power belongs also to man. But they have not met with great success in the undertaking. Both Reid and Stewart consider the propensity to unconscious imitation, on which we have already remarked, as an instinct ; we have classed it rather with the appetites and passions, which are the concomitants of instinct in animals, and of reason in man. And the reason for this classification is obvious. The desire or propensity to imitate is natural or connate; the power of imitating successfully does not appear at all in the outset, is slowly acquired by observation and experience, and may be perfected by study and practice.
We have now considered all the instances that we can find adduced, either by physiologists or metaphysicians, to show that man is ever directed by instincts like those of the brute. These instances are all referable to the phenomena of life, the teachings of experience, or the class of appetites. Human nature shows no trace whatever of that marvellous power which governs the bee in the construction of its cell, and guides the migrating bird in its long flight to its winter home. But man is the only being who is not under its influence ; every other animal, from the noblest quadruped to the humblest insect, gives frequent indications of its presence and control. So numerous and striking, indeed, are the manifestations of it by every species, that there appears good reason to doubt whether it is ever mingled, even in them, with what can properly be called intellect'; whether all the marvellous cases of reputed sagacity and intelligence in the higher animals may not be resolved, after all, into a mere blind propensity to imitate actions, the purpose and meaning of which they cannot understand, or into an instinct more flexible and varied, indeed, than that of the lower species, but which still shows distinctly that it is radically different from reason. But it is hard to prove a negative ; and in this case, it would be necessary to analyze an indefinite number of supposed manifestations of intelligence by brutes, and to show that they may all be explained by the action of those blind and unconscious powers which certainly govern far the greater part of their actions. Without entering upon this laborious and difficult task, we leave this point to rest upon the single consideration of the striking improbability of the lower animals being endowed with reason, which they need to exercise only on infrequent and extraordinary emergencies, while all the ordinary occasions of their being, their wants, dangers, and the preservation of their species, are provided for by the lower attributes with which they are specially endowed. These certainly suffice for the most wonderful works that are performed by them ; the whole insect tribe unquestionably knows no other guide than instinct ; and if this power be enough to account for the actions of the ant and the bee, we hardly need seek any other key to the supposed sagacity of the dog and the elephant, as they also possess it, and nearly all their conduct must be referred to its control.
But the negative on the other side is more easily supported, and by direct evidence. However it may be with the brute, reason is not mixed with instinct (properly so called) in man. We have the immediate testimony of consciousness, that we never select means until experience has informed us of their efficacy, and never use them but with a full knowledge of their relation to the end. If instinct, then, be radically unlike intelligence, the question respecting the nature of the difference between the human and the brute mind is answered, at least, so far that we may safely declare the difference to be in kind, and not merely in degree. The relation between the works of man and those of the brute, - considered as indicating the powers which produce them, is
a relation of analogy, but not of affinity. The architecture of the bee is equal, is even superior, to that of man, and perfectly similar purposes are answered by the two structures ; but they are erected by totally different means.
Each of the qualities of instinct on which we have remarked is a peculiarity of it in respect to reason, and serves to distinguish it from that faculty by a line more or less broad; while the aggregate of these peculiarities shows conclusively that the difference between the two is fundamental. This will appear more clearly from a summary of the several points which we have considered. It has been shown, then, ihat instinct exists before experience, and is wholly independent of instruction ; that it is not susceptible of education or improvement of any kind, either in the individual or the race; that it works successfully towards important and remote ends by the use of complex and laborious means, yet without any apparent consciousness of the difference between means and ends ; that it acts, in truth, by impulse, and not through reflection, - at least, as much so as the man who has gained by habit the power of performing a long operation without reflecting on any part of it ; that it is limited to a few objects, and out of the narrow sphere of work required for these objects it is wholly powerless; and that, consequently, it appears in the same animal, and at the same time, both as the most brutish stupidity and as the highest wisdom, in so far as its creations shame the utmost ingenuity of man. As we are confessedly ignorant of the internal constitution of both faculties, reason and instinct, and are reduced to judge of them exclusively by their outward manifestations, it is difficult to conceive of two powers which should appear more radically unlike.
It is easy to give the reins to conjecture respecting the inward essence or ultimate cause of a faculty which appears to human reason so anomalous. Though theories formed in this manner, so far as they profess to be complete, must be equally unsusceptible of proof or disproof, and are therefore idle exercises of ingenuity, yet one or two points, perhaps, may be satisfactorily made out respecting the mental constitution of brutes, which will afford us a glimpse of the final end of their being. Whether instinct be the mere action of a curious machine, or the effect of the constant agency and promptings of the Deity, or the working of some still more secret principle, which is nowhere manifested but in animal life, it is not a free and conscious power of the animal itself in which it appears and works. It is, if we may so speak, a foreign agency, which enters not into the individuality of the brute. The