Page images
PDF
EPUB

since it refers mysterious effects to causes still more mysterious, and wholly beyond the range of human knowledge, it hardly deserves serious refutation.

Mr. Kirby proposes, but with much apparent hesitation, another theory, which really coincides, though the author seems not to be aware of the fact, with the doctrine of Descartes. He supposes, that all the phenomena of instinct are produced by physical action upon the varied organization of animals ; that light, heat, electricity, and perhaps other agencies still more subtile, exert as much influence upon the actions of animals as upon the growth of plants. He compares “the sunflower and the hive-bee, the compound flowers of the one, and the aggregate of combs of the other, the receptacle with its seeds, and the combs with the grubs.” The analogy here is so far-fetched that it is hardly any analogy at all, for the author compares the body of the sunflower not with the body, but with the works, of the bee. The phenomena of growth have no similarity with those of action ; we might as well compare fermentation with falsehood. The sunflower properly resembles, not the bee, but the hive.

But argument is not needed to expose the futility of such speculations. An attempt to explain the ultimate cause of any phenomena, whether of matter or mind, is a hopeless undertaking ; and it argues only a confusion of ideas, and an ignorance of the proper objects of human inquiry, to make the trial. We investigate the qualities of an object, or determine the character of a phenomenon, with a view only to its proper classification, — to determine its relations to other objects and phenomena, and thereby to assign to it a proper place in the scale of things. We now seek to ascertain the true character of instinct, or rather of the brute mind, of which, perhaps, instinct is only one of the manifestations. We narrow the inquiry still further by asking what the mind of animals is, not in itself considered, but in relation to a single class of other phenomena, the manifestations of the human mind. Is instinct only a lower degree of intelligence, or a modification of it, or is it wholly peculiar and distinct, so as not properly to be classed with human reason any more than with electricity ?

It is first necessary to determine the meaning of the word, or to ascertain the phenomena to which the term instinct is usually applied. Some writers speak of “ physical instincts,”

among which they class the beating of the heart, the peristaltic motion of the bowels, the secretions in the animal economy, and the like. But as these motions are regular and involuntary, they are more properly considered as automatic or mechanical, and are classed with the phenomena of life rather than with those of instinct. Operations corresponding to them, or exactly similar, are carried on in vegetables ; and some of them, even in animals after death, may be renewed through the application of a galvanic battery. At any rate, as they are wholly independent of the action of mind, they may be put aside in the present investigation.

As the appetites and passions seek their own gratification without the aid of reason, and frequently in spite of it, they also are often called instinctive in their operation. But these are common to man and the brute, and they differ, at least in one important respect, from those instincts of the lower animals which are usually contrasted with human reason. The objects towards which they are directed are prized for their own sake ; they are 'sought as ends, while instinct teaches brutes to do many things which are needed only as means for the attainment of some ulterior purpose. Thus, instinct enables a spider to entrap his prey, while appetite only leads him to devour it when in his possession. Nay, the two impulses often act in opposition to each other, as when the bird restrains its own hunger for the sake of feeding its young. Appetite is blind, and affords a motive, but no guidance, for effort ; instinct, on the other hand, both supplies an object for action, and points out a course for its attainment. It is true that appetite sometimes appears to direct the choice, yet so far only as the want of it leads the animal to reject unsuitable food, and to devour that which is adapted for its physical organization. That a dog will not eat hay, nor a horse swallow raw meat, is no more a proof of instinct, than the corresponding fact in man, that sweet things are pleasant to the taste, while bitters are disagreeable, is an indication of reason.

Yet the two are often confounded both by physiologists

Galen is quoted by Dugald Stewart, as it was devised by its author, in order to show that instinct is antecedent to experience, when it only proves that the appetites of animals distinguish between different classes of food, or that they mani. fest preference and aversion. « On dissecting,” says Galen, “a goat great with young, I found a brisk embryon, and having detached it from the matrix, and snatched it away before it saw its dam, I brought it into a room where there were many vessels, some filled with wine, others with oil, some with honey, others with milk, or some other liquor, and in others there were grains and fruits. We first observed the young animal get upon its feet and walk; then it shook itself, and afterwards scratched its side with one of its feet; then we saw it smelling to every one of those things that were set in the room, and when it had smelt to them all, it drank up the milk." Thereupon Galen and his friends cried out with admiration, “ seeing clearly,” as he says, “ that the natures [actions] of animals come not from instruction,” but from instinct. He might also have said, that human actions of this class are equally untaught, for the infant readily accepts its proper food, while it loathes the nauseous medicine.

It is evident that the appetites are called instinctive only because they are not acquired by experience or instruction; they are innate. But this is far from being the only characteristic of what are usually termed the instincts of the lower animals, which often lead to complex and prolonged tasks, involving a constant sacrifice of their natural desires and inclinations. We place the more stress upon this point, because, as will be shown hereafter, if the name of instinct be denied to these original and simple preferences and aversions, there will appear good reason to doubt whether man is ever governed by instinct properly so called, whether all his actions are not reducible to passion, appetite, and reason. Instinct may exist in the brute conjointly with a low degree of intelligence; but the intellect of man is pure and unmixed. It may be obscured by appetite, or stormed by passion ; habit may render its operations so swift and easy, that we cannot note their succession ; but when free from these disturbing forces, it acts always with a full perception of the end in view, and by a deliberate choice of means aims at its accomplishment. Instinct is marvellous and inscrutable in its operations, as much so as reason itself. But that the appetites have their appropriate objects, and reject all others, is no special cause for wonder, any more than the fact that glass transmits light, while it is impervious to air. Such is its original constitution.

How may we describe instinct, then, as distinguished from

[graphic]

appetite on the one hand, and from reason on the other, as all three are motives or guides to action! It is an impulse conceived without instruction, and prior to all experience, to perform certain acts which are not needed for the immediate gratification of the agent, but are useful only as means for the attainment of some ulterior object ; and this object is usually one of preëminent utility or necessity, either for the preservation of the animal's own life, or for the continuance of its species. The former quality separates it from intelligence properly so called, which proceeds only by experience or instruction ; and the latter is its peculiar trait as distinguished from appetite, which in strictness uses no means at all, but looks only to ends.

Instances without number may be adduced to establish the existence of both these characteristic features of instinct. Chickens hatched by steam, which have never seen any older birds of the same species, perform all the duties of incubation and feeding their young as perfectly as if they had been the constant objects of Dame Partlet's care in their own callow infancy. Insects born only after the death of their parents still run the little cycle of their appointed tasks, and make provision for their own future progeny, which they are never to see, with as much labor and foresight as were exercised in preparing and storing their own cradles. In such cases, there is no opportunity for experience, and no source of instruction. Again, certain insects, governing for the moment their own appetites, which would lead them to devour their food as soon as found, store up in subterranean cells a provision for the coming wioter, though as yet they have experienced only the warmth and abundance of summer and autumn. The moth with great care collects food of a kind which it never uses for itself, as a provision for its young when in the transition state. Other instances may be found to any extent in works on the several branches of zoology ; but these are sufficient for our present purpose.

It is important to look rather at the great number of these unquestioned instances of true instinct, than at a few doubtful cases, in which it may seem difficult to determine whether the action is attributable to instinct or to reason. We may not be able to draw with mathematical precision the line where intelligence begins ; but there is no doubt that a multitude of cases lie far beyond that line, where we cannot hesitate for a

moment in assigning them to their proper class. Some naturalists have shown great ingenuity to little purpose in the attempt to resolve into reason one or two instances of what had commonly been considered as instinct, without reflecting that by so doing they required a greater amount, or higher degree, of wisdom than could safely be attributed to a Solomon. One such instance as that of a duck, which had been hatched from an egg laid under a hen, taking to the water immediately after it was released from its shell, to the great consternation of its foster parent, is enough to upset Darwin's whole theory.

Another peculiarity of instinct, and one of the broadest grounds of distinction between it and reason, is that it is not susceptible of improvement or education. It is complete from the beginning ; it makes no progress either in the individual or the race. The bee, as soon after its disclosure from the pupa as its body is dried and its wings expanded, takes its part in the labors of the little commonwealth with as much apparent activity and efficiency as its elders. It collects honey and builds a cell as adroitly in the first as in the last hour of its existence. And so it is with the species ; the internal economy of a hive was just as marvellous in the days of Aristotle and Virgil as in those of Huber. It is sometimes asserted, indeed, that the descendants of animals trained for domestic purposes show greater docility, and may more easily be taught to perform their required tasks, than individuals of the same species whose parents had remained in a wild or undisciplined state. The alleged fact is a very questionable one, and may very probably have arisen from the circumstance, that the training of the former class began at an earlier age than that of the latter. As the imitative principle exists to a greater or less degree in all quadrupeds and birds, the habits of their young must be affected to some extent, from the earliest period of their existence, by observation of the movements of the elder animals around them. If a wild colt could be taken from the prairies immediately after it was foaled, and placed at once in the stable or the pasture by the side of the domesticated animal, it would probably show as much docility as the proper offspring of that animal, while a very short experience of entire freedom with the wild herd might render it less tractable. But even if we were to give full credit to the story, it would prove nothing as to the

VOL. LXIII. — No. 132.

« PreviousContinue »