Page images

tions of animals with what we know men ought to do. It is this question of ought which appears as the outstanding and distinguishing feature in human life, on which we are now seeking to direct attention with all the concentration which physiologists secure when the microscope is directed on brain tissue. The true feature here is elevation and complexity of intellectual action, and the possibility of assigning this to brain action. The question is no doubt concerned with conduct both in the animal, and in man,—but what we wish to ascertain is, how far action or conduct in the two cases throws light on the exercise of intelligence possible to man and to animal. It is admitted that to act on a law of benevolence requires a higher exercise of intelligence, than to act under a law of desire or sensitive impulse; and we wish to reach definite conclusions on two points; first, and subordinately, whether animals ever act on the higher law; second, and chiefly, whether such action does not involve as its condition an intellectual exercise of a higher order than can be assigned to brain. The former of these questions, subordinate to the present inquiry, may be left to naturalists. The second concerns us directly here, in the more important discussion as to man.

With the view of completing the defence against disturbing entanglement, it may be well further to insert here the explicit statement that men do very commonly act in neglect of the law of benevolence, and even in violation of it. The fact is too well known in society to be overlooked. It may be enough, however, in the present connection, to admit that men do often act like the animals; or, to state the fact more precisely in form, the animal nature is often found governing men, so as to make their action resemble that of the lower animals in the struggle for existence.

These lines of severance will now make clear what is our main question,—Is man capable of recognizing a higher law of life? Does a law of benevolence apply to him as a rational creature, as it can not apply in the history of the animals around us? And if this question be answered in the affirmative, does such answer imply the exercise of a higher power than can be scientifically assigned to brain cells?

That man recognizes a law of benevolence as determining personal conduct will not be formally disputed by any one. Yet so very much bearing on the present argument is involved in the interpretation to be assigned to this admission, that it is desirable to present at least in outline, the evidence on which the statement rests. If we look at the facts * in view of the ordinary actions of the lower animals, a series of contrasts is presented. The animals are seen to compete with each other for what is a common object of desire, such as a favorite article of food; and to fight with each other for possession; the consequence is that the strongest and most daring get what they seek, while the weaker and more timid must be content with what is of less value for gratification of their desire. These facts are so conspicuous and so constant in their influence on the whole race of animals that the theory of the origin of species by descent founds upon them. A complete contrast appears in what man recognizes as the rule of his conduct, when he admits the obligation to benevolence. There is a reflective exercise concerned with the right and wrong in human conduct which regards it as a wrong thing for a man to snatch from another the enjoyment within his reach, or subvert his opportunity for happiness in order to increase his own pleasure. On the other hand, there is an exercise of thought which contemplates effort for the good of others as right, even extending the application of this law of moral life so far as to require self-denial, and, in circumstances of special importance, self-sacrifice, for the good of others. These are facts so elementary, that the statement of them would be felt to be uncalled for, were we not seeking to distinguish the elements of our ordinary experience. In accordance with what has been said, we are agreed in regarding it as a wrong done to another if we deprive him of enjoyment simply for the sake of our own satisfaction. Such conduct is what we condemn as selfishness in the agent, and a wrong to the sufferer. When on the contrary we subordinate personal pleasure in order to secure the happiness of another, we commend the benevolent disposition in which the act originates, and we honor attention shown to the rights of a fellowman. As the contrary lines of conduct are so often followed, and even vindicated as permissible in the competitions of life, we need to show with some care that the law of benevolence is uniformly regarded as a law of human conduct even when its requirements are unfulfilled. This becomes obvious if we look along another line of observation. If we pass from what a man does to his fellowmen to what he is seen to expect of them, we at once perceive that the authoritative feature alleged to belong to the principle of benevolence is admitted by him. He resents the selfishness from which he has suffered, complains of the unmanly act which found its pleasure in his injury, and an appeal to public opinion, on any occasion sufficiently important to involve a question of the interests of society, at once calls forth general condemnation of the selfish act as a real injustice.

That such a form and direction of thought belongs naturally to man has been further 6hown by the ready assent of the young to the law of benevolence, and their unhesitating test of their seniors by reference to it. If their irritability and resentment have

« PreviousContinue »