Essays: Scientific, Political, & Speculative, Vol. I
Excepting those which have appeared as articles in periodicals during the last eight years, the essays here gathered together were originally re-published in separate volumes at long intervals. The first volume appeared in December 1857; the second in November 1863; and the third in February 1874. By the time the original editions of the first two had been sold, American reprints, differently entitled and having the essays differently arranged, had been produced; and, for economy's sake, I have since contented myself with importing successive supplies printed from the American stereotype plates. Of the third volume, however, supplies have, as they were required, been printed over here, from plates partly American and partly English. The completion of this final edition of course puts an end to this make-shift arrangement.
The essays above referred to as having been written since 1882, are now incorporated with those previously re-published. There are seven of them; namely – "Morals and Moral Sentiments," "The Factors of Organic Evolution," "Professor Green's Explanations," "The Ethics of Kant," "Absolute Political Ethics," "From Freedom to Bondage," and "The Americans." As well as these large additions there are small additions, in the shape of postscripts to various essays – one to "The Constitution of the Sun," one to "The Philosophy of Style," one to "Railway Morals," one to "Prison Ethics," and one to "The Origin and Function of Music: " which last is about equal in length to the original essay. Changes have been made in many of the essays: in some cases by omitting passages and in other cases by including new ones. Especially the essay on "The Nebular Hypothesis" may be named as one which, though unchanged in essentials, has been much altered by additions and subtractions, and by bringing its statements up to date; so that it has been in large measure re-cast. Beyond these respects in which this final edition differs from preceding editions, it differs in having undergone a verification of its references and quotations, as well as a second verbal revision.
Naturally the fusion of three separate series of essays into one series, has made needful a general re-arrangement. Whether to follow the order of time or the order of subjects was a question which presented itself; and, as neither alternative promised satisfactory results, I eventually decided to compromise – to follow partly the one order and partly the other. The first volume is made up of essays in which the idea of evolution, general or special, is dominant. In the second volume essays dealing with philosophical questions, with abstract and concrete science, and with aesthetics, are brought together; but though all of them are tacitly evolutionary, their evolutionism is an incidental rather than a necessary trait. The ethical, political, and social essays composing the third volume, though mostly written from the evolution point of view, have for their more immediate purposes the enunciation of doctrines which are directly practical in their bearings. Meanwhile, within each volume the essays are arranged in order of time: not indeed strictly, but so far as consists with the requirements of sub-classing.
Beyond the essays included in these three volumes, there remain several which I have not thought it well to include – in some cases because of their personal character, in other cases because of their relative unimportance, and in yet other cases because they would scarcely be understood in the absence of the arguments to which they are replies. But for the convenience of any who may wish to find them, I append their titles and places of publication. These are as follows: – "Retrogressive Religion," in The Nineteenth Century for July 1884; "Last Words about Agnosticism and the Religion of Humanity," in The Nineteenth Century for November 1884; a note to Prof. Cairns' Critique on the Study of Sociology, in The Fortnightly Review, for February 1875; "A Short Rejoinder" [to Mr. J. F. McLennan], Fortnightly Review, June 1877; "Prof. Goldwin Smith as a Critic," Contemporary Review, March 1882; "A Rejoinder to M. de Laveleye," Contemporary Review, April 1885.
London, December, 1890.
THE DEVELOPMENT HYPOTHESIS
[Originally published in The Leader, for March 20, 1852. Brief though it is, I place this essay before the rest, partly because with the exception of a similarly-brief essay on "Use and Beauty", it came first in order of time, but chiefly because it came first in order of thought, and struck the keynote of all that was to follow.]
In a debate upon the development hypothesis, lately narrated to me by a friend, one of the disputants was described as arguing that as, in all our experience, we know no such phenomenon as transmutation of species, it is unphilosophical to assume that transmutation of species ever takes place. Had I been present I think that, passing over his assertion, which is open to criticism, I should have replied that, as in all our experience we have never known a species created, it was, by his own showing, unphilosophical to assume that any species ever had been created.
Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution as not being adequately supported by facts, seem to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all. Like the majority of men who are born to a given belief, they demand the most rigorous proof of any adverse belief, but assume that their own needs none. Here we find, scattered over the globe, vegetable and animal organisms numbering, of the one kind (according to Humboldt), some 320,000 species, and of the other, some 2,000,000 species (see Carpenter); and if to these we add the numbers of animal and vegetable species which have become extinct, we may safely estimate the number of species that have existed, and are existing, on the Earth, at not less than ten millions. Well, which is the most rational theory about these ten millions of species? Is it most likely that there have been ten millions of special creations? or is it most likely that, by continual modifications due to change of circumstances, ten millions of varieties have been produced, as varieties are being produced still?
Doubtless many will reply that they can more easily conceive ten millions of special creations to have taken place, than they can conceive that ten millions of varieties have arisen by successive modifications. All such, however, will find, on inquiry, that they are under an illusion. This is one of the many cases in which men do not really believe, but rather believe they believe. It is not that they can truly conceive ten millions of special creations to have taken place, but that they think they can do so. Careful introspection will show them that they have never yet realized to themselves the creation of even one species. If they have formed a definite conception of the process, let them tell us how a new species is constructed, and how it makes its appearance. Is it thrown down from the clouds? or must we hold to the notion that it struggles up out of the ground? Do its limbs and viscera rush together from all the points of the compass? or must we receive the old Hebrew idea, that God takes clay and moulds a new creature? If they say that a new creature is produced in none of these modes, which are too absurd to be believed, then they are required to describe the mode in which a new creature may be produced – a mode which does not seem absurd; and such a mode they will find that they neither have conceived nor can conceive.
Should the believers in special creations consider it unfair thus to call upon them to describe how special creations take place, I reply that this is far less than they demand from the supporters of the Development Hypothesis. They are merely asked to point out a conceivable mode. On the other hand, they ask, not simply for a conceivable mode, but for the actual mode. They do not say – Show us how this may take place; but they say – Show us how this does take place. So far from its being unreasonable to put the above question, it would be reasonable to ask not only for a possible mode of special creation, but for an ascertained mode; seeing that this is no greater a demand than they make upon their opponents.
And here we may perceive how much more defensible the new doctrine is than the old one. Even could the supporters of the Development Hypothesis merely show that the origination of species by the process of modification is conceivable, they would be in a better position than their opponents. But they can do much more than this. They can show that the process of modification has effected, and is effecting, decided changes in all organisms subject to modifying influences. Though, from the impossibility of getting at a sufficiency of facts, they are unable to trace the many phases through which any existing species has passed in arriving at its present form, or to identify the influences which caused the successive