Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

dition of primeval man, Mr. Kidd tells us that observance of these customs is invariably secured by the fear of consequences from an agent which is always supernatural.' All acts and observances which have any social value or significance whatever-it is broadly asserted-must have some supernatural' sanction. As this is certainly not true of the beasts, from which man is said to be descended, what proof can there be, or what probability is there, that this dogma is true of man? The question has this great importance that on it depends our conception of the whole system of nature as the work, however marred, of one Supreme Mind, whose law is a law of righteousness and of truth. It is true that this question runs up into the last problem of all-the so-called 'Origin of Evil.' We do not ask Mr. Kidd to solve or to offer any attempt at the solution of it. But we have some right to ask that any philosophy which purports to be a new and constructive theory of the social evolution of man shall at least not invent new difficulties which would make that problem seem to be, not merely insoluble to our present knowledge, but laden with the great burden of some pretended knowledge which makes any solution impossible. After all, there are some steps of argument which, at least as far as they go, are in conformity with our reason, and these are some of the very arguments which Mr. Kidd's theories would at once confute. We can see that mere instinctive action is not in itself virtuous. We can see that the quality of virtue depends upon the existence of a free, intelligent, and responsible will. We can see that the very existence of such a will involves, of necessity, the possibility of an evil or mistaken choice. We can see that in proportion to the viciousness or error of such a choice great evils may, and must, arise. These are, at least, steps of argument which do not tend to throw the blame of all evil on the Author of the original constitution of nature, but which, on the contrary, do sensibly tend to indicate how it may be possible to conceive that all evil is due to conscious rebellion against the instincts He has implanted in us as well as in the beasts, and against those particular instincts, especially, which supply us with the data of all reasoning. Mr. Kidd's theory is profoundly antagonistic to every step in this direction. One of the very noblest of man's faculties-his reason-supplies him, we are told, with nothing but a stimulus and justification for his vicious propensities. It is true, no doubt, that if a savage knocks his fellow on the head just as he has killed or

trapped a beast, the reason of the murderer may tell him that he will be able to appropriate the meat to his own use. But surely we are not compelled to believe that his reason cannot also tell him that if he acts this cruel and treacherous part he himself will be a like victim on some other similar occasion. It is true that if any human mother deserts her child on the approach of any danger, her reason may tell her that she can thereby herself escape. But surely we are

not compelled to believe that her reason cannot also tell her that if she does so no children will long survive to her family or to her tribe. There is not the smallest reason to suppose that the savage mother acts in these matters from any supernatural sanction any more than does the mother ancestral monkey who sacrifices her own chance of safety by allowing her young to clasp her body and to encumber her flight. The attempt is futile to establish this sharp distinction between the so-called natural and supernatural-to deny, on the one hand, to the wonderful instincts of the lower animals an element of inspiration which is essentially super-rational so far as their consciousness is concerned, and to assert, on the other hand, that man has no share in this great common inheritance of all organic life. It is a theory which breaks down at once when it is confronted with the detailed facts of nature, as much as it breaks down in abstract thought when it is confronted with an analysis of the pretended antithesis it involves.

Then there is another point of view from which we see even more clearly the perilous position in which religion is placed by this philosophy. Mr. Kidd speaks as if all religions were the same in their saving effects against that one great enemy of them all-the reason of man. The one sole characteristic which is to him essential to the very idea of religion consists in beliefs which, because they are superrational, are defined as supernatural. But it is not true, as a fact, that all religious beliefs that satisfy this condition do also thereby perform the functions which he assigns to the supernatural in developing human society in a high and right direction. It is notoriously the fact, on the contrary, that religious beliefs have been, and now are, the very hotbeds of the most hideous acts, practices, and customs which have reduced human society to the lowest depths of degradation and decay. The doctrine of Lucretius on this subject is far more true to the facts of history and of nature than the doctrine of Mr. Kidd. The famous line, Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum,' is the animating conception

of the whole poem, and the passionate ascription of almost all human ills to the effects of religious beliefs in the region of the supernatural, is a striking evidence of what the poet actually saw in the most civilised societies then existing in the world. The same lesson is forcibly impressed upon us by all that we now know of the condition of the uncivilised men. The whole continent of Africa has been from time immemorial cursed and desolated by the most hideously cruel customs, every one of them founded on beliefs of a religious character, in the sense of their having all their origin and all their sanctions in the supernatural. It is not too much to say that, in many cases, the only hope of redemption from the horrors of religious superstitions has lain in the resistance offered by those rational and moral instincts implanted in the nature of man which Mr. Kidd's philosophy represents as wholly wanting, or, worse, as an additional source of corruption. It is to the occasional and exceptional developement of these instincts in individual men who may be born in the midst of the most corrupt and corrupting system of religious belief that we can alone attribute the appearance from time to time of such striking and attractive figures as Marcus Aurelius in the Roman world and the Emperor Ackbar in Mahommedan India. Nay more, it is the action of those instincts that almost created for themselves an atmosphere of natural sentiment which actually triumphed over the bad traditions of the classical mythology, and read into the conception even of the heathen gods something of that higher character which could alone make them really divine. There is no other explanation of the fact that in Plutarch and in other classical biographies it is constantly mentioned of great and good men that they cherished piety towards the gods. How such feelings could be cherished towards such beings as the classical gods were always represented to be, and how it could be recorded as a merit, would be an insoluble puzzle if we could not conceive that the human reason could, and did, recognise its own higher instincts and aspirations as better representations of the divine nature than those represented in the popular mythology. It is true that human corruption is a Christian doctrine, but not that kind of indelible and innate corruption which is involved in Mr. Kidd's philosophy-not a corruption which vitiates his reasonable nature, and impels him to revolt against all the laws which govern the system of which he forms a part. On the contrary, Christianity always appeals to the conscience of man, and claims to present to him a light which

is self-revealing. Man is corrupt-corrupted in a sense in which the beasts are not and cannot be. But in themselves his gifts and instincts have a strictly corresponding function. Wordsworth's explanation seems to be the true one, as more consistent with observed facts:

'Not in utter nakedness,

Not in entire forgetfulness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our Home.'

It may be urged, indeed, on behalf of Mr. Kidd's theory, that it is unfair to represent it as assuming the world to be so bad that its laws can have no sanction in the rational faculties of man, inasmuch as he represents the redeeming sense of the supernatural as also an implanted instinct. But inasmuch as this instinct is itself corruptible, and largely corrupted to the most extreme degree, we are still confronted with the fundamental conception of a world which is under the government of natural laws which must always appear to us as essentially irrational and unjust. There can be no mistake about the front rank in which he places this conception. In one passage he expressly deals with that view of economic and social laws which Mr. Herbert Spencer takes that they all tend to the ultimate developement of good and not of evil. Seeing in this view, we suppose, a foundation for rationalism and utilitarianism in morals, and seeing also in it some antagonism to the exclusive value and function which he assigns to religion, Mr. Kidd argues at length against it, and concludes thus:

'It would appear that we must reject this conception as being inconsistent with the teaching of evolutionary science. The forces which are at work in the evolution of society are working out the greatest good of the greatest number in a progressive community. But the earlier utilitarian conception of the greatest number has always related merely to the majority of the existing members of society at any time. The greatest good which the evolutionary forces operating in society are working out is the good of the organism as a whole. The greatest number, in this sense, is comprised of the members of generations yet unborn or unthought of, to whose interests the existing individuals are absolutely indifferent. And in the process of social evolution which the race is undergoing it is these latter interests which are always in the ascendent.' (Pp. 290–1.)

Here, again, we have the broadest assertion of a fundamental antagonism between the rational nature of every individual man and the whole system on which the world is governed. Surely the theory which Mr. Kidd regards as

VOL. CLXXIX. NO. CCCLXVIII.

L L

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

utilitarian and rationalist is at bottom a more religious theory than his own. Surely it is more to the glory of the supernatural Creator, if there be one, to see, with Mr. Herbert Spencer, in the process of social evolution going on around us a conciliation is taking place between the interests of ' each citizen and the interests of citizens at large, tending ever towards a state in which the two become merged in one, and in which the feelings answering to them re"spectively fall into complete control.' That these results cannot be attained without the co-operation and support of the religious instincts under the recognition and guidance of objective religious truths-this, indeed, is a much needed supplement to Mr. Herbert Spencer's hopeful view. We hold it, indeed, to be an indispensable condition of such hopes being ever realised. But that there is any necessary antagonism between those instincts, when so guided, and the laws of evolutionary' or of any other science we hold to be a mischievous misconception. We hold that the constitution of the natural world does tend to the welfare of all its parts; and although Mr. Herbert Spencer's system throws into the background, or omits altogether, the most indispensable of all the agencies which is concerned in this general result, he is unquestionably right in seeing in the evolution of our rational instincts a co-operating and not a perpetually antagonistic force. We are, indeed, in hearty sympathy with Mr. Kidd in his two great contentions against the physicists and the utilitarians, but we are not prepared to purchase the true conclusions on religion and on ethics, which we hold with him, at the cost of the concessions which he is willing to make in both of these subjects. We share all the impatience which he expresses on the triviality of the theory that a belief in ghosts is the origin of the religious sense in man; and we share not less with him the conviction that the moral sense can never be based on expectations of utility. But as in the question of religion we are not willing to relegate its precepts and its demands to some sphere wholly outside of nature, and fundamentally opposed to the rational faculties of the human spirit, so in the question of morals we are not willing to make the same kind of sacrifice. We hold with Mr. Kidd that the sense of obligation and of duty is in its own nature distinct and separate from the mere sense of self-interest, and that our very conception of virtue cannot be identified with the hope of its rewards. But we repudiate the doctrine he teaches, that the constitution of the world establishes no

« PreviousContinue »