Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/55

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KANT AND EVOLUTION 51

not, on the occasion of some great revolutions of nature, be followed by a third — an epoch in which an orang-outang or a chimpanzee should perfect the organs which serve for walking, touching, speaking, into the articulated structure of a human being, with a central organ for the use of the understanding, and should gradually develop itself through social culture.

Only to a superficial reading can this passage exhibit Kant in the guise of an evolutionist in biology. For, in the first place, there is no indication that he conceives even these extensive modifications of form and function as transforming the animals of which he speaks into new " natural " species, in his own sense of that term. In the second place, the passage does not suggest that the existing human species is descended from the apes. For in the " second epoch " mentioned, we already find our human ancestors living the household life; and the "third epoch," characterized by such striking improvements in the orang-outang and the chimpanzee, is subsequent to the second, and, in fact, still in the future.'* Finally, even to this hopeful anticipation of a " good time coming " for the apes at some future " revolution of na- ture," Kant does not really subscribe ; he merely expresses some passing wonder whether something of the sort " might not " occur. As a matter of fact, his publication of so vague and inept a passage as this after Maupertuis, Buffon, Diderot, Erasmus Darwin and Goethe*** had written, shows that in his declining years he had not lost that consti- tutional aversion from the proper hypothesis of organic evolution which we have found to be characteristic of him from the beginning of his career. Also from the beginning, it is true, we have seen in him, as we see here, a constant vague inclination towards evolutionistic modes of thought. But through all that half-century, which constituted the period of the true beginnings of biological evolutionism Kant, our analysis has shown, never once professed belief in the transf ormist ; nor did he ever show an ability to apprehend clearly either the precise meaning or the force of the considerations which could even then be adduced in favor of that doctrine.

•• Only by disregarding the natural construction of Kant's language can the sentence about the " third epoch " be interpreted as referring to past time. Wallace (from whose skilful rendering of the passage I have borrowed some phrases) asks: "Has Kant cautiously put the future instead of the past, and hinted at what probably has been rather than what may one day be? " (" Kant," p. 115.) But why should Kant in 1798 have felt obliged to hint so obliquely at an idea familiar to his contemporaries for half a century, which Buffon had hinted at a good deal more plainly, and several celebrated writers had adopted? The desire to avoid theological opprobrium could hardly have been a motive for taking so evasive and misleading a way of imparting his real view. For theolog- ical opprobrium was as likely to attach to certain opinions which he frankly accepted — and probably to the hypothesis of the future transformation of apes into rational beings — as to the hypothesis of their past transformation.

  • • Goethe's first unequivocally evolutionary utterance seems to be found in

his " VortrSge Qber die . . . allgemeine Einleitung in die vergleichende Anat- omie," 1796. Cf. Wasielewski, " Gfoethe und die Deaeendenzlehre," p. 27.

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