THE privilege of claiming your attention for a few minutes is doubtless given to me as a biologist, and I shall speak chiefly of the biological aspects of the subject, leaving to others to discuss its sociological aspects.
There are three phases of the problem of human betterment—culture, eugenics and evolution—and these need to be carefully distinguished. They are commonly confused in the minds of those who have given little thought to the biological aspects of the problem, and such confusion is likely to lead to misdirected effort. The biologist who makes no claim to be a sociologist may make a few suggestions to which the student of social problems may well give heed.
Human betterment may be secured through work for the relief of distress, through education of the individual, by inspiring him to action upon a higher moral plane. By the cumulative effects of such culture, generation after generation, great social advance may be made. It is by this method that our great advance in civilization has been secured. This is, of course, work of the greatest value, promoting profoundly human happiness and social progress. It needs no defense. It makes a strong natural appeal to every normal man. If effort for the comfort of domestic animals is recognized by us all as of worth, how much more must we approve all intelligent endeavor to advance human welfare. In nothing that I shall say would I wish to be interpreted as lacking in appreciation of and enthusiasm for such individual and social culture. Contributing to the happiness of one's family and neighbors, promotion of normal living among them, is a life motive worthy of any man, and when we realize that the betterment thus effected need not cease with the present generation, but may improve the social conditions under which all following generations shall live, this ideal becomes glorified.
But in all the centuries of known human history, while wonderful advance in individual conduct and social relations has been secured through the cumulative effect of the cultural effort that has been made, there has been little, if any, advancement in innate human character. There has been through all the centuries little, if any, improved inheritance for the race as a result of the many generations of culture. I have before written:
- Presented before the National Conference on Race Betterment.