Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/100

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82
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of reflecting upon their past conduct, then no animals can possess a moral sense, properly so called. And from this, of course, it follows that, if any animals can be shown to possess a moral sense, they are thereby also shown to be capable of reflecting upon their past conduct.

Again, if Mr. Darwin's theory concerning the origin and development of the moral sense is true, it is self-evident that we should not expect to find any indications of this faculty in animals that are either unsocial or unsympathetic. Supposing the theory true, therefore, our search for animals in which we may expect to find any indications of a moral sense is thus seen to be very restricted in its range: we can only expect to find such indications in animals that are highly intelligent, social, and sympathetic. Since, by the hypothesis, conscience requires a comparatively rare collocation of conditions for its development, we must expect to find it a comparatively rare product.

Lastly, as it is quite certain that no animal is capable of reflecting upon past conduct in any high degree, and as we have just seen that the moral sense depends upon the faculty of so reflecting, it follows that we cannot expect to find any animal in which the moral sense attains any high degree of development.

We are now in a position to draw some important distinctions. There are several instincts and feelings which, when expressed in outward action, more or less simulate conscience (so to speak), but which it would be erroneous to call by that name. For instance, the maternal instinct, although it leads in many cases to severe and sustained self-denial for the benefit of the offspring, is nevertheless clearly distinct from conscience. The mother in tending her young does so in obedience to an inherited instinct, and not from any fear of subsequent self-reproach if she leaves her family to perish. She follows the maternal instinct, so long as it continues in operation, just as she would follow any other instinct; and it is, as it were, a mere accident of the case that in this particular instance the course of action which the instinct prompts is a course of action which is conducive to the welfare of others. An illustration will render this distinction more clear. In his chapter on the "Moral Sense," Mr. Darwin alludes to the conflict of instincts which sometimes occurs in swallows when the migratory season overtakes a late brood of young birds; at such times "swallows, house-martins, and swifts, frequently desert their tender young, leaving them to perish miserably in their nests." And further on he remarks: "When arrived at the end of their long journey, and the migratory instinct has ceased to act, what an agony of remorse the bird would feel if, from being endowed with great mental activity, she could not prevent the image constantly passing through her mind of her young ones perishing in the bleak north from cold and hunger!" In other words, if we could suppose the mother-bird under such circumstances to be capable of reflecting upon her past conduct, and, as