Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/193

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183
EVOLUTION AND ETHICS.

by even the meekest and the least rational of optimists suggestions of the pride of reason. As to the concluding aphorism, its fittest place would be as an inscription in letters of mud over the portal of some "stye of Epicurus";[1] for that is where the logical application of it to practice would land men, with every aspiration stifled and every effort paralyzed. Why try to set right what is right already? Why strive to improve the best of all possible worlds? Let us eat and drink, for as to-day all is right, so to-morrow all will be.

But the attempt of the Stoics to blind themselves to the reality of evil, as a necessary concomitant of the cosmic process, had less success than that of the Indian philosophers to exclude the reality of good from their purview. Unfortunately, it is much easier to shut one's eyes to good than to evil. Pain and sorrow knock at our doors more loudly than pleasure and happiness, and the prints of their heavy footsteps are less easily effaced. Before the grim realities of practical life the pleasant fictions of optimism vanished. If this were the best of all possible worlds, it nevertheless proved itself a very inconvenient habitation for the ideal sage.

The stoical summary of the whole duty of man, "Live according to Nature," would seem to imply that the cosmic process is an exemplar for human conduct. Ethics would thus become applied natural history. In fact, a confused employment of the maxim in this sense has done immeasurable mischief in later times. It has furnished an axiomatic foundation for the philosophy of philosophasters and for the moralizing of sentimentalists. But the Stoics were, at bottom, not merely noble but sane men; and if we look closely into what they really meant by this ill-used phrase, it will be found to present no justification for the mischievous conclusions that have been deduced from it.

In the language of the Stoa, "Nature" was a word of many meanings. There was the "Nature" of the cosmos and the "Nature" of man. In the latter, the animal "nature," which man shares with a moiety of the living part of the cosmos, was distinguished from a higher "nature." Even in this higher nature there were grades of rank. The logical faculty is an instrument which may be turned to account for any purpose. The passions and the emotions are so closely tied to the lower nature that they may be considered to be pathological rather than normal phenomena. The one supreme, hegemonic faculty which con-


  1. I use the well-known phrase, but decline responsibility for the libel upon Epicurus, whose doctrines were far less compatible with existence in a stye than those of the Cynics. If it were steadily borne in mind that the conception of the "flesh" as the source of evil, and that the great saying, "Initium est salutis notitia peccati" [the beginning of salvation is the recognition of sin], are the property of Epicurus, fewer illusions about Epicureanism would pass muster for accepted truth.