Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/234

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224
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ETHICS AND THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE.
By LESLIE STEPHEN.

IN his deeply interesting Romanes lecture. Prof. Huxley has stated the opinion that the ethical progress of society depends upon our combating the "cosmic process" which we call the struggle for existence. Since, as he adds, we inherit the "cosmic nature" which is the outcome of millions of years of severe training, it follows that the "ethical nature" may count upon having to reckon with a tenacious and powerful enemy as long as the world lasts. This is not a cheerful prospect. It is, as he admits, an audacious proposal to pit the microcosm against the macrocosm. We can not help fearing that the microcosm may get the worst of it. Prof. Huxley has not fully expanded his meaning, and says much to which I could cordially subscribe. But I think that the facts upon which he relies admit or require an interpretation which avoids the awkward conclusion.

Pain and suffering, as Prof. Huxley tells us, are always with us, and even increase in quantity and intensity as evolution advances. The fact has been recognized in remote ages long before theories of evolution had taken their modern form. Pessimism, from the time of the ancient Hindu philosophers to the time of their disciple, Schopenhauer, has been in no want of evidence to support its melancholy conclusions. It would be idle to waste rhetoric in the attempt to recapitulate so familiar a position. Though I am not a pessimist, I can not doubt that there is more plausibility in the doctrine than I could wish. Moreover, it may be granted that any attempt to explain or to justify the existence of evil is undeniably futile. It is not so much that the problem can not be answered as that it can not even be asked in any intelligible sense. To "explain" a fact is to assign its causes—that is, to give the preceding set of facts out of which it arose. However far we might go backward, we should get no nearer to perceiving any reason for the original fact. If we explain the fall of man by Adam's eating the apple we are quite unable to say why the apple should have been created. If we could discover a general theory of pain, showing, say, that it implied certain physiological conditions, we should be no nearer to knowing why those physiological conditions should have been what they are. The existence of pain, in short, is one of the primary data of our problem, not one of the accidents for which we can hope in any intelligible sense to account. To give any "justification" is equally impossible. The book of Job really suggests an impossible, one may almost say a meaningless, problem. We can give an intelligible meaning to a demand for justice when we can suppose that a man has certain