Project Canterbury

Science and Conduct
An address given at the Pusey House, Oxford
by the Rev. P.N. Waggett, M.A.
of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cowley St. John.

Pusey House Occasional Papers, No. 4.

London: Longmans, 1905.


THE informal address which follows can only be read to any purpose if the strictly departmental nature of the little inquiry is borne in mind. For, with the heartiest acceptance of the oft-told truth that departmental limitation belongs to science alone and is a stranger to philosophy, I have the conscience to submit that, though wisdom indeed is one, we may divide our labour in acquiring it. The inquiry, then, is frankly departmental.

We are not here contributing to the metaphysical debate on the existence or the nature or the limitations of free-will. We are not attempting to improve metaphysically such a defence of Freewill as W. G. Ward teaches in his controversy with Mill. We simply attempt to show cause why the doctrine of "Freewill" should not be thought weakened by modern discoveries or theories in the physical region. We submit only that Determinism has received no reinforcement from Physiology; and that the case of the will or person is even a little strengthened incidentally by the situation disclosed in physical inquiry.

For whereas Ward, for example, saw the Person confronting a world and a physical self necessarily determined in one particular direction, we seem to see that the necessary result of necessary sequence is such a condition of possibilities in excess as obviously leaves a field for the Chooser, if there be one, and almost tends to require the appearance of such an agent in order to render possibility into practice.

But if it is urged that the environment is that which finally selects between the rival and incompatible tendencies, I shall be content to say that the environment must include the whole environment, and that a large part of this is seemingly and practically within the control of men, and that this control includes what I mean by Education. Enough for the Educationalist, the Governor, the Pastor, that the result is not predetermined (we do not say not preconditioned) by inborn characteristics alone.

But, in the second place, I would inquire how environment can in any intelligible sense be the final arbiter determining the life or death of a characteristic, seeing that it is precisely under a uniformity of conditions, precisely 'when other things are equal,' that the presence or absence of important qualities is disclosed, actualized, and fixed.

How can it be the environment which finally makes the hero, when it is precisely first under fire that the hero is distinguished from the coward?—even if by distinguished we mean not only discerned apart, but made to stand morally apart. The environment contributes to and conditions the result. It does not determine it.

Water enables the swimmer to swim. It also enables the drowner to drown. Both results are profoundly conditioned by the water. Without water the swimmer would be as unable to swim as the other to sink. He swims because he went into the water: the other drowns because he went into the water. But it was precisely under the equal condition of water that the two characters appeared.

You will say, then, that the organization determines what the environment leaves open, and vice versâ. But is this not to ring the changes of determination between factors, each of which in turn is shown to lack the character of a determinant,—to leave things open?

It is true that the coward does not run away except in danger, even as, except in danger, the boldness of the bold cannot be exercised. The coward does not run when the conditions fix rather upon his quiescence than his fear for development. But does he not remain a coward? And can he cease to be so by anything but the exercise of some inward spring, which may make him stand fast under the conditions in which he usually runs away?

It is not the circumstances which can change him. It is only when under given circumstances he does what under those circumstances, and with his given constitution he usually does not, that moral change begins, that moral character is improved.

My own belief is that the net result of inborn tendency and environment taken together is still morally a striving excess of incompatibles, and that it is the Person, under whatever guidance, who finally chooses between courses which cannot all be followed, between capacities which cannot all be filled, and tendencies which cannot all be expressed. And I show that in our news from Natural Science there is nothing to make such a view less probable than of old. I desire to suggest no more.

In order to show how entirely I refrain from entering on the philosophical ground where Freewill, as a theory, must stand or fall, I may as well confess that I do not think Freewill to be an abstract invariable in the nature of man, but simply a concrete characteristic of spirit, which flourishes or fades in proportion to the cherishing of the inward life.

But I leave all inward life unproved, undefended. In this paper I am only addressing those who already believe that besides and below and above the entire complex of qualities moral as well as physical, lies an identity, an indivisible, a person, a being which finds itself and makes itself as it goes, which appears to me indeed to be described with least admixture of error under the figure of a stream of Will, a stream which may turn in its course or be turned, but which also may finally make the bed in which it runs.

I am sorry there was not time, on the occasion to which this preface refers, to go on to the application of Biological ideas to Society as a Body. In that affair what we have first to get rid of is a great deal of ambiguity. The line has not been drawn with sufficient clearness between analogy and the direct application, in a new field, of principles secured so far in the study of organisms; and in respect of either analogy or direct application, all sorts of unobserved transitions are allowed, to and fro, between different sets of facts in organic nature. Those facts are connected it is the very task of Science to show the connection; but they are not less connected for being distinct. And however much they ought to be applied as a whole, we shall be none the better off by applying the whole range of facts sometimes right way up and sometimes upside down. Besides, in consequence of ambiguity and of certain other things, it has happened that precisely those points have sometimes been taken for granted (in the application or the analogy) which it is our business—as Bio-sociologists—to establish if we can. And here are, on my part, statements enough to demand a large work of proof and illustration.

P. N. W.
October 14, 1901.

P.S.—The passage about qualitative division takes account of the aspect of the behaviour of the cell in division. But it does not take account of the external facts of variation as observed by Mendel, Bateson, Weldon, Darbishire.

The study of certain variations in mice seems, so far, to tell against us here, as also against Gallon; for there seems to be something like a new sorting out among individuals of characteristics which were combined.

Whatever is found, after further examination, to be the meaning of the facts newly segregated and examined, I think the argument I have drawn from the presence of an excess of characteristics in a moral individual will stand.

P. N. W.
August, 1905.

IN our first lecture, under the heading "Science and Faith," we attempted to sketch a reasonable and hopeful attitude for a Christian, in view of the speculative divergence of naturalism from our dogmatic standard. To-day, what we attempt is to describe some of the practical divergences of naturalism from our ethical standard.

On that occasion, we had to face a rival doctrine of the origins of being. To-day, we are confronted by a guide rivalling faith in the conduct of life.

Then, I did not touch in any way the task of apologetics. I made no attempt to answer the speculative criticism offered in the name of science. My wish was merely to suggest to a believer a hopeful attitude to hold towards doubters.

But now, the subject being practical, it is hardly possible to describe, however slightly, the attack made by naturalism, without suggesting the lines upon which such an attack might, in my opinion, be met. We do a little to-day of the actual work of apologetics.

Now, as before, I retain the word "Science" in the name of the lecture: not because natural science, as such, is responsible for a criticism of our code of conduct any more than of our scheme of thought; but because it is to science that naturalism makes its appeal in the one region quite as much as in the other. "Science and Conduct" is my text, not "Science versus Conduct;" and it is not at all implied that we give up hope of finding science on our side, and on the side of old-fashioned ethics.

One word more by way of preface.

Our subject to-day, when contrasted with that which occupied us before, may be found of more present interest, not only because of the practical nature of the subject, but also because of its greater actuality as a question of debate. Whatever actual vigour exists in the controversy between naturalism and faith will be found at present in the region of corporate or individual ethics, not in the speculative department of origins.

It may be that in all departments we have turned away of late from speculation as such; but, putting that aside, there can be no doubt that a state of relative equilibrium has been reached in the kind of speculations I refer to—a calm produced partly by mutual instruction, the exchange of information between theologians and naturalists partly—and, I think, in a still more important and lasting sense—by the industrious resolution of a number of antitheses which at one time and to some minds appeared to be final. Some of these resolutions are involved, at least, in the remarks I offered to you when last we met, and, at any rate, we cannot pause upon them now. We have peace, and it is worth noticing, perhaps, that this peace gives no one any deep satisfaction. Perhaps the peace we seek so loudly in other departments of life would be found, if won, equally disappointing, and we might even be driven to suppose that peace is not that which actually attracts the natural heart of man.

If the speculative quarrel is quiescent, what debate is actual and fairly vigorous? I answer, the debate of rival schemes or codes of conduct. Both sides—religion and naturalism—have mounted the stage of action. This change is an advantage for religion; for whatever it is not, religion is certainly a force, and, when the moment comes for the push and pull of moral opposites, it will be found real. It will find itself at home, and it will count. In speculation, our side may have done well or ill. There are times when the Church seems slow to use the valuable speculative advantage at its disposal. In a practical conflict of moral forces, she ought not only to be strong, but to know her strength, and to use it with the effectiveness of one who is on familiar ground and meeting familiar dangers.

The change from speculative to practical attack may be indicated by the removal of the great figure of Huxley. It is the change from Huxley to Nietzsche that we have to note.

In the old debate there was a fixed point which all men took for settled—the practical authority of Christian ethics. The orthodox argument was often a challenge to the naturalists to account for these ethics. The naturalist reply was an attempt to trace to humble origins, by the road of natural evolution, that moral code which was still acknowledged—and with the most complete sincerity—to be the principal treasure of mankind. The ripest fruit of Huxley's life—his Romanes Lecture delivered in Oxford—is a brilliant essay towards making room for Christian ethics in the framework of naturalistic speculation. It is not our object now to measure the success or failure of that effort. What we have to observe is its nature—a noble nature, as I think—which reflects the character of its author, who would rather by far find his speculative position reduced to confusion than challenge the practical authority of the moral law which we have come to possess.

All this has been changed in certain quarters. That which was once the solid pivot of debate becomes the object to be attacked, crushed, removed. What was once the fulcrum of the lever becomes the point at which the 'work' is to be done. We are not in Cambridge, or I could refer more freely to those famous orders of levers which, I believe, stand in our great sister university side by side with the common pump as tests of the ripening intelligence of English manhood. But even in Oxford we know what nutcrackers are like; and some of us may have seen the hinges 'give' when a nut of the Brazilian kind—the kind which only the front door can break—is placed in the cracker's grip. The nut was meant to be the point of' work,' but it becomes the fulcrum, and 'work' takes place at the hinges. Some such transference of the elements of a lever has taken place, or is attempted, in our debate. There was a time when schemes of evolution were brought to the test of ethical facts. Could they account for those facts? Could they explain the origin of those moral treasures? But now it is the ethics which are on trial. It is the naturalistic theory which is fixed, which becomes the pivot, the fulcrum, and the ethics must go which challenge the sufficiency of the theory. From being the hinge, the moral sense has become the nut.

Let me be sure of making myself clear. Both the old and the new schools of naturalism alike reject the notion of revelation, either of morals or of truth. It is not here that the difference I indicate lies, but in their attitude towards the actual impression we possess of moral distinctions, the validity of the contrast between good and evil. And we might further say that the older naturalism accepted in the main the Christian list of virtues and vices. The contrast is this: the old naturalism regards morality as a datum to be accounted for, and seeks to get rid of the necessity of revelation by providing another account of the origin of morals. "Don't wet your feet, you hurt the race," was Professor Wallace's representation, in brief, of the alternative sanction of ethics; a sanction based upon the supposed genesis of ethics. If the moral law could be accounted for as the product of natural selection, revelation became, in that region, gratuitous.

With the new naturalism it is otherwise. The attempt is made, not to dissociate revelation from morals, but to get rid of morals as in themselves pernicious and hostile to progress. We have here, not simply an alternative line, but actually the very reverse of the older position. For instead of trying to show that morals are the legitimate outcome of evolution, the attempt is to get rid of morals as the inevitable enemy of progress; not as a puzzle to be accounted for, but as an enemy to be swept away.

Perhaps the shifting of the ground of conflict is evidence of a considerable Christian success in the region of speculation. The speculative attack, most skilfully developed and courageously pushed home, has failed. The enemy's front was not quite long enough. We have found at least a way round which endangers the attacking line. I think that a critical unbelief is almost driven to abandon the old method, and that this was essentially out of date long before Huxley left off illustrating it by his delightful and luminous dialectic. But Huxley and the old heroes would never have departed from the moral standpoint, would never have made the transition required for a logical victory. They would have been content, as he was content to the end of his life, with an unsatisfactory speculative situation, rather than give up the moral certainty, which is—I repeat it—our principal treasure as men. But though the transition was happily impossible to the older minds, it was certain that, sooner or later, a school of thought earnestly opposed to the conception of revelation, some school of thoroughgoing naturalism, would attempt to shake the foundations of the ethics which had been the pivot of debate. Accordingly, in two directions, we hear the sounds of an argument which, in the name of Evolution, brings morals themselves, as we know them, into question.

The poetic defiance of Friedrich Nietzsche—repeating less gracefully, but not less wonderfully, the pagan song of Heine,—and the immensely respectable bourgeois new-morality of certain American writers, sound, in tones of vastly different timbre, the same note—a note of defiance against Christian and, indeed, European ethics. "The traditional morality" is no longer a fixed datum to account for it is the enemy to be destroyed. There is the obstacle to progress; there the disturbing element of social life. Not faith, this time, but conduct, is the deadly foe of freedom and joy. It must be attacked in its two main branches. On the one hand, mercy, toleration, the preservation of the weak, charity, philanthropy—these must go; they are treason to the best interests of the race. On the other hand, temperance, moderation, chastity, self-denial—all these, under the suspect name of asceticism, are to be driven out as the priest-forged fetters of the individual. "Nature," cried a French writer, "knows nothing of chastity." It would be much truer to say that she knows nothing or little of profligacy, which is almost the peculiar curse of man.

Such, or like this, is the substance of the poetic defiance. The humdrum American naturalism makes no such romantic ventures. I think it is a safe, kind, prudent sort of paganism which cries, "Back to nature" in a sweet Transatlantic ignorance of the wicked old monster nature is. But, "Back to nature" is its cry, and we must judge it by what it inevitably produces, and not by what it intends with that extraordinary respectability which is the product of good Anglo-Saxon blood under favourable conditions of nourishment and exercise. "Back to nature," and, "Christianity is the enemy,"—these are the war-notes of naturalism in conduct which we have to analyze. Nature, we are reminded, has obtained its advance, not as Art advances in the studio, by the man making a better thing, but by the production of an enormous multitude of things varying over a large range; by making plenty of everything, and then letting the pressure of competition pick out of the way those that are not wanted. It has been a method of surplusage, by the production of an excess of individuals and of types, followed by a sorting out of those unable to live. Let our moral advance come in the same kind of way; not by training the individual, not by a direct effort to make society better according to a preconceived notion, but by letting the forces play freely, so that the weaker may have their opportunity to escape into nothingness. We need no perpetual strain to make some of the nation better, but the free play of the forces of destruction, so that more and more the inheritance of the future may belong to those who are naturally best fitted to survive. Our method of mercy, they say, keeps us stocked continually with individuals many of whom are, from various points of view, below the average; and thus the rapid advance is prevented which might come from free elimination. The unrestricted play of natural selection is one of the ways in which, we are told, a steadier advance might be secured.

Another way is suggested which, from the point of view of Natural History, is not quite consistent with this. This second method is the deliberate selection of ' good' strains. If we could choose our stock carefully, all, it is imagined, would be well; and we are confronted by the forbidding notion of placing matters which are especially matters of personal choice under some external control directed towards securing the best interests of the English breed. [Since this address was given a brilliant recommendation of the second method has been given by F. Gallon in the Huxley Oration of the year.] There you have two rival methods challenging our old-fashioned method of moral advance; and here we must leave our first principal division.

Naturalism comes into competition with the old morals in a second way, when, by the proposal of a rival explanation and rule of conduct, it tends to disparage the authority of the old sanctions. Men have learned to use rough expressions such as "Science teaches," and this habit seems to take away much of the authority, in men's minds, of the old rules of careful personal discipline and careful culture of the nation both in religion and in other parts of deliberate training. The two processes are distinct: first, you have the proposal of methods of advance which dispense with moral effort as we know it at present; and, in the second place, the fact of such methods being forthcoming tends to disparage the authority of religion, the authority of the old morals, because that authority rests to some extent upon the argument that they alone account for the social progress of mankind.

Now, let us further divide our principal heads. Under the head of the proposed revision of morals, there is first the attack upon what we should describe as personal self-discipline; and secondly, the attack upon virtue in its wider sense of mutual help. We have individual conduct and social progress—both lying under a certain criticism from the point of view of Natural Selection. First let us think of individual conduct. The conflict there may be summed up in words which I am afraid must be getting familiar to you—heredity and freedom.

This subject is a very large one, and can only be properly dealt with in detail and with great care. It would need a long course of lectures first to describe accurately, because it is not widely known, the state of scientific opinion on the subject; and then to do what, if we could do it, would be a new, and therefore a slow piece of work—that is, to examine the whole matter sans parti pris, taking it as it stands, with a view to showing whether or not it really does tend to reduce at all the scope and sphere of moral effort. I shall say just one or two words about the popular misunderstandings of the scientific questions involved. Many persons seem to think that heredity itself is a fact in debate, as if the question to be raised and argued out were the question whether there be such a thing as heredity. In a biographical essay we may read that this or that famous life "lends no support to the theory of heredity." Now, of course, every life necessarily illustrates or corrects the theory of heredity. Each famous man in turn is, for example, a human being; and this fact is a vast and fresh instance of the marvellous force, whatever it is, of heredity. What is actually intended is that we cannot trace the known special characteristics of the individual recorded to either of his parents in particular. But when it is said that he therefore lends no support to the theory of heredity, we have a statement which expresses in brief a considerable misconception of the theory in question. The scientific doctrine of heredity does not suggest that you are more likely to resemble your father than your fiftieth ancestor back. Our line of descent did not start yesterday. We speak loosely of people who have no grandfathers. But we all have them; and, in a scientific sense, the effort to trace the important elements in the physical constitution of any individual by looking at the preceding generation only, is useless. That might happen to be a generation which showed few of the most prominent features in the life under consideration. There is such a thing as atavism, in which a given individual reproduces characteristics which have not appeared in the stock for many generations. The action of heredity is to be traced by the study of a long course of examples, and cannot be traced with any degree of certainty by watching the step from the penultimate to the ultimate stage of the series you are considering. If there is such a thing as heredity, as undoubtedly there is, its laws must be found by considering a large family tree, in which features which are the common possession of the stock will appear periodically scattered up and down its history. The second mistake lies in supposing that the inheritance of acquired characters is a fact almost certain, or largely accepted by biologists. It appears to me, from what I hear, that our most modern drama, and our most 'scientific' romance, have taken the inheritance of acquired characters for the best ascertained element of biological doctrine. They make of it a modern 'fate.' It is our finer version of the curse of mediaeval story. If this account is true, if we cannot possibly escape from the evil actions of those before us, there is an end of all heart in our moral training.

Let me lay down, to start with, so that I may not be misunderstood, that I do most heartily believe that blood has a tremendous force. My criticism does not go, at least, along the lines of disparaging or disproving the forces of heredity. So far from thinking blood is unimportant, I think it is incomparably the most important of the natural forces we have to deal with—much more important than environment, situation, or social position. "Simple faith" is, no doubt, better "than Norman blood," but it is happily less distinctive. I am convinced that this country is mainly divided up by distinctions of blood which do not at all run along the same lines as distinctions of class and money. Blood may even prove to be the most important of all those things which place men naturally in contrast one with the other. We are not moving on the lines of disparaging heredity. Nor must we, as I think Mr. Brooke in "Middlemarch" would recommend, 'go into' heredity with moderation, taking care it does not carry us too far; leaving a place for conduct untouched by investigation. We must claim a place for moral conduct within the sphere of natural law, and allow for the force of heredity in a life governed by moral choice. We cannot believe that the world is divided up into compartments, and that there is a certain scheme of things in which natural laws have had it all their own way, and that little spaces are here and there reserved for the flowering of moral effort. Moral effort justifies itself in full contact with natural forces, working out its salvation there, not merely playing in a small field surrounded by hedges of heredity.

How, then, are we to get to work? The task of explaining the scientific doctrine of heredity is not one we can even touch to-day, but one may say something in examination of the moral or unmoral conclusions which are too hastily drawn from it. We can attempt the practical work of encouragement, and it is this which is most wanted. For in many cases moral effort has been daunted by such teaching as I criticise. I have heard of more than one fine life wrecked by this doctrine. Men who have seen within themselves the element of evil, have given up the conflict, thinking, "I was born to be bad, and it is useless to struggle."

Well, here is one fact on the side of hope. When face to face with problems of heredity, recall the fact that you had—just think of it!—two parents; not only a father, but also a mother. That fact is very important, as you will see presently. When men speak of heredity, when they speak of a line being a bad line or of a person having bad blood, are they not generally considering exclusively the patronymic, the father's line, from which the surname comes? and do they remember that in the other parent, the mother, there came in, not some modifying touch like a spoonful of sugar in a barrel of tea, but a strictly equivalent mass of heredities equal in number and in amount to those of the male line? This other stream of descent is just as ancient as the male line, going up to Adam, having, roughly speaking, the same number of generations, perhaps a few more or a few less. Conceivably, though very seldom, there may be a greater inequality than that; but, roughly speaking, the mother's line has the same thousands of steps, and consequently the same number of interlacing threads of natural qualities as the line of the father. We begin to see how very complicated a problem we have to deal with. The knowledge of this complexity is modern. You remember in the Ethics the story of the man caught beating his father. "I can't help it," he says, when rebuked. "My father used to beat his father, and my grandfather beat his; and this fellow" (pointing to the child) "will beat me, in my turn, when he grows up. It runs in our family." That was his account of the matter, and that is precisely the modern moral account of our faults. "They are due to heredity." But a modern critic ought to ask the man in Aristotle, "Which family? Every one of you, father and son and son's son, belongs to a different family on the mother's side! Why exclude that side in this question? What ground have you for thinking your paternal side to be invariably pre-potent? How does it come to pass that, as you go down the line, you always show this characteristic which runs on the father's side?" To ancient Greek thought such questions would have no meaning, because their physiology led them to suppose that the part taken by the mother was inconsiderable; but our modern physiology shows the two sides to be quite equivalent, roughly speaking, and each of them just as maternal as the other. The female side is not a side composed exclusively of females; of your maternal grandparents, one was a grandfather. The father's side is not more male than the mother's. That simple fact is well worth remembering. The individual life is the product of two infinities of inherited qualities coming from every quarter, in most cases, of a large portion of the human race.

In the second place, it should be remembered that in a given community many diverse strains and characteristics are 'inherited by all in common. Most of our English people have had, by inheritance, very much the same kind of elements given to them, and very evenly mixed indeed. Yet I said just now that the difference of blood is the difference which matters. How can I reconcile these statements? I say probably the stock of the greater part of the nation is very fairly even; but in this or that individual, and sometimes in this or that series of individuals in a family, there springs out in evidence prepotently some one special strain of national life, and in another set of men or families there springs out another strain; but, roughly speaking, most of us inherit the main characteristics. The question is—Which will be the expressed or emphatic one in our particular life-history? But the fact of closely intermingled stocks leads us to see the infinite entanglements of hereditary characteristics, and we make our first necessary correction when we see that the problem is enormously more complex than our playwrights suppose. Indeed, we may say, with perfect confidence, that whatever may be the hereditary tendencies of any particular man, they are not the hereditary tendencies which you would infer from looking at his grandfather or his father alone, to whom, I may mention in passing, he is only collaterally related, according to the modern views of heredity. And the moral discouragements of which I speak arise, not from supposing there is some necessary result of heredity in us; but from the impression that we know what that result is, and know that it is bad. It is of great moral importance to show that the state of things is highly complex. No one knows, if there be an irresistible moral tendency, what that tendency is, and therefore a man cannot tell, until he tries, that he has not the constitution required for a good life. There is a real though modest gain.

The second point we have to make is not so easily appreciated. You say, every one has two parents, four grandparents, and so on. You get multiplication, all these steps getting up to millions, each representing some particular kind of germ plasm, some hereditary strain of constitution. By this endless multiplication you arrive in thought at an enormous diversity of hereditary stocks combined in any given individual. Starting from the fact of descent from father and mother, you have, roughly speaking, two endless series of hereditary predispositions in your constitution, and it would appear from this that there cannot possibly fail to be a surplusage of such predispositions. It is not physically possible for a person to express in his life history the totality of what is in the root of his being. There is too much of it—roughly speaking, there is twice too much of it; not to mention the fact that on each side there is immensity. There are two immense series, though many of the constituents will be common to both; but there will always be an excess—a surplus. This difficulty has been clearly seen by naturalists; and a great deal of skilful investigation has been directed towards the discovery (especially in the nuclear movements preceding the earliest stage of cell-division) of something which might be called a qualitative division of the germ-plasm, a division which got rid of some particular kind of material. Now, although there has been a very wonderful advance in knowledge of minute changes of the cell before fertilization and before multiplication, yet facts have not emerged which tell clearly in favour of such qualitative division. I think that the facts tell in the direction of showing that the object of the process is to produce two strictly equivalent parcels. I cannot go into the process—extraordinarily interesting as it is. It suggests the production of assorted and similar parcels of qualities and elements. Those students of biology who are present, and who have followed the process of karyokinesis, and the steps by which the chromosomes are formed, may, I hope, recognize the rough justice of the following comparison. If you have a bag of a dozen oranges, and you divide them by putting six on one side and six on the other, you have very slight security of having on either side an equal quantity of all the parts of the oranges; you have parcels which are far from equivalent. But if we first peel the oranges, then remove the pith, divide the flesh, and get out the pips; finally, when you have the flesh, pips, rind, and pith, carefully divide each of these into two parcels, so that you have two similar parcels of pips, flesh, rind, and pith; if at last we put on one side one parcel out of each pair of parcels, I should say—should not you?—that the object was to arrive at two strictly equivalent parcels of the whole substance of the oranges. It is just this which seems to happen in the developing cell, in the production of chromosomes. A qualitative division being unproved, there seems strong reason to believe in an excess of hereditary component parts in that which is the foundation of the individual life. This excess is twofold. It is, in the first place, numerical. Individual development cannot express all the possibilities. There is not room upon the narrow stage of one individual life-history to work out all the characteristics present; there are too many of them. It is numerically impossible. And it is, perhaps, that impossibility which leads to the phenomenon of atavism. But secondly, not only is the bundle of faculties so large that it is impossible that the whole can get expressed, but it is also, in its quality, incompatible. Even if there were room in me to be all the different kinds of people that struggle in the foundation of my life, how can I be at the same time practically a liar and a truth-teller? How can I be at the same time morbidly sensitive and cruelly thick-skinned? Not only, then, is it numerically impossible to crowd all the germinal factors into one stage, but there is a qualitative impossibility as well, because some of the co-existing tendencies are mutually contradictory. There are cases in animal and vegetable life in which marked changes, once attributed to the direct action of outside forces, are now explained as due to a selecting power of circumstances acting diversely upon a life in which more than one potentiality of development was all along present. Something comparable to this may be true of our own complicated moral nature. There is in the narrow avenue of our life a 'block' of capacities. All cannot emerge into actuality. What must we do then? Why, if there is power to choose—that is a large "if"—if, I say, there is any agent to choose—here is the point—then not only is choice possible, but choice is necessary and inevitable. We do not eke out a place for moral choice by stopping a little short in our scientific exploration, but we find ourselves confronted, by science, with a situation which positively requires choice. We cannot be all that we might be; we must be one thing or the other. Whether there is an agent to make choice does not concern us. Naturalism suggested that there was no material for choice to take place in. It does not deny that there may be an agent; what it tends to deny is, that there is a field in which this agent could find scope. The choice, we suppose, may either take place through mere play of circumstances or impulse, or through more or less conscious selection of the elements we wish to develop. And, further, the selection of these elements may take place simply through the choice of actions. If we do the thing which the good part in us approves, the good part will grow. If a man wants to become a running Blue, he does not sit down in his room and brood over his running qualities, but he goes to the track and runs, attending first to his style more than to his pace, trying to do his work in the best manner he can. So in moral affairs, we have not to do our work of choice by a singular acquaintance with our own consciousness, enabling us to detect and directly foster the characteristic that is best, but we can make our choice without self-analysis or paralysing thought—simply by trying to do the things which we see to be best, or which we are taught are best. Here is full scope for moral knowledge and education. Try to make yourself do the right things, and the right qualities will come out. Very strangely combined, no doubt, are the ancestral elements of character. I do not mean, simply, that some are good and others bad; but some are bad in one way and others are bad in another way, which one cannot follow at the same time. Perhaps the strange moral phenomena which we see, perhaps the extraordinary difficulty of life, the diversities and anomalies of character come from this fact: that you get side by side strains which are actually incompatible. They cannot be fully developed side by side, but they can strive side by side. And so we see in ourselves the struggle of contrary qualities, and if we are to give help to the one side or to the other, we must do so by choosing the kind of accomplishment or business which will favour one or the other. When we begin to know the strange family which quarrels in our consciousness, and think we have managed to reduce the various impulses to order, suddenly there emerges another ancestral strain with quite a new set of characteristics, a fresh form of rebellion, and we have again to recognize our perplexity and weakness. You see, that on the old pagan line, we have room enough for moral effort. How much more, in the light of faith, may we put ourselves into God's hands, and pray for grace, and feel, while we pray, that we are neither doing a thing false to nature, nor turning our back on science, but putting before God a collection of powers and weaknesses, all of which cannot possibly come to fulness of expression, begging Him to lead to their fulness those things which please Him, and to restrict or destroy by discipline those things for which it is impossible to find space in His service.

We are able, then, to claim—and if there were time to discuss details I think the claim would appear stronger—that moral effort is encouraged by the safe conclusions of the latest and most probable theories of inheritance; that we are not obliged to make standing ground for conduct and for grace by restricting the scope of natural law, but that choice and the guidance of choice seem called for by the facts so far as they are yet disclosed to us.

So far we have dealt with a problem of individual life. The other subject proposed, namely, social ethics, must be left for a future occasion.

Project Canterbury