TH Huxley

January 7 2012

Huxley arguing, in 1893 and ’94, against Social Darwinism.

“Cosmic Nature is no school of virtue, but the headquarters of the enemy of Ethical Nature. … Social progress means a checking of the cosmic process at every step and the substitution for it of another, which may be called the ethical process, the end of which is not the survival of those who may happen to be the fittest, in respect of the whole of the conditions which obtain, but of those who are ethically the best. … The ethical process is in opposition to the principle of the cosmic process, and tends to the suppression of the qualities best fitted for success in that struggle. … What would become of the garden if the gardener treated all the weeds and slugs and birds and trespassers as he would like to be treated, if he were in their place? … The practice of that which is ethically best what we call goodness or virtue involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint. … It repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence. … Man, as a ‘political animal’, … is compelled to be perpetually on guard against the cosmic forces, whose ends are not his ends, without and within himself. … The ethical progress of Society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it. … The history of Civilisation details the steps by which men have succeeded in building up an artificial world within the Cosmos. … In virtue of his intelligence, the dwarf bends the titan to his will. … That which lies before the Human Race is a constant struggle to maintain and improve, in opposition to the State of Nature, the State of Art of an organised polity, in which, and by which, Man may develop a worthy civilisation, capable of maintaining and constantly improving itself, until the evolution of our globe shall have entered so far upon its downward course that the cosmic process resumes its sway and, once more, the State of Nature prevails over the surface of our planet.”

[Footnote: Huxley, T. H.: Evolution and Ethics, the Romanes Lecture, 1893, and Prolegomena, 1894, reprinted in Huxley, T. H. and J.: Evolution and Ethics, 1893-1943 (London, 1947, Pilot Press), pp. 78, 81, 51, 52, 81-82, 59, 82, 83, 83, 60.]

Surely, aside from the now-obvious evils of Social Darwinism, this is the right idea to have of civilisation. We know most of the physical universe is a howling emptiness and a tedious place to be. We know part of it is red in tooth and claw. We’re doing our own thing. I suppose this is an Epicurean and Existentialist, rather than a Stoic, position.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

One Response to “TH Huxley”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Huxley goes so far as to speak of the “downward course” of evolution.


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