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Lecture 17. Nature Crowned in Man.

§ 1 Differentiation and Integration as Standards of Progress. § 2. The Probable Phylogeny of Man. § 3. Man's Solidarity with the Primate Stock. § 4. Man's Unique Position. § 5. Factors in the Ascent of Man. § 6. Human Evolution Contrasted with Animal Evolution § 7. In What Sense May It Be Said that Nature Is Crowned in Man?

§ 1. Differentiation and Integration as Standards of Progress.

THE genealogical tree of animals is like a great candelabrum, whose branches arise at different levels, but reach at their terminations to approximately equal heights, if height be estimated by elaborateness of structure and correlation of function. Except as regards brain, some details of cardiac structure, and the absence of an ante-natal symbiosis between offspring and mother, the eagle is almost as highly differentiated and integrated as Man. In skeleton, locomotion, breathing system, and eyesight the eagle excels the man, but it is on a different evolution-tack. Similarly, the bee is on its own line hardly inferior; its sensory, nervous, muscular, and respiratory systems reach a very high level. If organic evolution had stopped with insects it would still have been a succession of achievements that angels might desire to look into. The entomologist watches by the most copious fountain of wonder in the world,—a well of surprises for eye and intellect.

Why, then, is it agreed, by learned and simple alike, that birds and mammals are the highest animals, since it is difficult to show that they excel insects in differentiation and integration,—the plummet and square with which we measure progress? It cannot be that it is simply because they are superficially likest man, for birds are on an entirely different line. The reason is that in birds and mammals there is the fullest expression of what may be called the general trend of evolution, and of what we hold as of supreme value: (1) freedom, individuality, mastery of fate, a power of triumphing over the inorganic, intelligent resourcefulness, and (2) consciousness, possessed joyousness, satisfaction in work and family. So as to Man, scientifically regarded, he is the highest organism because of his all-round excellence of differentiation and integration, and especially because he has far and away the best brains. But on broader grounds Man excels all masterpieces in the realm of organisms because in him there is the fullest expression of what evolution seems to make for, and because he is Nature's only interpreter.

§ 2. The Probable Phylogeny of Man.

The story of the Ascent of Man as told us by an expert like Prof. Arthur Keith is very impressive. During the Early Eocene ages, perhaps three million years ago, when grass was beginning to spread like a garment over the earth, there emerged an arboreal race of Mammals, the Primates, differentiated from other orders in digits and teeth, skull and brain. From this stock there diverged in the Eocene, first the New World Monkeys and then the Old World Monkeys, leaving the main line (from our point of view) none the worse. Æons passed and the main stem, feeling its way towards the light, gave off in the Oligocene the branch of small apes (gibbon and siamang) and later the branch of large apes (gorilla, chimpanzee, and orang). This left, towards the end of the Oligocene (others would say in the Miocene), a generalised humanoid stem, perhaps weaker physically by the divergence of the apes, but probably dependent more on wits than strength. According to Professor Sollas's estimates this sifting out of the generalised human stem occurred some two million years ago. Once we have parted company with Archbishop Usher there is no use haggling over a million less or more.

Ages passed, at all events, and from the humanoid stem there diverged first of all Pithecanthropus the erect. It must be confessed that we do not know much about him, whose sparse remnants were found on the banks of the Bengawan near Trinil in Central Java, but we get just a glimpse of a being “human in stature, human in gait, human in all his parts, save his brain”. The date was perhaps late Pliocene or early Pleistocene, and there seems little doubt that Pithecanthropus belonged to a collateral humanoid stock, away from the main line.

The same sifting-out process appears to have been repeated time after time. It was in all probability in the Pliocene that there took origin the Neanderthal species, which reached its climax and passed away with apparent suddenness (like aboriginal races to-day) in the Mousterian or middle Palæolithic period. There is no doubt that in middle Pleistocene Age, men of the Neanderthal type, quite distinct from those of to-day, were widely represented in Europe, along with woolly rhinoceros, mammoth cave-bear, ibex, bison, and cave-hyæna. He was a loose-limbed fellow, the Neander-thaler, short in stature and of slouching gait, but a skilful artisan, fashioning beautifully-worked flints with a character

Again the story repeats itself, and there is a divergence of another branch from the main human stem. We refer to the early Briton of the Sussex Weald—the Piltdown skull, one of the interesting discoveries of the beginning of the twentieth century. There is abundant uncertainty, one must admit, but the Piltdown skull perhaps dates from an early phase of the Pleistocene or from a late phase of the Pliocene epoch, perhaps half a million years ago. Its great interest is its remarkable mixture, e.g., in teeth and jaws, of simian and human characters. The anthropoid characters of the mouth, teeth, and face, the massive and ill-filled skull, the simian characters of the brain and its primitive and prehuman appearance are held by Dr. Arthur Keith to justify Dr. Smith Woodward's conclusion that the skull requires the establishment of a new genus in the family Hominidæ. If so, it represents another sifting out, another blind alley, another breaking of the mould in which a wonderful creation was cast. For the early Briton of the Sussex Weald was no ancestor of ours.

We must include in our conception of our race the fact of solemn antiquity, and the fact that we had distant relatives who came to nothing although possessed of very high qualities. For one of the interesting conclusions at which Dr. Keith has arrived, after painstaking reconstruction of the data, is that the Piltdown brain was well within the modern human standard of size. And this was at the Pleistocene period or earlier, perhaps half a million years ago. “All the essential features of the brain of modern man are to be seen in the brain cast. There are some which must be regarded as primitive. There can be no doubt that it is built on exactly the same lines as our modern brain.”

“Although our knowledge of the human brain is limited—there are large areas to which we can assign no definite function—we may rest assured that a brain which was shaped in a mould so similar to our own was one which responded to the outside world as ours does. Piltdown man saw, heard, felt, thought, and dreamt much as we do still. If the eoliths found in the same bed of gravel were his handiwork, then we can also say he had made a great stride towards that state which has culminated in the inventive civilisation of the modern western world” (Keith, 1915, p. 429). There is something awe-inspiring in the fact of the coming and going of tentative men—of Java, Neanderthal, and Piltdown—who had their day and ceased to be, creatures not unlike ourselves, but with more clay in their legs, our predecessors but not our ancestors. Was Emerson thinking of this sort of thing when he wrote:

“Thrice I have moulded an image,

And thrice outstretched my hand,

Made one of day, and one of night,

And one of the salt sea sand.”

After the segregation of the branches represented by Pithecanthropus the erect, the slouching man of Neanderthal and Heidelberg, and the fine-brained Piltdown man, there was left the stem of modern man, which broke up in Pleistocene times into African, Australian, Mongolian, and European races. It is possible that the modern man type was distinguishable from collaterals a million years ago. If we mean by the antiquity of man the time since he reached what may be called the human standard in size of brain, Dr. Keith's conclusion is that this was reached by the commencement of the Pliocene period, which means over a million years ago. When the evidence of flints is considered, the tendency is to go further back still.

There may be errors in the conclusions of the authorities whom we have followed, and the estimates of time are very uncertain, but there is no great likelihood of errors which will affect the general impressions that alone concern us here. The antiquity of man is on a grand scale. There is a solemnity in the patience of the age-long man-ward adventure which has crowned the evolutionary process upon the earth. Three million of years ago the Primate stem sent out its first tentative branches, and the result was a tangle of monkeys; æons passed and the main stem, still probing its way, gave off the Anthropoids, which certainly rise to great heights. There was no pause, however, yet without hurry other experiments were made, and the terminations of these we know at Trinil and Heidelberg and Piltdown, for none of them lasted or was made perfect. Still the main line goes on evolving—and who will be bold enough to limit its insurgence? Is there a race of super-men implicit amongst us who will, when another half million years have sped, look back on us as we on the early Troglodytes? In any case it seems, to say the least, extremely difficult to look back on the sublime spectacle of long-drawn-out trial and error, patience and endeavour, and on the general, progressiveness of the issue, without the hypothesis (which other than scientific considerations may make more than a hypothesis) of an inherent purpose as the core of the world-process. But to suppose that the purpose is fulfilled in us in particular, who are but stages in an evolving race, seems premature.

§ 3. Man's Solidarity with the Primate Stock.

Zoology speaks with no uncertain voice in regard to Man's affiliation to the Mammals. There is “an all-pervading similitude of structure”, as Sir Richard Owen said, between man and the anthropoid apes; his blood mingles harmoniously with theirs; he and they share certain diseases. Moreover, man is a walking museum of vestigial structures, which prove his pedigree; and he is shot through with atavistic proclivities. In his development he climbs, to some extent at least, up his own genealogical tree. There is no doubt at all that Man is solidary with the rest of creation. To quote the closing words of The Descent of Man: “We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man, with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men, but to the humblest living creature, with his God-like intellect, which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

The Psalmist felt Man's insignificance, “When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained,—What is man?” Subsequent astronomers from Copernicus onwards had taught the same humbling lesson; but it was reserved for the biologists to expose the pit whence Man had been digged, and the rock whence he had been hewn by proving his solidarity with mammals. But this is only one side of the picture.

§ 4. Man's Unique Position.

Mankind has often had to pay for the realisation of a great truth by temporarily losing grip of some other. Dazzled by a new conclusion, we are blinded to an old one. Thus, without being reactionary, we may ask whether we have not paid heavily for the truth that is in Darwinism. That truth, as regards Man, was the recognition of his solidarity with the rest of creation, of his definite affiliation to a primitive stock of Primate mammals, of his literal blood-relationship to the relatively distant collateral stock of Anthropoids. It has made the world more a universe to have seen the worm, as Emerson said, mount through all the spires of form, striving to be Man. It has given a new significance to the realm of organisms, with all its groaning and travailing, that the man-child glorious was born of them, bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh. It has been a clearing of the eyes to know that much that used to seem quite inexplicable and bitterly perplexing in us is a succession tax on our inheritance, a lien that the past dwelling in us exacts. It has been a heartening encouragement to know that it is an ascent, not a descent, that we have behind us, and that if we read the story aright the Cosmos is rather with us than against us. The recognition of our solidarity with the realm of organisms has been of great importance, and we cannot go back on it. Yet it has perhaps blurred our appreciation of Man's apartness.

What, then, are the differentiating characteristics of Man that mark him as a being unique and apart? The bipedal uprightness may have had something to do with human speech, and there is undoubtedly interest in various structural peculiarities from chin to heel (taking both these words with anatomical literalness), and from teeth to great toe, but there is little that we can regard as decisive save the size and complexity of the brain, of the cerebral cortex in particular. No normal human subject has less than twice the cranial capacity of say the orang or chimpanzee; the average human brain weighs far more than twice the heaviest gorilla brain. The closely convoluted cerebral cortex, about a foot and a half square if folded out, is composed of some 9,000 millions of cells, and is the protoplasmic side of Man's capacity for forming general ideas and experimenting with them (in what we call reason), his power of rational discourse or language, his vivid self-consciousness of himself as a personality with a history behind him, and with strong kin-instincts binding him for his own self-realisation to his fellows.

We lose what Darwin has gained for us if we fail to recognise that many animals seem to have a power of perceptual (though probably not of conceptual) inference; that many animals have words though they do not make sentences (perhaps they would speak more if they had more to say); and that there are animal societies at various levels of differentiation and integration. Rousseau's saying, “Man did not make society, Society made man”; be taken to cover the fact of pre-human anthropoid sociality. As Mr. Hobhouse says, “We find the basis for a social organisation of life already laid in the animal nature of man.” But allowing all this and more, we are constrained to admit that Man stands to a remarkable degree apart, and that prehuman evolutionary formulæ no longer quite fit.

The theromorphists, who see in Man only a bipedal mammal, are wont to point to children, with their delicious primitiveness of gait and speech, of manners and morals, and with their largely pre-intellectual thought-stream in which the world is “one great booming buzzing confusion”; but while such facts strengthen our conviction of Man's affiliation with mammals, they do not affect our impression of his apartness when a fully developed personality.

We probably err, as Sir Arthur Mitchell never tired of insisting, in dwelling too much on degraded savages, for when we wish to get the truest appreciation of any type we should study its fullest expression, and some at least of the degraded savages are probably in process of retrogression, being the descendants of the under-par remnants of tribes sifted or persecuted too severely. Furthermore, many unsophisticated people take a good deal of knowing and are not quick to lay bare their souls either to missionary or scientific ethnologist.

But our point is the simple one that Man at his best—who reasons and thinks about his thinking, who bends Nature to his will, who seeks after the True, the Beautiful, and the Good with all his heart and soul and strength—is a being singularly apart. As Mr. Hewlett says in his Richard Yea-and-Nay: “‘Lord what is man?’ cried the Psalmist in his dejection. ‘Lord, what is man not?’ cry we, who know more of him?”

As the ‘self-made’ man is proud to show the cottage where he was born, so generic man may take credit to himself in contrasting his present position with his ‘humble origin’. He must be very self-complacent, however, if he has no feeling of gratitude in respect of—we cannot say to—those simple creatures without whom he would be yet more imperfect than he is. For while many know the handicap of inherited animal passions sometimes asserting themselves all too vehemently, and of humbling atavisms that come to the surface occasionally from the deep undercurrent of the Unconscious, can there be forgetfulness of the plus side of our inheritance, the deep instincts of kinship, of mutual aid, of love, and of parenthood whose roots go far back into the pre-human world. We must be very careful, too, in inquiring into the accuracy of the statements that are made in regard to what is supposed to be carried on from mammals to men.

The truth lies between two extremes. It is erroneous, on the one hand, to regard man as isolated and the great exception, as “a moral Melchizedek, without father, without mother”, and as one who to save his soul must combat the ‘cosmic process’. For this overlooks the fact of solidarity, and raises the gratuitous problem how a moral being can have emerged from non-moral or immoral antecedents. It is erroneous, on the other band, and a fallacious biologism to think that human evolution can be scientifically handled without a recognition of Man as a rational and social personality, pre-eminent even on the average, at his best—and then usually in the form of a woman—“a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour” “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a God!”

§ 5. Factors in the Ascent of Man.

Of the factors in the establishment of human species we are very ignorant, and even speculation has not much to say. Sir Ray Lankester has called attention to the interesting fact that in Miocene times there was a great increase in the size of the brain in several mammal types, such as the Elephants. This may have implied that differentiation of the rest of the bodily system could not profitably go much further. There may also have been some potent environmental stimulation. The possession of a big brain meant great power of profiting by experience, of ‘educability’, and it would seem that several hundreds of thousands of years ago Man's brain was not far from the standard of historical times, standing head and shoulders above the rest of creation in resourcefulness. But what led to the big brain we do not know. Was there a gradual summation of small increments in intelligence and the like,—here a wrinkle and there a wrinkle in the cerebral cortex, or was there a brusque mutation such as is hinted at in the occasional emergence, in the brief span of historical times, of geniuses, like Aristotle, Archimedes, Shakespeare, and Newton? As regards the big brain, it seems not unlikely that there is shrewdness in Robert Chambers's suggestion that a prolongation of the ante-natal life may have had to do with the big brain, just as the prolonged infancy, characteristic of human offspring, would help in the growth of gentleness. The lengthening of the period of gestation would not of itself mean much in the way of racial advance unless we believe that it could as it were repercuss on the germinal organisation. But it would mean much if there was at the same time a germinal variation in the direction of an enlarged brain. Great importance, as we have seen, is to be attached to ‘temporal variations’ which consist in altering the‘ time’ of different periods in the life-cycle, lengthening out here and shortening down there; and the prolongation of youth, also characteristic of mankind and of many very clever mammals, means, as Dr. Chalmers Mitchell has well shown, giving time for breaking down instincts and replacing them by remembered results of experiment, for proving all things, for tentatives in self-expression. It is a significant fact that “Man's brain is only about one-fifth of its adult weight at birth, that of the anthropoid is already two-thirds…By the end of the second year the human brain has reached two-thirds of its adult size, it has then reached the same relative degree of development that the anthropoid has reached at birth” (Keith, The Human Body, p. 37).

Consideration must also be given to the possible result of walking erect, of using sticks and stones, of making beds and shelters, of living in families and co-operating socially, of talking a good deal. And all these are illustrated among Primates lower than Man. The Anthropoid Apes are not social creatures, but it must be borne in mind that many of the lower Primates are. There is the raw material of social organisation at many a level among mammals, and there are springs of good conduct, too, which no one need be ashamed to have inherited.

We are ignorant of the factors in the ascent of Man, but we venture to regard Huxley's version of the probabilities as one-sided. “In the case of mankind,” he wrote, “the self-assertion, the unscrupulous seizing upon all that can be grasped, the tenacious holding of all that can be kept, which constitute the essence of the struggle for existence, have answered. For his successful progress, as far as the savage state, man has been largely indebted to those qualities which he shares with the ape and the tiger; his exceptional physical organisation, his cunning, his sociability, his curiosity, and his imitativeness, his ruthless and ferocious destructiveness when his anger is roused by opposition.” This requires to be corrected by the facts Kropotkin has gathered to show the importance of mutual aid, and by what we know of the indispensableness of the prolonged maternal care and a measure of self-subordination. A clear note was struck by the late Professor Weismann: “It is a perversion of the theory of evolution to maintain, as many have done, that what is merely animal and brutal must gain the ascendancy. The contrary seems to me to be the case, for in man it is the spirit, and not the body, that is the deciding factor.” This we regard as good science.

Not very much is known in regard to the factors in the Ascent of Man; but more is known than some agnostics or anti-evolutionists will admit. In illustration of this we venture to refer for a little to the arborcal apprenticeship of the Primates as studied by Dr. R. Anthony and Prof. F. Wood Jones. A new door was opened when the foot became the supporting and branch-gripping member, and the hand was set free to reach upward, to hang on by, to seize the fruit, to hug the young one close to the breast. The evolution of a free hand made it possible to dispense with protrusive lips and gripping teeth, and thus there began the correlated enlargement of the brain-box and the bringing of the eyes to the front. Another arboreal acquisition was a greatly increased power of turning the head from side to side, and many other changes were involved in backbone and collarbone, in chest and respiration, in hand and brain. “It is the freed hand which is permitted to become the sensitive hand, which now, so to speak, goes in advance of the animal and feels its way as it climbs through life.” (See F. Wood Jones, Arboreal Man, 1916, and also “The Origin of Man” in Zoology and Human Progress, 1919.)

§ 6. Human Evolution Contrasted with Animal Evolution.

It is interesting to inquire how evolution-processes in the Kingdom of Man agree with and differ from those in the Realm of Organisms generally. The question is important especially in reference to the view that human history is not only continuous with, but is not more than a continuation of animal evolution. For there is a present-day school who maintain that sociology is only a department of zoology, and that again of dynamics.

There is no doubt that the great facts of variation, modification, and heredity, and the operation of natural selection and isolation are demonstrable in mankind. Albinism is a human mutation, sunburning a human modification, night-blindness a human Mendelian character, in certain diseases there is discriminate mortality or natural selection, and various clans illustrate the influence of isolation. Up to a certain point all is with, man as with animal.

The differential becomes plain when we observe that Man is aware of his own evolution and seeks to direct it according to his ideals. There is no analogue among animals to deliberate selection based on a eugenic ideal. Rational selection transcends natural selection. We cannot accept the suggestion that selective processes in mankind are not exclusively automatic as they are in Nature, for it is an essential part of our argument that they are not wholly automatic in the lower sphere. It was not indeed by taking thought that the ancestors of leopards changed their spots so that their descendants had a garment of invisibility when crouching in the dappled light of the forest, but it may have been at least horse-sense that led their descendants to form a habit of choosing the places where the illumination suited them. We have already argued that whenever an animal takes an active share in its own evolution, the process ceases to be wholly automatic. What differentiates man is his attempt to control his evolution according to an ideal. A rational and sometimes an ethical note is sounded.

We may give another illustration of our meaning. Isolation and consequent inbreeding have probably meant a good deal in a purely biological way in fixing the dominant characters of tribes and stocks. But the facts of history warrant us in saying that it is a false simplicity to omit as a factor in the unification, at least as important as the bonds of kinship, the unanimism wrought out by a common hope or ambition. It is a fallacious biologism to think that human evolution can be accounted for without a recognition of Man as a rational and social personality.

The first reason why we cannot regard the history of human societary forms as simply a continuation of infrahuman organic evolution is that in society we have to deal with integrates which work as wholes apart from the function of the component individuals. An approximation to this on the instinctive plane of evolution is to be found in the bee-hive, in ant-hills, and in termitaries. A far-off hint of it on the intelligent plane is to be found in the beaver village and the band of monkeys.

Professor McIver has argued very clearly that in mankind there are no individuals who are not social individuals, and that a society is not other or more than the members who compose it. The social relationships of every individual are not outside him, they are aspects of his individuality. There is no social function which is other than the functions of personalities.

We agree that there is no mysterious entity which we call a society, or a social integrate, or a societary form; that each is composed of a number of more or less like-minded and like-bodied individuals. But we are inclined to think that Mr. MacIver's recoil from a false antithesis between society and the individual, leads to an under-appreciation of the difference that social life makes. When men are associated and organised and integrated, their corporate behaviour does not follow as a matter of course from what we know of them as individuals. There is a strange psychology of the crowd. The same holds true of animals, to whom it is always a relief to turn. Termites sometimes go on food-collecting forays, 300,000 in a vigorous band, about 200 soldiers to 1,000 workers. At critical places the soldiers form a guard for the foragers; they give signals, they act as scouts, they keep or restore order. If they lose their presence of mind and fall back among the workers there may be a panic. Here, on an instinctive line, is social organisation, and our point is simply that, when integrates of individuals act as units of a higher order, a new complication is introduced. This complication is necessarily much greater in mankind where social tradition counts for much, and where the integrates, such as communities or nations, that now and again rise to some glorious expression of unified life, are not comparable to species or to varieties of animals, but are united by bonds quite different from those of blood-relationship. Two nations at war are not closely comparable to two species of animals in internecine competition, if we admit that there are secure instances of this to be found. One difference is that a nation is not a kin-unit as a species is, and another difference is that the issue of the struggle depends in part on extra-individual factors, such as wealth, and there are other differences.

The second differential concerns the nature of variations. In the Realm of Organisms variations count only in so far as they are continued in the germ-plasmic inheritance of descendants. In the Kingdom of Man this is true as regards organic qualities, but it is not true as regards the influence of the movers and shakers of the world, nor as regards another kind of societary variation, such as a sudden change from an Imperial dynasty to a republic, or any re-organisation of institutions after disasters or clashes. In human society extra-organismal variations bulk largely.

The third differentia is illustrated in the predominant rôle of the social heritage. For racial progress in physique and mental vigour what counts is the natural inheritance, the germ-plasm. For societary progress in good will, in discrimination, in adjustability, in appreciation of the beautiful and so on, what counts is also the natural inheritance, but of vast importance as well is the extra-organismal heritage, the social heritage of literature and art, the folk-ways of customs and tradition, the external registrations which we call institutions.

The fourth differentia is to be found in the ethical quality of certain forms of social selection, which sound a new note.

In ordinary affairs a feckless unreliable person who is very delightful in many ways, but cannot be trusted to keep appointments, gets left automatically. The traditions of business-likeness, the social systematisations, make him impossible, and he is elbowed out as a failure. This is closely comparable to the process in Nature by which a variant that is incompatible with the external systematisations gets sifted out. But there is in society another and distinctive kind of sifting which works potently for good and ill, where a social ideal of some sort is defined, and organisations are formed, both on the temporal and spiritual side, to realise it. There is deliberate controlled selection and its instruments are integrates, not individuals.

It seems, then, that in societary variations, apart from those due to the great men; and in social extra-organismal heritage, apart from all germ-plasm; and in societary selection, apart from natural selection in society, new notes are sounded, which forbid any false simplification of the facts, which in sociology is called a biologism and in biology a materialism.

Hear, then, the conclusion of the whole matter. There are some who think human society is just a new edition of the animal community or of the alleged animal gladiatorial show, and they are wrong. There are others who think human society is on a plane wholly apart, a little lower than that of the angels, where all talk of germ-plasm and other abominations of the breeding-pen is irrelevant, and they are wrong.

The truth is between the two extremes, and the whole truth has not yet been revealed. We have given attention to the contrast between organic evolution and social history because inattention to such contrasts is the theoretical complement of fumbling and muddling in practical affairs.

For practical purposes the most important feature of the contrast we have been working at lies in the rôle that the extra-organismal plays in the history of human society, and here we venture to quote a striking passage from a well-known evolutionist, Dr. Chalmers Mitchell, the secretary of the Zoological Society of London.

We are familiar with Kant's beautiful passage beginning: “Two things fill my mind with ever renewed wonder and awe the more often and deeper I dwell on them—the starry vault above me, and the moral law within me.”

“We may well agree,” says Chalmers Mitchell, “that the starry vault is a supreme example of the reality and externality of the physical universe.…I assert as a biological fact that the moral law is as real and as external to man as the starry vault. It has no secure seat in any single man or in any single nation. It is the work of the blood and tears of long generations of men. It is not in man, inborn or innate, but is enshrined in his traditions, in his customs, in his literature and his religion. Its creation and sustenance are the crowning glory of man, and his consciousness of it puts him in a high place above the animal world. Men live and die; nations rise and fall, but the struggle of individual lives and of individual nations must be measured not by their immediate needs, but as they tend to the debasement or perfection of man's great achievement” (1915, p. 107).

§ 7. In What Sense May It Be Said that Nature Is Crowned in Man?

It may be said that Man is the outcome of a persistent trend—towards freedom of mind—which has been characteristic of the process of organic evolution for millions of years. A Martian zoologist, on another line of life altogether, would, we fancy, have said in his report on a scientific expedition to our planet in Eocene times, that the Sauropsidan line of evolution had been crowned in the peopling of earth and sky with a fascinating set of bipeds, of quaintly engaging ways and consummate locomotion, with adorable parental virtues and an extraordinarily high level of artistic culture which seemed to be quite instinctive to every one of them, and so pervasive that many of them could not perform the commonest offices of life, without investing them with grace. He was reporting on Birds, of course.

But is it not justifiable, in an equally detached way, to say of Man that he crowns one line of Mammalian evolution? He shows in notable excellence what his predecessors, both direct, and collateral, have moved slowly towards,—a large and intricate cerebral cortex, a subtle integration of the body, and a masterly resourceful behaviour.

We cannot suppose, with the scholars in the school of ‘Naturalism’, that the only realities are those that Natural Science deals with, but we are not sure that Mr. Arthur J. Balfour is accurate when he speaks of Man being, according to Naturalism, “no more than a phenomenon among phenomena, a natural object among other natural objects, his very existence an accident, his story a brief and transitory episode in one of the meanest of the planets”. For even from the position of ‘naturalism’, it does not seem justifiable to call Man's “very existence an accident”. There may be accidents in evolution, though we think there are few, but they do not last for two millions of years. An ascent that has probably occupied between two and three millions of years is not well described as “a brief and transitory episode”. Man may have been the greatest of mutations, but there is no scientific warrant for regarding him as a freak. He is congruent with antecedent and collateral evolution towards higher nervous organisation.

In the same way we cannot admit that Huxley was talking good science when he insisted that Man's only chance of ethical progress was to combat the cosmic process. He made this antithesis because he saw in Nature a vast gladiatorial show, a ubiquitous Ishmaelitism, every living creature for itself and extinction taking the hindmost. He made man a stranger in Nature by failing to appreciate adequately the fact that throughout the struggle for existence in Nature there is often a pathway to survival and success through increased co-operation, kindness, and mutual aid, as well as through increased competition and self-assertion. Along the line of combination and mutual aid Man has made some of his greatest advances, and this line was indicated, as it were, by Nature to him.

We have already asked whether there is not an ethical finger-post in Nature's strategy that the individual living creature realises itself in its inter-relations, and has to submit to being lost that the welfare of the whole may be served. There is much indeed to be said for the thesis (which Prof. Patrick Geddes has maintained) that the ideals of ethical progress—through love and sociality, co-operation and sacrifice, may be interpreted as the highest expressions of the central evolutionary process of the natural world.

Taking a broader than scientific view, we recognise that there are other ways in which it may be said that Nature is crowned in Man. He is Nature's interpreter, rationalising the whole. In him the inherent rationality of Nature, the Logos, became articulate, and found, moreover, joyous appreciation.

We cling to the Aristotelian doctrine of the End as the philosophical explanation of what goes before. As Prof. A. S. Pringle-Pattison puts it in his Gifford Lectures, “The nature of a power at work in any process is only revealed in the process as a whole. It is revealed progressively in the different stages, but it cannot be fully and truly known until the final stage is reached.…Now man is, from this point of view, the last term in the series, and the world is not complete without him.” We are grateful for what seems to us wise teaching, but we venture to suggest that in regard to a race and an external heritage that may go on evolving for millions of years to come it is premature to speak of ‘final stage’ or ‘last term’.


There are in the Realm of Organisms many masterpieces, reaching along diverse lines to approximately equal heights of differentiation and integration. Thus many insects in their way attain to extraordinary perfection. Yet no one hesitates in ranking birds and mammals as much ‘higher’. This means that they excel in being very highly differentiated and integrated, but also that they exhibit the fullest expression of what the trend of evolution seems to make for, namely, freedom, mastery, and joyous consciousness. We call them “higher” for two objective reasons, but we colour these with an appreciation of values.

With inconceivable slowness the evolving stock of Primates was differentiated along distinct lines. New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, small anthropoids, and large anthropoids were in turn segregated off. The evolving human stem was further pruned by the divergence of doomed races,—Pithecanthropus, Neanderthalers, and perhaps the men of the Sussex Weald. It is perhaps a million years since the human standard of brain was reached.

In Man's bodily structure there is an all-pervading similitude with the higher Anthropoids; his blood mingles harmoniously with theirs; he is a museum of relics in the form of vestigial structures and he is shot through with atavistic proclivities; in his development he climbs up his own genealogical tree. Man is solidary with the rest of creation.

On the other hand, Man is quite unique in his capacity for forming and experimenting with general ideas or concepts (reason), in his power of reasoned discourse (language), in his vivid consciousness of himself as a personality with a history behind him and with strong kin-instincts binding him for his own self-realisation to his fellows. Man is apart from the rest of creation.

Of the factors in the establishment of human species we are very ignorant. A great increase in brain capacity, implying marked educability, perhaps arose as a mutation, as genius does still. Perhaps a temporal variation, implying a prolongation of antenatal life, infancy, and childhood, was of importance. Also to be considered are the results of arboreal life, of the emancipation of the fore-limb, of walking erect, of using sticks and stones, of building shelters, of living in families, of talking a good deal—and all these began in Primates lower than Man. Furthermore, there were a good many experiments in social organisation prior to Man.

Human history, though continuous with, is more than a continuation of animal evolution. Man is a rational and social personality, understanding something of his own evolution and seeking to have a hand in it, directing it in reference to an ideal. When the factors in social history are compared with those of organic evolution, great differences appear. In society we have to deal with integrates which work as units, in a manner which cannot be adequately described in terms of the functions of the component individuals. In social evolution enormous importance attaches to the extra-organismal,—to societary variation, to the social heritage, and to deliberate social selection by social methods.

In what sense may we say that Nature is crowned in Man? He is the outcome of a persistent trend towards dominance of mentality, and he carries this to finer issues. Man cannot be regarded as ‘accidental’ or ‘episodic’; he is the outcome of a Iong-continued orthogenesis. Man is Nature's interpreter, rationalising the whole. In him the Logos became articulate, and found, moreover, joyous appreciation. To Man also it has been given in an extraordinary degree to control Nature's operations for his own purposes. He has often put more meaning into Nature by mastering it.