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KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Lafcadio Hearn) online

Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan


To the Evolutionist such facts necessarily suggest that the value of our moral idealism is but temporary; and that something better than virtue, better than kindness, better than self-denial,-- in the present human meaning of those terms,-- might, under certain conditions, eventually replace them. He finds himself obliged to face the question whether a world without moral notions might not be morally better than a world in which conduct is regulated by such notions. He must even ask himself whether the existence of religious commandments, moral laws, and ethical standards among ourselves does not prove us still in a very primitive stage of social evolution. And these questions naturally lead up to another: Will humanity ever be able, on this planet, to reach an ethical condition beyond all its ideals,-- a condition in which everything that we now call evil will have been atrophied out of existence, and everything that we call virtue have been transmuted into instinct;-- a state of altruism in which ethical concepts and codes will have become as useless as they would be, even now, in the societies of the higher ants.

The giants of modern thought have given some attention to this question; and the greatest among them has answered it -- partly in the affirmative. Herbert Spencer has expressed his belief that humanity will arrive at some state of civilization ethically comparable with that of the ant:--

"If we have, in lower orders of creatures, cases in which the nature is constitutionally so modified that altruistic activities have become one with egoistic activities, there is an irresistible implication that a parallel identification will, under parallel conditions, take place among human beings. Social insects furnish us with instances completely to the point,-- and instances showing us, indeed, to what a marvelous degree the life of the individual may be absorbed in subserving the lives of other individuals... Neither the ant nor the bee can be supposed to have a sense of duty, in the acceptation we give to that word; nor can it be supposed that it is continually undergoing self-sacrifice, in the ordinary acceptation of that word... [The facts] show us that it is within the possibilities of organization to produce a nature which shall be just as energetic in the pursuit of altruistic ends, as is in other cases shown in the pursuit of egoistic ends;-- and they show that, in such cases, these altruistic ends are pursued in pursuing ends which, on their other face, are egoistic. For the satisfaction of the needs of the organization, these actions, conducive to the welfare of others, must be carried on...

. . . . . . . .

"So far from its being true that there must go on, throughout all the futur e, a condition in which self-regard is to be continually subjected by the regard for others, it will, contrari-wise, be the case that a regard for others will eventually become so large a source of pleasure as to overgrow the pleasure which is derivable from direct egoistic gratification... Eventually, then, there will come also a state in which egoism and altruism are so conciliated that the one merges in the other."


Of course the foregoing prediction does not imply that human nature will ever undergo such physiological change as would be represented by structural specializations comparable to those by which the various castes of insect societies are differentiated. We are not bidden to imagine a future state of humanity in which the active majority would consist of semi-female workers and Amazons toiling for an inactive minority of selected Mothers. Even in his chapter, "Human Population in the Future," Mr. Spencer has attempted no detailed statement of the physical modifications inevitable to the production of higher moral types,-- though his general statement in regard to a perfected nervous system, and a great diminution of human fertility, suggests that such moral evolution would signify a very considerable amount of physical change. If it be legitimate to believe in a future humanity to which the pleasure of mutual beneficence will represent the whole joy of life, would it not also be legitimate to imagine other transformations, physical and moral, which the facts of insect-biology have proved to be within the range of evolutional possibility?... I do not know. I most worshipfully reverence Herbert Spencer as the greatest philosopher who has yet appeared in this world; and I should be very sorry to write down anything contrary to his teaching, in such wise that the reader could imagine it to have been inspired by Synthetic Philosophy. For the ensuing reflections, I alone am responsible; and if I err, let the sin be upon my own head.

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