Article ID: CBB000411131

Evolution, Ethics, and Equivocation: T. H. Huxley's Conflicted Legacy (2004)


Recent debates over evolutionary ethics have often circled around T. H. Huxley's late claim that "Social progress means a checking of the cosmic process at every step." In writing "Evolution and Ethics" and its long Prolegomena, however, Huxley may instead be wrestling with the nature and origin of human agency. Early in his career he saw evolution and social progress as converging, but as he came to find cosmic process alien to human welfare, he found moral agency more essential but more problematic. Within "Evolution and Ethics," evolution retreats into a cyclical stasis while ethical challenges end up submitting to it. Huxley implies, however, that in acknowledging these cycles as "natural," ancient sages begged the question of whether resistance to them were possible. And when evolutionary ethicists delimit humanity's potential by its simian origins, Huxley invokes Hume's "naturalistic fallacy," asking them how factual evidence can support their prescriptive conclusions. Both his naturalist and idealist reviewers then drove him to turn his Prolegomena into a rebuttal to the original essay. Here, advocating a balance between altruism and selfishness, Huxley works to relegate agency to a question of degree. In both essays, Huxley's epigrammatic prose demarcates the dead ends of much Victorian thought and points toward alternate paths not explored until the twentieth century.

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Authors & Contributors
Stanley, Matthew
Adams, Matthew S.
Weikart, Richard
Sripada, Chandra Sekhar
Ruse, Michael
Richards, Robert John
Science and Education
Journal of the History of Ideas
Journal of the History of Biology
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Archives of Natural History
Cambridge University Press
University of Chicago Press
State University of New York Press
Peter Lang
Palgrave Macmillan
Oxford University Press
Evolution and ethics
Evolutionary psychology
Science and religion
Darwin, Charles Robert
Huxley, Thomas Henry
Spencer, Herbert
Dewey, John
Tyndall, John
Thomas Aquinas, Saint
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
21st century
20th century, early
20th century, late
Great Britain
United States

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