War or Peace?: Huxley and Kropotkin's Battle Over the Design of Virtue

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Abstract

Before Darwin, the devout believed that morality was infused from above on the Sixth Day, religious skeptics that it had been born with philosophy. But could the moral order have other origins? Could the design of virtue come from another place? “He who understands baboon,” the sage of evolution scribbled in a notebook at the London Zoo in 1836, “would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.” It was like confessing a murder. Whether life had been “originally breathed… into a few forms or one” by a Creator, as Darwin suggested, bowing before popular sentiment in the Second Edition of The Origin of Species after leaving Him out of the first, virtue was no kind of human invention. More ancient than the Bible, still earlier than philosophy, morality was in fact older than Adam and Eve. This contribution will reexamine the battle waged between Thomas Henry Huxley and Peter Kropotkin over the Darwinian legacy on morality. While Huxley adopted Tennyson's view that nature was “red in tooth and claw,” and therefore not the place to search for an ethical compass for man, Kropotkin held that the very design of the process of natural selection had brought about all that is commendable in human virtue. The contribution will situate each thinker in his historical context and instance the interplay between scientific and social thought in the respective theories.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesign in Nature. Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology
EditorsL. Swan, R. Gordon, J. Seckbach
Pages87-110
Number of pages14
Volume23
ISBN (Electronic)978-94-007-4156-0
DOIs
StatePublished - 3 May 2012

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