Friday, April 17, 2009

Thought for the Day no. 6

I have been reading Charles Darwin’s lesser known book, The Descent of Man, and selection in relation to sex (1871), which reports on his research published after his Origin of Species (1859).

In it, Darwin makes a direct reference to Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments (Smith’s first book, published in 1759) in his chapter discussing moral sense.

From this chapter, it is clear that Darwin agreed with Smith that moral sense was not an innate faculty (as suggested by Frances Hutcheson), but was learned from social contact with other humans in society.

Thus, the social instincts, which must have been acquired by man in a very rude state, and probably even by his early ape-like progenitors, still give the impulse to many of his best actions, but his actions are largely determined by the expressed wishes and judgement of his fellow men, and unfortunately still oftener by his own strong, selfish desires.’ (Descent of Man, p 86; see also footnote 17, p 82)

Darwin's theatre of activity included the whole range of animals, beside humans, and he used his detailed knowledge to test the extent of moral behaviour across a wider range of species than Smith, who considered only humans. He also drew on a hundred years of extra research not available to Adam Smith. On the whole, I think Smith's theories stand up quite well.



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