The Philosophical Implications of Darwinism

  • Antony G. N. Flew
Part of the The Hastings Center Series in Ethics book series (HCSE)


When the word “philosophy” in each of these two apparently contradictory sentences is given the appropriate sense, both express plain and entirely compatible truths, truths that are both, in their different contexts, important. In the first, the relevant sense is wide and untechnical. It is in this original and most common understanding that biographers devote chapters to the philosophy of their subjects, professional associations invite leading figures to address ceremonial occasions on their personal philosophy of whatever it may be, and editors of serious general journals commission contributions to symposiums on the philosophical implications of new theoretical developments. In the second sentence quoted, the relevant sense is narrow and technical. In this specialist sense we could with equal truth say (1) that while most of The Laws and much of The Republic is not philosophy, Theaetetus is almost nothing but, and (2) that of the comparatively few pages of philosophy in Hume’s second Inquiry, most are of intent relegated to the appendixes.1


Natural Selection Invisible Hand Penguin Book Natural Theology Naturalistic Fallacy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    A. G. N. Flew, Philosophy: An Introduction (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1979), chap. I.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (New York: Harper, 1936), p. 268. Compare Lovejoy, “Some Eighteenth Century Evolutionists” in Popular Science Monthly, 1904.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1957), pp. 336–40.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, ed. Nora Darwin (London: Collins, 1958), p. 140.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The Origin of Species [1859], ed. J. W. Burrow (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 435.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid.,p. 68.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid, pp. 116–7; italics supplied.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., pp. 169–70.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The Descent of Man [1871] vol. I (London: Murray, 1871), p. 405; italics supplied.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    H. Denzinger, ed., Enchiridion symbolorum, 29th rev. ed. (Freiburg-in-Breisgau, Germany: 1953), sec. 3027.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    G. Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (London: Chatto and Windus, 1959), p. 307.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    D. Morris, The Human Zoo (London: Cape, 1970), p. 248.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ibid., pp. 47–8; compare the discussion in A. G. N. Flew, A Rational Animal (Oxford, England: Clarendon, 1978), pp. 29–33.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See, for instance, Arthur Caplan’s review of the reviews published in the Hastings Center Report for April 1976 under the title “Ethics, Evolution, and the Milk for Human Kindness.” The most furious reaction came from a collective of Boston correspondents. They were radicals upset by the challenge to their favorite, false assumptions. Nowadays such persons insist that we are all born as near as makes little matter identical—that we are almost completely creatures of and for environmental manipulation. For some discussion of these assumptions in contemporary social science, see A. G. N. Flew, Sociology, Equality, and Education (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1976), chaps. 4 and 5.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    W. Paley, “Natural Theology,” in Works, vol. I (London: Longmans, 1938), p. 32.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    D. Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding [1748], ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, rev. P. H. Hidditch (Oxford, England: Clarendon, 1975), sec. XI, and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion [1779] ed. N. Kemp Smith (Edinburgh, Scotland: Nelson, 1947), passim.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    D. Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, passim. Compare A. G. N. Flew, God and Philosophy (London: Hutchinson, 1966), sees. 3.1–3.30, or A. G. N. Flew, “Introduction,” Malthus on Population, vol. VI (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1970), sec. 6.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Darwin, The Origin of Species, p. 236; italics supplied.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ibid., p. 459; italics supplied.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    F. Darwin and A. C. Seward, More Letters of Charles Darwin, vol. I (London: Murray, 1903), p. 114n; and Origin of Species, p. 459.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    J. Huxley, Essays of a Biologist [1923] (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1939), p. 17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 21.
    and compare A. G. N. Flew, Evolutionary Ethics (London: Macmillan, 1967), sec. III.Google Scholar
  23. 22.
    A. M. Quinton, “Ethics and the Theory of Evolution,” Biology and Personality, ed. I. T. Ramsey (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966), p. 120.Google Scholar
  24. 23.
    A. G. N. Flew, A Rational Animal, and “Introduction,” Malthus on Population.Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    Darwin, The Origin of Species, pp. 116–7; italics supplied.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    For more on this aspect of the work of these great Scots, see F. A. Hayek, “Result of Human Action But Not of Human Design,” in Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).Google Scholar
  27. 26.
    Quoted in H. R. Trevor-Roper, ed., Hitler’s Table Talk (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1953), pp. 39, 51Google Scholar
  28. 26a.
    Compare A. Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1962), pp. 36, 89, 398–9, 677, and 693.Google Scholar
  29. 27.
    Quoted in W. J. Ghent, Our Benevolent Feudalism (New York: Macmillan, 1902), p. 29.Google Scholar
  30. 28.
    E. Ferri, Socialism and Positive Science (London: I.L.P., 1906), pp. v, vi-vii, and 1.Google Scholar
  31. 29.
    For some discussion both of whether this is a fallacy and of whether it was presented as such by Hume, see Hudson. I will here treat myself to no more than one sharp observation. It is that those who want to answer both questions in the negative are often almost unbelievably inept and naive. Benjamin Gibbs, for instance, in an authoritarian leftist book unpersuasively pretending not to be “a tract against freedom,” fails to catch Hume’s irony. So, he thinks to dispose of him as a spokesperson for the false and foolish thesis that all utterances containing the copula “is” are straightforwardly descriptive whereas all utterances with the copula “ought” are purely prescriptive or proscriptive. Gibbs, Freedom and Liberation (London: Sussex University Press, 1976), pp. 8, 116; italics original. Yet the point with both Hume’s law and Hume’s fork is precisely not that the crucial distinction is always made but that it always should be (Flew, Philosophy: An Introduction, pp. 27–28, 112–13).Google Scholar
  32. 30.
    In chap. XIII of Leviathan, a law of nature is defined as “a precept or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit that, by which he thinketh it may best be preserved.” Compare this prescriptive and proscriptive formulation with the statement in chap. I of De Cive: “Among so many dangers therefore as the natural lusts of men do daily threaten each other withal, to have a care of one’s self is not a matter to be so scornfully looked upon, as if so there had been a power and will left in one to have done otherwise. For every man is desirous of what is good for him, and shuns what is evil, but chiefly the chiefest of natural evils, which is death; and this he doth, by a certain impulsion of nature, no less than that whereby a stone moves downwards.” It is remarkable that so incisive a thinker and so excellent a writer does not here make it absolutely clear whether what is that we are supposed not to be able to avoid is having the desires or acting to satisfy them. Insofar as Hobbes was one of the first of so many to aspire to develop a psychological mechanics, in which our desires (or “drives”) would be construed as forces compelling us to act toward their satisfaction willy-nilly, we may say that he slips into any such ambiguity quasi veritate coactus, or as if compelled by the truth (Flew, A Rational Animal, chap. VII and passim).Google Scholar
  33. 31.
    Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature [1739–40], ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1896), p. 475. And see references in note 29 of the present essay.Google Scholar
  34. 32.
    K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto, trans. S. Moore; ed. A. J. P. Taylor (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 79. 33 Ibid., p. 105.Google Scholar
  35. 33.
    Ibid., p. 105.Google Scholar
  36. 34.
    Ibid., pp. 93, 97. The only gloss I am able to offer on the first of these two statements, with its apparent insistence that the (average) modern laborer tends always to sink below the (average) conditions of the class of which he is a member, is to compare it with a form of utterance which has in recent years become wryly familiar to all students of the British labor unions: “If there is a national average wage increase, then it would be unfair for anyone to have less than the average, though there must of course be some special cases—ours for a start!—in which some group gets a lot more than the average.”Google Scholar
  37. 35.
    J. Huxley, Evolution in Action (London: Chatto and Windus, 1953), pp. vii, 132.Google Scholar
  38. 36.
    J. W. Carlyle, Letters and Memorials, vol. III (London: Longmans Green, 1883), pp. 20–21.Google Scholar
  39. 37.
    C Darwin, The Origin of Species, pp. 459–60.Google Scholar
  40. 38.
    Huxley, Evolution in Action, p. 132; cf. Flew, Evolutionary Ethics, p. 60.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Hastings Center 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antony G. N. Flew

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations