AN IMAGINARY INTERVIEW
THOMAS HENRY: I should like to know rather more about these
discoveries you talk of before committing myself to what seems at first
hearing to be a deplorable degree of moral relativity.
JULIAN : I would recommend your perusing some of the works of
Freud. You will undoubtedly experience a considerable inner resist-
ance against accepting his main conclusions, just as many in your
time experienced a resistance against accepting the conclusions of
Darwin. But once that resistance is overcome, I venture to say that
you will find them very illuminating.
THOMAS HENRY : I hope so. But I still fail to see how they can
dethrone morality from its position of transcendental importance in
JULIAN : That, if I may say so, is because you were always a great
moralist as well as a great scientist. But there's a question which I
have longed to ask you ever since, as a young man, I read your
famous Romanes lecture, Evolution and Ethics. There you stated (I
remember the passage vividly) that the ethical progress of society
depends not on imitating the cosmic process but in combating it, and
by the cosmic process you of course meant mainly the ruthless
struggle for existence. As an evolutionist, I never understood how
man, himself a part of nature, could fulfil his destiny by fighting
against that same process which gave him birth.
THOMAS HENRY: Is it not self-evident? Any theory of ethics
cannot but repudiate the gladiatorial theory of life; the practice of
virtue must be opposed to the type of conduct which is successful in
the cosmic struggle for existence.
JULIAN: I begin to see your point. But I think that modern
biology has something rather different to say on the subject. To-day,
after eighty years, we look back to Darwin as the Newton of our
science, the man who gave it the unifying concept for which it had
been waiting. . . .
THOMAS HENRY (interrupting): Yes, yes, very true. That was how
his work seemed at the time—a flash of light illuminating a dark and
confused landscape. When I first read The Origin of Species, I said to
myself, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!"
JULIAN : Yes, I remember. And you had the rare privilege for a
scientist, not only of living through one of the great controversies of
science, but of playing an outstanding part in getting the new theory
accepted. But to return to my point. In your day, the urgency was
to demonstrate the fact of evolution. But now biology has moved
beyond that stage and has built up a fairly full and detailed picture
both of the course of evolution and of its methods.