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Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

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general thought, after its demonstration of the regularity of all natural
processesj and that they are in large measure both intelligible and
controllable, is the demonstration of progress as an evolutionary fact.
Biological progress existed before man, but man is now the sole
repository of future possibilities of progress; further, progress is
neither universal nor necessary, but merely one possibility among
many. We can therefore say that there do exist general ethical
standards, but that these are standards of direction, not absolute
standards in the old static sense.
The ethical problem regarded from the scientific standpoint thus
largely resolves itself into this question: How can the unconscious
compulsions of very early life, which are generated primarily in re-
lation to the infant's family circle and to the control of its biological
functions, be rendered as little harmful as possible; and how can they
be subsequently related, in a more conscious way, to the wider con-
cepts of society and of evolutionary progress? As Waddington well
puts it, "a child learns at its mother's knee that aggression must be
controlled; and it learns a little later that taunting its younger
brother's weakness is a form of aggression, but when does it learn that
adopting an unscientific attitude to the social problem of nutrition is
also aggression," and therefore unethical? The same applies to war
and many other activities.
The problem is clearly one of the greatest complexity and difficulty,
but the fact that it has at last been scientifically formulated (which has
only become possible in the last few decades) is itself extremely im-
portant. One thing at least is clear, that it must be approached from
the social as well as the individual angle. The more frustration or
unmerited cruelty or hardship an individual meets with owing to the
social conditions into which he is born, the more likely are his con-
scious ethical principles liable to be distorted in an undesirable way,
and also to be overriden by undesirable unconscious compulsions,
whether of aggression or of escape. What is more, so much of the
emotional-ethical structure is laid down in infancy in relation to the
child's family circle, that the distortions and repressions of one genera-
tion have a strong tendency to perpetuate themselves, though often in
altered form, in the next. Educated and unfrustrated parents are a
necessary part of the social mechanism for producing educated and
unfrustrated children.
The problem of getting rid of undesirable repressions can also be
attacked by specific methods. Of these, the method of encouraging
self-expression through creative activity which is both free and self-
disciplined is probably the most important. Creative activity can