THE CONSCIENCE OF ANIMALS.
-rN the very interesting paper on " Conscience in Animals," I contributed by Mr. G. J. Romanes to the April number of Mr. Crookes's Quarterly Journal of Science, we find,—together with an introduction which rather surprises us, by its curious and un- reasoned, not to say unreasonable, assumptions as to the origin and nature of the rudimentary conscience which may be observed in certain of the more sympathetic and intelligent animals,—some very skilfully recounted and very remarkable facts, which well de- serve to be ranged along with those which Mr. Darwin has col- lected in those chapters of the " Descent of Man " devoted to the inherited character of the "moral sense." Properly inter- preted, these facts seem to us to suggest the very opposite of the theory which Mr. Romanes supposes them to suggest. He appears to think, indeed, that Mr. Darwin has not only put his finger pre- cisely on that class of facts in which we may expect to study best the origin of the moral sense,—wherein we quite agree,—but that his study and analysis of them are adequate. We entirely dissent from that view, and propose to use the accounts which Mr. Romance himself has supplied us of the evidence of conscience in dogs to show how inadequate Mr. Darwin's analysis is, how the most characteristic of all the true ethical criteria disappear beneath the point of his moral scalpel.
The doctrine which alone Mr. Darwin really needed to maintain
was no doubt this,—that in animals below the rank of man, we may see in germ many of the same phenomena which, when they appear in man, we at once refer to that mysterious and imperious sense of obligation which we call Conscience. So far, we think, he succeeded admirably. But whether from philosophic bias or from inadvertence, he went further. He tried to show that wherever these germs of moral life could be traced, they were resolvable into something else which was not moral life at all, but a mere victory of the persistent social affections over the periodic individual appetites and passion& Mr. Darwin illustrates his theory graphi- cally by a purely hypothetical case. He remarks that the migratory birds feel at the season of migration so strong a desire to join their comrades on the' wing, that caged birds will dash themselves against the barg of the cage till 'their breasts are quite bare and bloody, while uncaged birds will often, at a moment when their latest nestlings are not in sight, take flight and desert them. " When arrived at the end of her long journey, and the migratory instinct ceases to act, what an agony of remorse," says Mr. Darwin, "each bird 'would feel, if, from being endowed with great mental activity, she could not prevent the image continually passing before her mind of her young ones perishing in the bleak North of cold and hunger."* Of course, the drift of that hypothesis is very clear. Mr. Darwin thinks he can get rid entirely of the sense of ability to act otherwise, which is of the very essence of remorse, by representing remorse as simply consisting in the reassertion of itself by a mare persistent instinct, after a stronger but more periodic instinct has had its gratifi- cation, and is consequently for the time in abeyance. He asserts this, in very clear words, in another passage :—" The imperious word ought seems merely to imply the consciousness of the existence of a persistent instinct, either innate or partly ac- quired, serving him" [the moral agent] "as a guide, though liable to be disobeyed. We hardly use the word ought in a metaphorical sense, when we say hounds ought to hunt, pointers to point, and retrievers to retrieve their game. If they fail thus to act, they fail in their duty and act wrongly."t In other words, duty means only the involuntary subordination of the more temporary and individual to the more persistent and social instinct, for of voluntarysubordination in these cases there is no pretence. The
creature that obeys the more persistent, or permanently urgent, instead of the more periodic, impulse is the creature with a con- science. It is the comparatively greater persistency of the social instincts which alone gives them, according to Mr. Darwin's view, their moral estimation, and also, as we suppose, in his view, their moral worth.
" Descent of Man," First Edition, Vol. L, p. 91. t p. 82.
Now let us try this view by some of Mr. Romanes's new facts, as well as some of Mr. Darwin's old facts. To take the old
facts first. Mr. Darwin quotes from Dr. Hooker a story that an elephant which he was riding in India became so deeply bogged,
that it remained stuck fast till next day, when it was extricated by means of ropes. " Under such circumstances; elephants seize with their trunks any objects, dead or alive, to place -under their knees to prevent their sinking deeper in the mud ; and the driver was dreadfully afraid lest the animal should have seized Dr. Hooker and crushed him to death. But the driver himself; as Dr. Hooker- was assured, ran no risk. This forbearance under an emergency so dreadful for a heavy animal, is a wonderful proof' of noble fidelity." No doubt. But is there the slightest vestige of 'evidence that the social instinct of fidelity could, in the agony of that crisis, have been felt by the creature as a more persistent instinct than that of self-preservation ? If, like Mr. Darwin's imaginary swallow, the elephant had crushed the human beings in the urgency of his self-preserving instinct at the moment, and had gone mad the next day with remorse after the more temporary instinct had_ been satisfied and thereby lost its immediate hold on his mind, the case would have been one in support of his theory. But as it was, it is open to either of two explanations,—either (1) that the elephant's
impulse of reverence, say, for the command of his keeper, was actually the stronger at the moment, as well as the more persistent,
in which case he was not tempted to crush either his rider or his master ; or (2) if he were strongly tempted to do so, that he used such will as he had to repress the inferior impulse, and to steel him.- self to brave the prospect of his own suffocation. In-the latter case only, the act of the creature was truly moral. But in neither case was his abstinence from the act prompted by the natural
instinct of the, elephant, in the least an illustration of Mr.
Darwin's theory, that it is the greater persistency of the social instincts which give them their moral authority. At that
critical moment certainly the more persistent of the two instincts
could not have been the one which taught the elephant to pre- fer his keeper to himself, though it may have been the stronger.
And to suppose that it was the expectation of suffering remorse the next day, in case he yielded then to his wild instinct, which determined his self-restraint, is too artificial and even grotesque an hypothesis to have any likelihood in it. Again, Mr. Darwin quotes from Brehm the story of a baboon in Abyssinia which re- turned to rescue a young baboon, only six months old, who
had been surrounded by dogs. "One of the largest males, a
true hero, came down again from the mountain, slowly went to the young one, coaxed him, and triumphantly led him away, the dogs being too much astonished to make an attack." Now, that again, might be due to either of the forms of true courage,—the complete preponderance of sympathy over fear, or the triumph of will over fear, in deference to the sense of a higher claim ; but to whichever source it was due, it was evidently not the greater persist- ency of the one feeling which gave it any advantage over the other, for at the moment both must have been in full activity, the occasion serving, to develop both. If the baboon had any sense of moral obligation in the matter at all, as is quite possible, it was in some dim way just like our human sense that it would be nobler to perish in trying to save the little one than to abandon him to his foes. Of course no one can say that there was
such a feeling, but it is easy to see that Mr. Darwin's analysis of " the imperious word ought" gains no more support from such
facts as these than- it would gain from the most subtle of human experiences. The persistency' of the social instinct might possibly explain a feeling of remorse, when- the action of the less persistent instinct which had momentarily conquered the social feeling had ceased, but such remorse after the event is just what we see least trace of in animal life, and where we do trace it at all, it is in the very clearest oases of conscience in animals, cases where there has been a conflict first as well as remorse after- wards ; whereas remorse is just what DarwTi's theory should require us to find most trace of in the conscience of animals, and that, too, in animals not yet capable of so far anticipating their subsequent remorse as to resist, even for a moment, the acts which' might lead to it.
However, Mr. Romanes certainly has one story which would agree very well with Mr. Darwin's theory, though not better than it would agree with any other ethical theory whatever. It is the story of a terrier of his own, which he speaks of as far surpassing "any animal or human being I ever knew in the keen sensitiveness of his feelings," and which he assures us, "was never beaten in his life," so that the fear of physical punishment, at least, had nothing to do with his behaviour :— " One day he was shut up in a room by himself, while everybody in
the house where he was went out. Seeing his friends from the window as they departed, the terrier appears to have been overcome by a paroxysm of rage ; for when I returned I found that he had torn all the bottoms of the window-curtains to shreds. When I first opened the door, he jumped about as dogs in general do under similar circum- stances, having apparently forgotten, in his joy at seeing me, the damage he had done. But when, without speaking, I picked up one of the torn shreds of the curtains, the terrier gave a howl, and rushing out of the room, ran up-stairs screaming as loudly as he was able. The only interpretation I can assign to this conduct is, that his former fit of passion having subsided, the dog was sorry at having done what he knew would annoyme • and not being able to endure in my presence the remorse of his smitten conscience, he ran to the farthest corner of the house, crying peccari in the language of his nature."
Now there, if you please, it is quite possible to suppose that the more persistent social instinct returned upon the crea- ture the moment the paroxysm of rage or despair was passed, and revenged itself for its temporary suppression during that paroxysm ; but though that view is tenable, it is no more plausible than any other. No one can venture to affirm that it was the mere persistency of the higher feeling, and not rather a power of perceiving that it was the less worthy feeling to which he had given way, which caused the dog's remorse. We can only in- terpret the dogs feelings from our own in similar cases,—our own, at least, deprived as much as possible of their higher intellectual elements,—and so interpreted, Mr. Darwin's explanation seems the less likely of the two. As far as we know, we seldom or never stiffer true remorse without having first gone through a moral conflict as to what we ought to do. It is not with us the anti- cipation of remorse which puts in a veto on a bad action, but the knowledge at the time that it is bad, which ultimately induces the remorse. Let us, however, quote Mr. Romanes's best and most instructive story of animal conscience, which really seems to go to the heart of the question as to the meaning of that conscience. It is a story of the same terrier, and before giving it, we should add that Mr. Romanes solemnly assures his readers that in all the facts he narrates he carefully " avoids exaggera- tion or embellishment of any kind." The story is as follows :—
"I had had this dog for several years, and had never—even in his puppyhood—known him to steal. On the contrary, he used to make an excellent guard to protect property from other animals, servants, &c., even though these were his best friends. [Mr. Romanes here adds in a note :—" I have seen this dog escort a donkey which had baskets on its back filled with apples. Although the dog did not know that he was being observed by anybody, he did his duty with the utmost faithful- ness; for every time the donkey turned back its head to take an apple out of the baskets, the dog snapped at his nose; and such was his watchfulness, that, although his companion was keenly, desirous of tast- ing some of the fruit, he never allowed him to get a single apple during the half-hour they were left together. I have also seen this terrier protecting meat from other terriers (his eons), which lived in the same house with him, and with which he was on the very best of terms. More curious still, I have seen him seize my wristbands while they were being worn by a friend to whom I had temporarily lent them."] Never- theless on one occasion he was very hungry, and in the room where I was reading and he was sitting, there was, within easy reach, a savoury mutton chop. I was greatly surprised to see him stealthily remove this chop and take it under a sofa. However, I pretended not to observe what had occurred, and waited to see what would happen next. For fully a -quarter of an hour this terrier remained under the sofa without Making a sound, but doubtless enduring an agony of contending feelings. Eventually, however, conscience came off victorious, for emerging from his place of concealment and carrying in his mouth the stolen chop, he came across the room and laid the tempting morsel at my feet. The moment he dropped the stolen property he bolted again under the sofa, and from this retreat no coaxing could charm him for several hours afterwards. Moreover, when during that time he was spoken to or patted, he always turned away his head in a ludicrously conscience-stricken manner. Altogether I do not think it would be possible to imagine a more satis-, factory exhibition of conscience by an animal than this; for it must be remembered, as already stated, that the particular animal in question was never beaten in its life."
Now, here we have, several most important points for the deter- mination of the question of the nature of eonacience in this dog. This was not certainly .a case of an easy victory of the stronger feel- ing of his respect or love for his master over the weaker feeling of hunger, for the hunger so far prevailed as to plunge the dog into the very act of theft, and even took him so far that he must have had the temptagon at its very strongest when the mutton-chop was really under the sofa, as well as within his month. If ever the less " persistent " impulse could be in the ascendant, it must have been then, and for a few moments it was so far clearly in the ascendant that the dog yielded to the first temptation. But before this desire had really been gratified,—while the gratification was still before it, and while the desire must have been at its very highest,—either the dog's respect for his master returned.in a . great rush and won the day, or else,—and this seems to us fax the more natural explanation,—the dog made a great effort of will to resist the temptation presented to his appetite, and not only delivered up the chop, but made, as it were, an act of confes- sion and contrition by placing it at his master's feet, and doing
voluntary penance for his fault, instead of making any attempt to restore the chop stealthily, and make as though he had never taken it. If ever there were a distinct moral action done by an agent unable to explain his own state of mind, this, so far as it is possible for us to interpret another creature at all seems to have been one. The temptation was resisted, and not only resisted, but confessed, and not only confessed, but penitence was vehemently expressed. It is impossible in this case to explain the apparent remorse by the exhaustion of .the impulse which led to the act repented, for the impulse was not exhausted, but was encountered and conquered in full awing.
What we maintain is that Mr. Darwin, though he has, probably succeeded in proving that the germs of morality, in our, human sense of the word, exist in the lower animals, has not at all succeeded in so explaining away those germs of morality as to take all that is really spiritual and transcendental out of them. On the contrary, as far as the actions of the lower animals are moral at all, we maintain that they are moral in the higher sense which man has always assigned -to that word,—that they imply a real though very limited freedom, and a real though very limited sense of the im- periousness of moral obligation. That conception of evolution' which finds the more highly organised form to be " potentially" contained in the lower organised form, is surely unworthy of Mr, Darwin, and is even inconsistent, to our mind, with his whole theory of the survival of the fittest. At every stage in the process of evolution there enters, as we believe, somewhat new which was not there before ; and as soon as the sense of moral obligation emerges, whether it be in man or in the less dignified animals, there enters something not only new, but of a totally different and nobler kind than anything which we can discover on the lower planes of existence. We are neither unable nor indisposed to accept adequate evidence, such as Mr.Romanes gives, that this spark of somewhat divine shows itself in fitfulglimpsea below the human level. But we are both unable and indisposed to believe that this spark of diviner life can by any so-rolled "higher analysis" be explained away into constituents of no moral value a.nd an origin of no spiritual significance.