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The Origin of the Fittest: Essays on Evolution

The Origin of the Fittest:
Essays on Evolution

E.D.Cope, A.M., Ph.D. (Heidelberg)
Macmillan, 1887, pp.154-164.

Rationale of the Development of Intelligence

The history of material development shows that the transition from stage to stage of development; experienced by the most perfect forms of animals and plants in their growth from the primordial cell, is similar to the succession of created beings which the geological epochs produced. It also shows that the slow assumption of main characters in the line of succession in early geological periods produced the condition of inferiority, while an increased rapidity of growth in later days has resulted in an attainment of superiority. It is not to be supposed that in “acceleration.” the period of growth is shortened; on the contrary, it continues the same. Of two beings whose characters are assumed at the same rate of succession, that with the quickest or shortest growth is necessarily inferior. “Acceleration” means a gradual increase of the rate of assumption of successive characters in the same period of time. A fixed rate of assumption of characters, with gradual increase in the length of the period of growth, would produce the same result—viz., & longer developmental scale and the attainment of an advanced position. The first is in part the relation of sexes of a species; the last of genera, and of other types of creation. If from an observed relation of many facts we derive a law, we are permitted, when we see in another class of facts similar relations, to suspect that asimilar law has operated, differing only in its objects. We find a marked resemblance between the facts of structural progress in matter and the phenomena of intellectual and spiritual progress.

If the facts entering into the categories enumerated in the preceding section bear us out, we conclude that in the beginning of human history the progress of the individual man was very slow, and that but little was attained to; that, through the profitable direction of human energy, means were discovered from time to time by which the process of individual development in all metaphysical qualities has been accelerated ; and. that up to the present time the consequent advance of the whole race has been at an increasing rate of progress. This is in accordance with the general principle, that high development in intellectual things is accomplished by rapidity in traversing the preliminary stages of inferiority common to all, while low development signifies sluggishness in that progress, and a corresponding retention of inferiority.

How much meaning may we not see, from this standpoint, in the history of the intelligence of our little ones! First they crawl, they walk on all-fours; when, they first assume the erect position they are generally speechless, and utter only inarticulate sounds. When they run about, stones and dirt, the objects that first meet the eye, are the delight of their awakening powers; but these are all cast aside when the boy obtains his first jackknife. Soon, however, reading and writing open a new world to him; and, finally, as a mature man he seizes the forces of Nature, and steam and electricity do his bidding in the active pursuit of power for still better and higher ends.

So with the history of the species: first, the quadrumane; then the speaking man, whose humble industry was, however, confined to the objects that came first to hand, this being the “stone age” of pre-historic time. When the use of metals was discovered, the range of industries expanded wonderfully, and the “iron age ”saw many striking efforts of human power. With the introduction of letters it became possible to record events and experiences, and the spread of knowledge was thereby greatly increased, and the delays and mistakes of ignorance correspondingly diminished in the fields of the world’s activity.

From the first we see in history a slow advance as knowledge gained by the accumulation of tradition and by improvements in habit based on experience; but how slow was this advance while the use of the metals was still unknown ! The iron age brought with it not only new conveniences, but increased means of future progress ; and here we have an acceleration in the rate of advance. With the introduction of letters this rate was increased manifold, and in the application of steam we have a change equal in utility to any that has preceded it, and adding to the possibilities of future advance in many directions. By it power, knowledge, and means of happiness were to be distributed among the many.

The uses to which human intelligence has successively applied the materials furnished by Nature have been—first, subsistence and defense; second, the accumulation of power in the shape of a representative of that labor which, the use of matter involves—in other words, the accumulation of wealth. The possession of this power involves new possibilities, for opportunity is offered for the special pursuits of knowledge and the assistance of the weak or undeveloped part of mankind in its struggles.

Thus, while the first men possessed the power of speech, and could advance a little in knowledge through the accumulation of the experiences of their predecessors, they possessed no means of accumulating the power of labor, no control over the activity of numbers—in other words, no wealth.

But the accumulation of knowledge finally brought this advance about. The extraction and utilization of the metals, especially iron, formed the most important step, since labor was thus facilitated and its productiveness increased in an incalculable degree. We have little evidence of the existence of a medium of exchange during the first or stone period, and no doubt barter was the only form of trade. Before the use of metals, shells and other objects were used : remains of money of baked clay have been found in Mexico. Finally, though in still ancient times, the possession of wealth in money gradually became possible and more common, and from that day to this avenues for reaching this stage in social progress have ever been opening.

But wealth merely indicates a stage of progress, since it is but a comparative term. All men could not become rich, for in that case all would be equally poor. But labor has a still higher goal; for, thirdly, as capital, it constructs and employs machinery, which does the work of many hands, and thus cheapens products, which is equivalent in effect to an accumulation of wealth to the consumer. And this increase of power may be used for the intellectual and spiritual advance of men, or, otherwise, at the will of the men thus favored. Machinery places man in the position of a creator, operating on Nature throughan increased number of “secondary causes.”

Development of intelligence is seen, then, in the following directions: First, in the knowledge of facts, including science; second, in language; and, as consequences of these, the accumulation of power by development—first, of means of subsistence; and, second, of mechanical invention; and, third, in the apprehension of beauty.

Thus, we have two terms to start with in estimating the beginning of human development in knowledge and power : first, the primary capacities of the human mind itself; second, a material world, whose infinitely varied components are so arranged as to yield results to the energies of that mind. For example, the transition-points of vaporization and liquefaction are so placed as to be within the reach of man’s agents ; their weights are so fixed as to accord with the muscular or other forces which he is able to exert; and other living organizations are subject to his convenience and rule, and not, as in previous geological periods, entirely beyond his control. These two terms being given, it is maintained that the present situation of the most civilized men has been attained through the operation of a law of mutual action and reaction—a law whose results, seen at the present time, have depended on the acceleration or retardation of its rate of action; which rate has been regulated, according to the degree in which a third great term, viz., the law of moral or (what is the same thing) true religious development, has been combined in the plan. What it is necessary to establish, in order to prove the above hypothesis is—

I. That in each of the particulars above enumerated the development of the human species is similar to that of the individual from infancy to maturity.

II. That from a condition of subserviency to the laws of matter, man’s intelligence enables him, by an accumulation of power, to become in a sense independent of those laws, and to pursue a course of intellectual and spiritual progress.

III. That failure to accomplish a moral or spiritual development will again reduce him to a subserviency to the laws of matter.

This brings us to the subject or moral development. And here I may be allowed to suggest that the weight of the evidence is opposed to the philosophy, “falsely so called,” of necessitarianism, which asserts that the first two terms alone were sufficient to work out man’s salvation in this world and the next; and, on the other hand, to that anti-philosophy which asserts that all things in human progress, intellectual and moral, are regulated by immediate divine interposition instead of through instrumentalities. Hence, the subject divides itself at once into two great departments—viz., that of the development of mind or intelligence, and that of the development of morality.

That these laws are distinct, there can be no doubt, since in the individual man one of them may produce results without the aid of the.other. Yet it can be shown that each is the most invaluable aid and stimulant to the other, and most favorable to the rapid advance of the mind in either direction.

Spiritual or Moral Development

In examining this subject, we first inquire (Section a) whether there is any connection between physical and moral or religious development: then (b), what indications of moral development may be derived from history. Finally (c), a correlation of the results of these inquiries, with the nature of the religious development in the individual, is attempted. Of course in so stupendous an inquiry but a few leading points can be presented here.

If it be true that the period of human existence on the earth has seen a gradually increasing predominance of higher motives over lower ones among the mass of mankind, and if any parts of our metaphysical being have been derived by inheritance from pre-existent beings, we are incited to the inquiry whether any of the moral qualities are included among the latter; and whether there be any resemblance between moral and intellectual development.

Thus, if there have been a physical derivation from a pre-existent genus, and an embryonic condition of those physical characters which distinguish Homo—if there has been also an embryonic or infantile stage in intellectual qualities—we are led to inquire whether the development of the individual in moral nature will furnish us with a standard of estimation of the successive conditions or present relations of the human species in this aspect also.

a. Relations of Physical and Moral Nature.

Although, cæsteris paribus, men are much alike in the deeper qualities of their nature, there is a range of variation which is best understood by a consideration of the extremes of such variation as seen in men of different latitudes, and women and children.

(a) In Children.—Youth is distinguished by a peculiarity, which no doubt depends upon an immature condition of the nervous center concerned, which might be called nervous impressibility. It is exhibited in a greater tendency to tearfulness, in timidity, less mental endurance, a greater facility in acquiring knowledge, and more ready susceptibility to the influence of sights, sounds, and sensations. In both sexes the emotional nature predominates over the intelligence and judgment. In those years the character is said to be in embryo, and theologians, in using the phrase, “reaching years of religions understanding,” mean that in early years the religious capacities undergo development coincidentally with those of the body.

(b) In Women—If we examine the metaphysical characteristics of women, we observe two classes of traits—namely, those which are also found in men, and those which are absent or but weakly developed in men. Those of the first class are very similar in essential nature to those which men exhibit at an early stage of development. This may be in some way related to the fact that physical maturity occurs earlier in women.

The gentler sex is characterized by a greater impressibility, often seen in the influence exercised by a stronger character, as well as by music, color, or spectacle generally; warmth of emotion, submission to its influence rather than that of logic; timidity and irregularity of action in the outer world. All these qualities belong to the male sex, as a general rule, at some period of life, though different individuals lose them at very various periods. Ruggedness and sternness may rarely be developed in infancy, yet at some still prior time they certainly do not exist in any.

Probably most men can recollect some early period of their lives when the emotional nature predominated—a time when emotion at the sight of suffering was more easily stirred than in maturer years. I do not now allude to the benevolence inspired, kept alive, or developed by the influence of the Christian religion on the heart, but rather to that which belongs to the natural man. Perhaps all men can recall a period of youth when they were hero-worshipers—when they felt the need of a stronger arm, and loved to look up to the powerful friend who could sympathize with and aid them. This is the “ woman stage” of character: in a large number of cases it is early passed; in some it lasts longer; while in a very few men it persists through life. Severe discipline and labor are unfavorable to its persistence. Luxury preserves its bad qualities without its good, while Christianity preserves its good elements without its bad.

It is not designed to say that woman in her emotional nature does not differ from the undeveloped man. On the contrary, though she does not differ in kind, she differs greatly in degree, for her qualities grow with her growth, and exceed in power many fold those exhibited by her companion at the original point of departure. Hence, since it might be said that man is the undeveloped woman, a word of explanation will be useful. Embryonic types abound in the fields of nature, but they are not therefore immature in the usual sense. Maintaining the lower essential quality, they yet exhibit the usual results of growth in individual characters; that is, increase of strength, powers of support and protection, size and beauty. In order to maintain that the masculine character coincides with that of the undeveloped woman, it would be necessary to show that the latter during her infancy possesses the male characters predominating—that is unimpressibility, judgment, physical courage, and the like.

If we look at the second class of female characters—namely, those which are imperfectly developed or absent in men, and in respect to which man may be called undeveloped woman—we note three prominent points: facility in language, tact or finesse, and the love of children. The first two appear to me to be altogether developed results of “impressibility,” already considered as an indication of immaturity. Imagination is also a quality of impressibility, and, associated with finesse, is apt to degenerate into duplicity and untruthfulness—a peculiarity more natural to women than men.

The third quality is different. It generally appears at a very early period of life. Who does not know how soon the little girl selects the doll, and the boy the toy-horse or machine? Here man truly never gets beyond undeveloped woman. Nevertheless, “impressibility” seems to have a great deal to do with this quality also.

Thus the metaphysical relation of the sexes would appear to be one of inexact parallelism, as defined in Section I. That the physical relation is a remote one of the same kind, several characters seem to point out. The case of the vocal organs will suffice. Their structure is identical in both sexes in early youth, and both produce nearly similar sounds. They remain in this condition in the woman, while they undergo a metamorphosis and change both in structure and vocal power in the man. In the same way, in many of the lower creation, the females possess a majority of embryonic features, though not invariably. A common example is to be found in the plumage of birds, where the females and young males are often midistinguishable.(1) But there are a few points in the physical structure of man also in which the male condition is the immature one. In regard to structure, the point at which the relation between the sexes is that of exact parallelism, or where the mature condition of the one sex accords with the undeveloped condition of the other, is when reproduction is no longer accomplished by budding or gemmation, but requires distinct organs. Metaphysically, this relation is to be found where distinct individuality of the sexes first appears; that is, where we pass from the hermaphrodite to the bisexual condition.

But let us put the whole interpretation on this partial undevelopment of woman.

The types or conditions of organic life which have been the most prominent in the world’s history—the Ganoids of the first, the Dinosaurs of the second, and the Mammoths of the third period—have generally died with their day. The line of succession has not been from them. The law of anatomy and paleontology is, that we must seek the point of departure of the type which is to predominate in the future, at lower stages on the line, in less decided forms, or in what, in scientific parlance, are called generalized types. In the same way, though the adults of the tailless apes are in a physical sense more highly developed, than their young, yet the latter far more closely resemble the human species in their large facial angle and shortened jaws.

How much significance, then, is added to the law uttered by Christ! — “Except ye become as little children, ye can not enter the kingdom of heaven,” Submission of will, loving trust, confiding faith—these belong to the child: how strange they appear to the executing, commanding, reasoning man! Are they so strange to the woman? We all know the answer. Woman is nearer to the point of departure of that development which outlives time and peoples heaven; and if man would find it, he must retrace his steps, regain something he lost in youth, and join to the powers and energies of his character the submission, love and faith which the new birth alone can give.

Thus the summing up of the metaphysical qualities of woman would be thus expressed : In the emotional world, man’s superior; in the moral world, his equal; in the laboring world, his inferior.

There are, however, vast differences in women in respect to the number of masculine traits they may have assumed before being determined into their own special development, Woman also, under the influence of necessity, in later years of life, may add more or less to those qualities in her which are fully developed in the man.

The relation of these facts to the principles stated as the two opposing laws of development is, it appears to me, to be explained thus ; First, that woman’s most inherent peculiarities are not the result of the external circumstances with which she has been placed in contact, as the conflict theory would indicate. Such circumstances are said to be her involuntary subserviency to the physically more powerful man. and the effect of a compulsory mode of life in preventing her from attaining a position of equality in the activities of the world. Second, that they are the result of the different distributions of qualities as already indicated by the harmonic theory of development; that is, of the unequal possession of features which belong to different periods in the developmental succession of the highest. There is then another beautiful harmony which will ever remain, let the development of each sex be extended as far as it may.

(c) In Men.—If we look at the male sex, we shall find various exceptional approximations to the female in mental constitution. Further, there can be little doubt that in the Indo-European race maturity in some respects appears earlier in tropical than in northern regions ; and though subject to many exceptions, this is sufficiently general to be looked upon as a rule. Accordingly, we find in that race—at least in the warmer regions of Europe and America—a larger proportion of certain qualities which are more universal in women; as greater activity of the emotional nature when compared with the judgment; an impressibility of the nervous center, which, cæteris paribus, appreciates quickly the harmonies of sound, form, and color : answers most quickly to the friendly greeting or the hostile menace; is more careless of consequences in the material expression of generosity or hatred, and more indifferent to truth under the influence of personal relations.

The movements of the body and expressions of the countenance answer to the temperament. More of grace and elegance in the bearing marks the Greek, the Italian, and the Creole, than the German, the Englishman, or the Green Mountain man. More of vivacity and fire, for better or for worse, is displayed m the countenance.

Perhaps the more northern type left all that behind in its youth. The rugged, angular character which appreciates force better than harmony, the strong intellect which delights in forethought and calculation, the less impressibility, reaching stolidity in the uneducated, are its well-known traits. If there be in such a character less generosity and but little chivalry, there is persistency and unwavering fidelity, not readily obscured by the lightning of passion or the surmises of an active imagination.

All these peculiarities appear to result, first, from different degrees of quickness and depth in appreciating impressions from without; and, second, from differing degrees of attention to the intelligent judgment in consequent action. (I leave conscience out, as not belonging to the category of inherited qualities.)

The above observations have been confined to the Indo-European race. It may be objected to the theory that savagery means immaturity in the senses above described, as dependent largely on “impressibility,” while savages in general display the least “impressibility,” as that word is generally understood. This can not be asserted of the Africans, who, so far as we know them, possess this peculiarity in a high degree. Moreover, it must “be remembered that the state of indifference which precedes that of impressibility in the individual may characterize many savages; while their varied peculiarities may be largely accounted for by recollecting that many combinations of different species of emotion and kinds of intelligence go to make up the complete result in each case.

(d) Conclusions.—Three types of religion may be selected from the developmental conditions of man : first, an absence of sensibility (early infancy) : second, an emotional stage more productive of faith than of works; thirdly, an intellectual type, more favorable to works than faith. Though in regard to responsibility these states may be equal, there is absolutely no gain to laboring humanity from the first type, and a serious loss in actual results from the second, taken alone, as compared with the third.

These, then, are the physical vehicles of religion—if the phrase may be allowed—which give character and tone to the deeper spiritual life, as the color of the transparent vessel is communicated to the light which radiates from within.

But if evolution has taken place, there is evidently a provision for the progress from the lower to the higher states, either in the education of circumstances (“conflict ”) or in the power of an interior spiritual influence (“harmony”), or both.


1. Meehan states that the upper limbs and strong laterals in Coniferæ and other trees produce female flowers and cones, and the lower and more interior branches the male flowers. He calls the former condition one of greater “vigor,” and the latter one of “weakness,” and argues that the vigorous condition of growth produces females, and the weaker males. What he points out, however, is in harmony with the position here maintained—namely, that the female characters include more of those which are embryonic in the males than the male characters include of those which are embryonic in the female: the female flowers are the product of the younger and more growing portions of the tree—that is, those last produced (the upper limbs and new branches)—while the male flowers are produced by the older or more mature portions—that is, lower limbs or more axial regions. Further, we are not accustomed to regard the condition of rapid growth as that of great vigor in animals, but rather ascribe that quality to maturity, after such growth has ceased.

Meehan’s observations coincide with those of Thury and others on the origin of sexes in animals and plants, which it appears to me admit of a similar explanation.

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