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Darwin, Evolution, and Modern History Essay

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Charles Darwin’s Account of the Evolution of the Moral Sense


The various theories associated with Charles Darwin provide frameworks that touch on human behavior. His work focused on human evolution and the expression of emotions. He demonstrated how empirical tests could be carried out using information from different species in the world. According to Charles Darwin, the most distinguishing characteristic of the human species is its intellectual capacities (Darwin The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex 71). The ability to reason is what sets this species apart from others. In this section, the author will discuss Darwin’s account of the evolution of the moral sense. The analysis is carried out based on the ideas propounded by Darwin in “The Descent of Man.”

Darwin’s Idea of Evolution of the Moral Sense as Expressed in “The Descent of Man”

As a topic, the moral sense is important to the understanding of the popular interpretations of Darwin’s concept of adaptation through natural selection. The selection takes place through two major channels. They include varied stamina and reproduction. The process may come into view as competitive and selfish (Katz 120). From the beginning of his theorizing about species, Darwin provides an outlook of how human beings evolved. He observes that even mind and animal instincts are subjected to the result of adaptation to new circumstances (Barrett et al. 680). Such adaptations take a long time. They take place through many generations of individuals exposed to change. Darwin is convinced that over long periods of time, the mind, morals, and emotions of the human species had progressively developed out of animal origins (Katz.120). He argues that if the existence of human beings comes to an end, then monkeys would take their place. On their part, the human species would become angels. However, the transformation of human beings into those advanced creatures is a thing of the far future (Darwin On the Origin of Species 120).

Animal character occupies a central place in Darwin’s works. It is the foundation on which the theorist develops his understanding of its outcomes in relation to reason and morality. The theorist holds that animals adapt to change by developing new behavioral patterns. The patterns become instinctive with time. As a result, they are expressed as determined behaviors (Mivart, 67).

Some of the ideas advanced by Charles Darwin are poorly understood. One of them is the moral sense. There is no solid basis for morality in his explanation of life. It is all about natural selection and survival for the fittest. There is no fixed standard for right and wrong. Necessity is what determines moral values. Darwin was the first to admit this weakness of his theories. However, this admission should not be misconstrued to mean that there is no foundation for moral behavior in his explanation of life (Barrett et al. 681).

Darwin makes efforts to demonstrate the legitimate foundations for moral sense from his point of view. He avoids appealing to the special conception of the moral being. Instead, he explains the moral sense in terms of natural history (Katz 120). He promotes these ideas in ‘The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex.’ He subscribes to the view promoted by the writers who acknowledge the differences between man and animal. One of the major differences between the two species is their moral sense. He views man’s social instincts as something that provides foundations for moral sense. First, he argues that men social by nature. They live in a family, a group, and a society (Darwin The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex 34). Furthermore, any social animal has social instincts. The instincts help sustain the social life of the animal. Darwin has a specific definition of social instincts. It is the desire of individuals to live with other persons (Barrett et al., 680). Human beings need to feel a certain amount of sympathy directed towards them. The instincts help the individual to lead a successful social life. They also help them to support fellow human beings.

According to Darwin, social instincts lead to the development of moral sense based on four major factors. First, social instincts help the animal to seek out the community of its fellows. The aim is to secure some amount of sympathy with them. Secondly, the development of mental powers on the part of the individual helps them to remember past events by improving their memory. More so, social instinct is more insidious and progressive than other impulses. As such, it is decisively engraved into the consciousness and the memory of a man. Thirdly, as the individual’s mental powers develop, their communication and language skills improve. Consequently, individuals become aware of the needs of others. In addition, they are able to express their own wants to others in a better fashion. The final factor deals with recurring behavior for the good of the community. The behavioral pattern becomes a habit with time. The change is of benefit to the community. The aspect, together with other factors of social instincts, work to establish behaviors and moral senses that are beneficial to the community (Katz 120).

According to Darwin, the knowledge of a pervasive social instinct and the power of memory and mental assessment are important elements in human society. They are key indicators of the moral sense (Darwin On the Origin of Species 23). The acquaintance of good and evil appears when a man has gone against the social instinct. Darwin is of the view that at the moment of action, man tends to follow the stronger impulse (Katz 120). However, indulgence is followed by retribution. It happens when the individual compares past impersonations with current social urges.

Darwin concludes that social instincts are key components of man’s moral constitution. They are supported by intellectual powers and habits. Naturally, the combination leads to the golden rule of ‘doing to others what one would like them to do in return’ (Darwin The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex 23). The theorist regards morality as an important element of social existence. It is a prerequisite to the existence of a social collection. He is of the opinion that moral sense is improved by the individual’s analytical capabilities. It is also informed by the opinion of other individuals—human morality advances when groups become more united. Darwin disregards the religious bases of morality.


In the ‘Descent of Man,’ Darwin argues that natural selection endorses sympathy and social feeling. It also underscores unselfishness and self-sacrifice. He is of the view that sympathy and social feeling moved human beings up the evolutionary ladder (Katz 120). However, a number of conflicts arise from Darwin’s account of the moral sense. To begin with, the key to moral sense is the continuing aspect of social instincts. Strong desires may prevail over social urges. However, the latter are persistent. When certain urges are not satisfied, some sort of unfulfilled feeling remains.

The Meaning of Social Darwinism and the Eugenics Movement of Early 20th Century


Social Darwinism is a modern academic field. It is the name given to various theories that emerged in the United States and Europe. These theoretical frameworks became popular in the 1870s. The theories focus on biological awareness of natural selection. The survival for the fittest idea is applied to Sociology and Politics. In essence, social Darwinists are of the opinion that the strong should watch as their influence increase. On their part, the weaker members of the society have no option but to look as their property and influence decrease. As such, it is argued that competition supports social evolution in human societies. Social Darwinism makes use of the term ‘Darwinism’ in reference to different evolutionary ideas (Claeys 223).

Eugenics is a branch of social philosophy. According to this movement, it is important to enhance the genetic traits of individuals in society. The improvement can only be achieved through affirmative interventions. Throughout human history, advocates of this concept regard it as a form of social accountability. It is meant to save resources and diminish human suffering (Claeys, 223). It is an attempt to give rise to a society of superior people. It achieves this by selectively promoting things at the genetic level. It is a fairly modern concept. The idea is associated with Francis Galton. He based his ideas on Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is important to note that Darwin was his half-cousin. Galton’s believes based on his findings from a number of studies. He found that desirable characteristics can be passed on from one generation to the other through biological reproduction. He formed the opinion that society should take steps to ensure that its most talented members left more offspring than the weaker ones (Mivart 89).

In this section, the author will analyze the various similarities and differences between social Darwinism and the eugenics movement of the early 20th century.


Eugenics was a common practice in some parts of Europe. Its popularity peaked in the early 20th century. At the time, it was widely practiced around the world. It was supported by key agencies in society, such as governments. Many countries put in place various eugenics policies and programs (Curell and Cogdell 203). They included genetic screening, birth control, compulsory sterilization, and forced abortion. Individuals were identified and clustered according to their family backgrounds (Paul 300).

Darwin himself paid attention to Galton’s efforts. He believed that hereditary improvement was practical. In cooperation, both theories advocate that the ones who are better equipped will win the struggle for existence. They both believed that social institutions, such as welfare programs, supported the existence and reproduction of inferior human beings. The individuals reproduced faster than the superior members of the society (Darwin On the Origin of Species 57).

The two also believed that the struggle for natural resources played a key role in human development. They suggested that the strong persons preyed on their weaker counterparts. The less intelligent members of the society became submissive to the clever (Claeys 220). The traits accumulated in the population over time, whereby descendants were so different and were defined as new species.

Galton picked on Darwin’s eugenic ideas and refined them. He was of the opinion that it is possible to manipulate natural selection. To this end, he advocated for selection on the basis of human intervention. As a result, the individuals considered as fit would reproduce more than those regarded as unfit. Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement have various implications for society. By the 1920s, social Darwinism started appearing in eugenics. The two movements expressed that only those who adapt to changes can survive. The process of re-adaptation has remedies for its own imperfections (Darwin On the Origin of Species 35). The two concepts are believed to promote nationalism and racial prejudice. They are the consequences of the application of policies of survival for the fittest (Claeys 223).


Human intervention is needed to promote eugenics. The movement calls for the enhancement of hereditary traits. The improvement can be achieved through various forms of intrusion. On its part, social Darwinism holds that competition among individuals and groups drives social evolution in human societies (Curell and Cogdell 203).

Social Darwinism views heredity differently. It is regarded as a random phenomenon. The proponents of the eugenics movement believed that the poor carried the genes for weak-mindedness. The traits led to misery, vice, and crime. The solution was to sterilize them and restrict the immigration of the poor. Social Darwinism described how medical advances would help the weaker to survive and raise families (Paul 300).

The solution advanced by the eugenics involved a rigid system of selection. The selection was to be carried out through the elimination of the weak and social failures. On its part, social Darwinism had a different definition for the strong and weak groups. It also had a different plan about the mechanism that should be used to support strength and punish weakness (Darwin The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex 40).

Social Darwinism extends the notion of natural selection to social phenomena. Individuals who have the right traits will succeed, while those who are poorly adapted will suffer. On its part, eugenics is interested in the enhancement of society through alternative means. It achieves this through genetic interventions.

The welfare of the community is not cored to the goals of eugenics. It serves to advance the genetic goals of the movement. In social Darwinism, there may be some genetic underlies. However, they do not core to the theory. The theory states that the people who are best adapted to prevailing conditions will thrive. However, eugenics wants to alter human evolution by eliminating undesirables. The aim is to raise the brightest and strongest human race. Social Darwinism acts naturally. It does not require human interference. However, eugenics is all about intrusion (Paul, 300).


Morally speaking, a primitive man is molded by the opinions of his fellow men. It is obvious that individuals belonging to the same group would approve and disapprove of things that are similar. However, they would condemn that which appeared evil. Through eugenics, it was concluded that many human traits were genetic. People who come from genetically superior pools tend to succeed in life. The case is different for those who come from poorly endowed families. Social Darwinism is fashioned along with the idea of struggle for natural resources. Only those individuals that are suited to the prevailing conditions prevail in the struggle. Scientific studies have discredited the ideas promoted through eugenics. In addition, political changes have invalidated the conclusions of the movement. A case in point is Nazi Germany. In the country, Jews were regarded as members of an inferior race.

Works Cited

Barrett, Paul, Donald Weinshank, Timothy Gottleber and Charles Darwin. Concordance to Darwin’s Origin of Species. New York: Cornell University Press, 1981. Print.

Claeys, Gregory. The Survival of the Fittest and the Origins of Social Darwinism, New York: Free Press, 2000. Print.

Curell, Susan, and Christina Cogdell. Popular Eugenics, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2006. Print.

Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species. 6th ed. 1872. London: John Murray. Print.

—. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, London: Princeton University Press, 1882. Print.

Katz, Leonard. Evolutionary Origins of Morality: Cross Disciplinary Perspectives, London: Exeter U.K and Bowling Green, 2004. Print.

Mivart, George. On the Genesis of Species, London: Macmillan, 1871. Print.

Paul, Diane. Darwin, Social Darwinism, and Eugenics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

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