Peter Kropotkin Archive

Ethics: Origin and Development
Chapter 3
The Moral Principle in Nature

Written: 1924
Source: Published by Dial Press, 1921; English Translation, 1924
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021


The work of Darwin was not limited to biology only. Already in 1837, when he had just written a rough outline of his theory of the origin of species, he entered in his notebook this significant remark: "My theory will lead to a new philosophy." And so it did in reality. By introducing the idea of evolution into the study of organic life he opened a new era in philosophy,1 and his later sketch of the development of the moral sense, turned a new page in ethics. In this sketch Darwin presented in a new light the true origin of the moral sense, and placed the whole subject on such a firm scientific basis, that although his leading ideas may be considered as a further development of those of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, he must be, nevertheless, credited with opening a new path for science in the direction faintly indicated by Bacon. He thus became one of the founders of the ethical schools, together with such men as Hume, Hobbes, or Kant.

The leading ideas of Darwin's ethics may easily be summed up. In the very first sentence of his essay he states his object in quite definite terms. He begins with a praise of the sense of duty, which he characterizes in the well-known poetical words,--"Duty! Wondrous thought that workest neither by fond insinuation, flattery, nor by any threat . . ." etc. And he undertakes to explain this sense of duty, or moral conscience, "exclusively from the viewpoint of natural history"--an explanation, he adds, which no English writer had hitherto attempted to give. 2

That the moral sense should be acquired by each individual separately, during his lifetime, he naturally considers "at least extremely improbable in the light of the general theory of evolution;" and he derives this sense from the social feeling which is instinctive or innate in the lower animals, and probably in man as well (pp. 150-151). The true foundation of all moral feelings Darwin sees "in the social instincts which lead the animal to take pleasure in the society of its fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them"; sympathy being understood here in its exact sense--not as a feeling of commiseration or "love," but as a "feeling of comradeship" or "mutual sensibility," in the meaning of capability to be influenced by another's feelings.

This being Darwin's first proposition, his second is that as soon as the mental faculties of a species become highly developed, as they are in man, the social instinct will also necessarily be developed. To leave this instinct ungratified will assuredly bring the individual to a sense of dissatisfaction, or even misery, whenever the individual, reasoning about his past actions, sees that in some of them "the enduring and always present social instinct had yielded to some other instinct, at the time stronger, but neither enduring nor leaving behind it a very vivid impression."

For Darwin the moral sense is thus not the mysterious gift of unknown origin which it was for Kant. "Any animal whatever," he says, "endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense, or conscience (Kant's 'knowledge of duty'), as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well, developed as in man" (ch. iv. pp. 149-150).

To these two fundamental propositions Darwin adds two secondary ones. After the spoken language had been acquired, so that the wishes of the community could be expressed, "the common opinion how each member ought to act for the public good would naturally become, in a paramount degree, the guide of action." However, the effect of public approbation and disapprobation depends entirely upon the development of mutual sympathy. It is because we feel in sympathy with others that we appreciate their opinions; and public opinion acts in a moral direction only where the social instinct is sufficiently strongly developed. The truth of this remark is obvious. It refutes those theories of Mandeville (the author of "The Fable of the Bees") and his more or less outspoken eighteenth-century followers, which attempted to represent morality as nothing but a set of conventional customs. Finally, Darwin mentions also habit as a potent factor for framing our attitude toward others. It strengthens the social instinct and mutual sympathy, as well as obedience to the judgment of the community.

Having thus stated the substance of his views in these four propositions, Darwin develops them further. He examines, first, sociality in animals, their love of society, and the misery which every one of them feels if it is left alone; their continual social intercourse; their mutual warnings, and the services they render each other in hunting and for self-defense. "It is certain," he says, "that associated animals have a feeling of love for each other which is not felt by nonsocial adult animals." They may not sympathize much with one another's pleasures; but cases of sympathy with one another's distress or danger are quite common, and Darwin quotes a few of the most striking instances. Some of them, such as Stansbury's blind pelican 3 or the blind rat, both of which were fed by their congeners, have become classical by this time. "Moreover, besides love and sympathy," Darwin continues, "animals exhibit other qualities connected with social instincts which in us would be called moral," and he gives a few examples of the moral sense in dogs and elephants 4

Generally speaking, it is evident that every action in common--(and with certain animals such actions are quite common: all their life consists of such actions)--requires restraint of some sort. However, it must be said that Darwin did not analyze the subject of sociality in animals and their incipient moral feelings to the extent which it deserved in view of the central position which it occupies in his theory of morality.

Considering next human morality, Darwin remarks that although man, such as he now exists, has but few social instincts, he nevertheless is a sociable being who must have retained from an extremely remote period some degree of instinctive love and sympathy for his fellows. These feelings act as an impulsive instinct, which is assisted by reason, experience, and the desire of approbation. "Thus," he concluded, "the social instincts, which must have been acquired by man in a very rude state, and probably even by his ape-like progenitors, still give the impulse for some of his best actions." The remainder is the result of a steadily growing intelligence and collective education.

It is evident that these views are correct only if we are ready to recognize that the intellectual faculties of animals differ from those of man in degree, but not in their essence. But this is admitted now by most students of comparative psychology; and the attempts which have been made lately to establish "a gulf" between the instincts and the intellectual faculties of man and those of animals have not attained their end. 5 However, it does not follow from this resemblance that the moral instincts developed in different species, and so much more in species belonging to two different classes of animals, should be identical. If we compare insects with mammals we must never forget that the lines of their development have diverged at a very early period of animal evolution. The consequence was that a deep physiological differentiation between separate divisions of the same species (workers, drones, queens) took place with the ants, the bees, the wasps, etc., corresponding to a permanent physiological division of labor in their societies, (or more accurately, division of labor and a physiological division in structure). There is no such division among mammals. Therefore it is hardly possible for men to judge the "morality" of the worker-bees when they kill the drones in their hive; and this is why the illustration of Darwin to this effect met with so much hostile criticism from the religious camp. Societies of bees, wasps, and ants, and the societies of mammals have so long ago entered upon their independent paths of development, that they have lost mutual understanding in many respects. A similar, though not so pronounced lack of mutual understanding is observed also between human societies in different stages of development. And yet the moral conceptions of man and the actions of social insects have so much in common that the greatest ethical teachers of mankind did not hesitate to recommend certain features of the life of the ants and the bees for imitation by man. Their devotion to the group is certainly not surpassed by ours; and, on the other hand,--to say nothing of our wars, or of the occasional exterminations of religious dissenters and political adversaries--the human code of morality has been subjected in the course of time to deepest variations and perversions. It is sufficient to mention human sacrifices to deity, the "wound-for-wound and life-for-life" principle of the Decalogue, the tortures and executions,--and to compare this "morality" with the profound respect for everything that lives preached by the Bodhisattvas, and the forgiveness of all injuries taught by the early Christians, in order to realize that moral principles, like everything else, are subject to "development" and at times to perversion. We are thus bound to conclude that while the differences between the morality of the bee and that of man are due to a deep physiological divergence, the striking similarities between the two in other essential features point to a community of origin.

Thus Darwin came to the conclusion that the social instinct is the common source out of which all morality originates; and he attempts to give a scientific definition of instinct. Unfortunately, scientific animal psychology is still in its infancy, and therefore it is extremely difficult to disentangle the complex relations which exist between the social instinct proper, and the parental, filial, brotherly instincts, as well as several other instincts and faculties, such as mutual sympathy, on one side, and reason, experience, and a tendency to imitation on the other. Darwin finally realized this difficulty, and therefore he expressed himself very guardedly. The parental and filial instincts, he suggested, "apparently lie at the base of the social instincts"; and in another place he wrote:--"The feeling of pleasure in society is probably an extension of the parental or filial affections, since the social instinct seems to be developed by the young remaining for a long time with their parents."

This caution was fully justified, because in other places Darwin pointed out that the social instinct is a separate instinct, different from the others--an instinct which has been developed by natural selection for its own sake, as it was useful for the well-being and the preservation of the species. It is so fundamental that when it runs counter to another instinct, even one so strong as the attachment of the parents to their offspring, it often takes the upper hand. Birds, for example, when the time has come for their autumn migration, will leave behind their tender young (from the second hatching) which are not yet strong enough for a prolonged flight, and will follow their comrades.

To this very important fact I may also add that the social instinct is strongly developed also in many lower animals, such as the landcrabs, and in certain fishes with whom it could hardly be considered as an extension of the filial or parental feelings. In these cases it appears rather as an extension of the brotherly or sisterly relations, or feelings of comradeship, which probably develop each time that a considerable number of young creatures, having been hatched at a given place and at a given moment, (insects, or even birds of different species) continue to live together-whether they are with their parents or not. It would seem, therefore, more correct to consider the social, the parental, and the comradely instinct as closely connected instincts, of which the social is perhaps the earlier, and therefore the stronger, but they have all been developing together in the evolution of the animal world. Their growth was, of course, aided by natural selection, which, as soon as they come into conflict, keeps the balance between them for the ultimate good of the species. 6

The most important point in the ethical theory of Darwin is, of course, his explanation of the moral conscience of man and his sense of duty and remorse of conscience. This point has always been the stumbling block of all ethical theories. Kant, as is known, utterly failed, in his otherwise excellent work on morality, to explain why his "categorical imperative" should be obeyed at all, unless such be the will of a supreme power. We may admit that Kant's "moral law," if we slightly alter its formula while maintaining its spirit, is a necessary conclusion of the human reason. We certainly object to the metaphysical form which Kant gave it; but, after all, its substance, which Kant, unfortunately, did not express, is equity, justice. And, if we translate the metaphysical language of Kant into the language of inductive science, we may find points of contact between his conception of the origin of the moral law and the naturalist's view concerning the origin of the moral sense. But this is only one-half of the problem. Supposing, for the sake of argument, that Kantian "pure reason," independent of all observation, all feeling, and all instinct, but by virtue of its inherent properties,--must inevitably come to formulate a law of justice similar to Kant's "imperative," and even granting that no reasoning being could ever come to any other conclusion, because such are the inherent properties of reason--granting all this, and fully recognizing the elevating character of Kant's moral philosophy, the great question of all ethics remains, nevertheless, in full: "Why should man obey the moral law, or principle, formulated by his reason?" Or, at least, "Whence comes that feeling of obligation of which men are conscious?"

Several critics of Kant's ethical philosophy have already pointed out that it left this great fundamental question unsolved. But they might have added also that Kant himself recognized his inability to solve it. After having thought intensely upon this subject, and written about it for four years, he acknowledged in his book,--for some reason generally neglected--"Philosophical Theory of Religion" (Part 1., "Of the Radical Evil of Human Nature," published in 1792) that he was unable to find the explanation of the origin of the moral law. In fact, he gave up the whole problem by recognizing "the incomprehensibility of this capacity, a capacity which points to a divine origin." This very incomprehensibility, he wrote, must rouse man's spirit to enthusiasm and give him strength for any sacrifices which regard for his duty may impose upon him.7 Such a decision, after four years of meditation, is equivalent to a complete abandoning of this problem by philosophy, and the delivering of it into the hands of religion.

Intuitive philosophy having thus acknowledged its incapacity to solve the problem, let us see how Darwin solved it from the point of view of the naturalist. Here is, he said, a man who has yielded to the sense of self-preservation, and has not risked his life to save that of a fellow-creature; or, he has stolen food from hunger. In both cases he has obeyed a quite natural instinct, and the question is -Why does he feel ill at ease? Why does he now think that he ought to have obeyed some other instinct, and acted differently? Because, Darwin replies, in human nature "the more enduring social instincts conquer the less persistent instincts." Moral conscience, continues Darwin, has always a retrospective character; it speaks in us when we think of our past actions; and it is the result of a struggle in which the less persistent, the less permanent individual instinct yields before the more enduring social instinct. With those animals which always live in societies "the social instincts are ever present and persistent." Such animals are always ready to join in the defense of the group and to aid each other in different ways. They feel miserable if they are separated from the others. And it is the same with man. "A man who possessed no trace of such instincts would be a monster."

On the other hand, the man's desire to satisfy his hunger or let loose his anger, or to escape danger, or to appropriate somebody's possessions, is in its very nature temporary. Its satisfaction is always weaker than the desire *self. And when we think of it in the past, we cannot revive it with the same intensity that it had before its satisfaction. Consequently, if a man, with a view of satisfying such a desire, has acted contrary to his social instinct, and afterwards reflects upon his action-which we do continually-he will be driven "to make a comparison between the impressions of past hunger, vengeance satisfied, or danger shunned at other men's cost, with the almost ever-present instinct of sympathy, and with his early knowledge of what others consider as praiseworthy or blamable." And once he has made this comparison he will feel "as if he had been balked in following a present instinct or habit, and this with all animals causes dissatisfaction, and in the case of man, even misery."

And then Darwin shows how the promptings of such a conscience, which always "looks backwards, and serves as a guide for the future," may in the case of man take the aspect of shame, regret, repentance, or even violent remorse, if the feeling be strengthened by reflection about judgment of those with whom man feels in sympathy. Gradually, habit will inevitably increase the power of this conscience upon man's actions, while at the same time it will tend to harmonize more and more the desires and passions of the individual with his social sympathies and instincts. 8 The principal difficulty, common to all systems of ethical philosophy, is to interpret the first germs of the sense of duty, and to explain why the human mind must inevitably come to the conception of duty. With this explained, the accumulated experience of the community and its collective intelligence, account for the rest.

We have thus, in Darwin for the first time, an explanation of the sense of duty on a naturalistic basis. True that it runs counter to the ideas that are current about animal and human nature; but it is correct. Nearly all ethical writers have hitherto started with the unproved postulate that the strongest of all the instincts of man, and more so of animals, is the self-preservation instinct, which, owing to a certain looseness of their terminology, they have identified with self-assertion, or egoism properly speaking. They conceived this instinct as including, on the one hand, such primary impulses as self-defense, self-preservation, and the very act of satisfying hunger, and, on the other hand, such derivative feelings as the passion for domination, greed, hatred, the desire for revenge, and so on. This mixture, this hodge-podge of instincts and feelings among animals and modern civilized men, they represented as an all-pervading and all-powerful force, which finds no opposition in animal and human nature, excepting in a certain feeling of benevolence or pity. But once the nature of all animals and of man was recognized as such, the only obvious course was to lay a special stress upon the softening influence of those moral teachers who appealed to mercy, and who borrowed the spirit of their teachings from a world that lies outside nature-outside and above the world which is accessible to our senses. And they endeavored to strengthen the influences of their teachings by the support of a supernatural power. If one refused to accept this view, as did Hobbes, for example, the only alternative was to attribute a special importance to the coercive action of the State, inspired by lawgivers of extraordinary genius- which meant, of course, merely to credit with the possession of the "truth" not the religious preacher but the lawmaker.

Beginning with the Middle Ages, the founders of ethical schools, for the most part ignorant of Nature-to the study of which they preferred metaphysics,-had represented the self-assertive instincts of the individual as the primary condition of the existence of animals, as well as of man. To obey the promptings of these instincts was considered as the fundamental law of nature; to disobey-would lead to sure defeat and to the ultimate disappearance of the species. Therefore, to combat these egotistic promptings was possible only if man called to his aid the supernatural forces. The triumph of moral principles was thus represented as a triumph of man over nature, which he may hope to achieve only with an aid from without, coming as a reward for his good intentions.

We were told, for instance, that there is no greater virtue, no greater triumph of the spiritual over the physical than self-sacrifice for the welfare of our fellow-men. But the fact is that self-sacrifice in the interest of an ants' nest, or for the safety of a group of birds, a herd of antelopes, or a band of monkeys, is a zoological fact of everyday occurrence in Nature-a fact for which hundreds upon hundreds of animal species require nothing else but naturally evolved sympathy with their fellow-creatures, the constant practice of mutual aid and the consciousness of vital energy. Darwin, who knew nature, had the courage boldly to assert that of the two instincts-the social and the individual-it is the social instinct which is the stronger, the more persistent, and the more permanently present. And he was unquestionably right. All naturalists who have studied animal life in nature, especially on the still sparsely populated continents, would range themselves unconditionally on Darwin's side. The instinct of mutual aid pervades the animal world, because natural selection works for maintaining and further developing it, and pitilessly destroys those species in which it becomes for some reason weakened. In the great struggle for life which every animal species carries on against the hostile agencies of climate, surroundings, and natural enemies, big and small, those species which most consistently carry out the principle of mutual support have the best chance to survive, while the others die out. And the same principle is confirmed by the history of mankind.

It is most remarkable that in representing the social instinct under this aspect we return, in fact, to what Bacon, the great founder of inductive science, had already perceived. In his great work, '`lnstauratio Magna" (The Great Revival of the Sciences), he wrote-

All things are endued with an appetite for two kinds ofgood - the one as a thing is a whole in itself, the other as it is a part of some greater whole; and this latter is more worthy and more powerful than the other, as it tends to the conservation of a more ample form. The first may be calledindividual, or self-good, and the latter, good of communion.... And thus it generally happens that the conservation of the more general form regulates the appetites." 9

In another place he returns to the same idea. He speaks of "Two appetites (instincts) of the creatures": (1) that of self-preservation and defense, and (2) that of multiplying and propagating, and he adds: "The latter, which is active, and seems stronger and more worthy than the former, which is passive." It may be asked, of course, whether such a conception is consistent with the theory of natural selection, according to which struggle for life, within the species, was considered a necessary condition for the appearance of new species, and for evolution in general.

Having already discussed this question in detail in my "Mutual Aid," I will not enter into the matter here, and will only add the following remark. The first few years after the appearance of Darwin's "Origin of Species", we were all inclined to believe that an acute struggle for the means of existence between the members of the same species was necessary for accentuating the variations, and for the bringing into existence of the new sub-species and species. My observations of nature in Siberia, however, first engendered in me a doubt as to the existence of such a keen struggle within the species; they showed, on the contrary, the tremendous importance of mutual aid in times of migrations of animals and for the preservation of the species in general. But as Biology went deeper and deeper into the species of living nature, and grew acquainted with the phenomenon of the direct influence of the surroundings for producing variation in a definite direction, especially in cases when portions of the species become separated from the main body in consequence of their migrations, it was possible to understand "struggle for life" in a much wider and deeper sense. Biologists had to acknowledge that groups of animals frequently act as a whole, carrying on the struggle against adverse conditions, or against some such enemy as a kindred species, by means of mutual support within the group. In this manner habits are acquired which reduce the struggle within the species while they lead at the same time to a higher development of intelligence among those who practice mutual aid. Nature abounds in such examples, and in each class of animals the species on the highest stage of development are those that are most social. Mutual Aid within the species thus represents (as was already briefly indicated by Kessler) 10 the principal factor, the principal active agency in that which we may call evolution.

Nature has thus to be recognized as the first ethical teacher of man. The social instinct, innate in men as well as in all the social animals,-this is the origin of all ethical conceptions and all the subsequent development of morality.

The starting pointfor a study of ethics was set by Darwin, three hundred years after the firstattempts in this direction were made by Bacon, and partly by Spinoza and Goethe. 11 With the social instinct as a basis for the further development of moral feelings, it became possible, after having further strengthened that basis with facts, to build upon it the whole structure of ethics. Such a work, however, has not yet been carried out. Those evolutionists who touched upon the question of morality mostly followed, for one reason or another, the lines of pre-Darwinian and pre-Lamarckian ethical thought, but not those which were indicated perhaps too briefly-in "The Descent of Man."

This applies also to Herbert Spencer. Without going into a discussion of his ethics, (this will be done elsewhere), I shall simply remark that the ethical philosophy of Spencer was constructed on a different plan. The ethical and sociological portions of. h~ "Synthetic Philosophy" were written long before Darwin's essay on the moral sense, under the influence, partly of Auguste Comte, and partly of Bentham's utilitarianism and the eighteenth-century sensualists. 12

It is only in the first chapters of "Justice," (published in the "Nineteenth Century" in March and April 1890), that we find in Spencer's work a reference to "Animal Ethics" and "sub-human justice," to which Darwin has attributed such importance for the development of the moral sense in man. It is interesting to note that this reference has no connection with the rest of Spencer's ethics, because he does not consider primitive men as social beings whose societies are a continuation of the animal clans and tribes. Remaining true to Hobbes, he considers them loose aggregations of individuals who are strangers to one another, continually fighting and quarreling, and emerging from this chaotic state only after some superior man, taking power into his hands, organizes social life.

The chapter on animal ethics, added later by Spencer, is thus a superstructure on his general ethical system, and he did not explain why he deemed it necessary to modify his former views on this point. At any rate, he does not represent the moral sense of man as a further development of the feelings of sociality which existed among his remotest pre-human ancestors. According to Spencer, it made its appearance at a much later epoch, originating from those restraints which were imposed upon men by their political, social, and religious authorities ("Data of Ethics," ß 45). The sense of duty, as Bain had suggested after Hobbes, is a product, or rather "a reminiscence," of the coercion which was exercised at the early stages of mankind by the first, temporary chiefs.

This supposition-which, by the way, it would be difficult to support by modern investigation-puts its stamp upon all the further developments of Spencer's ethics. He divides the history of mankind into two stages: the "militant," which is still prevalent, and the "industrial," which is being slowly ushered in at the present time, and each of them requires its own special morality. In the militant stage, coercion was more than necessary: it was the very condition of progress. It was also necessary during this stage that the individual should be sacrificed to the community, and that a corresponding moral code should be elaborated. And this necessity of coercion and sacrifice of the individual must continue to exist so long as the industrial State has not entirely taken the place of the militant State. Two different kinds of ethics, adapted to these two different States, are thus admitted ("Data," ß 4~50), and such an admission leads Spencer to various other conclusions ¢; which stand or fall with the original premise.

Moral science appears, therefore, as the search for a compromise between a code of enmity and a code of amity-between equality and inequality (ß 85). And as there is no way out of that conflict-because the coming of the industrial state will only be possible after the cessation of its conflict with the militant state,-nothing can be done for the time being save to introduce into human relations a certain amount of "benevolence" which can alleviate somewhat the modern system based on individualistic principles. Therefore all his attempts to establish scientifically the fundamental principles of morality fail, and he finally comes to the unexpected conclusion that all the moral systems, philosophical and religious, complete each other. But Darwin's idea was quite the contrary: he maintained that the common stock out of which all systems and teachings of morality, including the ethical portions of the different religions, have originated, was the sociality, the power of the social instinct, that manifests itself even in the animal world and much more certainly among the most primitive savages. Spencer, like Huxley, vacillates between the theories of coercion, utilitarianism, and religion, unable to find outside of them the source of morality.

It may be added, in conclusion, that although Spencer's conception of the struggle between egoism and altruism bears a great resemblance to Comte's treatment of this subject, the views of the Positivist philosopher concerning the social instinct-notwithstanding all his opposition to the transmutation of the species-were nearer to the views of Darwin than to those of Spencer. Discussing the relative importance of the two sets of instincts, social and individual, Comte did not hesitate to recognize the preponderance of the former. He even saw in the recognition of this preponderance of the social instinct the distinctive feature of a moral philosophy which had broken with theology and metaphysics, but he did not carry this assertion to its logical conclusion. 13

As already said, none of the immediate followers of Darwin attempted to develop further his ethical philosophy. George Romanes probably would have made an exception, because he proposed, after he had studied animal intelligence, to discuss animal ethics and the probable genesis of the moral sense; for which purpose he collected much material. 14 Unfortunately, we lost him before he had sufficiently advanced in his work.

As to the other evolutionists, they either adopted views in ethics very different from those of Darwin--as did Huxley in his lecture, "Evolution and Ethics,"--or they worked on quite independent lines, after having taken the central idea of evolution as a basis. Such is the moral philosophy of Guyau, 15 which deals mainly with the higher aspects of morality without discussing the ethics of animals. 16 This is why I thought it necessary to discuss the subject anew in a work, "Mutual Aid: a Factor of Evolution," in which the effect of the instincts and habits of mutual aid was analyzed as one of the factors of progressive evolution. Now the same social habits have to be analyzed from the two-fold point of view: of the inherited ethical tendencies, and the ethical lessons which our primitive ancestors gained from the observation of nature; I must, therefore, ask the reader's indulgence if I briefly allude here to some facts already mentioned in my previous work, "Mutual Aid," with the object of showing their ethical significance. Having discussed mutual aid as the weapon which the species uses in its struggle for existence, i.e., "in the aspect which is of special interest to the naturalist," I shall now briefly consider it as a primary source of the moral sense in man, i.e., in the aspect which is of special interest to ethical philosophy.

Primitive man lived in close intimacy with the animals. With some of them he probably shared his shelter under the overhanging rocks, in crevices, and occasionally in the caves; very often he shared with them food also. Not more than about one hundred and 'fifty years' ego the natives of Siberia and America astonished our naturalists by' their thorough knowledge of the habits of the most retiring beasts and birds; but primitive man stood in still closer relations to the animals, and knew them still better. The wholesale extermination of life by means of forest and prairie fires, poisoned arrows, and the like, had not yet begun; and from the bewildering abundance of animal life which was found by the white settlers when they first took possession of the American continent' and which was so well' described by the most prominent naturalists, such as Audubon, Azara, Wied, and others, we may judge of the density of the animal population during the post-glacial period.

Palæolithic and neolithic man lived closely surrounded by his dumb brothers-just as Behring and his shipwrecked crew, forced to spend the winter on an island near Alaska, lived amid the multitudes of polar foxes that prowled among the campers, devouring their food and gnawing at night at the very furs upon which the men were sleeping. Our primitive ancestors lived with the animals, in the midst of them. And as soon as they began to bring some order into their observations of nature, and to transmit them to posterity, the animals and their life supplied them with the chief materials for their unwritten encyclopedia of knowledge, as well as for their wisdom, which they expressed in proverbs and sayings. Animal psychology was the first psychology studied by man-it is still a favorite subject of talk at the camp fires; and animal life, closely interwoven with that of man, was the subject of the very first rudiments of art, inspiring the first engravers and sculptors, and entering into the composition of the most ancient and epical legends and cosmogonic myths.

The first thing our children learn in zoölogy is something bout the beasts of prey-the lions and the tigers. Butthe first thing which primitive savages must have learned about nature was that it represents a vast agglomeration of animal clans and tribes: the ape tribe, so nearly related to man, the ever-prowling wolf tribe, the knowing, chattering bird tribe, the ever-busy ant tribe, and so on. 17 For them the animals were an extension of their own kin- only so much wiser than themselves. And the first vague generalization which men must have made about nature-so vague as to be almost a mere impression-was that the living being and its clan or tribe are inseparable. We can separate them-they could not; and it seems very doubtful whether they could think of life otherwise than within a clan or a tribe.

At that time, such an impression of nature was inevitable. Among his nearest congeners-the monkeys and the apes-man saw hundreds of species 18 living in large societies, united together within each group by the closest bonds. He saw how they supported one another during their foraging expeditions; how carefully they moved from place to place, how they combined against their common enemies, and rendered one another all sorts of small services, such as picking thorns from one another's fur, nestling together in cold weather, and so on. Of course, they often quarreled; but then, as now, there was more noise in these quarrels than serious harm, and at times, in case of danger, they displayed the most striking mutual attachment; to say nothing of the strong devotion of the mothers to their young ones, and of the old males to their group. Sociality was thus the rule with the monkey tribe; and if there are now two species of big apes, the gorilla and the orangutan, which are not sociable and keep in small families only, the very limited extent of the areas they inhabit is a proof of their being now a decaying species-decaying, perhaps, on account of the merciless war which men have waged against them in consequence of the very resemblance between the two species.

Primitive man saw, next, that even among the carnivorous beasts there is one general rule: they never kill one another. Some of them are very sociable-such are all the dog tribe: the jackals, the dholes or kholsun dogs of India, the hyenas. Some others live in small families; but even among these last the more intelligent ones-such as the lions and the leopards-join together for hunting, like the dog tribe. And as to those few which lead-nowadays, at least-a quite solitary life, like the tigers, or keep in small families, they adhere to the same general rule: they do not kill one another. Even now, when the countless herds of ruminants which formerly peopled the prairies have been exterminated, and the tigers subsist mainly on domesticated herds, and are compelled, therefore, to keep close to the villages, even now the natives of India will tell us that somehow the tigers manage to keep to their separate domains without fighting bloody internecine wars to secure them. Besides, it appears extremely probable that even those few animals that now lead a solitary existence-such as the tigers, the smaller species of the cat tribe (nearly all nocturnal), the bears, the martens, the foxes, the hedgehogs, and a few others-were not always solitary creatures. For some of them (foxes, bears) I found positive evidence that they remained social until their extermination by man began, and others even now lead a social life in unpopulated regions, so that we have reason to believe that nearly all once lived in societies. 19 But even if there always existed a few unsociable species, we can positively assert that they were the exception to the general rule.

The lesson of nature was, thus, that even the strongest beasts are bound to combine. And the man who has witnessed, once in his life, an attack of wild dogs, or dholes, upon the largest beasts of prey, certainly realized, once and for ever, the irresistible force of the tribal unions, and the confidence and courage with which they inspire each individual.

In the prairies and the woods our earliest ancestors saw myriads of animals, all living in large societies-clans and tribes. Countless herds of roe-deer, reindeer, antelopes, thousands of droves of buffaloes, and legions of wild horses, wild donkeys, quaggas, zebras, and so on, were moving over the boundless plains, peacefully grazing together. Only recently this was witnessed by travelers through Central Africa, where giraffes, gazelles and antelopes were seen grazing side by side. Even the dry plateaus of Asia and America had their herds of llamas, of wild camels, and whole tribes of black bears lived together in the mountains of Thibet. And as man became more familiar with the life of these animals, he soon realized how closely united were all these beings. Even when they seemed fully absorbed in grazing, and apparently took no notice of the others, they closely watched one another's movements, always ready to join in some common action. Man saw that all the deer and the goat tribe, whether they graze or merely gambol, always post sentries, which never cease their watchfulness and are never late in signaling the approach of a beast of prey; he knew how, in case of a sudden attack, the males and the females would encircle their young ones and face the enemy, exposing their lives for the safety of the feeble ones. He also knew that animal herds follow similar tactics in retreat.

Primitive man knew all these things, which we ignore or easily forget, and he repeated these exploits of animals in his tales, embellishing the acts of courage and self-sacrifice with his primitive poetry, and mimicking them in his religious rites, now improperly called dances. Still less could the primitive savage ignore the great migrations of animals, for he even followed them at times-just as the Chukchi still follows the herds of the wild reindeer, when the clouds of mosquitoes drive them from one place of the Chukchi peninsula to another, or as the Lapp follows the herds of his half domesticated reindeer in their wanderings, over which he has no control. And if we, with all our book-learning, and our ignorance of nature, feel unable to understand how animals scattered over a wide territory manage to gather in thousands at a given spot to cross a river (as I witnessed on the river Amur), or to begin their march north, south, or west, our ancestors, who considered the animals wiser than themselves, were not in the least astonished by such concerted actions, just as the savages of our own time are not astonished by these things. For them, all the animals- beasts, birds, and fishes alike-were in continual communication, warning each other by means of hardly perceptible signs or sounds, informing one another about all sorts of events, and thus constituting one vast community, which had its own rules of propriety and good neighborly relations. Even to-day deep traces of that conception of nature survive in the folklore of all nations.

From the populous, animated and gay villages of the marmots, the prairie dogs, the jerboas, and so on, and from the colonies of beavers with which the Post-glacial rivers were thickly studded, primitive man, who himself was still in the nomadic stage, could learn the advantages of settled life, permanent dwelling, and common work. Even now we see (as I saw half a century ago at Transbaikalia) that the nomad cattle-breeders of Mongolia, whose improvidence is phenomenal, learn from the striped rodent (Tamias striatus) the advantages of agriculture and foresight, for every autumn they plunder the underground store-rooms of this rodent, and seize its provisions of eatable bulbs. Darwin tells us that during a famine-year, the savages learned from the baboon-monkeys what fruits and berries could serve for food. There is no doubt that the granaries of small rodents, full of all sorts of eatable seeds, must have given man the first suggestions as to the culture of cereals. In fact, the sacred books of the East contain many an allusion to the foresight and industry of animals, which are set up as an example to man.

The birds, in their turn almost every one of their species gave our ancestors a lesson in the most intimate sociability, of the joys of social life, and its enormous advantages. The nesting associations of aquatic birds and. Their unanimity in defending their young broods and eggs, were well known to man. And in the autumn, men who themselves lived in the woods and by the side of the forest brooks, had every opportunity to observe the life of the fledglings who gather in great flocks, and having spent a small part of the day for common feeding, give the rest of the time to merry chirping and playing about. 20 Who knows if the very idea of great autumn gatherings of entire tribes for joint tribal hunts (Abá with the Mongols, Kadá with the Tunguses), was not suggested by such autumn gatherings of the birds? These tribal gatherings last a month or two, and are a festive season for the whole tribe, strengthening, at the same time, tribal kinship and federated unions among different tribes.

Man observed also the play of animals, in which some species take such delight, their sports, concerts, and dances (see "Mutual Aid," appendix), and the group-flights of some birds in the evenings. He was familiar with the noisy meetings of the swallows and other migrating birds, which are held in the fall, on the same spot, for years in succession, before they start on their long journeys south. And how often man must have stood in bewilderment as he saw the immense migrating columns of birds passing over his head for many hours in succession, or the countless thousands of buffaloes, or deer, or marmots, that blocked his way and sometimes detained him for a few days by their tightly closed ranks, hurrying northward or southward. The "brute savage" knew all these beauties of nature, which we have forgotten in our towns and universities, and which we do not even find in our dead text books on "natural history"; while the narratives of the great explorers-such as Humboldt, Audubon, Azara, Brehm, Syevertsev 21 and so many others, are moldering in our libraries.

In those times the wide world of the running waters and lakes was not a sealed book for man. He was quite familiar with its inhabitants. Even now, for example, many semi-savage natives of Africa profess a deep reverence for the crocodile. They consider him a near relative to man-a sort of ancestor. They even avoid naming him in their conversations, and if they must mention him they will say "the old grandfather," or use some other word expressing kinship and veneration. The crocodile, they maintain, acts exactly as they do. He will never swallow his prey without having invited his relatives and friends to share the food; and if one of his tribe has been killed by man, otherwise than in due and just blood revenge he will take vengeance upon some one of the murderer's skin. Therefore, if a negro has been eaten by a crocodile, his tribe will take the greatest care to kill the very same crocodile who had eaten their kinsman, because they fear that by killing an innocent crocodile they will bring upon themselves the vengeance of the kin of the slaughtered animal, such vengeance being required- by the law of the clan vendetta.. This is why the negroes, having killed the presumably, guilty crocodile, will carefully examine his intestines in order to find the remnants of their kinsman, and to make sure thereby that no mistake has been made and that it is this particular crocodile that deserved death. But if no proof of the beast's guilt is forthcoming, they will make all sorts of expiatory amends to the crocodile tribe in order to appease the relatives of the innocently slaughtered animal; and they continue to search for the real culprit. The same belief exists among the Red Indians concerning the rattlesnake and the wolf, and among the Ostiaks about the bear, etc. The connection of such beliefs with the subsequent development of the idea of justice, is self evident. 22

The shoals of fishes, and their movements in the transparent waters, the reconnoitering by their scouts before the whole herd moves in a given direction, must have deeply impressed man at a very early period. Traces of this impression are found in the folklore of savages in many parts of the globe. Thus, for instance, Dekanawideh, the legendary lawgiver of the Red Indians, who is supposed to have given them the clan organization, is represented as having retired from the people to meditate in contact with nature. He "reached the side of a smooth, clear, running stream, transparent and full of fishes. He sat down, reclining on the sloping bank, gazing intent into the waters, watching the fishes playing about in complete harmony...." Thereupon he conceived the scheme of dividing his people into gentes and classes, or totems. 23 In other legends the wise man of the tribe learns wisdom from the beaver, or the squirrel, or some bird.

Generally speaking, for the primitive savage, animals are mysterious, enigmatic beings, possessed of a wide knowledge of the things of nature. They know much more than they are ready to tell us. In one way or another, by the aid of senses much more refined than ours, and by telling one another all that they notice in their rambles and flights, they know everything, for miles around. And if man has been "just" towards them, they will warn him of a coming danger as they warn one another; but they will take no heed of him if he has not been straightforward in his actions. Snakes and birds (the owl is considered the leader of the snakes), mammals and insects, lizards and fishes-all understand one another, and continually communicate their observations among themselves. They all belong to one brotherhood, into which they may, in some cases, admit man.

Inside this vast brotherhood there are, of course, the still closer brotherhoods of being "of one blood." The monkeys, the bears, the wolves, the elephants and the rhinoceroses, most ruminants, the hares and most of the rodents, the crocodiles, and so on, know perfectly their own kin, and they will not abide the slaughter by man of one of their relatives without taking, in one way or another, "honest" revenge. This conception must have had an extremely remot origin. It must have grown at a time when man had not yet become omnivorous and had not yet begun to hunt birds and animals for food. Man became omnivorous, -most probably, during the Glacial period, when vegetation was perishing in the path of the advancing cold. However, the same conception has been retained down to the present time. Even now, when a savage is hunting, he is bound to respect certain rules of propriety towards the animals, and he must perform certain expiatory ceremonies after his hunt. Some of these ceremonies are rigorously enacted, even to-day, in the savage clans,-especially in connection with those animals which are considered the allies of man, such as the bear, for example (among the Orochons on the Amur River).

It is a known custom that two men belonging to two different clans can fraternize by mixing the blood of the two, obtained from small incisions made for that purpose. To enter into such a union was quite common in olden times, and we learn from the folklore of all nations, and especially from the Scandinavian sagas, how religiously such a brotherhood was maintained. But it was also customary for man to enter into brotherhood with some animal. The tales frequently mention this. An animal asks a hunter to spare it, and if the hunter accedes to the demand the two become brothers. And then the monkey, the bear, the doe, the bird, the crocodile, or even the bee-(anyone of the social animals)- will take all possible care of the man-brother in the critical circumstances of his life, sending their animal brothers from their own or from a different tribe, to warn him or help him. And if the warning comes too late, or is misunderstood, and he loses his life, all these animals will try to bring him back to life, and if they fail, they will take due revenge, just as if the man were one of their own kin.

When I journeyed in Siberia I often noticed the care with which my Tungus or Mongol guide would take not to kill any animal uselessly. The fact is that every life is respected by a savage, or rather was, before he came in contact with Europeans. If he kills an animal it is for food or clothing, but he does not destroy life for mere amusement or out of a passion for destruction. True, the Red Indians have done that very thing with the buffaloes; but it was only after they had been for a long time in contact with the whites, and had got from them the rifle and the quick-firing revolver. Of course, there are also some animals that are considered enemies of man-the hyena, for instance, or the tiger; but, in general, the savage treats with respect the great animal world as a whole, and trains his children in the same spirit.

The idea of 'justice," conceived at its origin as revenge, is thus connected with observations made on animals. But it appears extremely probable that the idea of return for "just" and "unjust" treatment must also have originated, with primitive mankind, in the idea that animals take revenge if they have not been properly treated by man. This idea is so deeply rooted in the minds of the savages all over the world that it may be considered as one of the fundamental conceptions of mankind. Gradually it grew to embodiments of the same conception. Later this conception was extended over the region of the sky. The clouds, according to the most ancient books of India, the Vedas, were considered as living beings similar to animals.

This is what primitive man saw in nature and learned from it. With our scholastic education, which has consistently ignored nature and has tried to explain its most common facts by superstitions or by metaphysical subtleties, we began to forget that great lesson. But for our Stone-Age ancestors sociality and mutual aid within the tribe must have been a fact so general in nature, so habitual, that they certainly could not imagine life under another aspect.

The conception of Man as an isolated being is a later product of civilization-the product of Eastern legends about men who withdrew from society. To a primitive man isolated life seems so strange, so much out of the usual course of nature, that when he sees a tiger, a badger, a shrew-mouse leading a solitary existence, or even when he notices a tree that stands alone, far from the forest, he creates a legend to explain this strange occurrence. He makes no legends to explain life in societies, but he has one for every case of solitude. The hermit, if he is not a sage who has temporarily withdrawn from the world to ponder over its destinies, or a wizard, is in most cases an outcast banished for some grave transgression against the code of social life. He has done something so contrary to the ordinary run of life that they have thrown him out of society. Very often he is a sorcerer, who has the command of all sorts of evil powers, and has something to do with the pestilential corpses which spread contagion in the world. This is why he prowls about at night, pursuing his wicked designs under the cover of darkness. All other beings live in societies, and human thought runs in this channel. Social life-that is, we, not I-is the normal form of life. It is life itself. Therefore, "We" must have been the habitual trend of thought with the primitive man, a "category" of his mind, as Kant might have said.

Here, in that identification, or, we might even say, in this absorption of the "I" by the clan or tribe, lies the root of all ethical thought. The self-assertion of "personality" came much later on. Even now, the psychology of the lower savages scarcely knows any "individual" or "personality." The dominant conception in their minds is the tribe, with its hard-and-fast rules, superstitions, taboos, habits, and interests. In that constant, ever present identification of the one lies the whole, lies the origin of all ethics, the germ out of which subsequent conceptions of justice, and the still higher conceptions of morality, evolved.

These consecutive steps in the evolution of ethics will be considered in the following chapters.


1 In his History of Modern Philosophy, the Danish professor, Harald Höffding, gives an admirable sketch of the philosophical importance of Darwin's work. Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, German translation by F. Bendixen (Leipzig, 1890), vol. 11, pp. 487 sq. [Eng. tr., London, 1900, by B. E. Meyer, 2 vols.]-Trans. Note.

2The Dcscent of Man, chap. iv. pp. 148 sq. All quotations are from the last (cheap) edition of Mr. Murray, 1901. [First edition, 1871, London & N. Y.: 2nd, N. Y., 1917].-Trans. Note.

3[The reference is to Captain Stansbury, who, on a trip to Utah, saw a blind pelican being fed by other pelicans,-on fish brought a distance of thirty miles. Kropotkin quotes this from Darwin's Descent of Man, Chapter iv. See also, L H. Morgan's The American Beaver, 1868, p. 272, to which Kropotkin refers in his Mutual Aid, page 51. Howard Stansbury, Exploration and Survey of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, Phil., 1852, 1855. The case of the blind rat is taken from M. Perty's Ueber das Seelenleben der Thiere, pp. 64 ff., Leipzig, 1876.]-Trans. Note.

4Not long after, Herbert Spencer, who at first took a negative attitude toward morality in animals, cited a few similar facts in James Knowles' magazine, Nineteenth Century. These facts are reproduced in his Principles of Ethics, vol. 11, Appendix 1. [vol. X of the Synthetic Philosophy.]

5The incapacity of an ant, a dog, or a cat to make a discovery, or to hit upon the correct solution of a difficulty, which is so often pointed out by some writers on this subject, is not a proof of an essential difference between the intelligence of man and that of these animals, because the same want of inventiveness is continually met with in men as well. Like the ant in one of John Lubbock's experiments, thousands of men in an unfamiliar region, similarly attempt to ford a river and perish in the attempt, before trying to span the river with some primitive bridge-a trunk of a fallen tree, for example. And, on the other hand, we find in animals the collective intelligence of an ant's nest or a beehive. And if one ant or one bee in a thousand happens to hit upon the correct solution, the others imitate it. And thus they solve problems much more difficult than those in which the individual ant, or bee, or cat has so ludicrously failed in the experiments of some naturalists, and, I venture to add, as the naturalists themselves fail in the arrangement of their experiments and in their conclusions. The bees at the Paris Exhibition, and their devices to prevent being continually disturbed in their work-they plastered the peep-window with wax (see Mutual Aid, Ch. 1)--or any one of the well-known facts of inventiveness among the bees, the ant the wolves hunting together, are instances in point.

6In an excellent analysis of the social instinct (Animal Behavior, London 1900, pp. 231-232) Professor Lloyd Morgan says: "And this question Prince Kropotkin, in common with Darwin and Espinas, would probably answer without hesitation that the primeval germ of the social community lay in the prolonged coherence of the group of parents and offspring.", Perfectly true, I should only add the words: "or of the offspring without the parents," because this addition would better agree with the facts stated above, while it also renders more correctly Darwin's idea.

7Hartenstein's edition of Kant's works, vol. Vl. pp. 143-144 [Leipzig, 1867-87]. English translation by Th. K. Abbott: Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works, London, 1879, pp. 425-4Z7. London, 1889].

8In a footnote, Darwin, with his usual deep insight, makes, however, one exception. "Enmity, or hatred," he remarks, "seems also to be a highly persistent feeling perhaps more so than any other that can be named.... This feeling would thus seem to be innate, and is certainly a most persistent one. It seems to be the complement and converse of the true social instinct." (Footnote 27) [of chap. iv, p. 114, 2nd ed. N Y., 1917]. This feeling, so deeply seated in animal nature, evidently explains the bitter wars that are fought between different tribes, or groups, in several animal species and among men. It explains also the simultaneous existence of two different codes of morality among civilized nations. But this important and yet neglected subject can better be treated in connection with the discussion of the idea of justice

9On the Dignity and Advancement of Learning, Book Vll, chap. i. (p. 270 of J. Devey's edition in Bohn's Library). Bacon's arguments in favor of this idea are of course insufficient; but it must be borne in mind that he was only establishing the outlines of a science which had to be worked out by his followers. The same idea was later expressed by Hugo Grotius, and by some other thinkers.

10[Professor Kessler, one time Dean of the University of St. Petersburg, delivered a lecture on "The Law of Mutual Aid" before a meeting of the Russian Congress of Naturalists, Jan. 1880. It appears in the Trudi (Memoirs) o