The advance of embryology in the last thirty years has made it clear that the individual life of a man (and all other invertebrates) begins at the moment when the male sperm-cell and the maternal ovum coalesce……Hence, the real cause of personal existence is not the favour of the Almighty, but the sexual love of one’s earthly parents; very often this consequence of the act of love has been anything but desired. If then the circumstances of life come to press too hard on the poor being who has thus developed, without any fault of his, from the fertilised ovum – if, instead of the hoped-for good, there come only care and need, sickness and misery of every kind – he has the unquestionable right to put an end to his sufferings by death…..
….Our conventional morality is, as so often happens, full of senseless contradictions. Modern States have introduced conscription; they demand that every citizen shall give up his life for his country on command, and kill as many other men as he can (an admirable commentary on the scriptural “Love your enemies”) for some political reason or other. But they never secure to each citizen the means of honourable existence and free development of his personality – not even the right to work by which he may maintain himself and his family.
…..Our asylums grow bigger and more numerous every year, and we have sanatoria on every side in which the baited victim of modern civilisation seeks refuge from his evils. Some of these evils are quite incurable, and the sufferers have to meet a certain death in terrible pain. Many of these poor creatures look forward to their redemption from evil and the end of their miserable lives. The important question arises whether, as compassionate men, we should be justified in carrying out their wish and ending their sufferings by a painless death.
……However, this lofty duty must not be confined to men, but extended to “our relations,” the higher vertebrates, and, in fact, to all animals whose brain-organisation seems to point to the possession of sensation and a consciousness of pleasure and pain. Thus, for instance, in the case of the domestic animals which we use daily in our service, and which have an undoubted psychic affinity to ourselves, we must take care to increase their pleasure and mitigate their sufferings. Faithful dogs and noble horses, with which we have lived for years and which we love, are rightly put to death and relieved from pain when they fall hopelessly ill in old age. In the same way we have the right, if not the duty, to put an end to the sufferings of our fellow-men. Some severe and incurable disease makes life unbearable for them, and they ask for redemption from evil. However, medical men hold very different opinions on the matter, as I have found in conversation with them. Many experienced physicians, who practice their profession in a spirit of sympathy and without dogmatic prejudice, have no scruple about cutting short the sufferings of the incurable by a dose of morphia or cyanide of potassium when they desire it; very often this painless end is a blessing both to the invalids and their families. However, other physicians and most jurists are of the opinion that this act of sympathy is not right, or is even a crime; that it is the duty of the physician to maintain the life of his patients as long as he can in all circumstances. I should like to know why.
The essential feature of sexual generation is the coalescence of two different cells, a female ovum (egg-cell) and a male sperm-cell. The simple new cell which arises from the blending of these is the stem-cell (cytula), the stem-mother of all the cells that make up the tissues of the histon… When these two gameta become unequal and differ in size and shape, the larger female body is called the macrogameton or macro gonidion, and the smaller, male part, the microgameton or micro gonidion. Among the histona the first is called the egg-cell (ovulum), and the latter the sperm-cell (spermium or spermatozoon). As a rule the latter is a very mobile ciliated cell, the former an inert or amoeboid cell. The vibratory movement of the sperm-cells serve for approaching the ovulum in order to fertilise it.
The qualitative difference between the two copulating sexual cells (gonocyta), or the chemical difference between the ovoplasm of the female and the sperm-plasm of the male cell, is the first (and often the only) condition of amphigony; subsequently we find in addition (in the higher histona) a very elaborate apparatus of secondary structures. With this chemical difference is associated a peculiar double form of sensitive perception and an attraction based thereon, which is called sexual chemotaxis or erotic chemotropism. This “sex-sense” of the two gonocyta, or elective affinity of the male androplasm and female gynoplasm, is the cause of mutual attraction and union. It is very probable that this sexual sensation, akin to smell and taste, and the movements it stimulates, are located in the cytoplasm of the two sex-cells, while heredity is the function of the caryoplasm of the nucleus…..
When the ejected sex-cells do not directly encounter each other (as in many aquatic organisms), special structures have been formed to convey the fertilising sperm to the female body. This process becomes important, as it is associated with characteristic feelings of pleasure, which may cause extreme psychic excitement; as sexual love it becomes, in man and the higher animals, one of the most powerful springs of vital activity. In many of the higher animals (namely vertebrates, articulates, and molluscs) there are also formed a number of glands and other auxiliary organs which co-operate in the copulation.
The manifold and intimate relations which exist in man and the higher animals (especially vertebrates and articulates), between their sexual life and their higher psychic activity, have given rise to plenty of “wonders of life”….. I will only mention the great significance of what are called “secondary sexual characters”. These characteristics of one sex that are wanting in the other, and that are not directly connected with the sexual organs – such as the man’s beard, the woman’s breasts, the lion’s mane or the goat’s horns – have also an aesthetic interest; they have, as Darwin showed, been acquired by sexual selection, as weapons of the male in the struggle for the female, and vice versa. The feeling of beauty plays a great part in this, especially in birds and insects; the beautiful colours and forms which we admire in the male bird of paradise, the humming-bird, the pheasant, the butterfly, etc., have all been formed by sexual selection.
We have a particularly interesting and important species of chemical irritation in the mutual attraction of the two sex-cells, to which I gave the name chemotropism thirty years ago and which I described as the earliest phylogenetic source of sexual love. The remarkable phenomena of impregnation, the most important of all the processes of sexual generation, consist in the coalescence of the female ovum and the male sperm-cell. This could not take place if the two cells had not a sense of their respective chemical constitution and disposition for union; they come together under this impulse…..The sensation that impels it is of a chemical nature, allied to taste and smell…. Conception depends on exactly the same erotic chemotropism in the fertilisation of all the higher organisms.
Erotic chemotropism must be regarded as a general sense-function of the sexual cells in all amphigonous organisms, but in the higher organisms special forms of the sex-sense, connected with specific organs, are developed; as the source of sexual love they play a most important part in the life of many of the histona. In man and most of the higher animals these feelings of love are associated with the highest features of psychic life and have led to the formation of some most remarkable customs, instincts and passions….. It is well known that this sexual sense as we have it in man has been developed from the nearest related mammals, the apes. But while it offers a shameless and repulsive spectacle in the apes, it has been greatly ennobled and refined in man in the development of civilisation. However, the sexual sense-organs and their specific energy have remained the same. In the vertebrates and the articulates and many other metazoa the copulative organs are equipped with special cell-forms (voluptuous particles), which are the seat of intensely pleasurable feelings. The pubic hairs which clothe the mons Verenis are also delicate organs of the sex-sense, and so are the tactile hairs about the mouth. In these cases the correlation between the sensitive forms of energy in the copulative organs and the psychic function of the central nervous system has been remarkably developed. Moreover, a large part of the rest of the skin may co-operate as a secondary organ of the sex-sense, as is seen in the effect of caressing, stroking, embracing, kissing, etc…..
The dualistic ideas of the soul of the human embryo which were taught by the Church in the Middle Ages are particularly interesting from the psychological point of view; and, at the same time, they are of great practical importance even in our day, since many of their moral consequences form an important element in Canon Law, and have passed from this into Civil Law. This influential Canon Law was formed under ecclesiastical authority from the decisions of Church Councils and the decretals of the popes. It is, like most of the dogmas and decrees which civilisation owes to this powerful hierarchy, a curious tissue of old traditions and new fictions, political dogmas and crass superstition. It is directed to the despotic ruling of the uneducated masses and the exclusive dominion of the Church – a Church that calls itself Christian while thus acting as the very reverse of Christianity…..
It is said to be a great merit of Canon Law that it was the first to extend legal protection to the human embryo, and punished abortion with death as a mortal sin. But as this mystical theory of the entrance of the soul is now scientifically untenable, we should expect them consistently to extend this protection to the foetus in its earlier stages, if not to the ovum itself. The ovary of a mature maid contains about 70,000 ova; each of these might be developed into a human being under favourable circumstances if it united with a male spermium after its release from the ovary. If the State is so eager for the multiplication of its citizens in the general interest, and regards prolific reproduction as a “duty” of its members, this is certainly a “sin of omission.” It punishes abortion with several years imprisonment. But, while Civil Law thus takes its inspiration from Canon Law, it overlooks the physiological fact that the ovum is a part of the mother’s body over which she has full right of control; and that the embryo that develops from it, as well as the new-born child, is quite unconscious, or is a purely “reflex machine,” like any other vertebrate. There is no mind in it as yet; it only appears after the first year when its organ, the phronema in the cortex, is differentiated.
The Value of Life
A number of false teleological conclusions have been drawn from these facts of progressive modification of forms, as they are given in paleontology. The latest and most developed form of each stem was taken to be the preconceived aim of the series, and its imperfect predecessors were conceived as the preparatory stages to the attainment of this aim. It was like the conduct of many historians, who, when a particular race or State has reached a high rank in civilisation as a result of its natural endowment and favourable conditions of development, hail it as a “chosen people,” and regard its imperfect earlier condition as a deliberately conceived preparatory stage. In point of fact, these evolutionary stages were bound to proceed according as the internal structure (given by heredity) and the outer conditions (provoking adaption) determined. We cannot admit any conscious direction to a certain end, either in the form of theistic pre-destination or pantheistic finality. For this we must substitute a simple mechanical causality in the sense of psycho-mechanical monism or hylozoism.
The great value of modern civilisation and its vast progress beyond the condition of the savage is seen in no branch of physiology so conspicuously as in the wonderful process of reproduction and the maintenance of the species. In most savages and barbarians the satisfaction of their powerful sexual impulse is at the same low stage as in the ape and other mammals. The woman is merely an object of lust to the man, or even a slave without rights, bought and exchanged like all other property. Improvement is slow and gradual in the value of this property, until it reaches a high degree of permanency in the formal marriage. The family life proves a source of higher and finer enjoyment for both parties. The position of the woman advances with civilisation; her rights obtain recognition, and in addition to sensual love the psychic relation of man and woman begins to develop. The common concern for the proper care and education of the children, which we find to an extent even in the case of many animals, leads to the further development of family life and the founding of the school. With the advent of a higher stage of civilisation begins the refinement of sexual love, which finds its highest satisfaction, not in the momentary gratification of the sex-impulse but in the spiritual relation of the sexes and their constant and intimate intercourse. The beautiful then unites with the good and the true to form a harmonious trinity. Hence love has been for thousands of years the chief source of the aesthetic uplifting of man in every respect; the arts – poetry, music, painting and sculpture – have drawn inexhaustively from this source. However, for the individual civilised human being this higher love is of value, not only because it satisfies the natural and irresistible sex-impulse in its noblest form, but also because the mutual influence of the sexes, their complementary qualities and their common enjoyment of the highest ideal good, has a great effect upon individual character. A good and happy marriage – which is not very common today – ought to be regarded, both psychologically and physiologically, as one of the most important ends of life by every individual of the higher nations.
Like civil laws, the commands of religion come originally from the morals of the savages, and eventually from the social instincts of the primates. The important province of mental life to which we give the vague name of religion was developed at an early stage among the pre-historic races from whom we all descend. When we study its origin from the point of view of empirical psychology and monistic evolution, we find that religion has arises polyphyletically from different sources – ancestor worship, the desire for immortality, the craving for a causal explanation of phenomena, superstition of various kinds, the strengthening of the moral law by the authority of a divine law-giver etc. According as the imagination of the savage or the barbarian followed one or other of these lines it raised up hundreds of religious forms. Only a few of them survived in the struggle for existence, and acquired (at least outwardly) dominion over the modern mind.
The tyranny of custom in practical life does not depend merely on the authority of social usage, but also on the power of selection. Just as natural selection ensures the relative constancy of the specific form in the origin of the animal and plant species, so it has a powerful effect on the origin of morals and customs. An important factor in this is mimetic adaption, or mimicry, the apeing or imitating of certain forms or fashions by various classes of animals….. But many customs and usages in human life arise in just the same way, partly by conscious and partly by unconscious imitation. Of these the varying external forms which we call “fashions” have a most important influence in practical life. The phrase “fashion-ape”, when used in a scientific sense, is not merely an expression of contempt, but also has a profound meaning; it correctly indicates the origin of fashions by imitation, and also the peculiar resemblance we find in this respect between man and his cousins, the apes. Sexual selection among the primates has a good deal to do with this.
The growth of fashion in civilised life is very important, not only for the development of the sense of beauty and for the sexual selection of the sexes, but also in connection with the origin of the feeling of shame and the finer psychological traits that relate to it. The lower savages have no more sense of shame than animals or children. They are quite naked, and accomplish the sexual act without the slightest trace of shame. The beginning of clothing which we find among the middle savages is not due to any sense of shame, but partly to low temperature, partly to vanity and love of decoration (such as ornamenting the ears, lips, nose, and sex-organs by the insertion of shells, pieces of wood, flowers, stones etc.). Afterwards the sense of shame sets in, and we have the covering of certain parts of the body with leaves, girdles, shirts etc. In most nations the sexual parts are the first to be covered; though some attach importance to the veiling of the face. In many Oriental tribes (especially Mohammedan) it is still the first precept of female chastity to veil the face (the most characteristic part of the individual), while the rest of the body may remain naked. Generally speaking, the aesthetic and psychological relations of the sexes play the chief part in the higher development of morals. Morality is often taken to be synonymous with the law of sexual intercourse.
As the features of civilised life advance, the influence of reason increases, and so does the power of hereditary tradition and the moral ideas associated with it. The result is a severe conflict between the two….
….We need only consider with an unprejudiced mind the accouts in our journals of Parliamentary and legal proceedings, Government measures and social relations, in order to realise that the force of tradition and fashion is immense, and resists the claims of reason on every side. This is most clearly seen in the power of fashion, especially as regards clothing. There is a good ground for the complaint about “the tyranny of fashion.” However unpractical, ridiculous, ugly, and costly a new garment is, it becomes popular if it is patronised by authority, or some clever manufacturer succeeds in imposing it by specious advertisements. We need only recall the crinoline of fifty years ago, the bustle of twenty years ago, and the exposure of the breast and back by low dresses (with the object of sexual excitement) which was the fashion of forty years ago. For centuries we have had the pernicious fashion of the corset, an article that is as offensive from the aesthetic as from the hygienic point of view. Thousands of women are sacrificed every year to this pitiful fashion, through disease of the liver or lungs; nevertheless, the craze for the hour-glass shape of the female form continues, and the reform of clothing makes little headway. It is just the same with numbers of fashions in the home and in society, of devises in commerce and laws in the State. Everywhere the demands of reason advance little in their struggle with the venerable usages of tradition.
A false sense of honour dominates our social life, just as a false sense of modesty controls our clothing. The true honour of man or woman consists in their inner moral dignity, in the determination to do only what they conceive to be good and right, not in the outer esteem of their fellows or in the worthless praise of a conventional society. Unfortunately, we have to admit that in this respect we are still largely ruled by the foolish views of a lower civilisation, if not of crude barbarians. Of these the varying external forms which we call “fashions” have a most important influence in practical life.