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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Man and Evolution (S368ac: 1883)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 6 of The Daily News (London) issue of 22 December 1883. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S368AC.htm

To the Editor of The Daily News.

    Sir,--In your article on Mr. Romanes' "Mental Evolution in Animals" my opinions on the above question are referred to, and as they are not accurately represented I trust you will allow me to make a few explanatory remarks. The writer of the article says: "Mr. Darwin held that to man's mind the general laws of evolution apply. Mr. Wallace holds that they do not apply, but that 'a distinct exception must be made in the case of the human organism, or at all events in the case of the human mind.'" I cannot find these words (which are given as a quotation) in the last chapter of my "Contributions to Natural Selection," where I have treated the question in some detail; and the whole gist of my argument is, not that natural selection "does not apply," but that it does not exclusively apply, being supplemented by some unknown higher law. To show that I do actually recognise the action of natural selection in producing some of the higher human faculties, allow me to quote one passage. I say (p. 351): "Turning to the mind of man, we meet with many difficulties in attempting to understand how those mental faculties which are especially human could have been acquired by the preservation of useful variations. At first sight it would seem that such feelings as those of abstract justice and benevolence could never have been so acquired, because they are incompatible with the law of the strongest, which is the essence of natural selection. But this is, I think, an erroneous view, because we must look not to individuals but to societies; and justice and benevolence, exercised towards members of the same tribe, would certainly tend to strengthen that tribe, and give it a superiority over another in which the right of the strongest prevailed, and where consequently the weak and the sickly were left to perish and the few strong ruthlessly destroyed the many who were weaker." Here, then, I fully recognise the power of natural selection to develop some mental faculties; but I go on to show that there are others, as well as some physical characters, which could not have been so developed, and I thence conclude that man was not developed exclusively by natural selection even if animals were so developed, but that in his case "some higher law" has intervened. This is very different from "barring" evolution in the case of man, as your reviewer says I do. Mr. Darwin himself admits that natural selection "has been the main, but not the exclusive means of the modification of organisms," and I have given reasons why this is still more emphatically true in the case of man; and these reasons have, so far as I know, never been satisfactorily confuted. As to the hypothetical mode by which I suggested that the difficulty might be got over, it remains a mere suggestion, the correctness of which I am by no means anxious to maintain; but that the difficulties I have stated are real difficulties, and as regards natural selection alone insuperable ones, I am as much convinced as ever. Evolution, however, is a very different thing, and I can hardly imagine any mode or origin of man or his faculties which would not be in accordance with that great principle, which is, essentially, the principle of gradual modification under the action of laws, however complex or obscure those laws may be.--I remain your obedient servant,

Alfred R. Wallace.

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