The preceding discussions show how a different reading of what Wallace wrote up through 1858 leads us to anticipate certain continuities in his positions after 1858. Ample references have been given in an effort to show that after that date his positions on most subjects did, in fact, remain consistent with his earlier-stated opinions. Significantly, it can hardly be viewed as inconsistent with these opinions--indeed, remembering his initial writing efforts of circa 1841 and 1843, the earliest-stated ones of which we have a record--that he became a spiritualist. The entire progression of his views on the special problem of biological evolution, moreover, can be attributed to his necessarily changing position on the relation of adaptive response to utility.
These connections, I submit, provide a more than adequate prior argument as to why Wallace's views on natural selection should not have reversed at any time after 1858. It has long been maintained that they did, however, and we must now therefore take special notice of three related issues: (1) whether Wallace himself later admitted to a "change of mind;" (2) whether, in fact, Wallace ever actually stated a position that demanded such a change later; and (3) whether certain things he did write that have been pointed to as signifying a change might be more reasonably explained in other ways.
The first subject can be disposed of rather quickly, as such evidence as exists on the matter clearly indicates that he himself felt otherwise. As far as I am aware (and I have now read just about everything Wallace wrote for publication), Wallace never specifically admitted to a "change of mind" in print--for example, he never uttered anything of the sort: "Before 1865 and my introduction to spiritualism, I believed natural selection accounted for the development of all human attributes." Neither, so far as I am aware, has anyone ever claimed he did write anything to this effect.
He did directly contend, however, that the origin of his divergence from the views of Darwin on natural selection was not due to his acceptance of spiritualism. The following passages, drawn from the Preface to the first edition of On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism,1 are seemingly clear enough on this point:
Complementary thoughts are presented in Wallace's 1885 essay "Are the Phenomena of Spiritualism in Harmony with Science?":
Although the latter words do not prove that before 1864 Wallace did not hold a point of view that might have caused him to diverge from Darwin on the basis of spiritualism, they do suggest that he had little difficulty incorporating both Darwinian views and spiritualistic ones into the same general line of thought--that is, without actually reversing himself on the overall question.
The second subject referred to earlier--whether Wallace ever actually stated a position that demanded a "change of mind" later--is a rather more difficult one to approach. As explained earlier, Wallace's lack of specific mention of man in "On the Tendency..." is at the least just as easy to contextualize as the initiation of a "special case" argument as it is evidence he considered man's situation to be the same as that of animals. Additional considerations, moreover, appear to make the first interpretation the more probably correct one.
Schwartz,3 Kottler,4 and others have stated as if it were unequivocal fact that before 1864 Wallace felt natural selection accounted for man's evolution in the same fashion it did other living things. The detailed researches of Beddall, McKinney, Brooks, and others referred to earlier have reinforced this belief with their establishment that at the time of his recognition of the principle Wallace was giving as much consideration to the problem of human development as he was to animal origins. But again, this simple fact of correlation does not substantiate the conclusion that he believed the two problems could be disposed of through a model of proximate causes alone. As shown earlier there is reason to think he did not so believe. Further reason exists as well.
Browne (1983) has written:
But in truth, the situation was probably just the opposite--at least with respect to evolution "as the efficient cause." Wallace more likely thought he had identified an "efficient cause" of evolution, was describing how this operated, and how it could be held to account for certain characteristics of adaptation and change in organisms. Nowhere in the essay does he in any way infer that this "biological tendency" is synonymous with evolution. In fact, no mention whatsoever is made of the 1855 paper "On the Law..." or its undeniably evolutionary orientation. Considering that a number of the studies he published between 1855 and 18586 dwell on points made in that work, this is strange--that is, if the one is to be viewed merely as a conceptual extension of the thinking set out in the other.
Moreover, and just as strangely, no reference is made in "On the Tendency..." to any of these other studies either. And although, as stated just above, we know that Wallace did have man's evolutionary development very much on his mind just prior to writing "On the Tendency...", neither is there any reference, in one fashion or another, to the evolution of man in the paper. One is very tempted to conclude from these facts that at the time of writing "On the Tendency..." Wallace strongly distinguished between his newly discovered principle and evolution per se. This impression is further strengthened by remembering that he certainly had connected man to the arguments of "On the Law...", as is plainly evident from commentary presented in "On the Habits of the Orang-Utan...",7 his letters to Bates,8 and his "Species Notebook."9
Nor should one ignore the otherwise puzzling fact that practically all of his evolution-oriented writings between early 1858 and late 1863, including one long paper on man,10 reflect extensions of the line of thought present in "On the Law..." rather than that evident in "On the Tendency...".11
I conclude from all this that the species divergence discussion in "On the Tendency..." was never intended for application to man--that is, to the extent of accounting for our uniquely human "higher nature." On reading On the Origin of Species while still in the East, and after further communications with Darwin, Wallace certainly must have surmised that Darwin intended natural selection to account equally for the development of man's higher faculties and the development of his purely biological structure. With this application of the theory he surely disagreed, but until he had clarified his own thoughts on the matter it would be pointless to object. On this view, it is therefore not surprising that Wallace published not a single word between 1858 and 1864 that functionally connected the Darwinian model of natural selection to man--recall that during this period Wallace wrote only one article in which natural selection itself is the focus of attention in any respect: "Remarks on the Rev. Haughton's Paper on the Bee's Cell,"12 in late 1863--much less anything suggesting that he felt natural selection accounted for the evolution of man's higher faculties.13
In the absence of any direct positive evidence bearing on the general question of a possible change of mind, we are reduced to examining some Wallace writings that might secondarily be interpreted as supporting the "change of mind" hypothesis. This must now be done in some detail, with two especially well-known passages given primacy in the discussion.
Malcolm Kottler has stated that "Wallace wrote to Darwin in 1869 that his new view was solely the result of his new belief in spiritualism."14 The source of this impression is a letter from Wallace to Darwin dated April 18, 1869.15 In this letter Wallace says:
Here, I submit, Wallace says no more than what he says: that the now "fully tested" phenomena have led him to a theory which "a few years back" he would have considered "wild and uncalled for" (i.e., in the absence of relatable evidence). In presenting this as indicative of a change of mind, Kottler has assumed that prior to 1864 Wallace believed that natural selection could be applied to man's evolution in exactly the same fashion it could to other living things. There is no reason to doubt that Wallace's opinions were, as he put it, "modified" (rather than "reversed") from an earlier position, but the nature of that earlier position must be established, not assumed as a function of a correlation in time. Again, it should be emphasized that Wallace himself directly denied the reversal interpretation in the Preface to Miracles and Modern Spiritualism, as discussed earlier.
The main evidence that has been used to support the "change of mind" hypothesis, however, consists of certain passages in "On the Origin of Human Races..." and the particular additions and changes in wording that were made for the 1870 version of that paper entitled "The Development of Human Races under the Law of Natural Selection."16 When Wallace decided to include the 1864 paper in his collection Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, he made many revisions. Most were relatively minor and are easily accounted for; some, however, are suggestive of a possible change in position. Nevertheless, in speaking of "On the Origin of Human Races..." in the Preface to Contributions... he writes:
Note Wallace's deliberate employ of the word "extended"--not "reversed" or "changed"--and the fact that he is apparently more worried about "weakening" the effect than not "adding" to it. The inference is pretty clearly that he considered the existing (1864 version) argument sound, and was reluctant to do anything that would detract from it. He finally decided to end the book with the entirely new essay "The Limits of Natural Selection...".18 Why, if his opinion had "changed": (1) would he have decided to leave the essay more or less as it was; or (2) chosen to include it in Contributions... at all? Obviously, Wallace himself did not feel his position had changed.
There is, however, the important matter of just what it was that Wallace's intended "meaning" was, and exactly which passages were "ill-conceived." Recall that in 1864 the individualist thinking of Spencer was consuming his attention,19 and on this basis he appears to have attempted to extend a Darwinian line on natural selection as far as he felt he could to account for the manner of human evolution. But this discussion pointedly avoided any explanation of the reasons behind the emergence of intellect or moral behavior. That their presence influenced man in ways that would be subjected to the influence of natural selection he did not doubt (nor did he in 1870, as expressed in the later version of the paper). Again, Wallace had for many years recognized that man exhibited many "above nature" qualities; "The Origin of Human Races..." was his attempt to describe how these qualities, once in existence, could be expected to aid or retard natural selection.20 The manner of their own origin and the connection of this to evolution in general, however, he still had no handle on and deliberately avoided.
Wallace's basic model of the physical evolution of mankind--including the chronology of racial differentiation, the emergence of the higher characters, and the cessation of physical bodily change--remained largely unchanged between 1864 and 1870. In the 1864 essay on man, Wallace writes:
In the 1870 version this passage had been changed to:
The subtle but important substitution of "from some unknown cause, greatly" for "correspondingly" suggests that Wallace had settled on a model for the origin of man's higher faculties. The emergence of intellect and morality-based decision-making signaled the beginning of humankind's participation in the causal domain of a higher level of existence. This emergence was implicit in the evolutionary scheme, much as life had been when physical conditions had reached a satisfactory degree of complexity and stability. The immediate impact of intellect was to produce various kinds of "above nature" behavior, but eventually most such behaviors initiated negative feedback that would ultimately cause society to reject them (failure of entire societies being the consequence when rejection did not take place). Materialism was one such behavior. Though counterproductive as an all-consuming individual or societal goal, it had the vital effect of producing a gradual societal increase of knowledge, and through the latter a greater understanding of others leading to an elevation of tolerance and the moral sense. For example, in an 1894 review of Benjamin Kidd's Social Evolution,23 Wallace speaks approvingly of Kidd's idea that religious belief produced an influence fundamental to the development of civilization through its support of centralization of power. This, despite the fact that at no point in his life did Wallace have more than nominal respect for the idea of religious belief as a goal of itself.
Eventually, man's moral capacity would "catch up" with his intellectual excesses, at which point natural selection could again act in a fully positive fashion (rejecting, for example, those self-serving, "others-neglecting" materialistic tendencies that remained). This last concept was integrally connected to the "equality of opportunity" idea Wallace supported in such works as "Human Selection."24 In a letter printed in Nature in 1903,25 Wallace dubbed this entirely "positive" form of selection, destined to "supersede" natural selection, "perpetuation of the fittest."
When Wallace used the wording "modification" of position rather than "change" of position in his 18 April 1869 letter to Darwin, therefore, he was stating the situation as a matter of record. He had been unable to associate the meaning of the origin of man's intellectual and moral capacities with a general evolutionary model since he had taken up the question in the 1840s; the concepts stated in 1855's "On the Law...", 1858's "On the Tendency...", and 1864's "The Origin of Human Races..." show that his formulation of natural selection had not solved--or even addressed--this problem. The 1864 version of the essay on man was "ill-conceived" to the extent that it still did not address the problem of hierarchical causation; i.e., like "On the Law...", it dwelled on results whose efficient causes could be directly inferred, but whose final causes could not. Thus, Wallace's "modification of position": to one in which both final and efficient causes for man's higher faculties were specified.
In 1974 Malcolm Kottler reached a different conclusion regarding the changes Wallace made in his 1870 version of the essay:
Kottler is guilty of two important errors in this assessment. First, there is again his assumption (as pervades the rest of his otherwise excellent analysis) that before 1858--and 1864--Wallace had been treating the evolution of humankind's higher characters in basically the same fashion as he had purely biological adaptations such as leg length or thickness of coat. I have already indicated there is good reason to seriously question this assumption. It is easier to look at the 1864 to 1870 shift as a return to his suspicions before the former date that something was going on at that level that the 1858 essay was not equipped to deal with.
Second, and more importantly, Kottler has mis-interpreted Wallace's position as indicating that the influences received "from on high" both interrupted the physical operation of natural selection, and superseded it to the extent that the effects it had on human were deterministic; i.e., independent of the operation of free will at the level of the individual. There is no reason to think that Wallace ever thought in these terms at any point in his career. As discussed earlier, it appears that in Wallace's version of natural selection the process operated by seizing upon--amplifying--the advantages accrued by any adaptational array that might pass into existence by the mere chance interaction of those forces underlying variation. Without initial aid "from on high" helping to expose humankind to subtle, unselfish activities "transcending time and space," selection for such activities would never come about. Still, the means by which such "aid" would manifest itself would yet lead to many dead-ends of application as human beings continued to act without a full appreciation of the longer term, larger scale, implications of those acts. Aid "from on high" might indeed be interpreted as a "progressive power" in operation, but it was no surer in its unfolding at any time or place than were the more rotely accumulated adaptations shaped through biological natural selection.
Before quitting this subject I should note one more time that Wallace's "modification of position" was by no means an abrupt event that happened suddenly and without prior warning sometime between 1864 and 1869 (though I do believe that his recognition of spiritualism as a key element in the process took place fairly suddenly, as discussed earlier). In addition to the works (S140 and S142a) discussed in Chapter Five that related to the beginning inference in "The Origin of Human Races..." that mankind might be in some respects "above nature," there is a further publication that sent this message, "Mr. Wallace on Natural Selection Applied to Anthropology,"27 a letter printed in Anthropological Review early in 1867. This contains similar, though less directly expressed ideas. In this work Wallace states:
Finally, let us reflect quickly on the basic underpinnings of the "change of mind/no change of mind" question. Forgetting for a moment Darwin, and all of Wallace's writings before those from about 1870 on expressing a full endorsement of the equally "natural" status of things spiritual and physical, what is the least one should expect in terms of pre-1870 evidence to support a "change of mind" hypothesis? Clearly, that evidence should consist of reversing expressed opinions on the relation of natural selection to the origin of stated unique human characteristics. But in point of fact, Wallace never expressed any such opinions before 1869. From 1864 on, it is true, he did begin to consider how already developing human characters might be further modified, but his opinions even on this matter never truly reversed either; they merely became more focussed (especially as regards utility, as discussed earlier). The only opinion on remotely related matters that he truly did reverse was the question of necessary biological utility, which before 1856, at least, he had clearly rejected.
To my mind, the "change of mind" hypothesis not only represents a poor mis-reading of the available facts with respect to Wallace's intellectual evolution, but nothing less than a tragedy in the history of human thought. My reasons for making this assertion will become apparent in the next and concluding chapter.
Notes, Chapter Six
1. S717, 1901 ed., pp. vi-viii.
2. S379 (Medium and Daybreak version), pp. 809, 810.
8. S729 ii, pp. 31-32; McKinney (1969 & 1972).
11. The list of publications during this period that include evolution-relatable remarks may be given as: S52, S53, S57, S58, S64, S67, S71, S72, S74, S77, S78, S79, S81, and S82. S57, written in October 1859, demonstrates a nod toward natural selection; on pages 145-146 Wallace writes (in direct repetition of ideas presented much earlier in S714 and S26, before "On the Tendency..."): "It has been generally the custom of writers on natural history to take the habits and instincts of animals as the fixed point, and to consider their structure and organization as specially adapted to be in accordance with them. But this seems quite an arbitrary assumption, and has the bad effect of stifling inquiry into those peculiarities which are generally classed as 'instincts' and considered as incomprehensible, but which a little consideration of the structure of the species in question, and the the peculiar physical conditions by which it is surrounded, would show to be the inevitable and logical result of such structure and conditions. I am decidedly of opinion that in very many instances we can trace such a necessary connexion, especially among birds, and often with more complete success than in the case which I have here attempted to explain. For a perfect solution of the problem we must, however, have recourse to Mr. Darwin's principle of "natural selection," and need not then despair of arriving at a complete and true 'theory of instinct.' This subject is, however, far too large to be discussed here...". In S72, presented at a Zoological Society meeting in January 1863, Wallace briefly discusses (pages 26-28) some cases of what he supposes are instances of Batesian mimicry. In several of the other papers (most notably S77) he discusses various classificatory issues and characters that bear on them, but does not relate the subject to Darwinian tenets. Of the remainder, the vast majority of the discussion bearing on evolutionary questions is at the macro-scale only, involving biogeographical questions.
13. At the 19 January and 2 February 1864 meetings of the Anthropological Society of London, however, he did contribute some discussion referring to human evolution per se. See S90.
17. S716, p. viii.
19. On at least two later occasions (in a letter to Keir Hardie published in Labour Leader (S528), and in My Life i, p. 104), Wallace recalled how he had temporarily slipped into an "individualist" mode of thinking.
20. This element in his thinking is also revealed in comments he made in a late interview: "My argument has always been that the mind and the spirit, while being influenced by the struggle for existence, have not originated through natural selection" (S753, p. 621).
21. S93, p. clxvi.
22. S716, pp. 320-321. Six years later, in 1876, in an address given at the annual British Association for the Advancement of Science meetings, Wallace alluded to the situation thusly: "...The belief in the independent origin of man held its ground somewhat longer; but the publication of Mr. Darwin's great work gave even that its death-blow, for hardly any one capable of judging of the evidence now doubts the derivative nature of man's bodily structure as a whole, although many believe that his mind, and even some of his physical characteristics, may be due to the action of other forces than have acted in the case of the lower animals" (S257, p. 112).
28. ibid., p. 104.