There is probably no limit to what science can do in the way of increasing positive excellence. Health has already been greatly improved; in spite of the lamentations of those who idealize the past, we live longer and have fewer illnesses than any class or nation in the eighteenth century. With a little more application of the knowledge we already possess, we might be much healthier than we are. And future discoveries are likely to accelerate this process enormously.
So far, it has been physical science that has had most effect upon our lives, but in the future physiology and psychology are likely to be far more potent. When we have discovered how character depends upon physiological conditions, we shall be able, if we choose, to produce far more of the type of human beings that we admire. Intelligence, artistic capacity, benevolence—all these things no doubt could be increased by science. There seems scarcely any limit to what could be done in the way of producing a good world, if only men would use science wisely.
There is a certain attitude about the application of science to human life with which I have some sympathy, though I do not, in the last analysis, agree with it. It is the attitude of those who dread what is ‘unnatural.’ Rousseau is, of course, the great protagonist of the view in Europe. In Asia, Lao-Tze has set it forth even more persuasively, and 2400 years sooner. I think there is a mixture of truth and falsehood in the admiration of ‘nature, which it is important to disentangle. To begin with, what is ‘natural?’ Roughly speaking, anything to which the speaker was accustomed in childhood. Lao-Tze objects to roads and carriages and boats, all of which were probably unknown in the village where he was born
Rousseau has got used to these things, and does not regard them as against nature. But he would no doubt have thundered against railways if he had lived to see them. Clothes and cooking are too ancient to be denounced by most of the apostles of nature, though they all object to new fashions in either. Birth control is thought wicked by people who tolerate celibacy, because the former is a new violation of nature and the latter an ancient one. In these ways those who preach ‘nature’ are inconsistent, and one is tempted to regard them as mere conservatives.
卢梭对这些东西习以为常，所以并不认为它们是违反自然的。但是，假如他在有生之年看见铁路，他无疑会大加指责。服装和烹饪由来已久，大多数提倡自然的人都不提出异议，虽然它们一致反对花样翻新。节育被当成犯罪，而独身则被宽容，因为前者是违反自然的新事物，而后者则古已有之。在所有这些方面，那些提倡‘自然’的人都是自相矛盾的，这只能使人把它们看成是守旧之士。Nevertheless, there is something to be said in their favor. Take for instance vitamins, the discovery of which has produced a revulsion in favor of ‘natural’ foods. It seems, however, that vitamins can be supplied by cod-liver oil and electric light, which are certainly not part of the ‘natural’ diet of a human being. This case illustrates that, in the absence of knowledge, unexpected harm may be done by a new departure from nature, but when the harm has come to be understood it can usually be remedied by some new artificiality. As regards our physical environment and our physical means of gratifying our desires, I do not think the doctrine of ‘nature’ justifies anything beyond a certain experimental caution in the adoption of new expedients. Clothes, for instance, are contrary to nature, and need to be supplemented by another unnatural practice, namely washing, if they are not to bring disease. But the two practices together make a man healthier than the savage who eschews both.
To respect physical nature is foolish; physical nature should be studied with a view to making it serve human ends as far as possible, but it remains ethically neither good nor bad. And where physical nature and human nature interact, as in the population question, there is no need to fold our hands in passive adoration and accept war, pestilence, and famine as the only possible means of dealing with excessive fertility. The divines say: it is wicked, in this matter, to apply science to the physical side of the problem; we must (they say) apply morals to the human side, and practice abstinence. Apart from the fact that everyone, including the divines, knows that their advice will not be taken, why should it be wicked to solve the population question by adopting physical means for preventing conception?
No answer is forthcoming except one based upon antiquated dogmas. And clearly the violence to nature advocated by the divines is at least as great as that involved in birth control. The divines prefer a violence to human nature which, when successfully pracised, involves unhappiness, envy, a tendency to persecution, often madness. I prefer a ‘violence’ to physical nature which is of the same sort as that involved in the steam engine or even in the use of an umbrella. This instance should show ambiguous and uncertain is the application of the principle that we should follow ‘nature.’
Nature, even human nature, will cease more and more to be an absolute datum; more and more it will become what scientific manipulation has made it. Science can, if it chooses, enable our grandchildren to live the good life, by giving them knowledge, self-control, and characters productive of harmony rather than strife.