CHARLES DARWIN QUESTIONS FOR E335 VICTORIAN LITERATURE

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Assigned: Charles Darwin. Ch. 4 from The Descent of Man. (E-Text).

From The Descent of Man

1. What are the "social instincts" to which Darwin keeps referring? Over the first several pages of his essay (from the paragraph that begins "Sociability.- Animals of many kinds are social. . . ." and ending just before the point where the topic of discussion transitions to human beings, i.e. at "Man a social animal."), how does Darwin delineate and distinguish the social instincts, discuss their probable origin, and illustrate their practical effects upon animal behavior? How are the social instincts valuable to the survival of a given species?

2. When Darwin transitions at the paragraph beginning "Man a social animal," how does he analyze the social instincts' importance for human development? How does he define "a moral being"? How does the moral sense seem to have originated, and how does it eventually more or less triumph over stronger, yet less enduring instincts (self-preservation, hunger, etc.) In responding, consider the paragraphs up to and including the one that begins "It is obvious that every one may with an easy conscience gratify his own desires . . . ."

3. From the paragraph beginning, "Slavery, although in some ways beneficial during ancient times . . ." to and including the one beginning "We have now seen that actions are regarded by savages . . .," how does Darwin analyze the behavior and sensibilities of so-called primitive people? What can't they do that more civilized people can? But at the same time, what positive remarks does Darwin make about primitive virtues such as courage and self-sacrifice?

4. From the paragraph beginning, "Concluding remarks. . . ," how does Darwin criticize the notion that the utilitarian "greatest happiness principle" explains the development of the moral sense? Why isn't individual pleasure a sufficient vehicle for moral conduct or development? Nonetheless, to what extent does Darwin find a use for happiness in his discussion of the social instincts and morality?

5. Darwin's final remarks (starting with the paragraph "Finally, the social instincts . . ." although you might want to go back to the paragraph beginning "Not withstanding many sources . . . ") seem optimistic in tone. What does Darwin apparently with regard to humanity's future moral development? Do his remarks amount to something like a firm belief in that Victorian staple, "progress"? How do you feel about the kind of optimism he expresses -- do you find his positive take on the evolution of our moral capacities convincing? Why or why not?

Edition: Darwin, Charles. Ch. 4 from The Descent of Man (E-Text).