Motherhood and the Ascent of Man

Thomas Dixon

in The Invention of Altruism

Published by British Academy

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9780197264263
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734816 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs

Motherhood and the Ascent of Man

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This chapter looks at three different ways that evolutionary science developed from the 1880s onwards to give rise to some quite different visions of altruism—including those which featured in two of the best-selling non-fiction works of the 1890s. Henry Drummond’s The Ascent of Man (1894) provided a theistic version of human evolution dominated by motherhood and altruism. Benjamin Kidd’s Social Evolution (1894) endorsed August Weismann’s rejection of the inheritance of acquired characteristics and consequently argued that increased altruism could only be guaranteed by the cultural impact of religion rather than by heritable moral improvements in the race. Nonetheless, advocates of eugenics continued to put forward proposals for how to achieve moral progress through selective human breeding. Despite their scientific and political differences, these writers all agreed about the desirability of altruism and shared the hope that it might somehow be increased.

Keywords: Henry Drummond; The Ascent of Man; Benjamin Kidd; Social Evolution; moral progress; altruism; eugenics

Chapter.  19063 words.  Illustrated.

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