Galton's Naturalistic World Ignored Morality

New Scientist reports that University College London has published online what remains of Kantsaywhere, a novel by Darwin's cousin and eugenics-promoter, Francis Galton. Most of the book was destroyed by Galton's family after his death, and this article by Michael Marshall explains why:

Galton was a polymath who variously invented a system for fingerprinting, pioneered weather maps and made major contributions to social science. But his memory has been tainted by his longstanding obsession with eugenics.

Kantsaywhere is his attempt to sell the idea of eugenics to British society. It’s the story of Professor Donoghue, who arrives in the eugenic state of Kantsaywhere and must pass a series of tests in order to be accepted into the society and marry his love, Augusta Allfancy. The book recounts how Donoghue is tested for his strength, intelligence and aesthetic sense, and attempts to demonstrate that his ancestors had “good genes”.

Too much has been removed to judge the book on its literary merits…. However, even in this form, it is hard to escape a ghastly fascination with Galton’s vision of a eugenic society. What is most striking is that, in all the tests he envisions people going through before they can breed, nobody is ever tested on their sense of morality. The tests aren’t concerned with whether people are kind, sharing, empathic or cooperative. Apparently, these qualities weren’t as important to Galton’s perfect society as being able to sing in tune or write an insightful essay, both of which are systematically measured.

In that chilling disdain for emotion and feeling, Galton’s novel presaged the many inhuman horrors of the two world wars to come.

And why should a person's "sense of morality" be important? A non-physical standard of morality can't be scientifically determined, so if only what can be determined via the scientific method is real (and therefore, important), why should we be surprised when everything else, including morality, is ignored as unimportant? A strictly naturalistic world where nothing beyond the physical exists is by nature amoral.

Galton's worldview, which placed physical concerns above moral ones, did indeed "presage the many inhuman horrors" of the 20th century, and Marshall is right to be repelled by it. But if Marshall is also a proponent of naturalism, how would he argue from his perspective against Galton's beyond merely saying he finds Galton's view distasteful? How could he use the scientific method to arbitrate between their two views of the value of human beings and the question of what is important?

A scientific discussion of the world simply does not tell the whole story; it cannot tell you what ought to be done by scientists. And real trouble happens when naturalists recognize this, but rather than expand their view of what is real, they stick to naturalism and reject "ought" altogether.

(HT: Evolution News and Views)

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Amy K. Hall

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