Thomas Henry Huxley

Thomas Henry Huxley

Born: 1825. Died: 1895.


Thomas Henry Huxley, the distinguished zoologist and advocate of Darwinism, madeseveral incursions into philosophy.

From his youth he had studied its problems unsystematically; he had a way of going straight to the point in any discussion; and, judged by a literary standard, he was a great master of expository and argumentative prose. Apart from his special work in science, he had an important influence upon English thought through his numerous addresses and essays on the topics of science, philosophy, religion, and politics.

Among the most important of his papers are those entitled 'The Physical Basis of Life' (1868), and 'On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata' (1874), along with a monograph on Hume (1879) and the Romanes lecture Ethics and Evolution (1893).

Huxley is credited with the invention of the term agnosticism to describe his philosophical position: it expresses his attitude towards certain traditional questions without giving any clear delimitation of the frontiers of the knowable. He regards consciousness as a collateral effect of certain physical causes, and only an effect -never also a cause. But, on the other hand, he holds that matter is only a symbol, and that all physical phenomena can be analyzed into states of consciousness. This leaves mental facts in the peculiar position of being collateral effects of something that, after all, is only a symbol for a mental fact; and the contradiction is left without remark.

His contributions to ethics are still more remarkable. In a paper entitled 'Science and Morals' (1888), he concluded that the safety of morality lay "in a real and living belief in that fixed order of nature which sends social disorganization on the track of immorality." His Romanes lecture reveals a different tone. In it the moral order is contrasted with the cosmic order; evolution shows constant struggle; instead of looking to it for moral guidance, he "repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence." He saw that the facts of historical process did not constitute validity for moral conduct; and his plain language compelled other to see the same truth. But he exaggerated the opposition between them and did not leave room for the influence of moral ideas as a factor in the historical process.

However, as "Darwin's bulldog", Huxley is best remembered today for his prominent role in defending evolution against attacks from scientists, theists, and philosophers; in fact, one might well wonder how readily the scientific establishment of England would have accepted Darwin's views without Huxley's indefatigable efforts. The point holds a certain irony, for Huxley's biological writings show much less explicit support for natural selection than for evolution itself.

Major Books of Thomas Henry Huxley

- A Critical Examination of "On The Origin of Species, 1877
- American Addresses, 1877
- Collected Essays: Vol. 1: Methods and Results, 1893-94
- Collected Essays: Vol. 2: Darwiniana, 1893-94
- Collected Essays: Vol. 3: Science and Education, 1893-94
- Collected Essays: Vol. 4: Science and Hebrew Tradition, 1893-94
- Collected Essays: Vol. 5: Science and Christian Tradition, 1893-94
- Collected Essays: Vol. 6: Hume, With Helps to the Study of Berkeley, 1893-94
- Collected Essays: Vol. 7: Man's Place in Nature, 1893-94
- Collected Essays: Vol. 8: Discourses Biological and Geological, 1893-94
- Collected Essays: Vol. 9: Evolution and Ethics, and Other Essays, 1893-94
- Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature, 1863
- The Oceanic Hydrozoa, 1859
- On Our Knowledge of the Causes of the Phenomena of Organic Nature, 1862
- On the Reception of the 'Origin of Species', in Francis Darwin, editor, Life & Letters of Charles Darwin 1 and 2, 1887

Major Articles of Thomas Henry Huxley

- 1855, On Certain Zoological Arguments Commonly Adduced in Favour of the Hypothesis of the Progressive Development of Animal Life in Time, Proceedings of the Royal Institution
- 1857, Untitled Letter on Theory of Glaciers, Philosophical Magazine
- 1860, On Species, and Races and Their Origin, Proc. Roy. Inst.
- 1860, The Origin of Species, Westminster Review
- 1861, On the Zoological Relations of Man With the Lower Animals, Natural History Review
- 1862, On the Fossil Remains of Man, Proceedings of the Royal Institution
- 1864, Further Remarks on the Human Remains From the Neanderthal, Natural History Review
- 1870, Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews

Quotes from Thomas Henry Huxley

- "The chessboard is the world; the pieces are the phenomena of the universe; the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance." (from "Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews", 1870)

- "Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority, the cherishing of the keenest skepticism, the annihilation of the spirit of blind faith." (from "Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews", 1870)

- "The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification." (from "Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews", 1870)

- "Like all compulsory legislation, that of Nature is harsh and wasteful in its operation. Ignorance is visited as sharply as willful disobedience-incapacity meets with the same punishment as crime. Nature's discipline is not even a word and a blow, and the blow first; but the blow without the word. It is left to you to find out why your ears are boxed." (from "Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews", 1870)

- "If individuality has no play, society does not advance; if individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes." (from "Administrative Nihilism", 1871)

- "The great tragedy of Science-the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact." (from "Critiques and Addresses", 1873)

- "History warns us that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions." (from "Science and Culture and Other Essays", 1881)

- "Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors." (from "Science and Culture and Other Essays", 1881)

- ""Learn what is true in order to do what is right" is the summing up of the whole of duty of man." (from "Science and Culture and Other Essays", 1881)

- "I am too much of a skeptic to deny the possibility of anything." (from a letter to Herbert Spencer, 1886)

- "The foundation of morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying" (from "Essays Upon Some Controverted Questions, 1893)

- "If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?" (from "Collected Essays", 1895)

- "Truly it has been said, that to a clear eye the smallest fact is a window through which the Infinite may be seen." (from "Discourses, Biological and Geological Essays", 1896)

- "Economy does not lie in sparing money but in spending it wisely." (from "Aphorisms and Reflections")

- "True science and true religion are twin sisters, and the separation of either from the other is sure to prove the death of both. Science prospers exactly in proportion as it is religious; and religion flourishes in exact proportion to the scientific depth and firmness of its basis." (from "Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical" by Herbert Spencer)


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