Eugenics and Society*
By Julian S. Huxley, M.A., D.Sc.
The Future of Eugenics
Eugenics, Dean Inge writes in one of his essays, is capable of becoming the most sacred ideal of the human race, as a race; one of the supreme religious duties. In this I entirely agree with him. Once the full implications of evolutionary biology are grasped, eugenics will inevitably become part of the religion of the future, or of whatever complex of sentiments may in the future take the place of organized religion. It is not merely a sane outlet for human altruism, but is of all outlets for altruism that which is most comprehensive and of longest range.
However, in addition to holding out these emotional possibilities, the eugenic movement must obey practical necessities. If it is to grow into a soul-compelling ideal, it must first achieve precision and efficiency as a branch of applied science.
At the moment, it is idle to pretend that it has advanced very far in either direction. True that to a limited number of men and women, it is already an inspiring ideal: but for the bulk of people, if not a subject for a jest, it remains either mistrusted or wholly neglected. True that, thanks to the genius of Darwin and his cousin Galton, the notion of evolutionary improvement through selection has provided a firm scientific base for eugenics, and that in recent years distinct progress has been made in applying the triumphal discoveries of modern genetics to the human species: yet for the bulk of scientists, eugenics is still hardly reckoned as a science.
It may be that, as a scientist myself, I overrate the importance of the scientific side. At any rate, it is my conviction that eugenics cannot gain power as an ideal and a motive until it has improved its position as a body of knowledge and a potential instrument of control: and in this lecture I shall endeavour to point out what, in my opinion, is the next step towards the graduation of eugenics into the dignity of an established science. It will be an inquiry into the methodology of our subject.
Social Science and Natural Science
Eugenics falls within the province of the Social Sciences, not of the Natural Sciences. It share with the rest of them a suspicion, often very frankly expressed by the pundits of more respectable branches of study, such as physics or pure biology, of being not quite scientifically respectable. Some indeed, go so far as to assert that the social sciences can never be truly scientific, and imply that they have illegitimately used the word [italics]science[end italics] in their title in order to exploit the prestige attaching to it in this scientific age.
Personally, I do not think that this criticism is justified. All young sciences are attacked by their elders on the ground of irregularity in their canons of scientific behaviour: but they cannot expect to establish rigorous canons until they are no longer young, any more than an untried adolescent can be expected to possess the assurance and practical skill of a man in the prime of life. In addition, young sciences are not merely young like young human beings owing to the accident of the date of their birth. The date of their birth is no accident: they are young because they are more complex and more difficult. Physics is an older science than biology because in physics it is easier to isolate phenomena and to discover simple but fundamental laws. The social sciences are younger than the natural sciences because of the appalling complexity of variables which make up their subject-matter.
This, however, is not all. The social sciences in certain respects differ radically from the natural sciences; they cannot expect to achieve success by applying the same simple methods as served their elder
[footnote]*The Galton Lecture, delivered before the [italics]Eugenics Society[end italics] on February 17th, 1936.
Copyright 1999-2004: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; American Philosophical Society; Truman State University; Rockefeller Archive Center/Rockefeller University; University of Albany, State University of New York; National Park Service, Statue of Liberty National Monument; University College, London; International Center of Photography; Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Berlin-Dahlem; and Special Collections, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
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