But when a dog sees another dog at a distance, it is often clear that he perceives that it is a dog in the abstract; for when he gets nearer his whole manner suddenly changes, if the other dog be a friend. A recent writer remarks, that in all such cases it is a pure assumption to assert that the mental act is not essentially of the same nature in the animal as in man. If either refers what he perceives with his senses to a mental concept, then so do both. (44. Mr. Hookham, in a letter to Prof. Max Muller, in the 'Birmingham News,' May 1873.) When I say to my terrier, in an eager voice (and I have made the trial many times), "Hi, hi, where is it?" she at once takes it as a sign that something is to be hunted, and generally first looks quickly all around, and then rushes into the nearest thicket, to scent for any game, but finding nothing, she looks up into any neighbouring tree for a squirrel. Now do not these actions clearly shew that she had in her mind a general idea or concept that some animal is to be discovered and hunted?

It may be freely admitted that no animal is self-conscious, if by this term it is implied, that he reflects on such points, as whence he comes or whither he will go, or what is life and death, and so forth. But how can we feel sure that an old dog with an excellent memory and some power of imagination, as shewn by his dreams, never reflects on his past pleasures or pains in the chase? And this would be a form of self-consciousness. On the other hand, as Buchner (45. 'Conferences sur la Theorie Darwinienne,' French translat. 1869, p. 132.) has remarked, how little can the hard- worked wife of a degraded Australian savage, who uses very few abstract words, and cannot count above four, exert her self-consciousness, or reflect on the nature of her own existence. It is generally admitted, that the higher animals possess memory, attention, association, and even some imagination and reason. If these powers, which differ much in different animals, are capable of improvement, there seems no great improbability in more complex faculties, such as the higher forms of abstraction, and self- consciousness, etc., having been evolved through the development and combination of the simpler ones. It has been urged against the views here maintained that it is impossible to say at what point in the ascending scale animals become capable of abstraction, etc.; but who can say at what age this occurs in our young children? We see at least that such powers are developed in children by imperceptible degrees.

That animals retain their mental individuality is unquestionable. When my voice awakened a train of old associations in the mind of the before- mentioned dog, he must have retained his mental individuality, although every atom of his brain had probably undergone change more than once during the interval of five years. This dog might have brought forward the argument lately advanced to crush all evolutionists, and said, "I abide amid all mental moods and all material changes...The teaching that atoms leave their impressions as legacies to other atoms falling into the places they have vacated is contradictory of the utterance of consciousness, and is therefore false; but it is the teaching necessitated by evolutionism, consequently the hypothesis is a false one." (46. The Rev. Dr. J. M'Cann, 'Anti-Darwinism,' 1869, p. 13.)


This faculty has justly been considered as one of the chief distinctions between man and the lower animals. But man, as a highly competent judge, Archbishop Whately remarks, "is not the only animal that can make use of language to express what is passing in his mind, and can understand, more or less, what is so expressed by another." (47. Quoted in 'Anthropological Review,' 1864, p. 158.) In Paraguay the Cebus azarae when excited utters at least six distinct sounds, which excite in other monkeys similar emotions. (48. Rengger, ibid. s. 45.) The movements of the features and gestures of monkeys are understood by us, and they partly understand ours, as Rengger and others declare.

The Descent of Man Page 58

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book