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Although the contemporary reaction to the implications of evolution was generally one of long-term optimism, an antithetical reaction did exist. Seen in stark terms, evolutionary theories were depressing to those who, on religious or humanitarian grounds, found the reduction of life to an irrational and brutal struggle for existence disturbing and provocative. There was, however, an important body of thought which accepted Darwin's findings without embracing the social or ethical implications of Social Darwinism. Many who studied Darwin came to the conclusion that it was possible to concede that man is an animal, but an animal capable of moral and ethical behavior, and therefore responsible to do more than involve himself in the struggle within his environment. They believed that there was evidence that man could and must impose his morality upon his environment unless he wished to lose his humanity. [excerpt]

Additional Resources

Copyrighted material from Thomas H. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays (New York: Appleton & Co., 1929), pg 46-53, 79-86, was removed from the attached text. To read an earlier edition of this volume, click here.


This is a part of Section XV: Biology and the Rise of the Social Sciences. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.