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The Invention of AltruismMaking Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain$
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Thomas Dixon

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780197264263

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264263.001.0001

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Motherhood and the Ascent of Man

Motherhood and the Ascent of Man

(p.273) Chapter Seven: Motherhood and the Ascent of Man
The Invention of Altruism

Thomas Dixon

British Academy

This chapter looks at three different ways that evolutionary science developed from the 1880s onwards to give rise to some quite different visions of altruism—including those which featured in two of the best-selling non-fiction works of the 1890s. Henry Drummond’s The Ascent of Man (1894) provided a theistic version of human evolution dominated by motherhood and altruism. Benjamin Kidd’s Social Evolution (1894) endorsed August Weismann’s rejection of the inheritance of acquired characteristics and consequently argued that increased altruism could only be guaranteed by the cultural impact of religion rather than by heritable moral improvements in the race. Nonetheless, advocates of eugenics continued to put forward proposals for how to achieve moral progress through selective human breeding. Despite their scientific and political differences, these writers all agreed about the desirability of altruism and shared the hope that it might somehow be increased.

Keywords:   Henry Drummond, The Ascent of Man, Benjamin Kidd, Social Evolution, moral progress, altruism, eugenics

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