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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Morley   17 April 1871

Flexford House, | near Guildford.

April 17. 1871.

Dear Sir,

I am extremely gratified to find that my effort to present a faithful analysis of your views on the Moral Sense has been satisfactory to you.1

I don’t think Mr. Mill’s expressions in pp. 45 and 46 point to any fundamental difference between him and yourself. He admits that the moral faculty is capable of springing up “spontaneously” in “a certain small degree” (p. 45 of Utilitarianism), and this is as much as you want, is it not?2 Perhaps he wd. hold that the great force of Association over the principles of human nature came into effective play, at a somewhat earlier stage than you wd. be inclined to allow.3 But I see nothing in what you have written to make me suppose that you wd. deny the preponderant power of Association in shaping the social instinct, granting that to be an ultimate and insoluble fact in human nature.

I don’t know whether you are indignant or amused at writers who call you reckless for broaching new doctrines as to the moral sense, at a time when Paris is aflame, and we have republican meetings in the Old Bailey.4 Burke was no doubt in the right when he said that the consequences of assumed rights might justly be brought forward in discussing the validity of such rights, but it is a little intolerable that the consequences, or in this case the fantastically imagined consequences, shd. be brought forward as tests of the truth of scientific hypotheses.5

With many thanks for your courteous note. Believe me, my dear Sir, | Your’s very sincerely, | John Morley.


Morley refers to CD’s letter to him of 14 April [1871].
Morley refers to John Stuart Mill and Mill 1864, pp. 45–6. See letter to John Morley, 14 April [1871] and n. 5.
Morley refers to the association between the happiness of the individual and the good of the whole (see Mill 1864, p. 25).
The Times review of Descent (8 April 1871, p. 5) accused CD’s work on the evolution of moral sense of being an example of a reckless style of philosophy that ultimately weakened moral principle, a weakening that was evident in recent events in France. There was conflict in Paris between the new provisional government of France and the central committee created by the National Guard in Paris, who feared the government’s monarchist tendencies; the fighting continued from 17 March to 28 May (Dittmar 2006, pp. 110, 117, and 142). There was a meeting of self-proclaimed republicans in St James’s Hall (not the Old Bailey) on 4 April 1871 (The Times, 5 April 1871, p. 5).
In his ‘Appeal from the new to the old Whigs’, Edmund Burke states, ‘I have said, that in all political questions the consequences of any assumed rights are of great moment in deciding upon their validity’ (Burke 1834, 1: 527).


Burke, Edmund. 1834. The works of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke, with a biographical and critical introduction. 2 vols. London: Holdsworth and Ball.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Dittmar, Gérald. 2006. Une tragédie française: la commune de Paris de 1871. Paris: Editions Dittmar.

Mill, John Stuart. 1864. Utilitarianism. 2d edition. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green.


Gratified that CD approves his analysis of CD’s views of moral sense. Does not think there is a fundamental difference between J. S. Mill (Utilitarianism [1863], p. 45) and CD.

His view of those who object to CD’s "new doctrine of the moral sense".

Letter details

Letter no.
John Morley, Viscount Morley of Blackburn
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Flexford House
Source of text
DAR 88: 71–2
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7691,” accessed on 25 January 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19