Explore Julian Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics : A Victorian perspective on Buddhism

Buddhism in Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics

Julian Huxley is part of the intellectual dynasty that was started by TH Huxley. He has more Buddhist influences than Judeo-Christian ones. \”T. H. Huxley, a paleontologist and medical doctor with a background in science, gained prominence as one of Darwin’s leading evolutionary theorists during the nineteenth century. Victorians often referred to him as the \”living embodiment of science militant,\”(8) because Huxley actually fought with modern defenders Biblical supernaturalism, all in the name science. Evolution and Ethics, a very late work of his intellectual life, shows him in a reflective, mellowed mood. This radical separation between ethical and cosmic processes, as it is often emphasized here, is not in line with \”orthodox Darwinism\”. In fact Irvine called Huxley’s attempt in this context \”a somewhat puzzling maneuver\” which is \”full to the brim of Indian mysticism\” and \”of protest against the cruelties in evolution.\” (10). However his treatment of the theme in general is not something that we should be concerned about at the moment. Huxley’s attempt to investigate the origins and basis of ethical values in an evolutionary perspective led him to conduct a brief review of the major philosophical systems that have shaped mankind’s understanding of these values. In this context, Huxley emphasized that India had given birth to a distinct outlook on life. Some of these ideas (such as karman, for instance) made an impression on him. He chose to focus on a religion of Indian origin – Buddhism – and I believe that this is a subject that deserves close attention. Buddhism is a \”system which does not know God in the Western sense, which denies man a soul, which considers the belief in eternal life a mistake and hopes of it as a sin, which rejects the efficacy of prayer and sacrifice, which tells men to look only to their own efforts for saving themselves; which, in its original purity knew nothing of vows,

Vijitharajapakse, Philosophy East and West Volume 36, No. 3 (July 1985)

The University of Hawaii Press

British views of Buddhism were surprisingly vague in the early nineteenth century. James Mill for instance, who was regarded as an \”authority\” at the time on India, did not seem to know anything definitive about the subject. His famous The History of British India, published in 1818, contains some extensive comments on India’s intellectual and cultural achievements. However, Buddhism is not mentioned anywhere. James Mill viewed India, in all but name, as the home of a single indigenous faith, Hinduism. These perceptions changed over time, thanks to the advancement of Oriental scholarship and especially Western research into Buddhist textual sources.


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