No. 54, February 3, 2004

Book Review by S. Uchii: Randal Keynes, Annie's Box---Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Human Evolution, Fourth Estate, 2001. (Japanese translation by M. Watanabe and T. Matsushita, Hakujitsusha, 2003)

Editor: Soshichi Uchii


Randal Keynes, Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Human Evolution, Fourth Estate, 2001. (Japanese translation by M. Watanabe and T. Matsushita, Hakujitusha, 2003)


Randal Keynes, a descendent from Charles Darwin and a relative of John Maynard Keynes, has published a fine biography of Charles Darwin, focusing on his family life and especially on his relationship with his first daughter, Annie, who died at the age of ten. Indeed, the author's detailed description (based on family documents as well as more public documents) of Charles as a husband and a father illuminates well Charles's personality in his private life. Also, Notes and detailed Index are quite useful.


However, what strikes this reviewer most is the author's presentation of Charles's consistency and persistency as regards the "continuity of man and animals", a theme explored most systematically in the Descent of Man (1871). This attitude of Darwin was obviously formed early in his career. This is abundantly clear from Keynes' description. For instance, see the following quotation from Emma's letter to Charles (23 Jan. 1839; CCD, 2.169-170):

I believe from your account of your own mind that you will only consider me as a specimen of the genus (I don't know what simia I believe). You will be forming theories about me & if I am cross or out of temper you will only consider "What does that prove". Which will be a very grand & philosophical way of considering it. (Quoted by Keynes, on 51-2)

Thus, Charles's wife Emma, even before their marriage, already knew Charles's stance as an evolutionist! And the reviewer himself found a good evidence for Charles's consideration on human morality in a Notebook, written in 1838:

Two classes of moralists: one says our rule of life is what will produce the greatest happiness.---The other says we have a moral sense.---But my view unites both & shows them to be almost identical. What has produced the greatest good or rather what was necessary for good at all is the instinctive moral senses: (& this alone explains why our moral sense points to revenge). In judging of the rule of happiness we must look far forward & to the general action---certainly because it is the result of what has generally been best for our good far back.---(much further than we can look forward: hence our rule may sometimes be hard to tell). Society could not go on except for the moral sense, any more than a hive of Bees without their instincts. (Old & Useless Notes 30, Barrett et al., 1987, 609; already quoted in Uchii 1996, 63 and also in "Darwin on the Evolution of Morality")

Charles's concern for human morality goes back to the very beginning of his theorizing on transmutation of species, evolution; and his comparison of man with bees clearly show his basic stance, consistently held throughout his career.

Apparently, the author Keynes himself was struck by similar observations. Have you noticed a strange title of chapter 4, "Young Crocodiles"? The answer becomes clear towards the end of this chapter:

Charles played often with the children when they were small. He liked to hold them, and he liked them to be close and affectionate to him. He also, though, had to cope with their furies, and comparisons came to mind when he did so. He wrote many years later in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals: 'Everyone who has had much to do with young choldren must have seen how naturally they take to biting when in a passion. It seems as instinctive in them as in young crocodiles who snap their little jaws as soon as they emerge from the egg'. (83-4)

Charles observed his own kids as an animal, just as he sees young crocodiles and observes their behavior.


Keynes's treatment of Darwin in this regard is valuable, especially because he emphasizes David Hume's influence on Darwin. Many people (including the reviewer himself) suspected this connection, but Keynes seems to be the first to try to examine it systematically. Thus on page 39, the first reference to Hume is made:

Charles was now challenging the thinking of the age on human nature. One of his guiding lights was David Hume, the Scottish philosopher of the previous century. Hume's name was not one to bandy about at the time because his sceptical treatment of religion was reckoned to be atheistical and 'obnoxious', but his Philosophical Works were in the library of the Athenaeum Club and during 1838 and 1839 Charles became familiar with all the main strands of his thinking. The unique way in which Hume combined the sharpest critical reasoning about received views with the aim of creating a 'science of man' based on common sense and empirical observation was helpful. (39)

Then, Keynes refers to Hume again, in relation to Charles's view on miracles:

In spring 1848, Charles and Emma read The Evidences of the Genuiness of the Gospels by Andrew Norton ... Charles judged Norton's book 'good' but, as he dwelt on the question of proof of the Gospel narratives, he found it more and more difficult, even giving free rein to his imagination, 'to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me'. It is important to recognise how fundamental his doubt had become. He was not concerned about what particular evidence there happened to be of Christ's miracles, but whether one could envisage any historical evidence that could ever prove that a truly miraculous occurence had taken place. This was David Hume's notorious philosophical doubt about the grounds for belief in any supernatural happening. (119)

With such a frame of mind, it should be quite hard to swallow the view of species as individually created by God. If a species is formed, it should be by natural process produced by causal mechanism, as a stone falls from a tower by gravitation, or similar phenomena far more complex than that. Charles is bound to come---whether or not he lost the beloved Annie, I would say---to the view of human morality expressed in the Descent of Man: he became a thorough naturalist.


Now the author comes to Charles's view on man (ch. 15).

In 1869, Charles decided at last that he must tackle the issue of human origins himself. ... he began work on The Descent of Man. The book ... dealt first with the animal ancestry of mankind and how we became human, and then tackled the controversial question of human race, introducing the idea of evolution by sexual selection to explain racial differences.

On the first theme, Charles thought back to Jenny the orang; he remembered his ideas about the natural origins of the moral sense, and he read David Hume's moral philosophy again. He took up Hume's suggestion that the 'social virtues' were part of our instinctive make-up rather than the product of reasoning from abstract principles, since they had a natural appeal to 'uninstructed mankind' long before we had received any 'precept or education'. He thought again about his 'natural history of babies', and remembered all he had learnt from Annie and after her death about the strength of a parent's love and how memory lasted. He wove his observations as a naturalist together with his own experiences into a view of human nature which looked beyond received ideas. (258)

Again Hume appears. But we know Charles referred to many other books on moral philosophy, including John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism (1861); and Darwin criticizes Mill's view on social feelings (of humans) by saying that Mill denied the innate character of social feelings.

but it can hardly be disputed that the social feelings are instinctive or innate in the lower animals; and why should they not be so in man? (Descent of Man, 1st ed., 71)

However, Mill's view of moral feelings is actually quite close to Hume's view, and presumably Darwin did not read Mill's text closely enough. For, in the same book Utilitarianism, Mill also argues as follows:

But there is this basis of powerful natural sentiment; and this it is which, when once the general happiness is recognized as the ethical standard, will constitute the strength of the utilitarian morality. This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind---the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful principle in human nature, ... The social state is at once so natural, so necessary, and so habitual to man, that, except in some unusual circumstances or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he never conceives himself otherwise than as a member of a body; (Utilitarianism, ch. 3)

Here, Mill comes quite close to the view that social feelings are natural, almost innate. And, later, when Mill analyzes the notion of justice (ch. 5), he describes the feeling which accompanies the idea of justice as follows:

We have seen that the two essential ingredients in the sentiment of justice are the desire to punish a person who has done harm and the knowledge or belief that there is some definite individual or individuals to whom harm has been done.

Now it appears to me that the desire to punish a person who has done harm to some individual is a spontaneous outgrowth from two sentiments, both in the highest degree natural and which either are or resemble instincts: the impulse of self-defence and the feeling of sympathy.

Thus, Mill is clearly in the camp of Hume who claims that morality has a natural basis, stems from human nature, not from any other nobler sources such as divinity or 'pure reason'; sympathy also plays a crucial role in morality. Mill was not an evolutionist, but he has clearly inherited the legacy of empiricism and naturalism from Hume (for more on this, see Uchii 1996, 25-30).

We dwelled on this, because, although Keynes's attention to Hume is important, we have to take also other related figures into consideration, in order to assess more accurately Darwin's indebtedness to Hume, as regards the nature of morality. We certainly have a lot more works to do. But one thing seems clear: Hume, Mill, and Darwin share a common tenet: morality, or moral feelings can be reduced in one way or another to a combination of non-moral elements---i.e. the elements, by themselves, are not moral---, and such elements may well be found, at least in a rudimentary form, in other animals.

But of course, there were no one before Darwin who insisted, so consistently and persistently, on the continuity of man and animal even with respect to moral faculties. And above all, Darwin pointed out how such a combination---a complex product of certain faculties---can be established in a species, in humans in particular. The key was of course natural selection, and although Darwin had some grave difficulties for explaining altruistic tendencies in man, his message was clear: human morality should be explained as an adaptation. This line of research is now continued by sociobiologists and evolutionary psycologists, among others. For an up-to-date survey of this field, the reviewer would recommend John Alcock's The Triumph of Sociobiology (Oxford Univ. Press, 2001); its Japanese translation (by Mariko Hasegawa) appeared quite recently.


Barrett, P.H. et al., eds. (1987) Charles Darwin's Notebooks, 1836-1844, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

CCD, The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Cambridge University Press, 1985-

Uchii, S. (1996) Evolutionary Theory and Ethics [in Japanese], Kyoto: Sekaishiso-sha, 1996.


THE ROAD TO THE ORIGIN, An International Symposium on Darwin

March 18 (Thu.), 2004, 2:00-5:00 pm,

at Kyoto University, Clock Tower, International Conference Hall


Randal Keynes, the author of Annie's Box, Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Human Evolution
James Moore, the author of Darwin, the Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (with A. Desmond)
Mariko Hasegawa, the author of many books and a leading figure among the Japanese evolutionary biologists


Soshichi Uchii, a maverick philosopher of science and a Darwinian

How did Darwin come to his view on the origin of species, published in 1859? Two distinguished biographers of Darwin, Randal Keynes and James Moore, together with evolutionary biologist Mariko Hasegawa, will talk about the process, the circumstances, and the significance of Darwin's theorizing on man, animals, and the whole life.

(Free, but will be conducted in English)

Last modified Dec. 1, 2008. (c) Soshichi Uchii