Darwin’s views on human compassion (you might be surprised)
Most likely, it is not the word “compassion.”
In a thoughtful article from today’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, author Paul Ekman explores a little-acknowledged side of the great empiricist. Within his commentary about the origins of biological life are Darwin’s musings about the mechanisms by which compassion emerged in intelligent organisms.
Interestingly, however, Darwin goes beyond pondering about the survival advantages of compassion, and elaborates on the development of a general compassion for all living creatures:
…Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions….This virtue [concern for lower animals], one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they extend to all sentient beings.
As Ekman notes, “Even some scientists are unaware of Darwin’s commitment to the unity of mankind, his abolitionist convictions, and his intense interest in moral principles and human and animal welfare.”