RECORD: Cobbe, Frances Power. 1883. [Recollection of Darwin]. Agnostic morality. Contemporary Review 43 (June): 783-94, p. 787.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed and edited by John van Wyhe 10.2022. RN1

NOTE: See the record for this item in the Freeman Bibliographical Database by entering its Identifier here. The editors of the Correspondence vol. 18, p. xviii: "Darwin was also encouraged to expand his discussion of mind and morals by the religious writer and philanthropist Frances Power Cobbe. At Cobbe's suggestion, Darwin read some of Immanuel Kant's Metaphysics of ethics, and he remarked on the contrast between the 'great philosopher looking exclusively into his own mind', and himself, 'a degraded wretch looking from the outside thro' apes & savages at the moral sense of mankind' (letter to F. P. Cobbe, 23 March [1870?]). Cobbe accused Darwin of smiling in his beard with such remarks, and urged, 'are you never going to unite your lines of thought & let us see how metaphysics & physics form one great philosophy?' (letter from F. P. Cobbe, 28 March [1870?])." This was reprinted in Titus Munson Coan ed., Topics of the time. Questions of belief. New York: Putnam's sons, pp. 65-6.

[page] 787

When Mr. Darwin did me the honor to send me the advance sheets of his "Descent of Man," wherein he first clearly broached this theory, I wrote to him that, in my humble judgment, the doctrine, if ever generally accepted, would sound the knell of the virtue of mankind. Mr. Darwin smiled in his usual kind way at my fanaticism, as he doubtless deemed it; but so far am I from retracting that judgment, that I am more than ever convinced, after ten years' observation, that this doctrine is a deadly one, paralyzing moral activity, and, in the long run, bringing on the spiritual death of Atheism. It may be of some interest to mention that when preparing this book, Mr. Darwin told me he had never read Kant, and accepted with reluctance the loan which I pressed on him of Semple's translation of the "Metaphysic of Ethics." He returned it in a few days, after, I believe, a cursory inspection.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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