Progress and the Unfit

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Leonard Huxley
Dr. Leonard Huxley (1860 – 1933)
Arthur Keith
Sir Arthur Keith (1866 – 1955)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at South Place Institute 27 May 1926. Chaired by Sir Arthur Keith and presented by Dr. Leonard Huxley.

Present day science points to the interdependence of body and mind. The idea of a ‘soul’ is discredited. Also, it is acknowledged that quality of life can only improve when the conditions for improvement are present. These conditions are both social and biological.

As regards the latter: modern society tolerates the proliferation of the feeble minded, and so creates an ever-increasing burden for itself. Mental defectiveness is heritable, and can make no contribution to human progress. Defectives cannot protect themselves, and they procreate irresponsibly. The question of whether they should be segregated from society, or sterilised and then allowed to mingle freely in society, pertains to the complex issue of personal liberty. However, there is a strong case for arguing that epileptics, the insane and the ungovernably violent should not be allowed to reproduce. There is also a strong case for segregating those individuals who are a danger to themselves and to society.
Such measures would require coercion, and it is arguable that coercion is incompatible with morality. But this argument applies only to the person of normal intelligence, the person who is amenable to rational persuasion, whom it would therefore be immoral to coerce. Hence it does not apply to those inaccessible to reason.

Progress requires a sound biological basis on which to develop. While not inevitable, progress is more likely when this basis is strengthened by eugenical measures.

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