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The Sea Wolf 32







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The Sea Wolf




before he spoke. "Dye know, Hump," he said, with a slow seriousness which had in it an indefinable strain of sadness, "that this is the first time I have heard the word ethics in the mouth of a man. You and I are the only men on this ship who know its meaning." "At one time in my life," he continued, after another pause, "I dreamed that I might some day talk with men who used such language, that I might lift myself out of the place in life in which I had been born, and hold conversation and mingle with men who talked about just such things as ethics. And this is the first time I have ever heard the word pronounced. Which is all by the way, for you are wrong. It is a question neither of grammar nor ethics, but of fact." "I understand," I said. "The fact is that you have the money." His face brightened. He seemed pleased at my perspicacity. "But it is avoiding the real question," I continued, "which is one of right." "Ah," he remarked, with a wry pucker of his mouth, "I see you still believe in such things as right and wrong." "But dont you?--at all?" I demanded. "Not the least bit. Might is right, and that is all there is to it. Weakness is wrong. Which is a very poor way of saying that it is good for oneself to be strong, and evil for oneself to be weak-- or better yet, it is pleasurable to be strong, because of the profits; painful to be weak, because of the penalties. Just now the possession of this money is a pleasurable thing. It is good for one to possess it. Being able to possess it, I wrong myself and the life that is in me if I give it to you and forego the pleasure of possessing it." "But you wrong me by withholding it," I objected. "Not at all. One man cannot wrong another man. He can only wrong himself. As I see it, I do wrong always when I consider the interests of others. Dont you see? How can two particles of the yeast wrong each other by striving to devour each other? It is their inborn heritage to strive to devour, and to strive not to be devoured. When they depart from this they sin." "Then you dont believe in altruism?" I asked. He received the word as if it had a familiar ring, though he pondered it thoughtfully. "Let me see, it means something about cooperation, doesnt it?" "Well, in a way there has come to be a sort of connection," I answered unsurprised by this time at such gaps in his vocabulary, which, like his knowledge, was the acquirement of a self-read, self-educated man, whom no one had directed in his studies, and who had thought much and talked little or not at all. "An altruistic act is an act performed for the welfare of others. It is unselfish, as opposed to an act performed for self, which is selfish." He nodded his head. "Oh, yes, I remember it now. I ran across it in Spencer." "Spencer!" I cried. "Have you read him?" "Not very much," was his confession. "I understood quite a good deal of First Principles, but his Biology took the wind out of my sails, and his Psychology left me butting around in the doldrums for many a day. I honestly could not understand what he was driving at. I put it down to mental deficiency on my part, but since then I have decided that it was for want of preparation. I had no proper basis. Only Spencer and myself know how hard I hammered. But I did get something out of his Data of Ethics. Theres where I ran across altruism, and I remember now how it was used." I wondered what this man could have got from such a work. Spencer I remembered enough to know that altruism was imperative to his ideal of highest conduct. Wolf Larsen, evidently, had sifted the great philosophers teachings, rejecting and selecting according to his needs and desires. "What else did you run across?" I asked. His brows drew in slightly with the mental effort of suitably phrasing thoughts which he had never before put into speech. I felt an elation of spirit. I was groping

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