S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
There is not, in my opinion, anything more mysterious in nature than this instinct in animals, which thus rises above reason and falls infinitely short of it. It cannot be accounted for by any properties in matter, and at the same time works after so odd a manner that one cannot think it the faculty of an intellectual being. For my own part, I look upon it as upon the principle of gravitation in bodies, which is not to be explained by any known qualities inherent in the bodies themselves, nor from the laws of mechanism, but, according to the best notions of the greatest philosophers, is an immediate impression from the first mover, and the divine energy acting in the creatures.
Reason shows itself in all occurrences of life; whereas the brute makes no discovery of such a talent, but in what immediately regards his own preservation or the continuance of his species. Animals in their generation are wiser than the sons of men; but their wisdom is confined to a few particulars, and lies in a very narrow compass. Take a brute out of his instinct, and you find him wholly deprived of understanding.
That which acts for an end unknown to itself, depends upon some overruling wisdom that knows that end. Who should direct them in all those ends, but He that bestowed a being upon them for those ends; who knows what is convenient for their life, security, and propagation of their natures? An exact knowledge is necessary both of what is agreeable to them, and the means whereby they must attain it, which, since it is not inherent in them, is in that wise God who puts those instincts into them, and governs them in the exercise of them to such ends.
All creatures have a natural affection to their young ones; all young ones by a natural instinct move to, and receive, the nourishment that is proper for them; some are their own physicians, as well as their own caterers, and naturally discern what preserves them in life, and what restores them when sick. The swallow flies to its celandine, and the toad hastens to its plantain. Can we behold the spiders nets, or silkworms web, the bees closets, or the ants granaries, without acknowledging a higher being than a creature who hath planted that genius in them?
No sound philosopher will confound instinct with reason because an orang outang has used a walking-stick, or a trained elephant a lever. Reason imparts powers that are progressive, and that, in many cases, without any assignable limit; instinct only measures out faculties that arrive at a certain point and then invariably stand still. Five thousand years have added no improvement to the hive of the bee, nor to the house of the beaver; but look at the habitations and the achievements of man.
To the present impulses of sense, memory, and instinct, all the sagacities of brutes may be reduced; though witty men, by analytical resolution, have chymically extracted an artificial logic out of all their actions.
The sagacities and instincts of brutes, the spontaneousness of many of their animal motions, are not explicable without supposing some active determinate power connected to and inherent in their spirits, of a higher extraction than the bare natural modification of matter.
It has been asked by men who love to perplex anything that is plain to common understandings, how reason differs from instinct; and Prior has, with no great propriety, made Solomon himself declare, that to distinguish them is the fools ignorance, and the pedants pride. To give an accurate answer to a question of which the terms are not completely understood, is impossible: we do not know in what either reason or instinct consist, and therefore cannot tell with exactness how they differ; but surely he that contemplates a ship and a birds nest will not be long without finding out that the idea of the one was impressed at once, and continued through all the progressive descents of the species, without variation or improvement; and that the other is the result of experiments compared with experiments, has grown, by accumulated observation, from less to greater excellence, and exhibits the collective knowledge of different ages and various professions.
Beasts, birds, and insects, even to the minutest and meanest of their kind, act with the unerring providence of instinct; man, the while, who possesses a higher faculty, abuses it, and therefore goes blundering on. They, by their unconscious and unhesitating obedience to the laws of nature, fulfil the end of their existence; he, in wilful neglect of the laws of God, loses sight of the end of his.