Inaugural Lecture delivered at University College on 21 Jan.
reprinted with permission from The Lancet, 29 June 1946, pp. 949–953
For academic purposes, eugenics is defined as the study of agencies
under social control that
may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either
physically or mentally. This
formula allows many different interpretations. The subject matter might
involve almost any material studied in medicine, psychology or social science.
In the light of knowledge of its frequent
misuse, inclusion of the term “racial” in the definition seems
unfortunate. A racial quality is presumably any character which differs
in frequency or which (when it is metrical) differs in average
value in two or more large groups of people. No qualities have been found
to occur in every member
of one race and in no member of another. Furthermore, as Morant (1939)
has shown in his analysis
of European populations, differences between average measurements in the
so-called races are often
much smaller than commonly supposed. The qualities by which people differ
can be treated as
legitimate material for scientific investigation without employing any
invidious concept of race.
The human race constitutes the field of eugenic inquiry.
A popular view of eugenics, which has in the past been encouraged by
propaganda groups such
as eugenic societies and human betterment foundations, implies active interference
in human reproduction. The general grounds for interference are often held
to be that civilisation has tended to
reverse the process of natural selection because the weaklings are now
being fostered at the expense
of the naturally strong. Not only are the physically and mentally inferior
prevented from perishing
in infancy by the activities of medical and social services but also, when
the weaklings grow up,
they are supposed to be more fertile than the normal. As Karl Pearson (1909)
once put it, “we
have suspended the racial purgation maintained in the less developed communities
selection.” Degeneration of the physical and mental level of civilised
peoples is believed to be
inevitable unless eugenic measures are taken to counteract it.