Part 2: Section 3 - The Consequences for Philosophy
PHILOSOPHY IS NOT A POPULAR SUBJECT. I ONCE OFFERED THE manuscript of a book to a publisher. The word "philosophy" appeared in the title. The publisher accepted the book, but said that the word "philosophy" must be expunged from the name of it. This, he said, must be done in order "to take the curse off it." If, on the other hand, I could introduce the word "science" into the title, the book might sell like hot cakes. For everyone knows that whatever science says is both true and wonderful, whereas the thoughts of philosophers, besides being dull, are idle speculaations. If, in an average class of students any question is being discussed and someone says "but science says so and so," that is thought at once to settle the matter finally.
There are many causes of the unpopularity of philosophy. Only one of them is relevant to our inquiries in this book. Philosophy in the original sense of the word, as it was understood for example by Socrates and Plato, had a direct relevance to life. Socrates and Plato were both concerned with discovering what the good life is and how to lead it. But—according to the current accusations—the academic philosophers of today do not concern themselves with the question of a way of life. Indeed many of them despise such a question—at any rate if it is thought to be a part of the kind of philosophy which should be taught in a university. Is it
not the business of preachers rather than of scholars? Academic philosophers—so the accusation goes on—nowadays discuss only a variety of intellectual puzzles which have no importance at all. They may be interesting or amusing to a certain type of mind which is fortunately not very common, in the same way as crossword puzzles are interesting or amusing to certain people. But the typical so-called philosophical problem of the textbooks is like the cross-word puzzle in the respect that its solution does not really matter to anybody.
It will be relevant to our purposes to give one or two examples.
A philosopher will assert that it is impossible to prove by any logical argument that the sun will rise tomorrow. Everyone, including the philosopher, knows that it will rise. That is not the question which the philosopher proposes to discuss. The question is whether it can be "proved" that the sun will rise. Hume in the eighteenth century thought that he had proved that this cannot be proved. A large number of philosophers during the last two centuries have spent major portions of their lives trying to discover a proof of it, so as to refute Hume. Other philosophers since his time have agreed with him. The dispute is still going on in philosophy lecture halls all over the world.
Again, a philosopher will assert that it cannot be proved by any logic that a stone or any other material object continues to exist when no one is actually looking at it or perceiving it with any of his senses. Everyone knows that it does. That is not the question. The question is whether it can be proved. And this dispute, like the one about the rising of the sun, has been going on for centuries, and philosophers still range themselves on one side or other of the question.
Another famous philosophical problem is whether anyone can know that any person other than himself "has a mind." I know that I have a mind because I am conscious. But how can I know that my mother is conscious or has a mind? She might be an automaton cleverly constructed by nature to behave as if she had a consciousness inside her. It might be the case that I am the only conscious mind in the universe. This view—that I am the only
mind in existence—has even been dignified by philosophers with a special label—solipsism. No philosopher so far as I know, has ever gone to the length of believing in solipsism. They all know that other people have minds, just as everyone else knows it. That is not the question. The question is how, or whether, it can be proved.
At the present moment there is a highly influential school of philosophers who hold that the only business of philosophy is to discuss the different meanings which common words have, and that philosophy is, or should be, only concerned with verbal questions. They discuss, for example, whether seeing a color ought to be called having a visual "sensation," or whether only things like headaches or being tickled by a feather ought to be called sensations.
The general public is inclined to turn with disgust from such questions, which they regard as nothing but trifling, although they have now been given by academic minds the august name which was once reserved for the profound thoughts of genuinely wise men.
In these accusations against the philosophy of the university lecture halls there is a measure of truth. Nevertheless they do not tell the whole story, and in my opinion they seriously misrepresent the truth. I shall begin this chapter by trying to present a conception of philosophy which will exhibit both the truth and the untruth of these criticisms. I shall do this, not for the purpose—itself rather academic—of giving a correct definition, or description, of what philosophy is, but because in my opinion it is impossible to understand how the modern mind has grown to be what it is without understanding the part which philosophy has played in it. And we cannot understand this unless we have a just conception of the nature of philosophy. In my view the philosophy of a people or an age is an integral part of its culture and its spiritual life. Therefore if one does not understand its philosophy one can have but a maimed view of its culture. No one would deny that religious and moral ideas are of vital importance in a culture. I shall try to show that philosophical ideas are just
as important. If you want to understand an age you have to underrstand its philosophy just as much as you have to understand its art, its literature, its science. Indeed its philosophy is perhaps a better key for unlocking the secrets of its Weltanschauung than either its art or its literature. But this could not be the case if philosophy were nothing but a collection of curious verbal puzzzles which have no bearing on life. There must therefore be something wrong with the conception of philosophy which has given rise to the sort of criticisms referred to above. We have to substitute a juster conception.
It is true that, on the surface, philosophy may look like a collection of unimportant puzzles, the mere acrobatics of agile minds. It is true that philosophers themselves sometimes view it in this light. It is true that some philosophers spend their whole lives in attempting to solve such puzzles. But if you look below the surface you will find that something different is going on—and I think that many philosophers themselves do not see it—which is what I want to display.
Each age, each culture, has its own peculiar imaginative world-picture, its Weltanschauung. Let us first consider what a Weltannschauung is, and how it expresses itself. As it exists in the minds of the majority of the people who are the bearers of the culture it may be said to consist in a welter of essentially vague ideas and feelings about the nature of the world, man's relation to the world, his place in the scheme of things, his destiny, his attitudes towards himself and his cosmic environment, his feeling of what he ought to do, what part he ought to play, in this cosmic environment. As it exists in the minds of the majority, it is a sort of formless and chaotic mass. But in the minds and the work of a few individuals it takes on definite forms. And it, that is to say one and the same Weltanschauung, takes different forms for different kinds of mind. It manifests itself differently in the main cultural activities of the age or culture, that is to say in its art, its literature, its religion, and finally its philosophy. Thus the art, literature, religion, and philosophy of an age are like the branches of a single tree, spring-
ing from a single root and trunk. It is the same life, the same sap, which is in them all.
The art, literature, religion, and philosophy of a period are, of course, all different from one another. The differences lie in the media through which the content of the Weltanschauung is expressed. For instance, the contrast between the art and literature, on the one hand, and the philosophy, on the other, may be roughly described by saying that the same ideas appear in a sensuous form, in colors, and sounds, in images, myths, or stories, in art and literature, while they appear in the form of abstract thought in philosophy. Philosophy is the crystallization into abstract intelllectual propositions of the same ideas which are the lifeblood of art and literature, but which in them appear in non-abstract, that is to say, in concrete and sensuous shapes. In a novel an idea may be exemplified by a story. In philosophy it may appear as a theory. For instance, a philosopher may put forward the proposition that the universe is not governed by any purpose. The same idea may appear in a novel in the frustrations and feelings of futility of its characters. Or the philosophical theory of determinism may appear in a drama in a sense of helplessness in the face of some overmastering fate which is felt by the dramatis personae or illustrated by the denouement. Something of this sort may be the meaning of some of the great tragedies of the world's literature. Man feels helpless before some power. His struggles avail nothing. The power may be envisaged as Fate, as chance, as necessity, or even as God. In the philosophy of the modern age it tends to be a determinist theory of the world.
This is why I suggested that the philosophy of a period may be a better key to the understanding of its Weltanschauung than its art or literature is. For in the latter it takes the form of feelings and images which are still relatively vague and confused. But in philosophy it takes, or at least attempts to take, the form of clear statements. The philosopher's effort is thus seen as an attempt to analyze and make clear the vague floating ideas of his age. Not that he usually consciously intends to do this. He may very well
deny that he is doing it, and may put forward some quite different conception of his function and of the nature of philosophy. But we must be cultural determinists at least to the extent of believing that the spirit of an age overrules the conscious intentions of the philosopher and forces itself into his intellectual constructions.
It is not meant, of course, to deny that the philosopher may be highly original. Nor is it meant to assert that all the philosophers of a period are saying identically the same thing. Each has his own contributions to make. Each expresses the spirit of his time in his own individual way. The case is here the same as it is in the world of art. We may recognize that the different artists of a school, a period, a culture, all breathe a similar spirit, have a certain over-all resemblance. Yet each may have his own peculiar vision. So too it is in the sphere of poetry. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats, are all very different from one another, and each is highly original Yet they are all romantic poets, and romanticism is, or expresses—as we shall see later—a specific world-view which they all share. Among the philosophers of the modern period Hobbes is very different from Hume, Hume from Comte, Comte from Vaihinger, Vaihinger from the pragmatists, the pragmatists from the positivists. One and all have original viewpoints. Yet there is a sense in which they are all saying the same thing, all expressing the same world-view, each in his own terms. If we take a rapid survey of the philosophy of the modern period, from Descartes to the present day, we seem at first sight to have before us a chaos of conflicting opinions about everything. Indeed this is often made a reproach against philosophy. But if we look below the surface, we shall find that there is a pattern; and I hope in the following pages to show this pattern.
But if it is true that philosophy is thus an integral part of cullture, and that the philosophy of an age expresses and contributes to the solution which the age gives to the great questions about the nature of the world and of human life, how does it come about that philosophy, at any rate in the modern period, appears on the surface as nothing but a collection of unimportant logical puzzles and conundrums such as those which were illustrated at the begin-
ning of this chapter? How does it come about that to many philosophers themselves it seems to be only concerned with the meanings of words? They probably would not refer to their verbal puzzles as "unimportant," because they would say that the problems which they discuss are of interest, and therefore of importance, to them, just as some mathematical abstraction which has no known practical application may be considered important by the mathematician. But they do very frequently apply the word "puzzle" to their special problems. I have not chosen this word myself as a means of belittling their efforts. I have selected it because it is a favorite word which many philosophers of the present day themselves use for the problems on which they are engaged. And they would insist that whether their puzzles have any reference to life or not does not concern them. They are like some of those "pure" mathematicians who take delight in the fact that the world of abstractions in which they live seems to be wholly cut off from practical affairs. How has this state of affairs in philosophy come about, and how is it consistent with the view of the nature and function of philosophy which I have expressed?
There are two points to be considered. The first concerns the application of philosophical ideas to life. Ought we always to insist that these ideas, and the studies which philosophers make of them, must have relevance to life? The second question concerns the alleged triviality of many of their inquiries, for instance those which are admittedly concerned only with the meanings of words, or with what are called "verbal questions."
In regard to the first question, the practical applications of an idea—whether it is a philosophical, a mathematical, or a scientific idea—are not the only proper reasons for studying it. There is such a thing as knowledge for its own sake, and it is a perfectly legitimate human motive. Knowledge for its own sake means, of course, knowledge which is sought regardless of whether it has any practical applications or not. And if there did not exist men in whom it is the chief, or even the sole, motive for research and study, science and philosophy alike would dry up at their sources. And even those who value knowledge only for its practical uses
ought to recognize that the very knowledge which they thus value was for the most part originally obtained by the kind of man who does not care whether it has any practical uses or not. Nearly all the great discoveries of science have been made by men whose only motive was a great hunger for knowledge, a vast wonder and curiosity about the workings of nature, which they desired to satisfy for its own sake. Witness the importance of what is called "basic research" in science. This is nearly all done by men who are not much interested in practical applications, or at least by men who do not regard the practical applications as being part of their business.
It may also be urged that even if the knowledge which they acquire had not, and never could have, any practical utility at all, yet to seek it is a noble end which belongs to man's spiritual life, and is one of the things which set human beings above animals. Bertrand Russell has written: "We must free our minds from the prejudices of what are wrongly called 'practical men.' The 'practical' man, as the word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind." Knowledge, apart from its practical uses, is—like art, literature, poetry, religion—one of the things which set men free from the narrow and confining life of the senses, and from the feverish pursuit of selfish personal ends.
There is therefore a place, in philosophy as well as in science, for the man who devotes his whole life to the examination and discussion of questions which may seem useless to men whose interests lie in more practical spheres. And even if one thinks—as I do—that the ultimate justification of philosophy lies in the contributions it can make to the good life, it is narrow and intolerant to be impatient with such men. And if something of their spirit is imparted in philosophy courses to students who, when they leave the university, will be engaged in practical activities,
1 The Problems of Philosophy (Home University Library Series; New York: Henry Holt & Co.), chapter 15.
this is all to the good. It will act as a leaven in lives which might otherwise become wholly absorbed in material things.
It may be said that the verbal or logical puzzles which so many philosophers discuss cannot be compared to the great questions regarding the nature of the universe which scientists seek to solve. Both may no doubt be studied for their own sakes with no regard to practical applications. But the problems of the pure scientist are at least great questions. The study of galactic systems other than our own can hardly have any practical use; or at least none is visible at present. But there is something about the contemplation of such matters which is great and ennobling. The same is true in greater or less degree of the studies of the chemist, the physicist, the geologist. They at least open up vistas to the human mind. But the "puzzles" characteristic of the philosopher may seem by comparison utterly trivial. How can the question whether seeing a color ought to be called a sensation, or whether that word properly applies only to headaches and ticklings, enlarge the mind? This brings us to the second question we were to discuss, the alleged triviality of many philosophical problems.
The answer to this is—in my view—as follows. It has been found, over and over again, that the solutions of the Big Quesstions—whether the world has a plan or purpose, whether it is run by an overruling Mind, what is the destiny of man in the universe—turn upon points which may seem to those who are not trained in philosophy to have no bearing upon them at all, points which, if taken by themselves, may seem trivial and picayune. I will give one or two notable illustrations of this.
The question whether seeing a color is properly called a sensaation or not is relevant to, and has a powerful bearing upon, the problem whether the universe is ultimately governed by an over-ruling Mind or is entirely controlled by blind physical forces. This comes about in the following way. Berkeley tried to defend religion against materialism by showing that there are no such things as dead substances, but that the universe is really composed of nothing but minds, including the mind of God, and their "ideas" or sensations. If this is true, then it is mind, not matter,
which rules the world. And anyone can see how such a philosophy tends to support the religious view of things. A part, indeed the greater part, of Berkeley's argument consisted in trying to prove that what we call dead things, gross material objects, are ideas or sensations in the minds of men and ultimately in the mind of God. To show this he argued that all the qualities of material objects, such as their color, taste, smell, shape, hardness or softness, hotness or coldness, are sensations. For sensations, it seemed obvious to him, can only exist in conscious minds. We should all admit that headaches, itchings, tickling sensations, and pains could not exist unless there were a consciousness to feel them. Tickling, as Galileo observed, is not in the feather which tickles us. It is in us. Hence if colors, shapes, heat and cold, hardness and softness, are sensations in the same sense as ticklings and itchings are, this will go a long way to show that something like Berkeley's idealistic philosophy might be near the truth. And this in turn would tend to support the religious view of the world. This enables us to see at once how important this verbal "puzzle" about sensations really is.
Another outstanding example of how what seems a mere barren conundrum may affect the Big Questions is found in the philossophy of Kant. Kant, like Berkeley—though through quite a different train of thought—sought to find a place for religion and morality in a world from which science seemed to be banishing them. He sought to defend the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality, against a non-religious, deterministic philosophy which he saw was developing as a result of Newtonian science. He found that, in order to give a logical foundation to his own philosophy, in which room was to be found for these religious and moral ideas, it was necessary for him to discuss the nature of a simple arithmetical equation such as 7 + 5 = 12. The question he raised about arithmetic was this. Of course we know that 7 + 5 = 12. Nobody, least of all Kant, doubts this. But how do we know it? Do we know it merely as a result of knowing the meanings of the words used in the equation? If you know what the words "seven" and "five' and "twelve' and "plus mean, can you, withhout having any other source of knowledge, thereby know that the phrase "seven plus five" means the same thing as the word "twelve"? Put in another way the question is: does the knowledge that the equation is true follow from the definitions of the terms used in it?
Kant argued that we cannot know the truth of the equation merely by knowing the definitions or meanings of the words which are employed in it. For neither the meaning of the word "seven," nor that of "plus," nor that of "five," nor that of the combination of all three words, contains or implies the meaning of the word "twelve." He said that in order to know that 7 + 5 = 12, there must exist a special power in the mind which does not consist merely in understanding the meanings of words. This led him to believe that he had discovered—by means of a line of thought which is too complicated to reproduce here—something very important about the nature of mind, namely, that it is mind which, in some sense, makes, or at least helps to make, the world we live in—a conclusion not wholly unlike that of Berkeley, though it would be a mistake to press very far the resemblance between two philosophers who are in most respects very unlike one another.
Most philosophers now think, perhaps rightly, that Kant was mistaken in his view about how we know the truth of arithmetical propositions. The point, however, is this. How we know that 7 + 5 = 12 seems a question which is utterly trivial and acaademic. We certainly do know it, just as we know that material objects exist when no one is perceiving them, or that the sun will rise tomorrow. What difference, then, can it make how we know it? The answer is that Kant uses his solution of this question as an entering wedge for his whole theory of the nature of the universe. This is one of the hinges on which his philosophy turns. If he is wrong about arithmetic, this does not of course show that God, freedom, and immortality, are not real. But it does show that at least one avenue to belief in them—the avenue which Kant
thought he had opened up—is a false trail. In this way the problem how we know the truth of arithmetic achieved enormous importance in the history of human thought.
This partly answers our question about the alleged triviality of many of the problems which philosophers discuss. But not entirely. For if they always discussed these little conundrums only as a means towards the solution of the Big Questions—as Kant did—they would be fully justified by what has just been said. But this is not the case. What they seem to be doing for the most part is to detach the little conundrums from the Big Questions, and to discuss them as ends in themselves. Their original importance is forgotten, and they sink to the level of professional disputes. For instance, to this day the question how we know that 7 + 5 = 12 is debated in philosophy lecture rooms. Practically never is its original connection with God, freedom, and immortality pointed out or remembered. The professor treats it as an interesting puzzle. In the discussion of it he becomes involved in a maze of logical refinements, semantics, and verbal distinctions. Each separate maze becomes a new puzzle, which in turn generates more puzzles. The whole question becomes a game played for its own sake.
This is no doubt regrettable. It is one of the causes why philosophy, once regarded as the crown of knowledge, gains few students in the universities, and is practically ignored by the general public. Yet we must remember that even the exploration of logical puzzles has a certain right to be pursued as a part of the search for pure truth. Philosophy, like any other human enterprise, is subject to the principle of the division of labor. In the manufacture of automobiles there are men who spend their whole lives in the construction of single minute parts, and have but little conception of the relation of these parts to the whole machine. The over-all plan is the work of a few superior minds. Ought we not to expect the same thing in the construction of great world-philosophies? Of these the great engineers are the Platos, the Aristotles, the Kants. But the work of the little logical puzzlers contributes in the end to their great designs.
The conception of philosophy which I have here suggested sees it as ultimately concerned with the great questions of the nature of the world, the nature of man, the place of man in the universe, the good life. And if this is correct, then the Weltanschauung of an age, its beliefs about these ultimate problems, will find expression in the art, the literature, the science, the religion, and the philosophy of the age. Philosophy will be the abstract expression, in the form of intellectual propositions, of ideas which appear elsewhere in the form of myths, stories, images, feelings, and picture-thinking. This view finds room for the technical disputes of the professionals, but it regards them as means to greater ends, not as ends in themselves.
Armed with this view, let us begin our attempt to see how the philosophy of the modern period reflects that period's essential beliefs about the nature of the world, about God, about world-purpose, about man, his ideals and aspirations. We shall then see what its place in the development of the modern mind has been.
In the preceding pages I have emphasized that the typical characteristics of the modern mind are its loss of effective belief in God, the practical disappearance of the teleological view of the world, its denial that the world is a moral order, and its consequent ethical relativism. This is quite correct, but nevertheless the picture drawn has been one sided. It has exhibited only the main current of modern thought. There have been, of course, other currents, running sometimes in an opposite direction. There have always been, and still are, religious men, or men whose fundaamental attitudes to the world are religious, whether or not they happened to profess any particular creed or brand of theology. This observation refers primarily to the masses of men to whom philosophy, in the technical sense of the term, is a sealed book. But the same is true of technical philosophers. Though the most typical representatives of philosophy in the modern world have been inspired by the world-view derived from science, there have been, among philosophers, many protests and reactions against
that view. And we have to exhibit both sides of the picture if we are really to understand what has been, and is, going on.
If we are to succeed in our attempt, we must have first an over-all picture of modern culture as a whole. We must then fit into this the particular developments of philosophy, so as to show them as integral parts of the whole picture. And in my view, modern culture as a whole, whether we think of it in terms of art, literature, or philosophy, is the arena of a vast struggle between two radically opposed views of the world, two opposite imaginative world-pictures. The history of this struggle is the history of modern thought. The two sides stem respectively from religion and science. The religious view of the world is the older, going back through the middle ages into long pre-Christian times—from which it will be seen that by "the religious view of the world" I do not mean any particular religion or creed, but someething much wider and deeper, of which perhaps different creeds are varying expressions. It still lives in the modern world, but it is increasingly challenged by the other view, which is quite recent, and which is the product, in fact, of the seventeenth century scientific revolution. For this reason I shall call the latter the scientific view of the world. The conflict between the two views is the essential conflict between science and religion, which does not therefore consist in disputes about particular dogmas of Christianity and particular discoveries of science.
It may be thought that the label "the scientific view of the world" does injustice to science, since it is not necessarily the view held by scientists themselves. But it is not meant to imply that it is actually held by all scientists, or even by a majority. The question what proportion of scientists believe in some kind of religion, what proportion disbelieve in it, and what proportion are indifferent, is irrelevant to anything except the personal biographies of scientists. Neither does our label imply that the scientific view of the world is the official view of science. Science has no official view, because the question whether the religious or the scientific view of the world is true is not a scientific, but a philosophic, question. The views of scientists on it have no more
importance or authority than their views on politics, nor are they in an way competent to decide it. Nor, finally, does our label imply that the scientific view of the world follows logically from, or is a necessary logical consequence of, anything in science. Indeed I have labored to show that this is not the case. To call it the scientific view means only that its derivation is in science, that science has been the cause of it in the manner explained in the preceding pages, that it is the set of ideas which has seeemed to the most typical minds of the modern period to represent the scientific spirit, whether in fact it does so or not. If, however, "the scientific view of the world" is thought to be an objectionable title, we may call it instead, if we like, "the naturalistic view of the world," or simply "naturalism." And I shall often use these synonyms for it in the following chapters.
Let us set out the essential ideas of the two world-pictures in tabular form so as to see their flat contradiction of one another at a glance.
The Religious View of the World
The Scientific View of the World, or Naturalism
The world is ultimately governed by spiritual forces.
The world is wholly governed by blind physical forces, such as gravitation, the laws of motion, the laws of chemical combination, etc.
The world has a purpose
The world has no purpose. . It is entirely senseless and meaningless.
The world is a moral order
The world is not a moral order. The universe is "indifferent to" values of any kind.
These propositions are not often stated, in literature, in art, or even in philosophy, in this bald and naked way. Hence we may often fail to recognize them when they appear dressed up in
other guises. But my purpose is precisely to strip them naked.
It will be noticed that, in the statement of the first religious proposition, the phrase "spiritual forces," and not the word "God," has been used. I have used the wider and vaguer phrase intentionally, because I wish to include here, not the Christian interpretation of things only, but any religious interpretation. The religious view of the world extends far beyond the confines of Christendom. This needs emphasis. The Christian peoples have no monopoly of religion. Christianity is only one particular version of the religious view of the world. And I should wish to emphasize that that view is a part of man's universal spiritual heritage, belonging to all ages and all cultures, although just recently denied in one part of the world, the West. Seeing that belief in God is central not only to Christianity, but also to Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism, though not to Buddhism, I might perhaps have used the word "God" in my formulation of the religious view of the world without any very great disadvantage. But it is apt to carry with it, in Christian countries, the suggestion that what is being talked about is the special doctrines of Christianity. Hence I have avoided it here.
The contrast between the two opposing world-views has also been made by William James, although his terminology is somewhat different from mine. He does not express it in the three pairs of contradicting statements which I have given. And he does not bring out the idea that the struggle between the two philosophies is the key to the understanding of the modern period. As to terminology, what I call "the religious view of the world" he calls "theism"—which I think has too narrow and precise a connotation. What I call "the scientific view of the world" he calls "materialism." It is worth while to quote some passages from James so that we may come to recognize the same essential sets of ideas in different forms. To be a materialist means, he says,
... explaining higher phenomena by lower ones and leaving the destinies of the world at the mercy of its blinder parts and forces .... The laws of physical nature are what run things materialism says .... Over against it stands theism [which]
says that mind not only witnesses and records things, but also runs and operates them: the world being thus guided not by its lower, but by its higher element. ...
[According to materialism] in Mr. Balfour's words: "The energies of our system will decay, the glory of the sun will be dimmed, and the earth, tideless and inert, will no longer tolerate the race which has for a moment disturbed its solitude. Man will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish .... Imperishable monuments and immortal deeds, death itself, and love stronger than death, will be as if they had not been. Nor will anything that is be better or worse for all that the labor, genius, devotion and suffering of man have striven through countless ages to effect."
This utter and final wreck and tragedy are of the essence of materialism .... It is ... not a permanent warrant for our more ideal interests, not a fulfiller of our remotest hopes.
The notion of God, on the other hand ... guarantees an ideal order that shall be permanently preserved. A world with a God in it to say the last word may indeed burn up or freeze; but then we think of him as still mindful of the old ideals and sure to bring them elsewhere to fruition. So that where he is, tragedy is only provisional . . . and shipwreck and dissolution not the absolutely final things ....
This need of an eternal moral order is one of the deepest needs of our breast.
Materialism means simply the denial that the moral order is eternal, and the cutting off of ultimate hopes; ... [Theism] means the affirmation of an eternal moral order and the letting loose of hope
I have said that the history of the modern period is the history of the struggle between these two points of view. I should now repeat that the scientific view is in some sense the typical or dominant view of the modern world. It is what is characteristic of the modern mind, what marks it off from all other periods of history. Moreover, although no one can predict the future, it appears—to the present writer at least—to be gradually winning out over its antagonist. It has, on the whole, steadily increased its hold on the
2 William James, Pragmatism (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1928), chapter III. Quoted by permission of Longmans, Green & Co., Inc. Copyright 1907.
modern mind during the last three hundred years. It has not indeed registered a continuous and uninterrupted advance. The battle lines have wavered. The seventeenth century saw its birth. The eighteenth century was the age of its triumph. The nineteenth century was mostly a time of reaction against it, taking the form of romanticism in art, music, literature, and philosophy. The twentieth century has witnessed the decline of romanticism, the strong resurgence of the scientific view of the world. We are now once more in its grip. There are still reactions and protests, but their authors seem to be fighting a losing battle. This is not meant as a value judgment. It is not intended to imply that the scientific view, because it is winning, is therefore right or true. I make at present no implications one way or the other about this. I make only what seems to me to be a correct interpretation of historical events. In spite of the nineteenth century reaction against it, which failed—in the sense that romanticism has not endured or been replaced by any other expression of the religious view—the scientific view appears to be the dominating and overpowering intellectual force of the present day.
We must now try to show in some detail what role philosophy has played in this conflict. My contention will be that, if we ignore the technicalities of the philosophers of the modern period, if we cut through all that and get to their centers, we shall find that most of them can be classified under one of two heads. Either their philosophies, stripped of unessentials, express a vision of the world which is the scientific picture, or they express the religious picture. They may be unconscious of their central impelling visions, or they may be conscious of them. Both are dominated by science, the first because they are expressing the scientific view of the world, the second because their motive is a reaction against it. Both therefore illustrate the domination of the modern mind by science, the one by supporting, the other by opposing, the view of the world which has been derived from it. The major philosophers may accordingly be classified as shown in the following table.
|Philosophies which express the scientific view of the world
||Philosophies of reaction and protest in favour of the religious view of the world
Hegel and the post-Kantian idealists
The logical positivists (e.g., Schlick, Ayer, Carnap)
The British and American absolute idealists (e.g., Bradley, Bosanquet, Royce)
There are several general remarks to be made about this broad scheme before it is explained in detail.
The left-hand column gives the dominant trend of the modern world. For a brief period in the nineteenth century the tendencies represented by the philosophers of the right-hand column regained a temporary ascendancy in Hegel, the post-Kantian idealists, romanticism, and the British and American absolute idealists. This ascendancy was lost again at the beginning of the present century.
We note that Descartes appears in both columns. His correct position is doubtful, and there might be justification for placing him only in the left-hand column. But some elements of both points of view are mixed in his philosophy. His ambiguous posiition is due to the fact that he lived at the very beginning of the modern period (1596-1650). In his time the lines of demarcation between the two views of the world had not been clearly drawn. The dominant tendencies of the modern mind had not been clearly formulated. The opposition of the two views had not crystallized. The battle lines were still confused. Hence it is not surprising that Descartes should appear sometimes to be in the one camp, sometimes in the other.
In a classification such as ours we must not expect great exacti-
tude. It is not meant to be a rigid scheme with watertight compartments into which every philosopher will neatly fit. History is fluid and overflows boundaries. We must not try to force it onto any Procrustean bed. We are only dealing with general drifts and tendencies, and must expect to find exceptions and cases which are difficult to classify. For instance, Kant is difficult to classify because of the all-embracing character of his thought in which every side of modern culture is synthesized. He was not a one-sided, but a many-sided thinker. A case could be made out for putting him, like Descartes—although for quite different reasons—in both columns. For he tried to express in his philosophy both the naturalistic and the religious standpoints, and to reconcile them. But because he saw clearly—indeed was the first to see clearly—that the naturalistic view was undermining religion and morality, and was disturbed by this, and because one of the main motives of his philosophy was to find a place in a naturalistic world-view for "God, freedom, and immortality" without destroyying or whittling down the claims of the scientific view of the world, it seems better to place him on the side of the protests and reactions. He did not protest against the naturalistic view as such. On the contrary, he supported it to the limit. But he sought, in spite of this, to find a theory of the world in which there should still be room for religion and morality.
Another difficult case is John Locke, whom I have omitted altogether. His philosophy is a direct product of the new science, yet it does not show the characteristic marks of the scientific view of the world as listed in the right-hand column on page 143. But neither does it show any strong religious bent, although—following the fashion of the time—he produces a "proof" of the existence of God, and subscribes to conventional theological doctrines. He does not perceive the essential antagonism of the two world-views, perhaps because he lived, like Descartes, too early.
Neither Spinoza nor Leibniz fits easily into the classification.
Spinoza was a naturalist and determinist, yet the spirit of his philosophy was deeply religious, even mystical. Leibniz also combines elements of the naturalistic and religious viewpoints.
Vaihinger appears on our list, but it might be objected that he is not, in any sense, one of the great philosophers of the modern period. He is a relatively minor figure. This is probably true, but it happens that he illustrates very well some of the major tendencies of early twentieth century thinking. For this reason he is included.
Pragmatism, which is thought by many to be the characteristic philosophy of twentieth century America, is left out. The trouble with it is that it can be quoted on either side of the great debate. Indeed it seems that it can be quoted on any side of any debate. For its major doctrine is that we ought to hold as true whatever beliefs on any subject are most advantageous to us in the long run; and everyone is, of course, inclined to maintain that his own opinions on any matter are the most advantageous. Temperament, according to William James, decides, and should decide, the question. Hence pragmatists may appear either on the side of religion or against it, according to the temperament of the particular pragmatist. Accordingly, James produced a religious version of pragmatism, while Dewey has produced a naturalistic version. It is really impossible to classify so protean a philosophy in any way.
Thus we see that our classification pretends to be neither exhaustive nor exact. The battle between the religious and the scientific viewpoints is not unfairly represented by Matthew Arnold's lines:
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
It is impossible to draw sharp lines. Yet if the reader should at this stage be inclined to conclude that our classification can have no value, I hope to show by the further elaboration of detail that this is incorrect, and that there is important significance in the picture of the general trends of modern thinking given in the scheme which I have proposed. To see this we must turn to the details.