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ART IX.--METHODS OF APPROACH TO THE STUDY
THERE is an intensely dramatic aspect to the struggle of the human mind after a rational view of the world. The naïve solutions of the hylozoists seemed at first entirely satisfactory. But immediately a contradiction was noticed between the concepts of change and identity. One school demonstrated with apparent cogency that change was impossible and illusory, another that nothing was changeless except the law of change. Then followed the compromise measures of the atomists. But these in turn seemed to complicate rather than resolve, the puzzle. The skeptic had an easy time balancing one view against another, thus showing to his own satisfaction that knowledge is hopelessly involved in contradictions. The two great intellectual giants of the ancient world, Plato and Aristotle, undertook to harmonize conflicting views. They certainly made invaluable contributions to the solution of the general problem of knowledge, yet many fundamental difficulties remained, among them the one that had proved fatal to hylozoism. This one in fact has continued to the present time, while others innumerable have been added.
The old problems still call for solution. One philosophical system after another has been elaborated, each in turn seeming to be final. But in every case the hard-headed critic has found little difficulty in pointing to fatal shortcomings. These systems were each born of a crisis in which the human mind seemed driven back on itself in utter confusion. But new light or a new point of view would bring new courage and in time a new system. Never since the beginning has the skeptic been silent. With each succeeding failure he has become the more insistent. He can now apparently make out a strong case against the presumptuous speculator. All history seems to reinforce his position. The course of the centuries is marked by the débris of once ambitious world-systems. “Leave this barren theorizing,” he cries, “and be content with the facts of nature just as they report themselves. We can get a working knowledge of nature by means of obser vation and experiment, but the ultimate problems are quite beyond our powers." Yet, this excellent advice is entirely gratuitous, for as long as man is rational he must continue to probe and test and wrestle till reason has conquered the field. Moreover, it is not true that the old problems remain unchanged, nor that we are as far as ever from a satisfactory solution. There has been substantial progress. This is shown in many ways. Fundamental concepts have been clarified, the secret of many a failure has come to light, and the problems themselves have been carried immeasurably deeper. Some issues seem to be settled for all time. Popular speech is full of general concepts, each of which embodies the net result of some great intellectual struggle of the past. For instance, the philosophical labors of many generations were necessary to give us such common notions as substance, identity, subjectivity, objectivity, individuality, mechanism, personality, nature, freedom.
But, in spite of evident progress in this world-old struggle, the curious fact remains that nearly every great philosophical system of the past has survived till the present time. The most overwhelming refutation has not been sufficient to destroy them. Hence the bewildering variety of divergent, or even contradictory, theories of reality. We have atomistic and monistic materialists, pantheists of every shade of opinion, theists more or less thoroughgoing, and agnostics who, notwithstanding their confession of ignorance, hold comprehensive principles of explanation. The effort of science to-day is to rid itself of metaphysics, but in the nature of the case every scientist is more or less of a metaphysician; his fundamental concepts are all metaphysical. Even experimental psychology, that new and most vigorous science of the senses, escapes such a reference only by the use of figurative language. If, then, we are in a sense metaphysicians, whether we will or not, every consideration of intellectual thoroughness urges on to a ceaseless effort to make our metaphysical world-view consistent throughout.
But how shall we go about our task, in view of conflicting theories ? Different methods are in actual use. One may be
termed the scientific, though not so much because of its cogency and freedom from prejudice as from the fact that it is the one naturally employed by those trained in scientific pursuits. It is the method of successive generalizations. Now that the inventory of nature is so extensive, and there are multitudinous hypotheses put forward to explain special classes of phenomena, the time has come for the synthetic work to begin. If this were done with critical care the largest possible generalization would give us ultimate truth. It would be ultimate because all-inclusive. A number of such generalizations have been attempted of recent years, resulting in various synthetic philosophies and scientific confessions of faith. In each case the special sciences form the point of departure. The laws of physics and chemistry are extended to the organic world; the more complex is explained by the simple, the higher by the lower; and mechanism, or dynamism, or more recently vitalism, becomes the deepest principle of explanation. Such a principle leads directly to some form of monism which is materialistic in fact, if not in name. The outcome, whatever it may be, claims the prestige of being scientific and the only admissible conclusion in view of the facts. This method has been a most fruitful one for science. By means of it we have already gained an extensive practical mastery of nature. We are able to trace, in outline at least, the slow-moving and infi. nitely varied development of present conditions out of the past, to connect natural events in the chain of cause and effect, and thus reach valuable insight. As we look into the future we see the prospect of indefinite progress along the same line. When so much has been accomplished by this method, as compared with the indecisive and often barren dialectic of pure philosophy, may we not expect it to lead us at last to the deepest possible explanation of nature? We should put our trust in the scientist. He alone can ever solve those great world problems with which the professional philosopher has so long struggled in vain.
Why should all such attempts in the realm of science, as distinguished from philosophy, be deemed unsatisfactory? Why do they inevitably fall short? The reason lies in the nature of the problems which the sciences undertake to solve. They seek primarily the laws of coexistence and sequence among phenomena. Their task is finished when they have shown how each fact coming within their special fields can be referred to some general law. Hence they feel no need of such a thoroughgoing critical examination of their data as philosophy demands. Or rather, we should say, the examination is made from a different point of view and for a different purpose. Science asks, Have we the actual facts? Have the observations been made with every possible precaution against error? Philosophy, while interested in the accuracy of the observations, wants to know, first of all, How did we come by the facts ? How must we think of them in the light of their double origin? What is the ultimate reality which explains them all? For instance, take that brilliant and immensely fruitful generalization of present-day science known as evolution. As a principle it was enunciated by the early Greeks and has since then often been revived, but only within the last half century has it received general recognition as a scientific explanation of nature. Science as such is content to trace the historical order of development. When each species of animal or plant life finds its appropriate place in the series, and the whole reveals an orderly progression toward the highest forms, the strictly scientific work is done. Nature is seen in the light of a single principle. Philosophy acknowledges the wonderful success already attained, but sees her own problems practically untouched. The same scruples, the same uncertainties and contradictions, the same old questions remain. Philosophy must insist on a reconciliation of the conflicting presuppositions of such a theory when employed as a final explanation of reality. The simplest fact recognized contains a nest of difficulties, and every advance but adds to the list. The theory of evolution as an ontological explanation of nature contradicts itself at every point. A striking illustration of this is found in Professor Haeckel's little pamphlet on Monism, a Scientist's Confession of Faith. He is not content with evolution as a scientific theory, but ventures on the warrant of its teachings interpreted as philosophy to formulate a theory of reality. He would trace all phenomena without exception back to the mechanics of atoms. In lieu of scientific evidence we are asked to believe
that the seventy or more elements recognized by chemistry are in reality but different arrangements of the “uratome." He suspects that perhaps these original atoms are only "points of condensation" in a fundamental substance which pervades all space and is known to science as the world-ether. This surmise must indeed be elevated to the rank of a cardinal doctrine if he is to make out a case for monism. Whatever this original substance might be, whether atomic or continuous, it contains the secret of all existences, organic and inorganic. Each atom is endowed with a soul, and when in combination with other atoms under certain conditions its activities are what we call self-consciousness and intelligence. Human life is animal life more highly organized, animal life is the developed stages of lower forms of life; these in turn are explained by the still lower, and so on. In this way he works back to the original substance whose nature is simple. To the world-ether then we must look as the source of all things, “das walte Gott, der Geist des Guten, des Schönen, und der Wahrheit."
This outcome, is of course, philosophically grotesque. Haeckel seems to have donned the "seven-leagued boots of a colossal ignoring,” and sinned with utter indifference against the fundamental laws of sound thinking. The simple is given to explain the complex, the lower to explain the higher, the less to explain the greater, and we have only darkness instead of light. His whole procedure is a succession of fallacies of abstraction. The simple explains the complex only when thought of as being equally complex. From the standpoint of philosophy, then, Haeckel's method is wrong. The difficulty seems to arise from the fact that he studied his data for scientific purposes and then made use of them without further criticism as a basis for ontological conclusions. His science was not primarily at fault. He had unconsciously but fundamentally shifted his point of view, turning the historical order of development into a dynamic order with the resulting fallacies. This same fallacy of abstraction also vitiates much of Herbert Spencer's reasoning. His formula of evolution and the various principles enunciated to support it, especially his persistence of force and the instability of the homogeneous, are examples in point. With him, too, scientific facts and hypotheses without readjustment