Page images
PDF
EPUB

myself about the subject at all, I do not think he has any right to call me a sceptic. On the contrary, in replying thus, I conceive that I am simply honest and truthful, and show a proper regard for the economy of time. So Hume's strong and subtle intellect takes up a great many problems about which we are naturally curious, and shows us that they are essentially questions of lunar politics, in their essence incapable of being answered, and therefore not worth the attention of men who have work to do in the world. And he thus ends one of his essays :

"If we take in hand any volume of Divinity, or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence ? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

Permit me to enforce this most wise advice. Why trouble ourselves about matters of which, however important they may be, we do know nothing, and can know nothing? We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance, and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try to make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered it. To do this effectually it is necessary to be fully possessed of only two beliefs: the first, that the order of nature is ascertainable by our faculties to an extent which is practically unlimited; the second, that our volition counts for something as a condition of the course of events.

Each of these beliefs can be verified experimentally, as often as we like to try. Each, therefore, stands upon the strongest foundation upon which any belief can rest, and forms one of our highest truths. If we find that the ascertainment of the order of nature is facilitated by using one terminology, or one set of symbols, rather than another, it is our clear duty to use the former; and no harm can accrue, so long as we bear in mind, that we are dealing merely with terms and symbols.

1 Hume's Essay “Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy,” in the "Inquiry concerning the Human Understanding."

In itself it is of little moment whether we express the phænomena of matter in terms of spirit; or the phænomena of spirit, in terms of matter : matter may be regarded as a form of thought, thought may be regarded as a property of matter--each statement has a certain relative truth. But with a view to the progress of science, the materialistic terminology is in every way to be preferred. For it connects thought with the other phænomena of the universe, and suggests inquiry into the nature of those physical conditions, or concomitants of thought, which are more or less accessible to us, and a knowledge of which may, in future, help us to exercise the same kind of control over the world of thought, as we already possess in respect of the material world; whereas, the alternative, or spiritualistic, terminology is utterly barren, and leads to nothing but obscurity and confusion of ideas.

Thus there can be little doubt, that the further science advances, the more extensively and consistently will all the phænomena of nature be represented by materialistic formulæ and symbols.

But the man of science, who, forgetting the limits of philosophical inquiry, slides from these formulæ and symbols into what is commonly understood by mate

rialism, seems to me to place himself on a level with the mathematician, who should mistake the 's and y's, with which he works his problems, for real entities-and with this further disadvantage, as compared with the mathematician, that the blunders of the latter are of no practical consequence, while the errors of systematic materialism may paralyse the energies and destroy the beauty of a life.

M

VIII.

THE SCIENTIFIC ASPECTS OF POSITIVISM.

It is now some sixteen or seventeen years since I became acquainted with the “Philosophie Positive,” the “Discours sur l’Ensemble du Positivisme," and the “Politique Positive” of Auguste Comte. I was led to study these works partly by the allusions to them in Mr. Mill's

Logic," partly by the recommendation of a distinguished theologian, and partly by the urgency of a valued friend, the late Professor Henfrey, who looked upon M. Comte's bulky volumes as a mine of wisdom, and lent them to me that I might dig and be rich. After due perusal, I found myself in a position to echo my friend's words, though I may have laid more stress on the “mine” than on the “wisdom." For I found the veins of ore few and far between, and the rock so apt to run to mud, that one incurred the risk of being intellectually smothered in the working. Still, as I was glad to acknowledge, I did come to a nugget here and there ; though not, so far as my experience went, in the discussions on the philosophy of the physical sciences, but in the chapters on speculative and practical sociology. In these there was indeed much to arouse the liveliest interest in one whose boat had broken away from the old moorings, and who had been content “ to lay out an anchor by the stern” until daylight should break and the fog clear. Nothing could be more interesting to a student of biology than to see the study of the biological sciences laid down, as an essential part of the prolegomena of a new view of social phænomena. Nothing could be more satisfactory to a worshipper of the severe truthfulness of science than the attempt to dispense with all beliefs, save such as could brave the light, and seek, rather than fear, criticism ; while, to a lover of courage and outspokenness, nothing could be more touching than the placid announcement on the title-page of the “Discours sur l’Ensemble du Positivisme,” that its author proposed

“ Réorganiser, sans Dieu ni roi,

Par le culte systématique de l'Humanité," the shattered frame of modern society.

In those days I knew my “Faust” pretty well, and, after reading this word of might, I was minded to chant the well-known stanzas of the “Geisterchor"

“ Weh! Weh!
Die schöne welt.
Sie stürzt, sie zerfällt
Wir tragen
Die Trümmern ins Nichts hinüber.
Mächtiger
Der Erdensöhne,
Prächtiger,
Baue sie wieder
In deinem Busen baue sie auf,"

Great, however, was my perplexity, not to say disappointment, as I followed the progress of this "mighty

« EelmineJätka »