[Sidenote: How it might be just.]
The ideal which in such a review would serve as the touchstone for estimation, if it were an enlightened ideal, would recognise its own natural basis, and therefore would also recognise that under other conditions other ideals, no less legitimate, may have arisen and may have been made the standard for a different judgment on the world. Historical investigation, were its resources adequate, would reveal to us what these various ideals have been. Every animal has his own, and whenever individuals or nations have become reflective they have known how to give articulate expression to theirs. That all these ideals could not have been realised in turn or together is an immense misfortune, the irremediable half-tragedy of life, by which we also suffer. In estimating the measure of success achieved anywhere a liberal historian, who does not wish to be bluntly irrational, will of course estimate it from all these points of view, considering all real interests affected, in so far as he can appreciate them. This is what is meant by putting the standard of value, not in some arbitrary personal dogma but in a variegated omnipresent happiness.
It is by no means requisite, therefore, in disentangling the Life of Reason, to foresee what ultimate form the good might some day take, much less to make the purposes of the philosopher himself, his time, or his nation the test of all excellence. This test is the perpetual concomitant ideal of the life it is applied to. As all could not be well in the world if my own purposes were defeated, so the general excellence of things would be heightened if other men's purposes also had been fulfilled. Each will is a true centre for universal estimation. As each will, therefore, comes to expression, real and irreversible values are introduced into the world, and the historian, in estimating what has been hitherto achieved, needs to make himself the spokesman for all past aspirations.
If the Egyptian poets sang well, though that conduces not at all to our advantage, and though all those songs are now dumb, the Life of Reason was thereby increased once for all in pith and volume. Brief erratic experiments made in living, if they were somewhat successful in their day, remain successes always: and this is the only kind of success that in the end can be achieved at all. The philosopher that looks for what is good in history and measures the past by the scale of reason need be no impertinent dogmatist on that account. Reason would not be reason but passion if it did not make all passions in all creatures constituents of its own authority. The judgments it passes on existence are only the judgments which existence, so far, has passed on itself, and these are indelible and have their proportionate weight though others of many different types may surround or succeed them.
[Sidenote: Transition to historical romance.]
To inquire what everybody has thought about the world, and into what strange shapes every passionate dream would fain have transformed existence, might be merely a part of historical investigation. These facts of preference and estimation might be made to stand side by side with all other facts in that absolute physical order which the universe must somehow possess. In the reference book of science they would all find their page and line. But it is not for the sake of making vain knowledge complete that historians are apt to linger over heroic episodes and commanding characters in the world's annals. It is not even in the hope of discovering just to what extent and in how many directions experience has been a tragedy. The mathematical balance of failure and success, even if it could be drawn with accuracy, would not be a truth of moral importance, since whatever that balance might be for the world at large, success and benefit here, from the living point of view, would be equally valid and delightful; and however good or however bad the universe may be it is always worth while to make it better.
What engages the historian in the reconstruction of moral life, such as the past contained, is that he finds in that life many an illustration of his own ideals, or even a necessary stimulus in defining what his ideals are. Where his admiration and his sympathy are awakened, he sees noble aims and great achievements, worthy of being minutely studied and brought vividly before later generations. Very probably he will be led by moral affinities with certain phases of the past to attribute to those phases, in their abstraction and by virtue of their moral dignity, a material efficacy which they did not really have; and his interest in history's moral will make him turn history itself into a fable. This abuse may be abated, however, by having recourse to impartial historical investigation, that will restore to the hero all his circumstantial impotence, and to the glorious event all its insignificant causes. Certain men and certain episodes will retain, notwithstanding, their intrinsic nobility; and the historian, who is often a politician and a poet rather than a man of science, will dwell on those noble things so as to quicken his own sense for greatness and to burnish in his soul ideals that may have remained obscure for want of scrutiny or may have been tarnished by too much contact with a sordid world.
[Sidenote: Possibility of genuine epics.]
History so conceived has the function of epic or dramatic poetry. The moral life represented may actually have been lived through; but that circumstance is incidental merely and what makes the story worth telling is its pertinence to the political or emotional life of the present. To revive past moral experience is indeed wellnigh impossible unless the living will can still covet or dread the same issues; historical romance cannot be truthful or interesting when profound changes have taken place in human nature. The reported acts and sentiments of early peoples lose their tragic dignity in our eyes when they lose their pertinence to our own aims. So that a recital of history with an eye to its dramatic values is possible only when that history is, so to speak, our own, or when we assimilate it to ours by poetic license.
The various functions of history have been generally carried on simultaneously and with little consciousness of their profound diversity. Since historical criticism made its appearance, the romantic interest in the past, far from abating, has fed eagerly on all the material incidents and private gossip of remote times. This sort of petty historical drama has reflected contemporary interests, which have centred so largely in material possessions and personal careers; while at the same time it has kept pace with the knowledge of minutiae attained by archaeology. When historical investigation has reached its limits a period of ideal reconstruction may very likely set in. Indeed were it possible to collect in archives exhaustive accounts of everything that has ever happened, so that the curious man might always be informed on any point of fact that interested him, historical imagination might grow free again in its movements. Not being suspected of wishing to distort facts which could so easily be pointed to, it might become more conscious of its own moral function, and it might turn unblushingly to what was important and inspiring in order to put it with dramatic force before the mind. Such a treatment of history would reinstate that epic and tragic poetry which has become obsolete; it might well be written in verse, and would at any rate be frankly imaginative; it might furnish a sort of ritual, with scientific and political sanctions, for public feasts. Tragedies and epics are such only in name if they do not deal with the highest interests and destinies of a people; and they could hardly deal with such ideals in an authoritative and definite way, unless they found them illustrated in that people's traditions.
[Sidenote: Literal truth abandoned.]
Historic romance is a work of art, not of science, and its fidelity to past fact is only an expedient, often an excellent and easy one, for striking the key-note of present ideals. The insight attained, even when it is true insight into what some one else felt in some other age, draws its force and sublimity from current passions, passions potential in the auditor's soul. Mary Queen of Scots, for instance, doubtless repeated, in many a fancied dialogue with Queen Elizabeth, the very words that Schiller puts into her mouth in the central scene of his play, "Denn ich bin Euer Koenig!" Yet the dramatic force of that expression, its audacious substitution of ideals for facts, depends entirely on the scope which we lend it. Different actors and different readers would interpret it differently. Some might see in it nothing but a sally in a woman's quarrel, reading it with the accent of mere spite and irritation. Then the tragedy, not perhaps without historic truth, would be reduced to a loud comedy. Other interpreters might find in the phrase the whole feudal system, all the chivalry, legality, and foolishness of the Middle Ages. Then the drama would become more interesting, and the poor queen's cry, while that of a mind sophisticated and fanatical, would have great pathos and keenness. To reach sublimity, however, that moment would have to epitomise ideals which we deeply respected. We should have to believe in the sanctity of canon law and in the divine right of primogeniture. That a woman may have been very unhappy or that a state may have been held together by personal allegiance does not raise the fate of either to the tragic plane, unless "laws that are not of to-day nor yesterday," aspirations native to the heart, shine through those legendary misfortunes.
It would matter nothing to the excellence of Schiller's drama which of these interpretations might have been made by Mary Stuart herself at any given moment; doubtless her attitude toward her rival was coloured on different occasions by varying degrees of political insight and moral fervour. The successful historical poet would be he who caught the most significant attitude which a person in that position could possibly have assumed, and his Mary Stuart, whether accidentally resembling the real woman or not, would be essentially a mythical person. So Electra and Antigone and Helen of Troy are tragic figures absolved from historical accuracy, although possibly if the personages of heroic times were known to us we might find that our highest imagination had been anticipated in their consciousness.
[Sidenote: History exists to be transcended.]
Of the three parts into which the pursuit of history may be divided—investigation, theory, and story-telling—not one attains ideal finality. Investigation is merely useful, because its intrinsic ideal—to know every detail of everything—is not rational, and its acceptable function can only be to offer accurate information upon such points as are worth knowing for some ulterior reason. Historical theory, in turn, is a falsification of causes, since no causes are other than mechanical; it is an arbitrary foreshortening of physics, and it dissolves in the presence either of adequate knowledge or of clear ideals. Finally, historical romance passes, as it grows mature, into epics and tragedies, where the moral imagination disengages itself from all allegiance to particular past facts. Thus history proves to be an imperfect field for the exercise of reason; it is a provisional discipline; its values, with the mind's progress, would empty into higher activities. The function of history is to lend materials to politics and to poetry. These arts need to dominate past events, the better to dominate the present situation and the ideal one. A good book of history is one that helps the statesman to formulate and to carry out his plans, or that helps the tragic poet to conceive what is most glorious in human destiny. Such a book, as knowledge and ignorance are now mingled, will have to borrow something from each of the methods by which history is commonly pursued. Investigation will be necessary, since the needful facts are not all indubitably known; theory will be necessary too, so that those facts may be conceived in their pertinence to public interests, and the latter may thereby be clarified; and romance will not be wholly excluded, because the various activities of the mind about the same matter cannot be divided altogether, and a dramatic treatment is often useful in summarising a situation, when all the elements of it cannot be summoned up in detail before the mind.
[Sidenote: Its great role.]
Fragmentary, arbitrary, and insecure as historical conceptions must remain, they are nevertheless highly important. In human consciousness the indispensable is in inverse ratio to the demonstrable. Sense is the foundation of everything. Without sense memory would be both false and useless. Yet memory rather than sense is knowledge in the pregnant acceptation of the word; for in sense object and process are hardly distinguished, whereas in memory significance inheres in the datum, and the present vouches for the absent. Similarly history, which is derived from memory, is superior to it; for while it merely extends memory artificially it shows a higher logical development than memory has and is riper for ideal uses. Trivial and useless matter has dropped out. Inference has gone a step farther, thought is more largely representative, and testimony conveyed by the reports of others or found in monuments leads the speculative mind to infer events that must have filled the remotest ages. This information is not passive or idle knowledge; it truly informs or shapes the mind, giving it new aptitudes. As an efficacious memory modifies instinct, by levelling it with a wider survey of the situation, so a memory of what human experience has been, a sense of what it is likely to be under specific circumstances, gives the will a new basis. What politics or any large drama deals with is a will cast into historic moulds, an imagination busy with what we call great interests. Great interests are a gift which history makes to the heart. A barbarian is no less subject to the past than is the civic man who knows what his past is and means to be loyal to it; but the barbarian, for want of a trans-personal memory, crawls among superstitions which he cannot understand or revoke and among persons whom he may hate or love, but whom he can never think of raising to a higher plane, to the level of a purer happiness. The whole dignity of human endeavour is thus bound up with historic issues; and as conscience needs to be controlled by experience if it is to become rational, so personal experience itself needs to be enlarged ideally if the failures and successes it reports are to touch impersonal interests.
[Sidenote: Recurrent forms in nature.]
A retrospect over human experience, if a little extended, can hardly fail to come upon many interesting recurrences. The seasons make their round and the generations of men, like the forest leaves, repeat their career. In this its finer texture history undoubtedly repeats itself. A study of it, in registering so many recurrences, leads to a description of habit, or to natural history. To observe a recurrence is to divine a mechanism. It is to analyse a phenomenon, distinguishing its form, which alone recurs, from its existence, which is irrevocable; and that the flux of phenomena should turn out, on closer inspection, to be composed of a multitude of recurring forms, regularly interwoven, is the ideal of mechanism. The forms, taken ideally and in themselves, are what reflection first rescues from the flux and makes a science of; they constitute that world of eternal relations with which dialectic is conversant. To note here and there some passing illustration of these forms is one way of studying experience. The observer, the poet, the historian merely define what they see. But these incidental illustrations of form (called by Plato phenomena) may have a method in their comings and goings, and this method may in turn be definable. It will be a new sort of constant illustrated in the flux; and this we call a law. If events could be reduced to a number of constant forms moving in a constant medium according to a constant law, a maximum of constancy would be introduced into the flux, which would thereby be proved to be mechanical.
The form of events, abstracted from their material presence, becomes a general mould to which we tend to assimilate new observations. Whatever in particular instances may contravene the accredited rule, we attribute without a qualm to unknown variations in the circumstances, thus saving our faith in order at all hazards and appealing to investigation to justify the same. Only when another rule suggests itself which leaves a smaller margin unaccounted for in the phenomena do we give up our first generalisation. Not even the rudest superstition can be criticised or dislodged scientifically save by another general rule, more exact and trustworthy than the superstition. The scepticism which comes from distrust of abstraction and disgust with reckoning of any sort is not a scientific force; it is an intellectual weakness.
Generalities are indeed essential to understanding, which is apt to impose them hastily upon particulars. Confirmation is not needed to create prejudice. It suffices that a vivid impression should once have cut its way into the mind and settled there in a fertile soil; it will entwine itself at once with its chance neighbours and these adventitious relations will pass henceforth for a part of the fact. Repetition, however, is a good means of making or keeping impressions vivid and almost the only means of keeping them unchanged. Prejudices, however refractory to new evidence, evolve inwardly of themselves. The mental soil in which they lie is in a continual ferment and their very vitality will extend their scope and change their application. Generalisations, therefore, when based on a single instance, will soon forget it and shift their ground, as unchecked words shift their meaning. But when a phenomenon actually recurs the generalisations founded on it are reinforced and kept identical, and prejudices so sustained by events make man's knowledge of nature.
[Sidenote: Their discovery makes the flux calculable.]
Natural science consists of general ideas which look for verification in events, and which find it. The particular instance, once noted, is thrown aside like a squeezed orange, its significance in establishing some law having once been extracted. Science, by this flight into the general, lends immediate experience an interest and scope which its parts, taken blindly, could never possess; since if we remained sunk in the moments of existence and never abstracted their character from their presence, we should never know that they had any relation to one another. We should feel their incubus without being able to distinguish their dignities or to give them names. By analysing what we find and abstracting what recurs from its many vain incidents we can discover a sustained structure within, which enables us to foretell what we may find in future. Science thus articulates experience and reveals its skeleton.
Skeletons are not things particularly congenial to poets, unless it be for the sake of having something truly horrible to shudder at and to frighten children with: and so a certain school of philosophers exhaust their rhetoric in convincing us that the objects known to science are artificial and dead, while the living reality is infinitely rich and absolutely unutterable. This is merely an ungracious way of describing the office of thought and bearing witness to its necessity. A body is none the worse for having some bones in it, even if they are not all visible on the surface. They are certainly not the whole man, who nevertheless runs and leaps by their leverage and smooth turning in their sockets; and a surgeon's studies in dead anatomy help him excellently to set a living joint. The abstractions of science are extractions of truths. Truths cannot of themselves constitute existence with its irrational concentration in time, place, and person, its hopeless flux, and its vital exuberance; but they can be true of existence; they can disclose that structure by which its parts cohere materially and become ideally inferable from one another.
[Sidenote: Looser principles tried first.]
Science becomes demonstrable in proportion as it becomes abstract. It becomes in the same measure applicable and useful, as mathematics witnesses, whenever the abstraction is judiciously made and has seized the profounder structural features in the phenomenon. These features are often hard for human eyes to discern, buried as they may be in the internal infinitesimal texture of things. Things accordingly seem to move on the world's stage in an unaccountable fashion, and to betray magic affinities to what is separated from them by apparent chasms. The types of relation which the mind may observe are multifarious. Any chance conjunction, any incidental harmony, will start a hypothesis about the nature of the universe and be the parent image of a whole system of philosophy. In self-indulgent minds most of these standard images are dramatic, and the cue men follow in unravelling experience is that offered by some success or failure of their own. The sanguine, having once found a pearl in a dunghill, feel a glorious assurance that the world's true secret is that everything in the end is ordered for everybody's benefit—and that is optimism. The atrabilious, being ill at ease with themselves, see the workings everywhere of insidious sin, and conceive that the world is a dangerous place of trial. A somewhat more observant intellect may decide that what exists is a certain number of definite natures, each striving to preserve and express itself; and in such language we still commonly read political events and our friend's actions. At the dawn of science a Thales, observing the ways and the conditions of things somewhat more subtly, will notice that rain, something quite adventitious to the fields, is what covers them with verdure, that the slime breeds life, that a liquid will freeze to stone and melt to air; and his shrewd conclusion will be that everything is water in one disguise or another. It is only after long accumulated observation that we can reach any exact law of nature; and this law we hardly think of applying to living things. These have not yet revealed the secret of their structure, and clear insight is vouchsafed us only in such regions as that of mathematical physics, where cogency in the ideal system is combined with adequacy to explain the phenomena.
[Sidenote: Mechanism for the most part hidden.]
These exact sciences cover in the gross the field in which human life appears, the antecedents of this life, and its instruments. To a speculative mind, that had retained an ingenuous sense of nature's inexhaustible resources and of man's essential continuity with other natural things, there could be no ground for doubting that similar principles (could they be traced in detail) would be seen to preside over all man's action and passion. A thousand indications, drawn from introspection and from history, would be found to confirm this speculative presumption. It is not only earthquakes and floods, summer and winter, that bring human musings sharply to book. Love and ambition are unmistakable blossomings of material forces, and the more intense and poetical a man's sense is of his spiritual condition the more loudly will he proclaim his utter dependence on nature and the identity of the moving principle in him and in her.
Mankind and all its works are undeniably subject to gravity and to the law of projectiles; yet what is true of these phenomena in bulk seems to a superficial observation not to be true of them in detail, and a person may imagine that he subverts all the laws of physics whenever he wags his tongue. Only in inorganic matter is the ruling mechanism open to human inspection: here changes may be seen to be proportionate to the elements and situation in which they occur. Habit here seems perfectly steady and is called necessity, since the observer is able to deduce it unequivocally from given properties in the body and in the external bodies acting upon it. In the parts of nature which we call living and to which we impute consciousness, habit, though it be fatal enough, is not so exactly measurable and perspicuous. Physics cannot account for that minute motion and pullulation in the earth's crust of which human affairs are a portion. Human affairs have to be surveyed under categories lying closer to those employed in memory and legend. These looser categories are of every sort—grammatical, moral, magical—and there is no knowing when any of them will apply or in what measure. Between the matters covered by the exact sciences and vulgar experience there remains, accordingly, a wide and nebulous gulf. Where we cannot see the mechanism involved in what happens we have to be satisfied with an empirical description of appearances as they first fall together in our apprehension; and this want of understanding in the observer is what popular philosophy calls intelligence in the world.
[Sidenote: Yet presumably pervasive.]
That this gulf is apparent only, being due to inadequacy and confusion in human perception rather than to incoherence in things, is a speculative conviction altogether trustworthy. Any one who can at all catch the drift of experience—moral no less than physical—must feel that mechanism rules the whole world. There are doubleness and diversity enough in things to satiate the greatest lover of chaos; but that a cosmos nevertheless underlies the superficial play of sense and opinion is what all practical reason must assume and what all comprehended experience bears witness to. A cosmos does not mean a disorder with which somebody happens to be well pleased; it means a necessity from which every one must draw his happiness. If a principle is efficacious it is to that extent mechanical. For to be efficacious a principle must apply necessarily and proportionately; it must assure us that where the factors are the same as on a previous occasion the quotient will be the same also.
Now, in order that the flux of things should contain a repetition, elements must be identified within it; these identical elements may then find themselves in an identical situation, on which the same result may ensue which ensued before. If the elements were not constant and recognisable, or if their relations did not suffice to determine the succeeding event, no observation could be transferred with safety from the past to the future. Thus art and comprehension would be defeated together. Novelties in the world are not lacking, because the elements entering at any moment into a given combination have never before entered into a combination exactly similar. Mechanism applies to the matter and minute texture of things; but its applying there will create, at each moment, fresh ideal wholes, formal unities which mind emanates from and represents. The result will accordingly always be unprecedented in the total impression it produces, in exact proportion to the singularity of the situation in hand. Mechanical processes are not like mathematical relations, because they happen. What they express the form of is a flux, not a truth or an ideal necessity. The situation may therefore always be new, though produced from the preceding situation by rules which are invariable, since the preceding situation was itself novel.
Mechanism might be called the dialectic of the irrational. It is such a measure of intelligibility as is compatible with flux and with existence. Existence itself being irrational and change unintelligible, the only necessity they are susceptible of is a natural or empirical necessity, impinging at both ends upon brute matters of fact. The existential elements, their situation, number, affinities, and mutual influence all have to be begged before calculation can begin. When these surds have been accepted at their face value, inference may set to work among them; yet the inference that mechanism will continue to reign will not amount to certain knowledge until the event inferred has come to give it proof. Calculation in physics differs from pure dialectic in that the ultimate object it looks to is not ideal. Theory here must revert to the immediate flux for its sanction, whereas dialectic is a centrifugal emanation from existence and never returns to its point of origin. It remains suspended in the ether of those eternal relations which forms have, even when found embedded in matter.
[Sidenote: Inadequacy of consciousness.]
If the total flux is continuous and naturally intelligible, why is the part felt by man so disjointed and opaque? An answer to this question may perhaps be drawn from the fact that consciousness apparently arises to express the functions only of extremely complicated organisms. The basis of thought is vastly more elaborate than its deliverance. It takes a wonderful brain and exquisite senses to produce a few stupid ideas. The mind starts, therefore, with a tremendous handicap. In order to attain adequate practical knowledge it would have to represent clearly its own conditions; for the purpose of mind is its own furtherance and perfection, and before that purpose could be fulfilled the mind's interests would have to become parallel to the body's fortunes. This means that the body's actual relations in nature would have to become the mind's favourite themes in discourse. Had this harmony been attained, the more accurately and intensely thought was exercised the more stable its status would become and the more prosperous its undertakings, since lively thought would then be a symptom of health in the body and of mechanical equilibrium with the environment.
The body's actual relations, however, on which health depends, are infinitely complex and immensely extended. They sweep the whole material universe and are intertwined most closely with all social and passionate forces, with their incalculable mechanical springs. Meantime the mind begins by being a feeble and inconsequent ghost. Its existence is intermittent and its visions unmeaning. It fails to conceive its own interests or the situations that might support or defeat those interests. If it pictures anything clearly, it is only some phantastic image which in no way represents its own complex basis. Thus the parasitical human mind, finding what clear knowledge it has laughably insufficient to interpret its destiny, takes to neglecting knowledge altogether and to hugging instead various irrational ideas. On the one hand it lapses into dreams which, while obviously irrelevant to practice, express the mind's vegetative instincts; hence art and mythology, which substitute play-worlds for the real one on correlation with which human prosperity and dignity depend. On the other hand, the mind becomes wedded to conventional objects which mark, perhaps, the turning-points of practical life and plot the curve of it in a schematic and disjointed fashion, but which are themselves entirely opaque and, as we say, material. Now as matter is commonly a name for things not understood, men materially minded are those whose ideas, while practical, are meagre and blind, so that their knowledge of nature, if not invalid, is exceedingly fragmentary. This grossness in common sense, like irrelevance in imagination, springs from the fact that the mind's representative powers are out of focus with its controlling conditions.
[Sidenote: Its articulation inferior to that of its objects.]
In other words, sense ought to correspond in articulation with the object to be represented—otherwise the object's structure, with the fate it imports; cannot be transferred into analogous ideas. Now the human senses are not at all fitted to represent an organism on the scale of the human body. They catch its idle gestures but not the inner processes which control its action. The senses are immeasurably too gross. What to them is a minimum visibile, a just perceptible atom, is in the body's structure, very likely, a system of worlds, the inner cataclysms of which count in producing that so-called atom's behaviour and endowing it with affinities apparently miraculous. What must the seed of animals contain, for instance, to be the ground, as it notoriously is, for every physical and moral property of the offspring? Or what must the system of signals and the reproductive habit in a brain be, for it to co-ordinate instinctive movements, learn tricks, and remember? Our senses can represent at all adequately only such objects as the solar system or a work of human architecture, where the unit's inner structure and fermentation may be provisionally neglected in mastering the total. The architect may reckon in bricks and the astronomer in planets and yet foresee accurately enough the practical result. In a word, only what is extraordinarily simple is intelligible to man, while only what is extraordinarily complex can support intelligence. Consciousness is essentially incompetent to understand what most concerns it, its own vicissitudes, and sense is altogether out of scale with the objects of practical interest in life.
[Sidenote: Science consequently retarded.]
One consequence of this profound maladjustment is that science is hard to attain and is at first paradoxical. The change of scale required is violent and frustrates all the mind's rhetorical habits. There is a constant feeling of strain and much flying back to the mother-tongue of myth and social symbol. Every wrong hypothesis is seized upon and is tried before any one will entertain the right one. Enthusiasm for knowledge is chilled by repeated failures and a great confusion cannot but reign in philosophy. A man with an eye for characteristic features in various provinces of experience is encouraged to deal with each upon a different principle; and where these provinces touch or actually fuse, he is at a loss what method of comprehension to apply. There sets in, accordingly, a tendency to use various methods at once or a different one on each occasion, as language, custom, or presumption seems to demand. Science is reduced by philosophers to plausible discourse, and the more plausible the discourse is, by leaning on all the heterogeneous prejudices of the hour, the more does it foster the same and discourage radical investigation.
Thus even Aristotle felt that good judgment and the dramatic habit of things altogether excluded the simple physics of Democritus. Indeed, as things then stood, Democritus had no right to his simplicity, except that divine right which comes of inspiration. His was an indefensible faith in a single radical insight, which happened nevertheless to be true. To justify that insight forensically it would have been necessary to change the range of human vision, making it telescopic in one region and microscopic in another; whereby the objects so transfigured would have lost their familiar aspect and their habitual context in discourse. Without such a startling change of focus nature can never seem everywhere mechanical. Hence, even to this day, people with broad human interests are apt to discredit a mechanical philosophy. Seldom can penetration and courage in thinking hold their own against the miscellaneous habits of discourse; and nobody remembers that moral values must remain captious, and imaginative life ignoble and dark, so long as the whole basis and application of them is falsely conceived. Discoveries in science are made only by near-sighted specialists, while the influence of public sentiment and policy still works systematically against enlightenment.
[Sidenote: and speculation rendered necessary.]
The maladaptation of sense to its objects has a second consequence: that speculation is in a way nobler for man than direct perception. For direct perception is wholly inadequate to render the force, the reality, the subtle relations of the object perceived, unless this object be a shell only, like a work of fine art, where nothing counts but the surface. Since the function of perception is properly to give understanding and dominion, direct perception is a defeat and, as it were, an insult to the mind, thus forced to busy itself about so unintelligible and dense an apparition. AEsthetic enthusiasm cares nothing about what the object inwardly is, what is its efficacious movement and real life. It revels selfishly in the harmonies of perception itself, harmonies which perhaps it attributes to the object through want of consideration. These aesthetic objects, which have no intrinsic unity or cohesion, lapse in the most melancholy and inexplicable fashion before our eyes. Then we cry that beauty wanes, that life is brief, and that its prizes are deceptive. Our minds have fed on casual aspects of nature, like tints in sunset clouds. Imaginative fervour has poured itself out exclusively on these apparitions, which are without relevant backing in the world; and long, perhaps, before this life is over, which we called too brief, we begin to pine for another, where just those images which here played so deceptively on the surface of the flux may be turned into fixed and efficacious realities. Meantime speculation amuses us with prophecies about what such realities might be. We look for them, very likely, in the wrong place, namely, in human poetry and eloquence, or at best in dialectic; yet even when stated in these mythical terms the hidden world divined in meditation seems nobler and, as we say, more real than the objects of sense. For we hope, in those speculative visions, to reach the permanent, the efficacious, the stanch principles of experience, something to rely on in prospect and appeal to in perplexity.
Science, in its prosaic but trustworthy fashion, passes likewise beyond the dreamlike unities and cadences which sense discloses; only, as science aims at controlling its speculation by experiment, the hidden reality it discloses is exactly like what sense perceives, though on a different scale, and not observable, perhaps, without a magic carpet of hypothesis, to carry the observer to the ends of the universe or, changing his dimensions, to introduce him into those infinitesimal abysses where nature has her workshop. In this region, were it sufficiently explored, we might find just those solid supports and faithful warnings which we were looking for with such ill success in our rhetorical speculations. The machinery disclosed would not be human; it would be machinery. But it would for that very reason serve the purpose which made us look for it instead of remaining, like the lower animals, placidly gazing on the pageants of sense, till some unaccountable pang forced us to spasmodic movement. It is doubtless better to find material engines—not necessarily inanimate, either—which may really serve to bring order, security, and progress into our lives, than to find impassioned or ideal spirits, that can do nothing for us except, at best, assure us that they are perfectly happy.
[Sidenote: Dissatisfaction with mechanism partly natural.]
The reigning aversion to mechanism is partly natural and partly artificial. The natural aversion cannot be wholly overcome. Like the aversion to death, to old age, to labour, it is called forth by man's natural situation in a world which was not made for him, but in which he grew. That the efficacious structure of things should not be intentionally spectacular nor poetical, that its units should not be terms in common discourse, nor its laws quite like the logic of passion, is of course a hard lesson to learn. The learning, however—not to speak of its incidental delights—is so extraordinarily good for people that only with that instruction and the blessed renunciations it brings can clearness, dignity, or virility enter their minds. And of course, if the material basis of human strength could be discovered and better exploited, the free activity of the mind would be not arrested but enlarged. Geology adds something to the interest of landscape, and botany much to the charm of flowers; natural history increases the pleasure with which we view society and the justice with which we judge it. An instinctive sympathy, a solicitude for the perfect working of any delicate thing, as it makes the ruffian tender to a young child, is a sentiment inevitable even toward artificial organisms. Could we better perceive the fine fruits of order, the dire consequences of every specific cruelty or jar, we should grow doubly considerate toward all forms; for we exist through form, and the love of form is our whole real inspiration.
[Sidenote: and partly artificial.]
The artificial prejudice against mechanism is a fruit of party spirit. When a myth has become the centre or sanction for habits and institutions, these habits and institutions stand against any conception incompatible with that myth. It matters nothing that the values the myth was designed to express may remain standing without it, or may be transferred to its successor. Social and intellectual inertia is too great to tolerate so simple an evolution. It divides opinions not into false and true but into high and low, or even more frankly into those which are acceptable and comforting to its ruffled faith and those which are dangerous, alarming, and unfortunate. Imagine Socrates "viewing with alarm" the implications of an argument! This artificial prejudice is indeed modern and will not be eternal. Ancient sages, when they wished to rebuke the atheist, pointed to the very heavens which a sentimental religion would nowadays gladly prove to be unreal, lest the soul should learn something of their method. Yet the Ptolemaic spheres were no more manlike and far less rich in possibilities of life than the Copernican star-dust. The ancients thought that what was intelligible was divine. Order was what they meant by intelligence, and order productive of excellence was what they meant by reason. When they noticed that the stars moved perpetually and according to law, they seriously thought they were beholding the gods. The stars as we conceive them are not in that sense perfect. But the order which nature does not cease to manifest is still typical of all order, and is sublime. It is from these regions of embodied law that intelligibility and power combined come to make their covenant with us, as with all generations.
[Sidenote: Biassed judgments inspired by moral inertia.]
The emotions and the moral principles that are naturally allied to materialism suffer an eclipse when materialism, which is properly a primary or dogmatic philosophy, breathing courage and victory, appears as a destructive force and in the incongruous role of a critic. One dogmatism is not fit to criticise another; their conflict can end only in insults, sullenness, and an appeal to that physical drift and irrational selection which may ultimately consign one party to oblivion. But a philosophy does ill to boast of such borrowed triumphs. The next turn of the wheel may crush the victor, and the opinions hastily buried may rise again to pose as the fashionable and superior insights of a later day. To criticise dogmatism it is necessary to be a genuine sceptic, an honest transcendentalist, that falls back on the immediate and observes by what principles of logical architecture the ultimate, the reality discovered, has been inferred from it. Such criticism is not necessarily destructive; some construction and some belief being absolutely inevitable, if reason and life are to operate at all, criticism merely offers us the opportunity of revising and purifying our dogmas, so as to make them reasonable and congruous with practice. Materialism may thus be reinstated on transcendental grounds, and the dogma at first uttered in the flush of intelligent perception, with no scruple or self-consciousness, may be repeated after a thorough examination of heart, on the ground that it is the best possible expression of experience, the inevitable deliverance of thought. So approached, a dogmatic system will carry its critical justification with it, and the values it enshrines and secures will not be doubtful. The emotions it arouses will be those aroused by the experience it explains. Causes having been found for what is given, these causes will be proved to have just that beneficent potency and just that distressing inadequacy which the joys and failures of life show that the reality has, whatever this reality may otherwise be. The theory will add nothing except the success involved in framing it. Life being once for all what it is, no physics can render it worse or better, save as the knowledge of physics, with insight into the causes of our varied fortunes, is itself an achievement and a new resource.
[Sidenote: Positive emotions proper to materialism.]
A theory is not an unemotional thing. If music can be full of passion, merely by giving form to a single sense, how much more beauty or terror may not a vision be pregnant with which brings order and method into everything that we know. Materialism has its distinct aesthetic and emotional colour, though this may be strangely affected and even reversed by contrast with systems of an incongruous hue, jostling it accidentally in a confused and amphibious mind. If you are in the habit of believing in special providences, or of expecting to continue your romantic adventures in a second life, materialism will dash your hopes most unpleasantly, and you may think for a year or two that you have nothing left to live for. But a thorough materialist, one born to the faith and not half plunged into it by an unexpected christening in cold water, will be like the superb Democritus, a laughing philosopher. His delight in a mechanism that can fall into so many marvellous and beautiful shapes, and can generate so many exciting passions, should be of the same intellectual quality as that which the visitor feels in a museum of natural history, where he views the myriad butterflies in their cases, the flamingoes and shell-fish, the mammoths and gorillas. Doubtless there were pangs in that incalculable life, but they were soon over; and how splendid meantime was the pageant, how infinitely interesting the universal interplay, and how foolish and inevitable those absolute little passions. Somewhat of that sort might be the sentiment that materialism would arouse in a vigorous mind, active, joyful, impersonal, and in respect to private illusions not without a touch of scorn.
To the genuine sufferings of living creatures the ethics that accompanies materialism has never been insensible; on the contrary, like other merciful systems, it has trembled too much at pain and tended to withdraw the will ascetically, lest the will should be defeated. Contempt for mortal sorrows is reserved for those who drive with hosannas the Juggernaut car of absolute optimism. But against evils born of pure vanity and self-deception, against the verbiage by which man persuades himself that he is the goal and acme of the universe, laughter is the proper defence. Laughter also has this subtle advantage, that it need not remain without an overtone of sympathy and brotherly understanding; as the laughter that greets Don Quixote's absurdities and misadventures does not mock the hero's intent. His ardour was admirable, but the world must be known before it can be reformed pertinently, and happiness, to be attained, must be placed in reason.
[Sidenote: The material world not dead nor ugly,]
Oblivious of Democritus, the unwilling materialists of our day have generally been awkwardly intellectual and quite incapable of laughter. If they have felt anything, they have felt melancholy. Their allegiance and affection were still fixed on those mythical sentimental worlds which they saw to be illusory. The mechanical world they believed in could not please them, in spite of its extent and fertility. Giving rhetorical vent to their spleen and prejudice, they exaggerated nature's meagreness and mathematical dryness. When their imagination was chilled they spoke of nature, most unwarrantably, as dead, and when their judgment was heated they took the next step and called it unreal. A man is not blind, however, because every part of his body is not an eye, nor every muscle in his eye a nerve sensitive to light. Why, then, is nature dead, although it swarms with living organisms, if every part is not obviously animate? And why is the sun dark and cold, if it is bright and hot only to animal sensibility? This senseless lamentation is like the sophism of those Indian preachers who, to make men abandon the illusions of self-love, dilated on the shocking contents of the human body. Take off the skin, they cried, and you will discover nothing but loathsome bleeding and quivering substances. Yet the inner organs are well enough in their place and doubtless pleasing to the microbes that inhabit them; and a man is not hideous because his cross-section would not offer the features of a beautiful countenance. So the structure of the world is not therefore barren or odious because, if you removed its natural outer aspect and effects, it would not make an interesting landscape. Beauty being an appearance and life an operation, that is surely beautiful and living which so operates and so appears as to manifest those qualities.
[Sidenote: nor especially cruel.]
It is true that materialism prophesies an ultimate extinction for man and all his works. The horror which this prospect inspires in the natural man might be mitigated by reflection; but, granting the horror, is it something introduced by mechanical theories and not present in experience itself? Are human things inwardly stable? Do they belong to the eternal in any sense in which the operation of material forces can touch their immortality? The panic which seems to seize some minds at the thought of a merely natural existence is something truly hysterical; and yet one wonders why ultimate peace should seem so intolerable to people who not so many years ago found a stern religious satisfaction in consigning almost the whole human race to perpetual torture, the Creator, as Saint Augustine tells us, having in his infinite wisdom and justice devised a special kind of material fire that might avail to burn resurrected bodies for ever without consuming them. A very real truth might be read into this savage symbol, if we understood it to express the ultimate defeats and fruitless agonies that pursue human folly; and so we might find that it gave mythical expression to just that conditioned fortune and inexorable flux which a mechanical philosophy shows us the grounds of. Our own vices in another man seem particularly hideous; and so those actual evils which we take for granted when incorporated in the current system strike us afresh when we see them in a new setting. But it is not mechanical science that introduced mutability into things nor materialism that invented death.
[Sidenote: Mechanism to be judged by its fruits.]
The death of individuals, as we observe daily in nature, does not prevent the reappearance of life; and if we choose to indulge in arbitrary judgments on a subject where data fail us, we may as reasonably wish that there might be less life as that there might be more. The passion for a large and permanent population in the universe is not obviously rational; at a great distance a man must view everything, including himself, under the form of eternity, and when life is so viewed its length or its diffusion becomes a point of little importance. What matters then is quality. The reasonable and humane demand to make of the world is that such creatures as exist should not be unhappy and that life, whatever its quantity, should have a quality that may justify it in its own eyes. This just demand, made by conscience and not by an arbitrary fancy, the world described by mechanism does not fulfil altogether, for adjustments in it are tentative, and much friction must precede and follow upon any vital equilibrium attained. This imperfection, however, is actual, and no theory can overcome it except by verbal fallacies and scarcely deceptive euphemisms. What mechanism involves in this respect is exactly what we find: a tentative appearance of life in many quarters, its disappearance in some, and its reinforcement and propagation in others, where the physical equilibrium attained insures to it a natural stability and a natural prosperity.
HESITATIONS IN METHOD
[Sidenote: Mechanism restricted to one-half of existence.]
When Democritus proclaimed the sovereignty of mechanism, he did so in the oracular fashion proper to an ancient sage. He found it no harder to apply his atomic theory to the mind and to the gods than to solids and fluids. It sufficed to conceive that such an explanation might be possible, and to illustrate the theory by a few scattered facts and trenchant hypotheses. When Descartes, after twenty centuries of verbal physics, reintroduced mechanism into philosophy, he made a striking modification in its claims. He divided existence into two independent regions, and it was only in one, in the realm of extended things, that mechanism was expected to prevail. Mental facts, which he approached from the side of abstracted reflection and Platonic ideas, seemed to him obviously non-extended, even when they represented extension; and with them mechanism could have nothing to do. Descartes had recovered in the science of mechanics a firm nucleus for physical theory, a stronghold from which it had become impossible to dislodge scientific methods. There, at any rate, form, mass, distance, and other mathematical relations governed the transformation of things. Yet the very clearness and exhaustiveness of this mechanical method, as applied to gross masses in motion, made it seem essentially inapplicable to anything else. Descartes was far too radical and incisive a thinker, however, not to feel that it must apply throughout nature. Imaginative difficulties due to the complexity of animal bodies could not cloud his rational insight. Animal bodies, then, were mere machines, cleancut and cold engines like so many anatomical manikins. They explained themselves and all their operations, talking and building temples being just as truly a matter of physics as the revolution of the sky. But the soul had dropped out, and Descartes was the last man to ignore the soul. There had dropped out also the secondary qualities of matter, all those qualities, namely, which are negligible in mechanical calculations. Mechanism was in truth far from universal; all mental facts and half the properties of matter, as matter is revealed to man, came into being without asking leave; they were interlopers in the intelligible universe. Indeed, Descartes was willing to admit that these inexplicable bystanders might sometimes put their finger in the pie, and stir the material world judiciously so as to give it a new direction, although without adding to its substance or to its force.
The situation so created gave the literary philosophers an excellent chance to return to the attack and to swallow and digest the new-born mechanism in their facile systems. Theologians and metaphysicians in one quarter and psychologists in another found it easy and inevitable to treat the whole mechanical world as a mere idea. In that case, it is true, the only existences that remained remained entirely without calculable connections; everything was a divine trance or a shower of ideas falling by chance through the void. But this result might not be unwelcome. It fell in well enough with that love of emotional issues, that want of soberness and want of cogency, which is so characteristic of modern philosophers. Christian theology still remained the background and chief point of reference for speculation; if its eclectic dogmas could be in part supported or in part undermined, that constituted a sufficient literary success, and what became of science was of little moment in comparison.
[Sidenote: Men of science not speculative.]
Science, to be sure, could very well take care of itself and proceeded in its patient course without caring particularly what status the metaphysicians might assign to it. Not to be a philosopher is even an advantage for a man of science, because he is then more willing to adapt his methods to the state of knowledge in his particular subject, without insisting on ultimate intelligibility; and he has perhaps more joy of his discoveries than he might have if he had discounted them in his speculations. Darwin, for instance, did more than any one since Newton to prove that mechanism is universal, but without apparently believing that it really was so, or caring about the question at all. In natural history, observation has not yet come within range of accurate processes; it merely registers habits and traces empirical derivations. Even in chemistry, while measure and proportion are better felt, the ultimate units and the radical laws are still problematical. The recent immense advances in science have been in acquaintance with nature rather than in insight. Greater complexity, greater regularity, greater naturalness have been discovered everywhere; the profound analogies in things, their common evolution, have appeared unmistakably; but the inner texture of the process has not been laid bare.
This cautious peripheral attack, which does so much honour to the scientific army and has won it so many useful victories, is another proof that science is nothing but common knowledge extended. It is willing to reckon in any terms and to study any subject-matter; where it cannot see necessity it will notice law; where laws cannot be stated it will describe habits; where habits fail it will classify types; and where types even are indiscernible it will not despise statistics. In this way studies which are scientific in spirit, however loose their results, may be carried on in social matters, in political economy, in anthropology, in psychology. The historical sciences, also, philology and archaeology, have reached tentatively very important results; it is enough that an intelligent man should gather in any quarter a rich fund of information, for the movement of his subject to pass somehow to his mind: and if his apprehension follows that movement—not breaking in upon it with extraneous matter—it will be scientific apprehension.
[Sidenote: Confusion in semi-moral subjects.]
What confuses and retards science in these ambiguous regions is the difficulty of getting rid of the foreign element, or even of deciding what the element native to the object is. In political economy, for instance, it is far from clear whether the subject is moral, and therefore to be studied and expressed dialectically, or whether it is descriptive, and so in the end a matter of facts and of mechanics. Are you formulating an interest or tracing a sequence of events? And if both simultaneously, are you studying the world in order to see what acts, in a given situation, would serve your purpose and so be right, or are you taking note of your own intentions, and of those of other people, in order to infer from them the probable course of affairs? In the first case you are a moralist observing nature in order to use it; you are defining a policy, and that definition is not knowledge of anything except of your own heart. Neither you nor any one else may ever take such a single-minded and unchecked course in the world as the one you are excogitating. No one may ever have been guided in the past by any such absolute plan.
For this same reason, if (to take up the other supposition) you are a naturalist studying the actual movement of affairs, you would do well not to rely on the conscious views or intentions of anybody. A natural philosopher is on dangerous ground when he uses psychological or moral terms in his calculation. If you use such terms—and to forbid their use altogether would be pedantic—you should take them for conventional literary expressions, covering an unsolved problem; for these views and intentions have a brief and inconsequential tenure of life and their existence is merely a sign for certain conjunctions in nature, where processes hailing from afar have met in a man, soon to pass beyond him. If they figure as causes in nature, it is only because they represent the material processes that have brought them into being. The existential element in mental facts is not so remote from matter as Descartes imagined. Even if we are not prepared to admit with Democritus that matter is what makes them up (as it well might if "matter" were taken in a logical sense)[B] we should agree that their substance is in mechanical flux, and that their form, by which they become moral unities, is only an ideal aspect of that moving substance. Moral unities are created by a point of view, as right and left are, and for that reason are not efficacious; though of course the existences they enclose, like the things lying to the left and to the right, move in unison with the rest of nature.
People doubtless do well to keep an eye open for morals when they study physics, and vice versa, since it is only by feeling how the two spheres hang together that the Life of Reason can be made to walk on both feet. Yet to discriminate between the two is no scholastic subtlety. There is the same practical inconvenience in taking one for the other as in trying to gather grapes from thistles. A hybrid science is sterile. If the reason escapes us, history should at least convince us of the fact, when we remember the issue of Aristotelian physics and of cosmological morals. Where the subject-matter is ambiguous and the method double, you have scarcely reached a result which seems plausible for the moment, when a rival school springs up, adopting and bringing forward the submerged element in your view, and rejecting your achievement altogether. A seesaw and endless controversy thus take the place of a steady, co-operative advance. This disorder reigns in morals, metaphysics, and psychology, and the conflicting schools of political economy and of history loudly proclaim it to the world.
[Sidenote: "Physic of metaphysic begs defence."]
The modesty of men of science, their aversion (or incapacity) to carry their principles over into speculation, has left the greater part of physics or the theory of existence to the metaphysicians. What they have made of it does not concern us here, since the result has certainly not been a science; indeed they have obscured the very notion that there should be a science of all existence and that metaphysics, if it is more than a name for ultimate physics, can be nothing but dialectic, which does not look toward existence at all. But the prevalence of a mythical physics, purporting to describe the structure of the universe in terms quite other than those which scientific physics could use, has affected this scientific physics and seriously confused it. Its core, in mechanics, to be sure, could not be touched; and the detail even of natural history and chemistry could not be disfigured: but the general aspect of natural history could be rendered ambiguous in the doctrine of evolution; while in psychology, which attempted to deal with that half of the world which Descartes had not subjected to mechanism, confusion could hold undisputed sway.
[Sidenote: Evolution by mechanism.]
There is a sense in which the notion of evolution is involved in any mechanical system. Descartes indeed had gone so far as to describe, in strangely simple terms, how the world, with all its detail, might have been produced by starting any motion anywhere in the midst of a plenum at rest. The idea of evolution could not be more curtly put forth; so much so that Descartes had to arm himself against the inevitable charge that he was denying the creation, by protesting that his doctrine was a supposition contrary to fact, and that though the world might have been so formed, it was really created as Genesis recorded. Moreover, in antiquity, every Ionian philosopher had conceived a gradual crystallisation of nature; while Empedocles, in his magnificent oracles, had anticipated Darwin's philosophy without Darwin's knowledge. It is clear that if the forces that hold an organism together are mechanical, and therefore independent of the ideal unities they subtend, those forces suffice to explain the origin of the organism, and can have produced it. Darwin's discoveries, like every other advance in physical insight, are nothing but filling for that abstract assurance. They show us how the supposed mechanism really works in one particular field, in one stage of its elaboration. As earlier naturalists had shown us how mechanical causes might produce the miracle of the sunrise and the poetry of the seasons, so Darwin showed us how similar causes might secure the adaptation of animals to their habitat. Evolution, so conceived, is nothing but a detailed account of mechanical origins.
[Sidenote: Evolution by ideal attraction.]
At the same time the word evolution has a certain pomp and glamour about it which fits ill with so prosaic an interpretation. In the unfolding of a bud we are wont to see, as it were, the fulfilment of a predetermined and glorious destiny; for the seed was an epitome or condensation of a full-blown plant and held within it, in some sort of potential guise, the very form which now peeps out in the young flower. Evolution suggests a prior involution or contraction and the subsequent manifestation of an innate ideal. Evolution should move toward a fixed consummation the approaches to which we might observe and measure. Yet evolution, in this prophetic sense of the word, would be the exact denial of what Darwin, for instance, was trying to prove. It would be a return to Aristotelian notions of heredity and potential being; for it was the essence of Aristotle's physics—of which his theology was an integral part and a logical capping—that the forms which beings approached pre-existed in other beings from which they had been inherited, and that the intermediate stages during which the butterfly shrank to a grub could not be understood unless we referred them to their origin and their destiny. The physical essence and potency of seeds lay in their ideal relations, not in any actual organisation they might possess in the day of their eclipse and slumber. An egg evolved into a chicken not by mechanical necessity—for an egg had a comparatively simple structure—but by virtue of an ideal harmony in things; since it was natural and fitting that what had come from a hen should lead on to a hen again. The ideal nature possessed by the parent, hovering over the passive seed, magically induced it to grow into the parent's semblance; and growth was the gradual approach to the perfection which this ancestral essence prescribed. This was why Aristotle's God, though in character an unmistakable ideal, had to be at the same time an actual existence; since the world would not have known which way to move or what was its inner ideal, unless this ideal, already embodied somewhere else, drew it on and infused movement and direction into the world's structureless substance.
The underlying Platonism in this magical physics is obvious, since the natures that Aristotle made to rule the world were eternal natures. An individual might fail to be a perfect man or a perfect monkey, but the specific human or simian ideal, by which he had been formed in so far as he was formed at all, was not affected by this accidental resistance in the matter at hand, as an adamantine seal, even if at times the wax by defect or impurity failed to receive a perfect impression, would remain unchanged and ready to be stamped perpetually on new material.
[Sidenote: If species are evolved they cannot guide evolution.]
The contrast is obvious between this Platonic physics and a naturalism like that of Darwin. The point of evolution, as selection produces it, is that new species may arise. The very title of Darwin's book "The Origin of Species" is a denial of Aristotelianism and, in the pregnant sense, of evolution. It suggests that the type approached by each generation may differ from that approached by the previous one; that not merely the degree of perfection, but the direction of growth, may vary. The individual is not merely unfolded from an inner potentiality derived from a like ancestor and carrying with it a fixed eternal ideal, but on the contrary the very ground plan of organisation may gradually change and a new form and a new ideal may appear. Spontaneous variations—of course mechanically caused[C]—may occur and may modify the hereditary form of animals. These variations, superposed upon one another, may in time constitute a nature wholly unlike its first original. This accidental, cumulative evolution accordingly justifies a declaration of moral liberty. I am not obliged to aspire to the nature my father aspired to, for the ground of my being is partly new. In me nature is making a novel experiment. I am the adoring creator of a new spiritual good. My duties have shifted with my shifting faculties, and the ideal which I propose to myself, and alone can honestly propose, is unprecedented, the expression of a moving existence and without authority beyond the range of existences congruous with mine.
[Sidenote: Intrusion of optimism.]
All that is scientific or Darwinian in the theory of evolution is accordingly an application of mechanism, a proof that mechanism lies at the basis of life and morals. The Aristotelian notion of development, however, was too deeply rooted in tradition for it to disappear at a breath. Evolution as conceived by Hegel, for instance, or even by Spencer, retained Aristotelian elements, though these were disguised and hidden under a cloud of new words. Both identify evolution with progress, with betterment; a notion which would naturally be prominent in any one with enlightened sympathies living in the nineteenth century, when a new social and intellectual order was forcing itself on a world that happened largely to welcome the change, but a notion that has nothing to do with natural science. The fittest to live need not be those with the most harmonious inner life nor the best possibilities. The fitness might be due to numbers, as in a political election, or to tough fibre, as in a tropical climate. Of course a form of being that circumstances make impossible or hopelessly laborious had better dive under and cease for the moment to be; but the circumstances that render it inopportune do not render it essentially inferior. Circumstances have no power of that kind; and perhaps the worst incident in the popular acceptance of evolution has been a certain brutality thereby introduced into moral judgment, an abdication of human ideals, a mocking indifference to justice, under cover of respect for what is bound to be, and for the rough economy of the world. Disloyalty to the good in the guise of philosophy had appeared also among the ancients, when their political ethics had lost its authority, just as it appeared among us when the prestige of religion had declined. The Epicureans sometimes said that one should pursue pleasure because all the animals did so, and the Stoics that one should fill one's appointed place in nature, because such was the practice of clouds and rivers.
[Sidenote: Evolution according to Hegel.]
Hegel possessed a keen scent for instability in men's attitudes and opinions; he had no need of Darwin's facts to convince him that in moral life, at least, there were no permanent species and that every posture of thought was an untenable half-way station between two others. His early contact with Protestant theology may have predisposed him to that opinion. At any rate he had no sympathy with that Platonism that allowed everything to have its eternal ideal, with which it might ultimately be identified. Such ideals would be finite, they would arrest the flux, and they would try to break loose from their enveloping conditions. Hegel was no moralist in the Socratic sense, but a naturalist seeking formulas for the growth of moral experience. Instead of questioning the heart, he somewhat satirically described its history. At the same time he was heir to that mythology which had deified the genetic or physical principle in things, and though the traditional myths suffered cruel operations at his hands, and often died of explanation, the mythical principle itself remained untouched and was the very breath of his nostrils. He never doubted that the formula he might find for the growth of experience would be also the ultimate good. What other purpose could the world have than to express the formula according to which it was being generated?
In this honest conviction we see the root, perhaps, of that distaste for correct physics that prevails among many who call themselves idealists. If physics were for some reason to be adored, it would be disconcerting to find in physics nothing but atoms and a void. It is hard to understand, however, why a fanciful formula expressing the evolution of this perturbed universe, and painting it no better than it is, should be more worshipful than an exact formula meant to perform the same office. A myth that enlarged the world and promised a complete transformation of its character might have its charms; but the improvement is not obvious that accrues by making the drift of things, just as it drifts, its own standard. Yet for Hegel it mattered nothing how unstable all ideals might be, since the only use of them was to express a principle of transition, and this principle was being realised, eternally and unawares, by the self-devouring and self-transcending purposes rolling in the flux.
[Sidenote: The conservative interpretation.]
This philosophy might not be much relished if it were more frankly expressed; yet something of the sort floats vaguely before most minds when they think of evolution. The types of being change, they say: in this sense the Aristotelian notion of a predetermined form unfolding itself in each species has yielded to a more correct and more dynamic physics. But the changes, so people imagine, express a predetermined ideal, no longer, of course, the ideal of these specific things, but one overarching the cosmic movement. The situation might be described by saying that this is Aristotle's view adapted to a world in which there is only one species or only one individual. The earlier phases of life are an imperfect expression of the same nature which the later phases express more fully. Hence the triumphant march of evolution and the assumption that whatever is later is necessarily better than what went before. If a child were simply the partial expression of a man, his single desire would be to grow up, and when he was grown up he would embody all he had been striving for and would be happy for ever after. So if man were nothing but a halting reproduction of divinity and destined to become God, his whole destiny would be fulfilled by apotheosis. If this apotheosis, moreover, were an actual future event, something every man and animal was some day to experience, evolution might really have a final goal, and might lead to a new and presumably better sort of existence—existence in the eternal. Somewhat in this fashion evolution is understood by the party that wish to combine it with a refreshed patristic theology.
[Sidenote: The radical one.]
There is an esoteric way, however, of taking these matters which is more in sympathy both with natural evolution and with transcendental philosophy. If we assert that evolution is infinite, no substantive goal can be set to it. The goal will be the process itself, if we could only open our eyes upon its beauty and necessity. The apotheosis will be retroactive, nay, it has already taken place. The insight involved is mystical, yet in a way more just to the facts than any promise of ulterior blisses. For it is not really true that a child has no other ideal than to become a man. Childhood has many an ideal of its own, many a beauty and joy irrelevant to manhood, and such that manhood is incapable of retaining or containing them. If the ultimate good is really to contain and retain all the others, it can hardly be anything but their totality—the infinite history of experience viewed under the form of eternity. At that remove, however, the least in the kingdom of Heaven is even as the greatest, and the idea of evolution, as of time, is "taken up into a higher unity." There could be no real pre-eminence in one man's works over those of another; and if faith, or insight into the equal service done by all, still seemed a substantial privilege reserved for the elect, this privilege, too, must be an illusion, since those who do not know how useful and necessary they are must be as useful and necessary as those who do. An absolute preference for knowledge or self-consciousness would be an unmistakably human and finite ideal—something to be outgrown.
What practically survives in these systems, when their mysticism and naturalism have had time to settle, is a clear enough standard. It is a standard of inclusion and quantity. Since all is needful, and the justifying whole is infinite, there would seem to be a greater dignity in the larger part. As the best copy of a picture, other things being equal, would be one that represented it all, so the best expression of the world, next to the world itself, would be the largest portion of it any one could absorb. Progress would then mean annexation. Growth would not come by expressing better an innate soul which involved a particular ideal, but by assimilating more and more external things till the original soul, by their influence, was wholly recast and unrecognisable. This moral agility would be true merit; we should always be "striving onward." Life would be a sort of demonic vortex, boiling at the centre and omnivorous at the circumference, till it finally realised the supreme vocation of vortices, to have "their centre everywhere and their circumference nowhere." This somewhat troubled situation might seem sublime to us, transformed as we too should be; and so we might reach the most remarkable and doubtless the "highest" form of optimism—optimism in hell.
[Sidenote: Chaos in the theory of mind.]
Confusing as these cross-currents and revulsions may prove in the field where mechanism is more or less at home, in the field of material operations, they are nothing to the primeval chaos that still broods over the other hemisphere, over the mental phase of existence. The difficulty is not merely that no mechanism is discovered or acknowledged here, but that the phenomena themselves are ambiguous, and no one seems to know when he speaks of mind whether he means something formal and ideal, like Platonic essences and mathematical truths, or reflection and intelligence, or sensation possessing external causes and objects, or finally that ultimate immediacy or brute actuality which is characteristic of any existence. Other even vaguer notions are doubtless often designated by the word psychical; but these may suffice for us to recognise the initial dilemmas in the subject and the futility of trying to build a science of mind, or defining the relation of mind to matter, when it is not settled whether mind means the form of matter, as with the Platonists, or the effect of it, as with the materialists, or the seat and false knowledge of it, as with the transcendentalists, or perhaps after all, as with the pan-psychists, mind means exactly matter itself.[D]
[Sidenote: Origin of self-consciousness.]
To see how equivocal everything is in this region, and possibly to catch some glimpse of whatever science or sciences might some day define it, we may revert for a moment to the origin of human notions concerning the mind. If either everything or nothing that men came upon in their primitive day-dream had been continuous in its own category and traceable through the labyrinth of the world, no mind and no self-consciousness need ever have appeared at all. The world might have been as magical as it pleased; it would have remained single, one budding sequence of forms with no transmissible substance beneath them. These forms might have had properties we now call physical and at the same time qualities we now call mental or emotional; there is nothing originally incongruous in such a mixture, chaotic and perverse as it may seem from the vantage-ground of subsequent distinctions. Existence might as easily have had any other form whatsoever as the one we discover it to have in fact. And primitive men, not having read Descartes, and not having even distinguished their waking from their dreaming life nor their passions from their environment, might well stand in the presence of facts that seem to us full of inward incongruity and contradiction; indeed, it is only because original data were of that chaotic sort that we call ourselves intelligent for having disentangled them and assigned them to distinct sequences and alternative spheres.
The ambiguities and hesitations of theory, down to our own day, are not all artificial or introduced gratuitously by sophists. Even where prejudice obstructs progress, that prejudice itself has some ancient and ingenuous source. Our perplexities are traces of a primitive total confusion; our doubts are remnants of a quite gaping ignorance. It was impossible to say whether the phantasms that first crossed this earthly scene were merely instinct with passion or were veritable passions stalking through space. Material and mental elements, connections natural and dialectical, existed mingled in that chaos. Light was as yet inseparable from inward vitality and pain drew a visible cloud across the sky. Civilised life is that early dream partly clarified; science is that dense mythology partly challenged and straightened out.
The flux, however, was meantime full of method, if only discrimination and enlarged experience could have managed to divine it. Its inconstancy, for one thing, was not so entire that no objects could be fixed within it, or marshalled in groups, like the birds that flock together. Animals could be readily distinguished from the things about them, their rate of mobility being so much quicker; and one animal in particular would at once be singled out, a more constant follower than any dog, and one whose energies were not merely felt but often spontaneously exerted—a phenomenon which appeared in no other part of the world. This singular animal every one called himself. One object was thus discovered to be the vehicle for perceiving and affecting all the others, a movable seat or tower from which the world might be surveyed.