« AnteriorContinuar »
PRESENT DAY PHILOSOPHIC TIIOUGHT: ::
Two or three things must have impressed every casual or non-professional reader of philosophy. The first is the elusiveness and difficulty of the subject. There is always something to be said on the other side. As Windelband says, “The moment you attempt to define philosophy, the philosophers themselves fail you. There is no such thing as a generally received definition of philosophy.” “Philosophy,” he says again, “has long had the reputation of being a particularly difficult study, an abstract and abstruse science for which one needs a special equipment.”
A part of the responsibility for this state of affairs has been charged to the literary habits of philosophers: “It is not so much the difficulty of philosophy," says Windelband, "as the poor literary standard of philosophical writers, which perplexes the student. They cannot liberate themselves from academic formulæ and attain a free and living contact with the thought of their time." 1 But this will not account satisfactorily for all the trouble. Berkeley was a master of English style. Hume could write with perfect clearness. Seth says of Bradley, "He is never needlessly obscure.” Other philosophers have themselves borne ample testimony to the obscurity, necessary or unnecessary, of their fellow writers on philosophy. The charge that * Introduction to Philosophy, p. 20.
he was a Hegelian, drew from J. F. Ferrier, Professor of Moral Philosophy in St. Andrews University from 1845 to 1864, the rejoinder, “I have read most of Hegel's works again and again, but I cannot say that I am adequately acquainted with his philosophy. I am able to understand only a few short passages here and there in his writings": "For Hegel himself,” says F. H. Bradley, "I assuredly think him a great philosopher, but I cannot say that I have mastered his system. “In or about 1818,” says William James, “Lord Grenville observed to Professor Wilson, that after five years' study of Kant's philosophy, he had not gathered from it one clear idea.” 2 William McDougall recently wrote, “I can always read the works of some German philosophers, especially those of Hermann Litze, with admiration and profit; but I have no longer any desire to contend with the great systems of 'idealism,' and I think it a cruel waste that the best years of the lives of many young men should be spent struggling with the obscure phrases in which Kant sought to express his profound and subtle thought.” 3 John Dewey is often cited as a man who can write clearly even on the subject of philosophy. And I think he can. Yet I do not know how even Hegel could write a more difficult sentence than this: “We keep our paths straight because we do not confuse the sequential, efficient, and functional relationship of types of experience with the contemporaneous, correlative, and structural distinctions of elements within a given function." 4 But why should I labor this point? Let us admit that philosophy is different and harder. If the only men permitted
* Pluralistic Universe, p. 5.
The Group Mind, Preface, p. xii. " Which I quote from Studies in Logical Theory, p. 17.
to write upon philosophy were those who were not specialists in abstract thinking, surface matters in it would be more readily understood, at least, however much the depths might suffer.
A second thing every reader of philosophy must have noticed is the inveterate and almost endless distinctions and refinements and ramifications to which everything leads. If you tag yourself an idealist, as against a realist, you have done something to locate yourself, and yet not much; for it may still be asked, “Are you a personal idealist or a subjective idealist, a transcendental idealist or an absolute idealist, a monistic idealist or a neo-idealist, or another particular sort?” Realism, as a general term, would describe you as not-an-idealist; but one may still be a “naive realist," a "critical realist,” or a "neo-realist.” And, in order not to be an idealist, one does not have to be a realist of any kind; he may be a materialist, a pragmatist, a pluralist, an empiricist, a humanist, a vitalist, a mechanist, a behaviorist, an instrumentalist, an evolutionary naturalist. Now in scientific lines, a man is a botanist or a biologist or a physicist according as he works in one sort of material or another. But I do not know that there are, in the same degree as in philosophy, six or seven kinds of botanists, each maintaining a party position against all the others, nor any one kind of biologist who insists that all other kinds are wrong. The study of science seems to lead toward unity, that of philosophy, toward diversity, which does not make philosophy any easier for the ordinary man.
A third thing everyone has noticed is how every writer on philosophy delves into the history of philosophy. Instead of proceeding at once to his attack on the present problems of philosophy, he usually be
gins with Plato and refers to the others in turn, telling the exact explanation offered by each of them of the point in question, and incidentally his own opinion and criticism of every one of these explanations. A book which makes no pretense that it is an historical treatment - Windelband's recent "Introduction" — deals with Anaxagoras, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Aristippus, Aristotle, Arnobius, Augustine, Bacon, Bentham, Berkeley, Bruno, Buchner, and so on through the rest of the alphabet. Hærnle has a volume entitled distinctly, “Studies in Contemporary Metaphysics,” yet its index contains references to Aristotle and Bacon and Augustine and Berkeley and Butler and Clifford and Comte and Descartes and Fechner and Hæckel and von Hartmann and Hobbes and Hume and Huxley and Kant and LaPlace and Leibnitz and Lotze and Mill and Münsterberg and Newton and Plato and Royce and Schopenhauer and Scotus and Spinoza-not to mention any more. Philosophy is like a debate, continued across oceans and centuries, in which Royce takes up Plato and expands him, and Sellers answers Kant, and Hocking replies to Hume, and James puts himself into the place of Mill and carries on from there—the debate proceeding quite irrespective of the fact that most of the debators have long been dead. In electricity it is not so. A principle is discovered, ways to apply it are invented, perfected, and the science passes on to something else. But in philosophy the problem of knowledge or of causation remains much what it was in Plato's day. Plato's answer to it, however, will not do for today, because its terms have become obsolete. Philosophy, in the persons of its living exponents, must turn the full light of today on the old problems; and find answers to them in the
language, and according to the knowledge of the present time. So there can be no finalities in philosophy which in the same terms will be true for all time, though there are elements of such permanent truth in every philosophy. For it will always be changing, stating its insights in other language forms of its time, with these glances backward also in order to keep its bearings at the landmarks set up in other times. There seems to be no way of dispensing with this historical element in the study of philosophy. Wm. James said: "I believe that Kant bequeaths to us not one single conception which is both indispensable to philosophy and which philosophy either did not possess before him or was not destined inevitably to acquire after him through the growth of man's reflection upon the hypotheses whereby science interprets nature.” But no one could say even this without knowing rather exhaustively Kant, and the types of philosophic thought which preceded and followed him. Indeed, it seems to be true, as Ritchie says. "Philosophy cannot be properly pursued apart from a consideration of its history.” 5 One may feel, as Huxley evidently did, that the historical treatment of philosophy is often overdone. "If it is your desire,” he said in his volume on Hume, "to discourse fluently and learnedly about philosophical questions, begin with the Ionians and work steadily through to the latest new speculative treatise. If you have a good memory and a fair knowledge of Greek, Latin, French, and German, three or four years spent in this way should enable you to attain your object. If, on the contrary, you are animated by the much rarer desire for real knowledge; if you want to get a clear conception of the deepest problems
Philosophical Studies, p. 69.