Riddles of the Sphinx: a study in the philosophy of evolution
It is the privilege of a preface that enables the author to deprecate some misconception of the scope and tendencies of his work by a preliminary explanation.
And this privilege is doubly valuable when the author has to excuse himself for writing a book upon subjects of the highest human interest. For he feels that it is no adequate excuse to plead that the condition of philosophy is such that his efforts cannot make it worse, and still less than the conclusions to which he has been led by many years of reflection may present some degree of novelty.
He knows that real or apparent novelty is the greatest obstacle to success, even in this most progressive century, and that the mental attitude which was ever eager " to hear some new thing " is as extinct as the " Attic salt " which seasoned the disputations of the ancient philosophers. And the more fundamental the ideas are, upon which change is alleged to be necessary, the more violent is the resistance with which novel doctrines are resented.
There is no subject, therefore, on which mankind is more conservative, and more unintelligently conservative, than metaphysics, and a novelty in meta-physics is met as coldly as a novelty in fashions is welcomed warmly. So far, then, from priding himself upon his novelty, the author would rather hope. that he has not carried innovation to a pitch too audacious and has made it sufficiently clear that his principles are either ancient principles which he has revived, or commonly current principles which he has worked out to their logical conclusions, and cleared of the inconsistencies which ordinarily deface them. It is not upon the ground of novelty that the author would base his appeal for indulgence, but rather upon two wholly different facts.
To the more or less technical public of those who love philosophy for its own sake and study it irrespective of its results, as one of the finest and most salutary disciplines of the mind, he would appeal because he believes that the experience of the last sixty years must have generated in their minds an unavowed but deep-seated and widespread distrust of and disgust with the methods which have starved philosophy in the midst of plenty, and condemned it to sterility and decay in the very midst of the unparalleled progress of all the other branches of knowledge.
Can they really believe that science is on the right path, which in the opinion of its most authoritative exponents " has made no substantial advance since Hegel," and which meets the advances of the other sciences by an attitude of querulous negation?
Our philosophers have given more or less intelligible reasons, mostly in the form of voluminous commentaries on their predecessors, for their inability to accept a scientific interpretation of things which was so un- duly neglectful of this or that technical distinction, laid down by Hegel, or Kant, or Thomas Aquinas, or Aristotle. But though they have abounded in endless criticisms of one another and of ' the scientists, they have not found it possible to inform us what interpretation they themselves would put upon the world in the light of modern discoveries.
Where is the cultivated reader to go for a positive statement of the philosophic view of the world, for an exposition of modern metaphysics, and for an explanation of their bearing on the problem of life in its modern shape? It was the sense of this want, of the absence of any interpretation of modern results in the light of ancient principles, which prompted the author to give what is substantially the first perhaps which accepts without reserve the data of modern science, and derives from them a philosophical cosmology, which can emulate the completeness of our scientific cosmogonies.
He believes that quite apart from professed philosophers, there exists a large and growing body of men, who are interested to know "what it all comes to," who are impressed by the mystery of the claim made on behalf of philosophy and yet repelled by the fragmentariness, the unattractive form and the inconclusiveness of modern philosophy. Thus there exists a great deal of philosophic inter- est which is baffled by the difficulties of the subject, a great deal of philosophic reflection which comes to nothing, or still worse, leads only to confusion.
for lack of the most ordinary facilities for studying the subject. It is with a view to affording these, and in the hope that his book may be found not only a contribution to modern philosophy, but useful also as an introduction to its study, that the author has avoided needless technicalities, and as far as possible explained their use on their first appearance.
And to some extent, the same motive has led him to treat his subject in the order which it assumes to the individual mind as it sets out on its explorations. By setting out from the anti-metaphysical agnosticism of ordinary men, it starts with a stock of ideas that are more familiar to men than the fundamental conceptions of metaphysics, which come last in the order of discovery.
And at the same time, this arrangement brings out more clearly the natural dialectic of the soul, and the necessity of the process which impels it, step by step, from the coarsest prejudice and crassest " fact," towards the loftiest ideals of metaphysics. But an adequate defence of the plan of the book may be made also on its intrinsic merits.
It is written not only in the order which is likely to be most palatable to the ordinary reader, but also in the order which is natural both to human thought and to the course of the world, -which is required by its inductive method of philosophizing (ch, vi. § 2), the order in which it took shape in the author's brain, and the order which is most worthy of the dignity of the subject. By representing the course of the argument as a sort of philosophical Pilgrim's Progress, it most emphatically asserts the vital importance of the points at issue.
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