Chapter XI: The Copernican Revolution
Kant claimed that he had effected a Copernican evolution in philosophy by treating the world and our knowledge of it from the standpoint of the knowing subject. To most critics, the endeavor to make the known world turn on the constitution of the knowing mind, seems like a return to an ultra-Ptolemaic system. But Copernicus, as Kant understood him, effected a straightening out of astronomical phenomena by interpreting their perceived movements from their relation to the perceiving subject, instead of treating them as inherent in the things perceived. The revolution of the sun about the earth as it offers itself to sense-perception was regarded as due to the conditions of human observation and not to the movements of the sun itself. Disregarding the consequences of the changed point of view, Kant settled upon this one feature as characteristic of the method of Copernicus. He thought he could generalize this feature of Copernican method, and thus clear up a multitude of philosophical difficulties by attributing the facts in question to the constitution of the human subject in knowing.
That the consequence was Ptolemaic rather than Copernican is not to be wondered at. In fact, the alleged revolution of Kant consisted in making explicit what was implicit in the classic tradition. In words, the latter had asserted that knowledge is determined by the objective constitution of the universe. But it did so only after it had first assumed that the universe is itself constituted after the pattern of reason. Philosophers first constructed a rational system of nature and then borrowed from it the features by which to characterize their knowledge of it. Kant, in effect, called attention to the borrowing; he insisted that credit for the borrowed material be assigned to human reason instead of to divine. His “revolution” was a shift from a theological to a human authorship; beyond that point, it was an explicit acknowledgment of what philosophers in the classic line of descent had been doing unconsciously before him. For the basic assumption of this tradition was the inherent correspondence subsisting between intellectus and the structure of Nature—the principle so definitely stated by Spinoza. By the time of Kant difficulties in this rationalistic premise had become evident. He thought to maintain the underlying idea and remedy the perplexities it entailed by placing the locus of intellect in man as a knowing subject. The irritation which this performance arouses in some minds is due rather to this transfer than to any doubt about the valid function of reason in the constitution of nature.
Kant refers incidentally to the experimental method of Galileo as an illustration of the way in which thought actually takes the lead, so that an object is known because of conformity to a prior conception:—because of its conformity to the specifications of the latter. The reference makes clear by contrast the genuine reversal contained in the experimental way of knowing. It is true that experimentation proceeds on the basis of a directive idea. But the difference between the office of the idea in determining a known object and the office assigned to it in Kant’s theory is as great as between the Copernican and the Ptolemaic systems. For an idea in experiment is tentative, conditional, not fixed and rigorously determinative. It controls an action to be performed, but the consequences of the operation determine the worth of the directive idea; the latter does not fix the nature of the object.
Moreover, in experiment everything takes place aboveboard, in the open. Every step is overt and capable of being observed. There is a specified antecedent state of things; a specified operation using means, both physical and symbolic, which are externally exhibited and reported. The entire process by which the conclusion is reached that such and such a judgment of an object is valid is overt. It can be repeated step by step by any one. Thus every one can judge for himself whether or not the conclusion reached as to the object justifies assertion of knowledge, or whether there are gaps and deflections. Moreover, the whole process goes on where other existential processes go on, in time. There is a temporal sequence as definitely as in any art, as in, say, the making of cotton cloth from ginning of raw material, through carding and spinning to the operation of the loom. A public and manifest series of definite operations, all capable of public notice and report, distinguishes scientific knowing from the knowing carried on by inner “mental” processes accessible only to introspection, or inferred by dialectic from assumed premises.
There is accordingly opposition rather than agreement between the Kantian determination of objects by thought and the determination by thought that takes place in experimentation. There is nothing hypothetical or conditional about Kant’s forms of perception and conception. They work uniformly and triumphantly; they need no differential testing by consequences. The reason Kant postulates them is to secure universality and necessity instead of the hypothetical and the probable. Nor is there anything overt, observable and temporal or historical in the Kantian machinery. Its work is done behind the scenes. Only the result is observed, and only an elaborate process of dialectic inference enables Kant to assert the existence of his apparatus of forms and categories. These are as inaccessible to observation as were the occult forms and essences whose rejection was a prerequisite of development of modern science.
These remarks are not directed particularly against Kant. For, as has been already said, he edited a new version of old conceptions about mind and its activities in knowing, rather than evolved a brand new theory. But since he happens to be the author of the phrase “Copernican revolution,” his philosophy forms a convenient point of departure for consideration of a genuine reversal of traditional ideas about the mind, reason, conceptions, and mental processes. Phases of this revolution have concerned us in the previous lectures. We have seen how the opposition between knowing and doing, theory and practice, has been abandoned in the actual enterprise of scientific inquiry, how knowing goes forward by means of doing. We have seen how the cognitive quest for absolute certainty by purely mental means has been surrendered in behalf of search for a security, having a high degree of probability, by means of preliminary active regulation of conditions. We have considered some of the definite steps by which security has come to attach to regulation of change rather than absolute certainty to the unchangeable. We have noted how in consequence of this transformation the standard of judgment has been transferred from antecedents to consequents, from inert dependence upon the past to intentional construction of a future.
If such changes do not constitute, in the depth and scope of their significance, a reversal comparable to a Copernican revolution, I am at a loss to know where such a change can be found or what it would be like. The old center was mind knowing by means of an equipment of powers complete within itself, and merely exercised upon an antecedent external material equally complete in itself. The new center is indefinite interactions taking place within a course of nature which is not fixed and complete, but which is capable of direction to new and different results through the mediation of intentional operations. Neither self nor world, neither soul nor nature (in the sense of something isolated and finished in its isolation) is the center, any more than either earth or sun is the absolute center of a single universal and necessary frame of reference. There is a moving whole of interacting parts; a center emerges wherever there is effort to change them in a particular direction.
The reversal has many phases, and these are interconnected. It cannot be said that one is more important than another. But one change stands out with an extraordinary distinctness. Mind is no longer a spectator beholding the world from without and finding its highest satisfaction in the joy of self-sufficing contemplation. The mind is within the world as a part of the latter’s own on-going process. It is marked off as mind by the fact that wherever it is found, changes take place in a directed way, so that a movement in a definite one-way sense—from the doubtful and confused to the clear, resolved and settled—takes place. From knowing as an outside beholding to knowing as an active participant in the drama of an on-moving world is the historical transition whose record we have been following.
As far as philosophy is concerned, the first direct and immediate effect of this shift from knowing which makes a difference to the knower but none in the world, to knowing which is a directed change within the world, is the complete abandonment of what we may term the intellectualist fallacy. By this is meant something which may also be termed the ubiquity of knowledge as a measure of reality. Of the older philosophies, framed before experimental knowing had made any significant progress, it may be said that they made a definite separation between the world in which man thinks and knows and the world in which he lives and acts. In his needs and in the acts that spring from them, man was a part of the world, a sharer in its fortunes, sometimes willingly, sometimes perforce; he was exposed to its vicissitudes and at the mercy of its irregular and unforeseeable changes. By acting in and upon the world he made his earthly way, sometimes failing, sometimes achieving. He was acted upon by it, sometimes carried forward to unexpected glories and sometimes overwhelmed by its disfavor.
Being unable to cope with the world in which he lived, he sought some way to come to terms with the universe as a whole. Religion was, in its origin, an expression of this endeavor. After a time, a few persons with leisure and endowed by fortune with immunity from the rougher impacts of the world, discovered the delights of thought and inquiry. They reached the conclusion that through rational thought they could rise about the natural world in which, with their body and those mental processes that were connected with the body, they lived. In striving with the inclemencies of nature, suffering its bufferings, wresting sustenance from its resources, they were parts of Nature. But in knowledge, true knowledge which is rational, occupied with objects that are universal and immutable, they escaped from the world of vicissitude and uncertainty. They were elevated above the realm in which needs are felt and laborious effort imperative. In rising above this world of sense and time, they came into rational communion with the divine which was untroubled and perfect mind. They became true participants in the realm of ultimate reality. Through knowledge, they were without the world of chance and change, and within the world of perfect and unchanging Being.
How far this glorification by philosophers and scientific investigators of a life of knowing, apart from and above a life of doing, might have impressed the popular mind without adventitious aid there is no saying. But external aid came. Theologians of the Christian Church adopted this view in a form adapted to their religious purposes. The perfect and ultimate reality was God; to know Him was eternal bliss. The world in which man lived and acted was a world of trials and troubles to test and prepare him for a higher destiny. Through thousands of ways, including histories and rites, with symbols that engaged the emotions and imagination, the essentials of the doctrine of classic philosophy filtered its way into the popular mind.
It would be a one-sided view which held that this story gives the entire account of the elevation of knowing and its object above practical action and its objects. A contributing cause was found in the harshness, cruelties and tragic frustrations of the world of action. Were it not for its brutalities and failures, the motive for seeking refuge in a higher realm of knowledge would have been lacking. It was easy and, as we say, “natural” to associate these evils with the fact that the world in which we act is a realm of change. The generic fact of change was made absolute and the source of all the troubles and defects of the world in which we directly live. At the very best, good and excellence are insecure in a world of change; good can be securely at home only in a realm of fixed unchanging substance. When the source of evil was once asserted to reside in the inherent deficiencies of a realm of change, responsibility was removed from human ignorance, incapacity and insusceptibility. It remained only to change our own attitude and disposition, to turn the soul from perishable things toward perfect Being. In this idea religion stated in one language precisely what the great philosophic tradition stated in another.
Nor is this the whole of the story. There was, strangely enough, a definitely practical ground for the elevation of knowledge above doing and making. Whenever knowledge is actually obtained, a measure of security through ability to control ensues. There is a natural inclination to treat value as a measure of reality. Since knowledge is the mode of experience that puts in our hands the key to controlling our other dealings with experienced objects, it has a central position. There is no practical point gained in asserting that a thing is what it is experienced to be apart from knowledge. If a man has typhoid fever, he has it; he does not have to search for or pry into it. But to know it, he does have to search:—to thought, to intellect, the fever is what it is known to be. For when it is known, the various phenomena of having it, the direct experiences, fall into order; we have at least that kind of control called understanding, and with this comes the possibility of a more active control. The very fact that other experiences speak, so to say, for themselves makes it unecessary to ask what they are. When the nature of an existence is in doubt and we have to seek for it, the idea of reality is consciously present. Hence the thought of existence becomes exclusively associated with knowing. Other ways of experiencing things exist so obviously that we do not think of existence in connection with them.
At all events, whatever the explanation, the idea that cognition is the measure of the reality found in other modes of experience is the most widely distributed premise of philosophies. The equation of the real and the known comes to explicit statement in idealistic theories. If we remind ourselves of the landscape with trees and grasses waving in the wind and waves dancing in sunlight, we recall how scientific thought of these things strips off the qualities significant in perception and direct enjoyment, leaving only certain physical constants stated in mathematical formulæ. What is more natural, then, than to call upon mind to reclothe by some contributory act of thought or consciousness the grim skeleton offered by science? Then if only it can be shown that mathematical relations are themselves a logical construction of thought, the knowing mind is enstated as the constitutive author of the whole scheme. Realistic theories have protested against doctrines that make the knowing mind the source of the thing known. But they have held to a doctrine of a partial equation of the real and the known; only they have read the equation from the side of the object instead of the subject. Knowledge must be the grasp or vision of the real as it “is in itself,” while emotions and affections deal with it as it is affected with an alien element supplied by the feeling and desiring subject. The postulate of the unique and exclusive relation among experienced things of knowledge and the real is shared by epistemological idealist and realist.
The meaning of a Copernican reversal is that we do not have to go to knowledge to obtain an exclusive hold on reality. The world as we experience it is a real world. But it is not in its primary phases a world that is known, a world that is understood, and is intellectually coherent and secure. Knowing consists of operations that give experienced objects a form in which the relations, upon which the onward course of events depends, are securely experienced. It marks a transitional redirection and rearrangement of the real. It is intermediate and instrumental; it comes between a relatively casual and accidental experience of existence and one relatively settled and defined. The knower is within the world of existence; his knowing, as experimental, marks an interaction of one existence with other existences. There is, however, a most important difference between it and other existential interactions. The difference is not between something going on within nature as a part of itself and something else taking place outside it, but is that between a regulated course of changes and an uncontrolled one. In knowledge, causes become means and effects become consequences, and thereby things have meanings. The known object is an antecedent object as that is intentionally rearranged and redisposed, an eventual object whose value is tested by the reconstruction it effects. It emerges, as it were, from the fire of experimental thought as a refined metal issues from operations performed on crude material. It is the same object but the same object with a difference, as a man who has been through conditions which try the temper of his being comes out the same man and a different man.
Knowledge then does not encompass the world as a whole. But the fact that it is not coextensive with experienced existence is no defect nor failure on its part. It is an expression of the fact that knowledge attends strictly to its own business:—transformation of disturbed and unsettled situations into those more controlled and more significant. Not all existence asks to be known, and it certainly does not ask leave from thought to exist. But some existences as they are experienced do ask thought to direct them in their course so that they may be ordered and fair and be such as to commend themselves to admiration, approval and appreciation. Knowledge affords the sole means by which this redirection can be effected. As the latter is brought about, parts of the experienced world have more luminous and organized meaning and their significance is rendered more secure against the gnawing tooth of time. The problem of knowledge is the problem of discovery of methods for carrying on this enterprise of redirection. It is a problem never ended, always in process; one problematic situation is resolved and another takes its place. The constant gain is not in approximation to universal solution but in betterment of methods and enrichment of objects experienced.
Man as a natural creature acts as masses and molecules act; he lives as animals live, eating, fighting, fearing, reproducing. As he lives, some of his actions yield understanding and things take on meaning, for they become signs of one another; means of expectation and of recall, preparations for what is to come and celebrations of what has gone. Activities take on ideal quality. Attraction and repulsion become love of the admirable and hate of the harsh and ugly, and they seek to find and make a world in which they may be securely at home. Hopes and fears, desires and aversions, are as truly responses to things as are knowing and thinking. Our affections, when they are enlightened by understanding, are organs by which we enter into the meaning of the natural world as genuinely as by knowing, and with greater fullness and intimacy. This deeper and richer intercourse with things can be effected only by thought and its resultant knowledge; the arts in which the potential meanings of nature are realized demand an intermediate and transitional phase of detachment and abstraction. The colder and less intimate transactions of knowing involve temporary disregard of the qualities and values to which our affections and enjoyments are attached. But knowledge is an indispensable medium of our hopes and fears, of loves and hates, if desires and preferences are to be steady, ordered, charged with meaning, secure.
The glorification of knowledge as the exclusive avenue of access to what is real is not gong to give way soon nor all at once. But it can hardly endure indefinitely. The more widespread become the habits of intelligent thought, the fewer enemies they meet from those vested interests and social institutions whose power depends upon immunity from inspection by intelligence, in short, the more matter of course they become, the less need will there seem to be for giving knowledge an exclusive and monopolistic position. It will be prized for its fruits rather than for the properties assigned to it when it was a new and precarious enterprise. The common fact that we prize in proportion to rarity has a good deal to do with the exclusive esteem in which knowledge has been held. There is so much unintelligent appetite and impulse, so much routine action, so much that is dictated by the arbitrary power of other persons, so much, in short, that is not informed and enlightened by knowledge, that it is not surprising that action and knowledge should have been isolated in thought from one another, and knowledge treated as if it alone had dealings with real existence. I do not know when knowledge will become naturalized in the life of society. But when it is fully acclimatized, its instrumental, as distinct from its monopolistic, rôle in approach to things of nature and society will be taken for granted without need for such arguments as I have been engaging in. Meantime, the development of the experimental method stands as a prophecy of the possibility of the accomplishment of this Copernican Revolution.
Whenever anyone speaks about the relation of knowledge (especially if the word science be used) to our moral, artistic and religious interests, there are two dangers to which he is exposed. There exist on one hand efforts to use scientific knowledge to substantiate moral and religious beliefs, either with respect to some specific form in which they are current or in some vague way that is felt to be edifying and comforting. On the other hand, philosophers derogate the importance and necessity of knowledge in order to make room for an undisputed sway of some set of moral and religious tenets. It may be that preconceptions will lead some to interpret what has been said in one or other of these senses. If so, it is well to state that not a word has been said in depreciation of science; what has been criticized is a philosophy and habit of mind on the ground of which science is prized for false reasons. Nor does this negative statement cover the whole ground. Knowledge is instrumental. But the purport of our whole discussion has been in praise of tools, instrumentalities, means, putting them on a level equal in value to ends and consequences, since without them the latter are merely accidental, sporadic and unstable. To call known objects, in their capacity of being objects of knowledge, means is to appreciate them, not to depreciate them.
Affections, desires, purposes, choices are going to endure as long as man is man; therefore as long as man is man, there are going to be ideas, judgments, beliefs about values. Nothing could be sillier than to attempt to justify their existence at large; they are going to exist anyway. What is inevitable needs no proof for its existence. But these expressions of our nature need direction, and direction is possible only through knowledge. When they are informed by knowledge, they themselves constitute, in their directed activity, intelligence in operation. Thus as far as concerns particular value-beliefs, particular moral and religious ideas and creeds, the import of what has been said is that they need to be tested and revised by the best knowledge at command. The moral of the discussion is anything but a reservation for them of a position in which they are exempt from the impact, however disintegrative it may be, of new knowledge.
The relation between objects as known and objects with respect to value is that between the actual and the possible. “The actual” consists of given conditions; “the possible” denotes ends or consequences not now existing but which the actual may through its use bring into existence. The possible in respect to any given actual situation is thus an ideal for that situation; from the standpoint of operational definition—of thinking in terms of action—the ideal and the possible are equivalent ideas. Idea and ideal have more in common than certain letters of the alphabet. Everywhere an idea, in its intellectual content, is a projection of what something existing may come to be. One may report a quality already sensed in a proposition, as when standing before the fire I remark upon how hot it is. When seeing something at a distance, I judge without sensible contact that it must be hot; “hot” expresses a consequence which I infer would be experienced if I were to approach close enough; it designates a possibility of what is actually there in experience. The instance is a trivial one, but it sets forth what happens in every case where any predicate, whether quality or relation, expresses an idea rather than a sensibly perceived characteristic. The difference is not between one mental state called a sensation and another called an image. It is between what is experienced as being already there and what marks a possibility of being experienced. If we agree to leave out the eulogistic savor of “ideal” and define it in contrast with the actual, the possibility denoted by an idea is the ideal phase of the existent.
The problem of the connection or lack of connection of the actual and the ideal has always been the central problem of philosophy in its metaphysical aspect, just as the relation between existence and idea has been the central theme of philosophy on the side of the theory of knowledge. Both issues come together in the problem of the relation of the actual and the possible. Both problems are derived from the necessities of action if that is to be intelligently regulated. Assertion of an idea or of an ideal, if it is genuine, is a claim that it is possible to modify what exists so that it will take on a form possessed of specifiable traits. This statement as it relates to an idea, to the cognitive aspect, takes us back to what has been said about ideas as designations of operations and their consequences. Its bearing upon the “ideal” concerns us at this point.
In this basic problem of the relation of the actual and ideal, classic philosophies have always attempted to prove that the ideal is already and eternally a property of the real. The quest for absolute cognitive certainty has come to a head in the quest for an ideal which is one with the ultimately real. Men have not been able to trust either the world or themselves to realize the values and qualities which are the possibilities of nature. The sense of incompetency and the sloth born of desire for irresponsibility have combined to create an overwhelming longing for the ideal and rational as an antecedent possession of actuality, and consequently something upon which we can fall back for emotional support in times of trouble.
The assumption of the antecedent inherent identity of actual and ideal has generated problems which have not been solved. It is the source of the problem of evil; of evil not merely in the moral sense, but in that of the existence of defect and aberration, of uncertainty and error, of all deviation from the perfect. If the universe is in itself ideal, why is there so much in our experience of it which is so thoroughly unideal? Attempts to answer this question have always been compelled to introduce lapse from perfect Being:—some kind of fall to which is due the distinction between noumena and phenomena, things as they really are and as they seem to be. There are many versions of this doctrine. The simplest, though not the one which has most commended itself to most philosophers, is the idea of the “fall of man,” a fall which, in the words of Cardinal Newman, has implicated all creation in an aboriginal catastrophe. I am not concerned to discuss them and their respective weaknesses and strengths. It is enough to note that the philosophies which go by the name of Idealism are attempts to prove by one method or another, cosmological, ontological or epistemological, that the Real and the Ideal are one, while at the same time they introduce qualifying additions to explain why after all they are not one.
There are three ways of idealizing the world. There is idealization through purely intellectual and logical processes, in which reasoning alone attempts to prove that the world has characters that satisfy our highest aspirations. There are, again, moments of intense emotional appreciation when, through a happy conjunction of the state of the self and of the surrounding world, the beauty and harmony of existence is disclosed in experiences which are the immediate consummation of all for which we long. Then there is an idealization through actions that are directed by thought, such as are manifested in the works of fine art and in all human relations perfected by loving care. The first path has been taken by many philosophies. The second while it lasts is the most engaging. It sets the measure of our ideas of possibilities that are to be realized by intelligent endeavor. But its objects depend upon fortune and are insecure. The third method represents the way of deliberate quest for security of the values that are enjoyed by grace in our happy moments.
That in fortunate moments objects of complete and approved enjoyment are had is evidence that nature is capable of giving birth to objects that stay with us as ideal. Nature thus supplies potential material for embodiment of ideals. Nature, if I may use the locution, is idealizable. It lends itself to operations by which it is perfected. The process is not a passive one. Rather nature gives, not always freely but in response to search, means and material by which the values we judge to have supreme quality may be embodied in existence. It depends upon the choice of man whether he employs what nature provides and for what ends he uses it.
Idealism of this type is not content with dialectical proofs that the perfect is already and immutably in Being, either as a property of some higher power or as an essence. The emotional satisfactions and encouragements thus supplied are not an adequate substitute for an ideal which is projected in order to be a guide of our doings. While the happy moment brings us objects to admire, approve and revere, the security and extent in which the beautiful, the true and the revered qualify the world, depend upon the way in which our own affections and desires for that kind or world engage activities. Things loved, admired and revered, things that spiritualistic philosophies have seized upon as the defining characters of ultimate Being, are genuine elements of nature. But without the aid and support of deliberate action based on understanding of conditions, they are transitory and unstable, as well as narrow and confined in the number of those who enjoy them.
Religious faiths have come under the influence of philosophies that have tried to demonstrate the fixed union of the actual and ideal in ultimate Being. Their interest in persuading to a life of loyalty to what is esteemed good, has been bound up with a certain creed regarding historical origins. Religion has also been involved in the metaphysics of substance, and has thrown in its lot with acceptance of certain cosmogonies. It has found itself fighting a battle and a losing one with science, as if religion were a rival theory about the structure of the natural world. It has committed itself to assertions about astronomical, geological, biological subject-matter; about questions of anthropology, literary criticism, and history. With the advances of sciences in these fields it has in consequence found itself involved in a series of conflicts, compromises, adjustments and retreats.
The religious attitude as a sense of the possibilities of existence and as devotion to the cause of these possibilities, as distinct from acceptance of what is given at the time, gradually extricates itself from these unnecessary intellectual commitments. But religious devotees rarely stop to notice that what lies at the basis of recurrent conflicts with scientific findings is not this or that special dogma so much as it is alliance with philosophical schemes which hold that the reality and power of whatever is excellent and worthy of supreme devotion, depends upon proof of its antecedent existence, so that the ideal of perfection loses its claim over us unless it can be demonstrated to exist in the sense in which the sun and stars exist.
Were it not because of this underlying assumption, there could be no conflict between science and religion. The currency of attempts to reconcile scientific conclusions with special doctrines of religion may unfortunately suggest, when such a statement is made, the idea of some infallible recipe for conciliation. But nothing is further from its meaning. It signifies that a religious attitude would surrender once for all commitment to beliefs about matters of fact, whether physical, social or metaphysical. It would leave such matters to inquirers in other fields. Nor would it substitute in their place fixed beliefs about values, save the one value of the worth of discovering the possibilities of the actual and striving to realize them. Whatever is discovered about actual existence would modify the content of human beliefs about ends, purposes and goods. But it would and could not touch the fact that we are capable of directing our affection and loyalty to the possibilities resident in the actualities discovered. An idealism of action that is devoted to creation of a future, instead of to staking itself upon propositions about the past, is invincible. The claims of the beautiful to be admired and cherished do not depend upon ability to demonstrate statements about the past history of art. The demand of righteousness for reverence does not depend upon ability to prove the existence of an antecedent Being who is righteous.
It is not possible to set forth with any accuracy or completeness just what form religion would take if it were wedded to an idealism of this sort, or just what would happen if it broke away from that quest for certitude in the face of peril and human weakness which has determined its historic and institutional career. But some features of the spirit of the change which would follow may be indicated. Not the least important change would be a shift from the defensive and apologetic position which is practically compulsory as long as religious faith is bound up with defense of doctrines regarding history and physical nature; for this entanglement subjects it to constant danger of conflict with science. The energy which is thus diverted into defense of positions that have in time to be surrendered would be released for positive activity in behalf of the security of the underlying possibilities of actual life. More important still would be liberation from attachment to dogmas framed in conditions very unlike those in which we live, and the substitution of a disposition to turn to constructive account the results of knowledge.
It is not possible to estimate the amelioration that would result if the stimulus and support given to practical action by science were no longer limited to industry and commerce and merely “secular” affairs. As long as the practical import of the advance of science is confined to these activities, the dualism between the values which religion professes and the urgent concerns of daily livelihood will persist. The gulf between them will continually grow wider, and the widening will not, judging from past history, be at the expense of the territory occupied by mundane and secular affairs. On the contrary, ideal interests will be compelled to retreat more and more to a confined ground.
The philosophy which holds that the realm of essence subsists as an independent realm of Being also emphasizes that this is a realm of possibilities; it offers this realm as the true object of religious devotion. But, by definition, such possibilities are abstract and remote. They have no concern nor traffic with natural and social objects that are concretely experienced. It is not possible to avoid the impression that the idea of such a realm is simply the hypostatizing in a wholesale way of the fact that actual existence has its own possibilities. But in any case devotion to such remote and unattached possibilities simply perpetuates the other-worldliness of religious tradition, although its other-world is not one supposed to exist. Thought of it is a refuge, not a resource. It becomes effective in relation to the conduct of life only when separation of essence from existence is cancelled; when essences are taken to be possibilities to be embodied through action in concrete objects of secure experience. Nothing is gained by reaching the latter through a circuitous course.
Religious faith which attaches itself to the possibilities of nature and associated living would, with its devotion to the ideal, manifest piety toward the actual. It would not be querulous with respect to the defects and hardships of the latter. Respect and esteem would be given to that which is the means of realization of possibilities, and to that in which the ideal is embodied if it ever finds embodiment. Aspiration and endeavor are not ends in themselves; value is not in them in isolation but in them as means to that reorganization of the existent in which approved meanings are attained. Nature and society include within themselves projection of ideal possibilities and contain the operations by which they are actualized. Nature may not be worshiped as divine even in the sense of the intellectual love of Spinoza. But nature, including humanity, with all its defects and imperfections, may evoke heartfelt piety as the source of ideals, of possibilities, of aspiration in their behalf, and as the eventual abode of all attained goods and excellencies.
I have no intention of entering into the field of the psychology of religion, that is to say, the personal attitudes involved in religious experience. But I suppose that no one can deny that the sense of dependence, insisted upon, for example, by Sohleiermacher, comes close to the heart of the matter. This sense has taken many different forms in connection with different states of culture. It has shown itself in abject fears, in practice of extreme cruelties designed to propitiate the powers upon which we depend, and in militantly fanatical intolerance on the part of those who felt that they had special access to the ultimate source of power and a peculiar authorization to act in its behalf. It has shown itself in noble humilities and unquenchable ardors. History shows that there is no channel in which the sense of dependence is predestined to express itself.
But of the religious attitude which is allied to acceptance of the ideally good as the to-be-realized possibilities of existence, one statement may be made with confidence. At the best, all our endeavors look to the future and never attain certainty. The lesson of probability holds for all forms of activity as truly as for the experimental operations of science, and even more poignantly and tragically. The control and regulation of which so much has been said never signifies certainty of outcome, although the greater meed of security it may afford will not be known until we try the experimental policy in all walks of life. The unknown surrounds us in other forms of practical activity even more than in knowing, for they reach further into the future, in more significant and less controllable ways. A sense of dependence is quickened by that Copernican revolution which looks to security amid change instead of to certainty in attachment to the fixed.
It would, moreover, alter its dominant quality. One of the deepest of moral traditions is that which identifies the source of moral evil, as distinct from retrievable error, with pride, and which identifies pride with isolation. This attitude of pride assumes many forms. It has found among those who profess the most complete dependence, often preëminently among them. The pride of the zealously devout is the most dangerous form of pride. There is a divisive pride of the learned, as well as of family wealth and power. The pride of those who feel themselves learned in the express and explicit will of God is the most exclusive. Those who have this pride, one that generates an exclusive institutionalism and then feeds and sustains itself through its connection with an institution claiming spiritual monopoly, feel themselves to be special organs of the divine, and in its name claim authority over others.
The historic isolation of the church from other social institutions is the result of this pride. The isolation, like all denials of interaction and interdependence, confines to special channels the power of those who profess special connection with the ideal and spiritual. In condemning other modes of human association to an inferior position and rôle, it breeds irresponsibility in the latter. This result is perhaps the most serious of the many products of that dualism between nature and spirit in which isolation of the actual and the possible eventuates. The sense of dependence that is bred by recognition that the intent and effort of man are never final but are subject to the uncertainties of an indeterminate future, would render dependence universal and shared by all. It would terminate the most corroding form of spiritual pride and isolation, that which divides man from man at the foundation of life’s activities. A sense of common participation in the inevitable uncertainties of existence would be coeval with a sense of common effort and shared destiny. Men will never love their enemies until they cease to have enmities. The antagonism between the actual and the ideal, the spiritual and the natural, is the source of the deepest and most injurious of all enmities.
What has been said might seem to ignore the strength of those traditions in which are enshrined the emotions and imaginations of so many human beings, as well as the force of the established institutions by which these traditions are carried. I am, however, engaged only in pointing out the possibility of a change. This task does not require us to ignore the practical difficulties in the way of realizing it. There is one aspect of these difficulties which is pertinent at this point. It is appropriate to inquire as to the bearing of them upon the future office of philosophy. A philosophy committed to rational demonstration of the fixed and antecedent certainty of the ideal, with a sharp demarcation of knowledge and higher activity from all forms of practical activity, is a philosophy which perpetuates the obstacles in the way of realization of the possibility that has been pointed out. It is easy both to minimize the practical effect of philosophic theories and to exaggerate it. Directly, it is not very great. But as an intellectual formulation and justification of habits and attitudes already obtaining among men its influence is immense. The vis inertiae of habit is tremendous, and when it is reinforced by a philosophy which also is embodied in institutions, it is so great as to be a factor in sustaining the present confusion and conflict of authorities and allegiances.
A final word about philosophy is then in place. Like religion it has come into conflict with the natural sciences, or at least its path has diverged increasingly from theirs since the seventeenth century. The chief cause of the split is that philosophy has assumed for its function a knowledge of reality. This fact makes it a rival instead of a complement to the sciences. It has forced philosophy into claiming a kind of knowledge which is more ultimate than theirs. In consequence it has, at least in its more systematic forms, felt obliged to revise the conclusions of science to prove that they do not mean what they say; or that, in any case they apply to a world of appearances instead of to the superior reality to which philosophy directs itself. Idealistic philosophies have attempted to prove from an examination of the conditions of knowledge that mind is the only reality. What does it matter, they have said in effect, if physical knowledge recognizes only matter, since matter itself is mental? Idealisms in proving that the ideal is once for all the real has absolved itself from the office, more useful if humbler, of attempting that interpretation of the actual by means of which values could be made more extensive and more secure.
General ideas, hypotheses, are necessary in science itself. They serve an indispensable purpose. They open new points of view; they liberate us from the bondage of habit which is always closing in on us, restricting our vision both of what is and of what the actual may become. They direct operations that reveal new truths and new possibilities. They enable us to escape from the pressure of immediate circumstance and provincial boundaries. Knowledge falters when imagination clips its wings or fears to use them. Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. What are now working conceptions, employed as a matter of course because they have withstood the tests of experiment and have emerged triumphant, were once speculative hypotheses.
There is no limit set to the scope and depth of hypotheses. There are those of short and technical range and there are those as wide as experience. Philosophy has always claimed universality for itself. It will make its claim good when it connects this universality with the formation of directive hypotheses instead of with a sweeping pretension to knowledge of universal Being. That hypotheses are fruitful when they are suggested by actual need, are bulwarked by knowledge already attained, and are tested by the consequences of the operations they evoke goes without saying. Otherwise imagination is dissipated into fantasies and rises vaporously into the clouds.
The need for large and generous ideas in the direction of life was never more urgent than in the confusion of tongues, beliefs and purposes that characterizes present life. Knowledge of actual structure and processes of existence has reached a point where a philosophy which has the will to use knowledge has guidance and support. A philosophy which abandoned its guardianship of fixed realities, values and ideals, would find a new career for itself. The meaning of science in terms of science, in terms of knowledge of the actual, may well be left to science itself. Its meaning in terms of the great human uses to which it may be put, its meaning in the service of possibilities of secure value, offers a field for exploration which cries out from very emptiness. To abandon the search for absolute and immutable reality and value may seem like a sacrifice. But this renunciation is the condition of entering upon a vocation of greater vitality. The search for values to be secured and shared by all, because buttressed in the foundations of social life, is a quest in which philosophy would have no rivals but coadjutors in men of good will.
Philosophy under such conditions finds itself in no opposition to science. It is a liaison officer between the conclusions of science and the modes of social and personal action through which attainable possibilities are projected and striven for. No more than a religion devoted to inspiration and cultivation of the sense of ideal possibilities in the actual would it find itself checked by any possible discovery of science. Each new discovery would afford a new opportunity. Such a philosophy would have a wide field of criticism before it. But its critical mind would be directed against the domination exercised by prejudice, narrow interest, routine custom and the authority which issues from institutions apart from the human ends they serve. This negative office would be but the obverse of the creative work of the imagination in pointing to the new possibilities which knowledge of the actual discloses and in projecting methods for their realization in the homely everyday experience of mankind.
Philosophy has often entertained the ideal of a complete integration of knowledge. But knowledge by its nature is analytic and discriminating. It attains large syntheses, sweeping generalizations. But these open up new problems for consideration, new fields for inquiry; they are transitions to more detailed and varied knowledge. Diversification of discoveries and the opening up of new points of view and new methods are inherent in the progress of knowledge. This fact defeats the idea of any complete synthesis of knowledge upon an intellectual basis. The sheer increase of specialized knowledge will never work the miracle of producing an intellectual whole. Nevertheless, the need for integration of specialized results of science remains, and philosophy should contribute to the satisfaction of the need.
The need, however, is practical and human rather than intrinsic to science itself; the latter is content as long as it can move to new problems and discoveries. The need for direction of action in large social fields is the source of a genuine demand for unification of scientific conclusions. They are organized when their bearing on the conduct of life is disclosed. It is at this point that the extraordinary and multifarious results of scientific inquiry are unorganized, scattered, chaotic. The astronomer, biologist, chemist, may attain systematic wholes, at least for a time, within his own field. But when we come to the bearing of special conclusions upon the conduct of social life, we are, outside of technical fields, at a loss. The force of tradition and dogmatic authority is due, more than to anything else, to precisely this defect. Man has never had such a varied body of knowledge in his possession before, and probably never before has he been so uncertain and so perplexed as to what his knowledge means, what it points to in action and in consequences.
Were there any consensus as to the significance of what is known upon beliefs about things of ideal and general value, our life would be marked by integrity instead of by distraction and by conflict of competing aims and standards. Needs of practical action in large and liberal social fields would give unification to our special knowledge; and the latter would give solidity and confidence to the judgment of values that control conduct. Attainment of this consensus would mean that modern life had reached maturity in discovering the meaning of its own intellectual movement. It would find within its own interests and activities the authoritative guidance for its own affairs which it now vainly seeks in oscillation between outworn traditions and reliance upon casual impulse.
The situation defines the vital office of present philosophy. It has to search out and disclose the obstructions; to criticize the habits of mind which stand in the way; to focus reflection upon needs congruous to present life; to interpret the conclusions of science with respect to their consequences for our beliefs about purposes and values in all phases of life. The development of a system of thought capable of giving this service is a difficult undertaking; it can proceed only slowly and through coöperative effort. In these pages I have tried to indicate in outline the nature of the task to be accomplished and to suggest some of the resources at hand for its realization.