These lectures are, not surprisingly, dated even in their most innocuous assumptions; for instance, in the very limits of the term “modern science”. Despite such obvious and unavoidable marks of the time, however, their value within their time is the reason why these lectures still hold such sway in philosophical discussion and debate. The adroitly straightforward way in which Ward raises multidimensional ideals and condenses them into clear points remains both impressive and relevant—and perhaps even increasingly necessary, in an ever-more specialized academe—to modern religious and philosophical thought.
The crux of his thesis is indeed a still-common argument and reality. Ward disparages the common characterization of the mind as “episodic”, matter as “fundamental”, and science as an entity pitted against the spiritual—which is in flux, unpredictable, and thereby quantifiably lesser. He does this in the first volume by surveying the playing field of the aforementioned topics and leveling his criticisms against both naturalism and agnosticism as being “mechanical”, and against Tyndallian “emotional theology” as flimsy in terms of its breadth and the apparent simplicity of his pseudo-reconciliation between thought and faith.
Moving onward in his two-volume recounting of the lectures, Ward leads into the novel aspect of what his argument stands for, rather than just what it aims to refute. Ward’s argument is, at its core, for Idealism, and more specifically, for an Idealism that is interactive and pluralistic, with monads coming into contact to their mutual benefit. In this, Ward seems, before his time, to predict and defend in Idealism some iteration of the modern post-secular, i.e. in his support for the interaction of entities to the creative rising of novelty (something that is theorized to be seen in Whitehead, and is argued as strong evidence for Ward’s influence on his work). In his Idealism, Ward asserts a psychic, mental root of his monadic reality, though looking at this more closely we see him revealed once more as very much of his time—pre-quantum and still rooted in Leibniz still defending the elementary, discrete unit from which reality is composed.
To both ends—what the lectures say of Ward’s prescient and innovative views against the accepted naturalistic and agnostic views and toward a more relational reality, as well as their limits and immediate relevance within his time, among his contemporaries—the lectures are certainly a feat. Naturalism and Agnosticism provides clear arguments for and against existing presumptions as well as fodder for new ideas to be expanded in the post-quantum era of the 20th century, revealing perhaps its greatest triumph as a springboard for discussion that seems well-prepared to stand the temporal test of the ages.