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Preface to First Edition

THESE lectures do not form a systematic treatise. They only attempt to discuss in a popular way certain assumptions of ‘modern science’ which have led to a widespread, but more or less tacit, rejection of idealistic views of the world. These assumptions are, of course, no part of the general body of the natural sciences, but rather prepossessions that, after gradually taking shape in the minds of many absorbed in scientific studies, have entered into the current thought of our time. Though, as I believe, these prepossessions will prove to be ill-grounded and mistaken, yet they are nevertheless the almost inevitable outcome of the standpoint and the premisses from which the natural sciences start. If with the history of science and the results of science before us we pass straight on to the construction of a philosophy, idealism has no chance. But, in truth, ‘modern science’ hardly needs to construct its philosophy; for, without any conscious labour on its part, the naturalistic view of the world seems to stand out clearly of itself. Figuratively speaking we have, as it were, the nebular hypothesis exemplified in the evolution of knowledge. (And for Mr. Spencer, by the way, the exemplification is more than figurative.) From an inchoate confusion of Glaube and Aberglaube, of probable opinions and fanciful surmises, there gradually emerges the clear circle of the sciences, waxing brighter as it advances in coherence and continuity, while the void of nescience beyond grows too dark for shadows, too empty for dreams; till at length all there is to know finds a place in an unbroken concatenation of laws, binding nature fast in fate. Taking science as the touchstone of knowledge, “knowing in the strict sense,” as Mr. Spencer calls it, we must admit that we do not know God or even see room for God at all. Such is the naturalistic contrast of science and nescience, on the strength of which Naturalism takes Agnosticism for an ally. But the agnostic opposition of knowable and unknowable is by no means identical with this contrast; and the alliance is proving ill-starred in consequence. For the distinction of known and unknown, as science intends it, is, we may say, a mere objective distinction of fact; the distinction of knowable and unknowable as used by the agnostic, on the other hand, brings the knower himself to the fore, and entails an examination both of the standpoint and of the premisses from which science, without any preliminary criticism, set forth. In other words, Naturalism is essentially dogmatic, whereas Agnosticism is essentially sceptical.

But this strange liaison, though disastrous to Naturalism, has served to promote Idealism in sundry ways. The old materialism has been repudiated and an agnostic or neutral monism—nihilism some would call it—has come into vogue in its stead. ‘Modern Science’ seems at this point in a dilemma; either this nondescript monism must lapse back into materialism or move on to spiritualism. But the relapse is difficult and the present unity and completeness seem mainly to depend. Naturalism, we find, though rejecting materialism, abandons neither the materialistic standpoint nor the materialistic endeavour to colligate the facts of life, mind, and history with a mechanical scheme. But the compact of Naturalism with Agnosticism, like the legendary compacts with the devil, to which Lange happily compares it, costs Naturalism, as it turns out, its entire philosophical existence. In order to be free of ‘metaphysical quagmires’ such as the ideas of substance and cause, it is led to reject the reality not only of mind, but even of matter; and in this state of ideophobia must collapse, for lack of the very ideas it dreads.

The following is a brief outline of the argument:—A. i. Mechanics, as a branch of mathematics dealing simply with the quantitative aspects of physical phenomena, can dispense entirely with ‘real categories’; not so the mechanical theory of Nature, which aspires to resolve the actual world into an actual mechanism. Homœopathic remedies are the best for that disorder; and, in fact, at the present time mathematicians are, of all men of science, the least tainted with it. An inquiry into the character and mutual relations of Abstract Dynamics, Molar Mechanics, and Molecular Mechanics, seems to shew that the modern dream of a mechanical ἀρχὴ is as wild as the Pythagorean of an arithmetical one. (Lectures 2–6.) ii. A powerful, though unintentional refutation of this theory is furnished by Mr. Herbert Spencer's attempt to base a philosophy of evolution on the doctrine of the conservation of energy. When at length Naturalism is forced to take account of the facts of life and mind, we find the strain on the mechanical theory is more than it will bear. Mr. Spencer has blandly to confess that ‘two volumes’ of his ‘Synthetic Philosophy’ are missing, the volumes that should connect inorganic with biological, evolution. (Lectures 7–9.) Turning to the great work of Darwin, we find, on the one hand, no pretence at even conjecturing a mechanical derivation of life;1 and, on the other, we find teleological factors, implicating mind and incompatible with mere mechanism, regarded as indispensable. (Lecture 10.) iii. And finally, when confronted with the relation of mind and body, Naturalism is driven, in the endeavour to maintain its mechanical basis inviolable, to broach psychophysical theories in flagrant contradiction not only with sound mechanical principles and sound logic, but with the plain facts of daily experience. To the body as a phenomenal machine corresponds the mind as an epiphenomenal machine, albeit the correspondence cannot be called causal in any physical sense, nor casual in any logical sense. (Lectures 11–12.)

B. An examination of the ‘real principles’ of Naturalism thus secures us a specially advantageous position for discussing the epistemological questions on which the justification of idealism depends. iv. The dualism of matter and mind, which has made the connexion of body and soul an enigma for the naturalist, has rendered the converse problem, as to the perception of an external world, equally vexatious to the psychologist. It is obvious that there is no such dualism in experience itself, with which we must begin; and reflecting upon experience as a whole, we learn how such dualism has arisen: also we see that it is false. (Lectures 14–17.) Further, such reflexion shews that the unity of experience cannot be replaced by an unknowable that is no better than a gulf between two disparate series of phenomena and epiphenomena. Once materialism is abandoned and dualism found untenable, a spiritualistic monism remains the one stable position. It is only in terms of mind that we can understand the unity, activity, and regularity that nature presents. In so understanding we see that Nature is Spirit. (Lectures 18–20.)

It is to be feared that inconsistencies and misunderstandings may be detected in the course of an argument elaborated piecemeal over a period of three years, and continually interrupted by other work. Some of these I might myself have discovered had it been possible to do more than publish the lectures substantially as they were delivered.

There only remains the pleasant duty of acknowledging the valuable help received from many kind friends. Among these I must mention Professor Poynting, F.R.S., of Mason's College, Birmingham; Dr. E. W. Hobson, F.R.S., of Christ's College, Cambridge; the Hon. B. A. W. Russell, Fellow of Trinity College; and particularly Professor J. S. Mackenzie, of University College, Cardiff, who has aided me with many judicious criticisms in the course of reading the proof sheets.


March, 1899.

  • 1.

    “It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.” Letter to Hooker, Darwin's Life, vol. iii, p. 18.