John Lord.

Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents online

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of this or that author with a view of observing its peculiarities. The
thought of style, considered as an end in itself, has rarely, if ever,
been present with him, his sole purpose being to express ideas as
clearly as possible, and, when the occasion called for it, with as much
force as might be. He has observed, however, he says, that some
difference has been made in his style by the practice of dictation. Up
to 1860 his books and review articles were written with his own hand.
Since then they have all been dictated. He thinks that there is
foundation for the prevailing belief that dictation is apt to cause
diffuseness. The remark was once made to him, it seems, by two good
judges - George Henry Lewes and George Eliot - that the style of "Social
Statics" is better than the style of his later volumes; Mr. Spencer
would ascribe the contrast to the deteriorating effect of dictation. A
recent experience has strengthened him in this conclusion. When lately
revising "First Principles," which originally was dictated, the cutting
out of superfluous words, clauses, sentences, and sometimes paragraphs,
had the effect of abridging the work by about one-tenth. Touching the
style of other writers, Mr. Spencer points out the defects in some
passages quoted from Matthew Arnold and Froude. He says that he is
repelled by the ponderous, involved structure of Milton's prose, and he
dissents from the applause of Ruskin's style on the ground that it is
too self-conscious, and implies too much thought of effect. On the other
hand, he has always been attracted by the finished naturalness of
Thackeray.

A word should here be said about the misconception of Mr. Spencer's
position with reference to the fundamental postulate of religions, - a
misconception which used to be more current than it is now. He cannot
fairly be described as a materialist. He is no more a materialist than
he is a theist. He is, in the strictest sense of the word, an agnostic.
He was the most conspicuous example of the _thing_ before Huxley
invented the _word_. The misconception was shared by no less a man than
the late Benjamin Jowett, the well-known master of Balliol College,
Oxford, who, in one of his published "Letters," says: "I sometimes think
that we platonists and idealists are not half so industrious as those
repulsive people who only 'believe what they can hold in their hand,'
Bain, H. Spencer, etc., who are the very Tuppers of philosophy." It is
hard to see how the law of evolution and other generalizations of an
abstract kind with which Mr. Spencer's name is associated can be held in
anybody's hands. Letting that pass, however, Mr. Spencer has himself
suggested that, since the system of synthetic philosophy begins with a
division entitled the "Unknowable," having for its purpose to show that
all material phenomena are manifestations of a Power which transcends
our knowledge, - that "force as we know it can be regarded only as a
Conditioned effect of the Unconditioned Cause" - there has been thereby
afforded sufficiently decided proof of belief in something which cannot
be held in the hands. It is, indeed, absurd to apply the epithet
"materialist" to a man who has written in "The Principles of
Psychology": "Hence, though of the two it seems easier to translate
so-called matter into so-called spirit than to translate so-called
spirit into so-called matter (which latter is, indeed, wholly
impossible), yet no translation can carry us beyond our symbols."



III.

Any exposition of the "Synthetic Philosophy" must, of course, begin with
the volume entitled "First Principles." In the first part of this
preliminary work the author carries a step further the doctrine of the
Unknowable put into shape by Hamilton and Mansel. He points out the
various directions in which science leads to the same conclusion, and
shows that in their united belief in an Absolute that transcends not
only human knowledge but human conception lies the only possible
reconciliation of science and religion. In the second part of the same
book Mr. Spencer undertakes to formulate the laws of the Knowable. That
is to say, he essays to state the ultimate principles discernible
throughout all manifestations of the Absolute, - those highest
generalizations now being disclosed by science, such, for example, as
"the Conservation of Force," which are severally true, not of one class
of phenomena, but of _all_ classes of phenomena, and which are thus the
keys to all classes of phenomena.

The conclusions reached in "First Principles" may be thus summed up:
over and over again in the five hundred pages devoted to their
formulation, it is shown in various ways that the deepest truths we can
reach are simply statements of the widest uniformities in our
experiences of the relations of Matter, Motion, and Force; and that
Matter, Motion, and Force are but symbols of the Unknown reality. A
Power of which the nature remains forever inconceivable, and to which no
limits in Time and Space can be imagined, works in us certain effects.
These effects have certain likenesses of kind, the most general of which
we class together under the names of Matter, Motion, and Force; and
between these effects there are likenesses of connection, the most
constant of which we class as laws of the highest certainty. Analysis
reduces these several kinds of effects to one kind of effect; and these
several kinds of uniformity to one kind of uniformity. The highest
achievement of Science is the interpretation of all orders of phenomena
as differently conditioned manifestations of this one kind of effect,
under differently conditioned modes of this one kind of uniformity. When
science has done this, however, it has done nothing more than
systematize our experiences, and has in no degree extended the limits of
our experiences. We can say no more than before whether the
uniformities are as absolutely necessary as they have become to our
thought relatively necessary. The utmost possibility for us is an
interpretation of the process of things, as it presents itself to our
limited consciousness; but how this process is related to the actual
process we are unable to conceive, much less to know.

Similarly we are admonished to remember that, while the connection
between the phenomenal order and the ontological order is forever
inscrutable, so is the connection between the conditioned forms of being
and the unconditioned form of being forever inscrutable. The
interpretation of all phenomena in terms of Matter, Motion, and Force is
nothing more than the reduction of our complex symbols of thought to the
simplest symbols; and when the equation has been brought to its lowest
terms, the symbols remain symbols still. Hence the reasonings contained
in "First Principles" afford no support to either of the antagonist
hypotheses respecting the ultimate nature of things. Their implications
are no more materialistic than they are spiritualistic, and no more
spiritualistic than they are materialistic. The establishment of
correlation and equivalence between the forces of the outer and the
inner worlds serves to assimilate either to the other, according as we
set out with one or the other. He who rightly interprets the doctrine
propounded in "First Principles" will see that neither the forces of
the outer, nor the forces of the inner, world can be taken as ultimate.
He will see that, though the relation of subject and object renders
necessary to us the antithetical conceptions of Spirit and Matter, the
one is no less than the other to be regarded as but a sign of the
Unknown Reality which underlies both.

In logical order the formulation of "First Principles" should have been
followed by the application of them to Inorganic Nature. This great
division of Mr. Spencer's subject is passed over, however; partly
because, even without it, the scheme is too extensive to be carried out
in the lifetime of one man; and partly because the interpretation of
Organic Nature, after the proposed method, is of more immediate
importance. Before noting how Mr. Spencer applies his fundamental
principles to the interpretation of the phenomena of life, it may be
well to put before the reader's eye the "formula of evolution" in the
author's own language: "Evolution is an integration of matter and
concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from
an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent
heterogeneity; and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel
transformation." This law of evolution is equally applicable to all
orders of phenomena, - "astronomic, geologic, biologic, psychologic,
sociologic, etc.," - since these are all component parts of one cosmos,
though disguised from one another by conventional groupings. It is
obvious that, so long as evolution is merely established by induction,
it belongs, not to philosophy, but to science. To belong to philosophy
it must be deduced from the persistence of force. Mr. Spencer holds that
this can be done. For any finite aggregate, being unequally exposed to
surrounding forces, will become more diverse in structure, every
differentiated part will become the parent of further differences; at
the same time, dissimilar units in the aggregate tend to separate, and
those which are similar, to cluster together ("segregation"); and this
subdivision and dissipation of forces, so long as there are any forces
unbalanced by opposite forces, must end at last in rest; the penultimate
stage of this process "in which the extremest multiformity and most
complex moving equilibrium are established," being the highest
conceivable state. The various derivative laws of phenomenal changes are
thus deducible from the persistence of force. It remains to apply them
to inorganic, organic, and superorganic existences. The detailed
treatment of inorganic evolution is omitted, as we have said, from
Spencer's plan, and he proceeds to interpret "the phenomena of life,
mind, and society in terms of Matter, Motion, and Force."



IV.

The first volume of the "Principles of Biology" consists of three parts,
the first of which sets forth the data of biology, including those
general truths of physics and chemistry with which rational biology must
start. The second part is allotted to the inductions of biology, or, in
other words, to a statement of the leading generalizations which
naturalists, physiologists, and comparative anatomists have established.
The third and final part of the first volume of the "Principles of
Biology" deals with the speculation commonly known as "the development
hypothesis," and considers its _a priori_ and _a posteriori_ evidences.

The inductive evidences for the evolutionary hypothesis, as
contra-distinguished from the special-creation hypothesis, are dealt
with in four chapters. The "Arguments from Classification" are these:
Organisms fall into groups within groups; and this is the arrangement
which we see results from evolution where it is known to take place. Of
these groups within groups, the great or primary ones are the most
unlike, the sub-groups are less unlike, the sub-sub-group still less
unlike, and so on; and this, too, is a characteristic of groups
demonstrably produced by evolution. Moreover, indefiniteness of
equivalence among the groups is common to those which we know have been
evolved, and to those supposed in the volume before us to have been
evolved. There is the further significant fact that divergent groups are
allied through their lowest rather than their highest members. Of the
"Arguments from Embryology," the first is that, when developing embryos
are traced from their common starting-point, and their divergencies and
re-divergencies are symbolized by a genealogical tree, there is manifest
a general parallelism between the arrangement of its primary, secondary,
and tertiary branches, and the arrangement of the divisions and
subdivisions of Mr. Spencer's classifications. Nor do the minor
deviations from this general parallelism, which look like difficulties,
fail on closer observation to furnish additional evidence; since those
traits of a common ancestry which embryology reveals are, if
modifications have resulted from changed conditions, liable to be
disguised in different ways and degrees, in different lines of
descendants. Mr. Spencer next considers the "Arguments from Morphology."
Apart from those kinships among organisms disclosed by their
developmental changes, the kinships which their adult forms show are
profoundly significant. The unities of type found under such different
externals are inexplicable, except as results of community of descent,
with non-community of modification. Again, each organism analyzed apart
shows, in the likenesses obscured by unlikenesses of its component
parts, a peculiarity which can be ascribed only to the formation of a
more heterogeneous organism out of a more homogeneous one. And, once
more, the existence of rudimentary organs, homologous with organs that
are developed in allied animals or plants, while it admits of no other
rational interpretation, is satisfactorily interpreted by the hypothesis
of evolution. Last of the inductive evidences are the "Arguments from
Distribution." While the facts of distribution in space are
unaccountable as results of designed adaptation of organisms to their
habitats, they are accountable as results of the competition of species,
and the spread of the more fit into the habitats of the less fit,
followed by the changes which new conditions induce. Though the facts of
distribution in time are so fragmentary that no positive conclusion can
be drawn, yet all of them are reconcilable with the hypothesis of
evolution, and some of them yield strong support, - especially the near
relationship existing between the living and extinct types in each great
geographical area. Thus of these four categories of evidence, each
furnishes several arguments which point to the same conclusion. This
coincidence would give to the induction a very high degree of
probability, even were it not enforced by deduction. As a matter of
fact, the conclusion deductively reached is in harmony with the
inductive conclusion. Mr. Spencer has deductively shown that, by its
lineage and its kindred, the evolution-hypothesis is as closely allied
with the proved truths of modern science as is the antagonist
hypothesis, that of special creation, with the proved errors of ancient
ignorance. He has shown that, instead of being a mere pseud-idea, it
admits of elaboration into a definite conception, so showing its
legitimacy as an hypothesis. Instead of positing a purely fictitious
process, the process which it alleges proves to be one actually going on
around us. To which may be added that the evolution-hypothesis presents
no radical incongruities from a moral point of view. On the other hand,
the special-creation hypothesis is shown to be not even a thinkable
hypothesis, and, while thus intellectually illusive, to have moral
implications irreconcilable with the professed beliefs of those who
hold it.

Passing from the evidence that Evolution has taken place to the
question - How has it taken place? - Mr. Spencer finds in known agencies
and known processes adequate causes of its phenomena. In astronomic,
geologic, and meteorologic changes, ever in progress, ever combining in
new and more involved ways, we have a set of inorganic factors to which
all organisms are exposed; and in the varying and complicated actions of
organisms on one another we have a set of organic factors that alter
with increasing rapidity. Thus, speaking generally, all members of the
Earth's flora and fauna experience perpetual rearrangements of external
forces. Each organic aggregate, whether considered individually or as a
continuously existing species, is modified afresh by each fresh
distribution of external forces. To its pre-existing differentiations
new differentiations are added; and thus that lapse to a more
heterogeneous state, which would have a fixed limit were the
circumstances fixed, has its limits perpetually removed by the perpetual
change of the circumstances. These modifications upon modifications,
which result in evolution, structurally considered, are the
accompaniments of those functional alterations continually required to
re-equilibrate inner with outer actions. That moving equilibrium of
inner actions corresponding with outer actions, which constitutes the
life of an organism, must either be overthrown by a change in the outer
actions or must undergo perturbations that cannot end until there is a
readjusted balance of functions and correlative adaptation of
structures. But where the external changes are either such as are fatal
when experienced by the individuals, or such as act on the individuals
in ways that do not affect the equilibrium of their functions, then the
readjustment results through the effects produced on the species as a
whole: there is indirect equilibration. By the preservation in
successive generations of those whose moving equilibria are less at
variance with the requirements, there is produced a changed equilibrium
completely in harmony with the requirements.

Even were this the whole of the evidence assignable for the belief that
organisms have been gradually evolved, Mr. Spencer holds that the belief
would have a warrant higher than is possessed by many beliefs which are
regarded as established. As a matter of fact, however, the evidence is
far from exhausted. At the outset of the first volume of "Principles of
Biology," it was remarked by the author that the phenomena presented by
the organic world as a whole cannot be properly dealt with apart from
the phenomena presented by each organism in the course of its growth,
development, and decay. The interpretation of either class of phenomena
implies interpretation of the other, since the two are in reality parts
of one process. Hence the validity of any hypothesis respecting the one
class of phenomena may be tested by its congruity with phenomena of the
other class. In the second volume of "The Principles of Biology," Mr.
Spencer passes to the more special phenomena of development, as
displayed in the structures and functions of individual organisms. If
the hypothesis that plants and animals have been progressively evolved
be true, it must furnish us with keys to these special phenomena. Mr.
Spencer finds that the hypothesis does this, and by doing it gives
numberless additional vouchers for its truth. It is impossible for us
here to review, even in outline, the extensive field traversed in the
second volume of "Principles of Biology." We would not omit, however,
to direct attention to the interesting conclusion reached by Mr. Spencer
toward the close of the volume with regard to the future of the human
race considered from the viewpoint of the possible pressure of
population upon subsistence. He points out that in man all the
equilibrations between constitution and conditions, between the
structure of society and the nature of its members, between fertility
and mortality, advance simultaneously towards a common climax. In
approaching an equilibrium between his nature and the ever-varying
circumstances of his inorganic environment, and in approaching an
equilibrium between his nature and all the requirements of the social
state, man is at the same time approaching that lowest limit of
fertility at which the equilibrium of population is maintained by the
addition of as many infants as there are subtractions by death.



V.

Next in logical order and in order of publication come the two volumes
collectively entitled "The Principles of Psychology." In these volumes
an attempt is made to trace objectively the evolution of mind from
reflex action through instinct to reason, memory, feeling, and will,
from the interaction of the nervous system with its environment.
Subjectively, mental states are analyzed, and it is contended that all
of them - including those primary scientific ideas, the perceptions of
matter, motion, space, and time, assumed in the "First Principles" - can
be analyzed into a primitive element of consciousness, something which
can be defined only as analogous to a nervous shock. These perceptions
have now become innate in the individual. They may be called - as Kant
called space and time - forms of intuition; but they have been acquired
empirically by the race, through the persistence of the corresponding
phenomena in the environment, and from the accumulated experiences of
each individual being transmitted in the form of modified structure to
his descendants. This principle of heredity is one of the laws by which
individuals are connected with one another into an organic whole; and we
thus pass to what Spencer calls superorganic evolution, implying the
co-ordinated actions of many individuals, and giving rise to the science
of sociology.

It is this science which Mr. Spencer undertakes to expound in the three
volumes entitled the "Principles of Sociology." The first of these
volumes presents a statement of the several sets of factors entering
into social phenomena. These factors are, first, human ideas and
feelings considered in their necessary order of evolution; secondly,
surrounding natural conditions; and, thirdly, those ever-complicating
conditions to which society itself gives origin. Under the caption "The
Inductions of Sociology," are set forth the general facts, structural
and functional, gathered from a survey of societies and their changes;
in other words, the empirical generalizations that are arrived at by
comparing different societies, or successive stages of the same
societies. The author then examines the evolution of governments,
general and local, as this is determined by natural causes; their
several types and metamorphosis; their increasing complexity and
specialization, and the progressive limitation of their functions. From
political the author turns to ecclesiastical organization. He traces the
differentiation of religious government from secular; its successive
complications and the multiplication of sects; the growth and continued
modification of religious ideas, as caused by advancing knowledge and
changing moral character; and the gradual reconciliation of these ideas
with the truths of abstract science. A good deal of space is devoted to
what the author calls ceremonial organization, by which he means that
third kind of government which, having a common root with the others,
and slowly becoming separate from and supplementary to them, serves to
regulate the minor actions of life. Finally, Mr. Spencer discusses
industrial organization; that is to say, the development of productive
and distributive agencies, considered in its necessary causes,
comprehending not only the progressive division of labor and the
increasing complexity of each industrial agency, but also the
successive forms of industrial government as passing through like phases
with political government.

Many pages would be requisite adequately to describe the result of the
inquiries prosecuted by Mr. Spencer during some twenty years, and
embodied in the three volumes entitled "Principles of Sociology." The
ultimate conclusions reached, however, may be summed up in a few
paragraphs. It is the author's final conviction that, if the process of
evolution, which, unceasing throughout past time, has brought life to
its present height, continues throughout the future, as we cannot but
anticipate, then, amid all the rhythmical changes in each society, amid
all the lives and deaths of nations, amid all the supplantings of race
by race, there will go on that adaptation of human nature to the social
state which began when savages first gathered together into hordes for
mutual defence, - an adaptation finally complete. Mr. Spencer foresees
that many will think this a wild imagination. Though everywhere around
them are creatures with structures and instincts which have been
gradually so moulded as to subserve their own welfares and the welfares
of their species, yet the immense majority ignore the implication that
human beings, too, have been undergoing in the past, and will undergo in
the future, progressive adjustments to the lives imposed on them by
circumstances. There are a few, nevertheless, who think it rational to
conclude that what has happened with all lower forms must happen with
the highest forms, - a few who infer that among types of men those most
fitted for making a well-working society will hereafter, as heretofore,
from time to time, emerge and spread at the expense of types less
fitted, until a fully fitted type has arisen.



Online LibraryJohn LordBeacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents → online text (page 7 of 26)