Rossiter Johnson.

A history of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893; by authority of the Board of Directors online

. (page 47 of 67)
Online LibraryRossiter JohnsonA history of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893; by authority of the Board of Directors → online text (page 47 of 67)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

not only proposed questions, it has solved problems of which antiquity could
have had but the vaguest notion. Religion is no hindrance to philosophical
discussion ; it is a great assistance. He who heeds not its well-defined marks
finds himself drifting about on a chartless sea of speculation, with no com-
pass of certainty to determine his bearing, no polar star of truth to steer his
course by, and death engulfs him, an intellectual and moral wreck :

" An infant crying in the night —
An infant crying for the light ;
And with no language but a cry.

" The philosopher must set down theories at their true worth. A theory
is only a highly probable hypothesis. It may fully account for all the facts
known to-day, but to-morrow may bring with it a discovery that will shatter
it to pieces as being absolutely false. At most it is only a personal view of
certain phenomena. But it is not science, for science is objective. As soon
as a philosopher begins to trim facts to make them suit his hypothesis, he
finds it an obstacle rather than an aid to the knowing of the truth ; he then
prefers fancy to fact, and prefers to build up his knowledge upon ficti-


tious notions. Ignorance is far preferable to such knowledge, for much has
to be unlearned, and divesting one's self of erroneous impressions is a slow
process. Indeed, there are few men of thought who can not say that one
half their lives is devoted to the unlearning of what they had acquired during
the other half. When a man is aware of his ignorance, he has removed the
greatest obstacle in the way of his arriving at the truth. Let him, then, not
cling too closely to an hypothesis. It is at best but a temporary scaffolding
made use of in building up the structure of knowledge, and ought to be
abandoned as soon as it is found to hamper thought. Philosophic schools
are the bane of philosophy. The man abandoned to them does not think ;
he remembers, repeats ; he becomes a routinist. He lacks the first quality of
a good philosopher, which is to love truth for truth's sake ; for he loves it
only as it tallies with the teachings of his school. He becomes partisan in his
views. His eyes are veiled to the real condition of things. His intellectual
vision is diseased. In his zeal to defend one opinion at the expense of the
other, he rushes to an opposite extreme and falls into an error equally great
with that he would avoid. Therefore the expression of Pascal's, ' to laugh at
philosophy is to philosophize truly,' when applied to philosophic schools,
loses its exaggeration and becomes one of the characteristics of a true philoso-
pher. Truth is simple, and when presented in its naked reality the mind
embraces it, holds to it, and makes it the fruitful source of a large offspring
of new ideas. And when the presentation of a subject lacks this character
of simplicity, when it abounds in ingenious thoughts and fine-spun argu-
ments, when it is enveloped in a cloud of words, the recipient may well doubt
its claim to veracity ; with caution ought he to examine it, and reduce what
is in it to the language of common sense. Truth asks not to be propped up
by partisan views, by distorted systems, by party abuse. It requires of human
intelligence but one thing — viz., to be presented as it is.

" Philosophy suffers because system mongers abuse one another ; and
thus thought remains undeveloped, the truth untold, and philosophy is
dragged from her eminence to degradation. Accusation is not refutation.
When passion cries out, reason ceases to speak. True, in developing philoso-
phy men cease not to be human. Therefore it is that the history of philoso-
phy contains so much that is unphilosophic mixed up with so many partial
truths. Philosophy appeals to the reason, not to the taste, the memory, or
the educational prejudices.

" Conclusions and convictions are not altogether based on a syllogism,
which, as Bacon remarks, ' gives assents, not things.' More subtle influences
are at work drawing for us our conclusions. Likings and dislikings, preju-
dices of education, and degrees of delicacy of organization are all effectual in
converging their forces upon a thought and determining its direction and char-
acter. Its roots seem entwined in every fold of the brain, every fiber of the
heart, and every nerve of the body. ' There is,' says Balmes, ' not only the
intercourse of mind with mind, but of heart with heart ; besides the recipro-



cal influence of ideas, there is also that of sentiments.' It behooves the
philosopher to be cautious in reasoning and to take into account all these
determining elements of thought.

" But reason is not alone in the exercise of its functions. All the other
faculties of the soul accompany it, and while some help, others impede the
progress of thought. Men strongly imaginative are easily led into error, for
their language abounds in figurative expressions, and it not infrequently hap-
pens that the figure is an inadequate representation of the thought. In the
heat of reasoning they forget this fact ; they become involved in their subject,
mistake the figure for the idea, and in the end they find themselves landed
upon conclusions that their premises never warranted. In philosophy the
meaning and import of terms must be thoroughly understood. It is only
the consummate philosopher that knows how to define well. For that rare
acuteness of rnind and complete mastery of language is required. Many,
perhaps all, the erroneous systems of the world might be traced to bad de-
fining. Spinoza builds up a colossal system of pantheism on the misappre-
hension of a term. But were the good and pious Monseigneur Bouvier
consistent with the fundamental ideas he lays down in his little work . on
philosophy — as when he includes being in the idea of genus — he would have
been an equally great pantheist. And so it is with the majority of good and
well-meaning writers on philosophical treatises. Their faith is one thing,
their philosophy another ; and both their faith and philosophy are in their
first principles or last results either contrary or contradictory. This an-
tagonism between forms of faith and philosophic systems has led men to
recoil from all philosophy and live either in despair of skepticism or in the
ardent exercise of mysticism.

" Let us glance at the underlying principles of some of our modern phi-
losophers. The history of philosophy may be divided into three periods :
first, the period of religious revelation ; second, that of natural philosophy ;
and third, that of ideistic rationalism. All -three periods are good, and be-
come an evil only when one of the others attempts to monopolize the whole
of philosophy. It is well that we know ourselves — the faculties of our soul,
the desires of our heart, even the organism of our brain ; well also is it that
we reason according to secondary causes and consider the nature of things ;
and it is equally well that we reconcile reason with revelation.

" There is a period of religious revelation. This begins with the primi-
tive man. But as his descendants departed from the original source, they
retained only broken fragments of the first tradition in which the race was
educated. All the great truths relating to man's origin and destiny were
then present to him, and if he asked, ' Who is God to whom we shall offer
our sacrifices ? ' it was only to assert more positively the eternal existence of
the great Divinity. ' It is very remarkable,' says Kant, ' though naturally it
could not have been otherwise, that in the infancy of philosophy the study
,of the nature of God, and the hope as well as the constitution of a future



world, formed the commencement rather than the conclusion, as we should
have It, of the speculative methods of the human mind.' Not alone in the
Mosaic account is the revelation to be found. It runs in silent and feeble
rills through the traditions of all nations ; it forms the undercurrent of their
sacred books ; and, tinged though it be with individual feelings and adulter-
ated by the fictions of national fancy, it is still in its essence the same divine
knowledge that was revealed to Adam and preserved by Noah. In this
period men knew not what it was to doubt. To live and to believe was for
them one and the same act. All the great religious and philosophic truths—
the greatness and goodness of God, the spiritual nature of the soul, its im-
mortality, a future life— were as intimately present to these men as their own
existence. And as with the advance of ages they felt the growth of human
corruption, the one great problem with them was how to stay their down-
ward course and propitiate the Divinity.
Their humanity still seemed to vibrate un-
der the touch of the creative fiat with which
it had lately been launched into existence.
Hence their sacrifices. Hence that lingering
regret with which they looked back to the
golden period that had passed from them
forever. That man's first conception of the
Divinity was that of ' an awful Power ' ter-
rible in its might, vague in its outline, and
mysterious in its nature, is a mistaken notion
opposed by the primitive writings of all na-
tions. In Genesis we read that after God
had created all forms of life he 'blessed
them,' which is not the action of an angry
God, 'an awful power, terrible in its might.'
So too in the Rig- Veda it is written, ' Va-
runa is merciful even to him who has sinned.'
The conception of man acquiring the idea of
God through fear is based upon the mistaken

notion that the primitive condition of man was that of a savage, and that he
is but a development of some of the lower forms of life — a notion warranted
neither by history nor traditions of nations, by the nature of things, nor by
true science. The great primitive truths, preserved in the traditions of all
nations, have a common source. ' So then,' says Clement of Alexandria,
'the barbarian and the Greek philosophy has torn off a fragment of eternal
truth, not from the mythological of Dionysius, but from the theology of the
ever-living word.'

"There is the period of natural philosophy. As the stream of tradition
grew more adulterated with human thought, and the ages became more secu-
larized, the religious sentiment, becoming weaker, entered philosophy less as

a speaker at the Congress.


an element than formerly. Progress in the material arts gave rise to the ob-
servation of physical phenomena, and men sought rather to consider second-
ary causes than the great first and final cause. Thales makes water the prin-
ciple of all things. Anaximenes endeavors to account for the basis of matter
by considering the gaseous, solid, and liquid states as so many conditions of
air. Heraclitus makes fire the principle of existence. But it is already
found necessary to prove the existence and immortality of the soul. This
Pherecydes attempts. The philosophy based on physics necessarily gravitates
to materialism. And such was the case with the Ionic school until Anax-
agoras asserted the duality of matter and spirit. But whether the philosophers
of this period assert or deny the Divinity, they seek causes in the nature of
things and independent of him ; while those believing in him make him
external to the universe — a master artist with Plato, or with Anaxagoras, a
1/019 outside of His creation.

" And as in Greece so it is in other countries. In India, after the Mi-
mansa of Vyasa with its interpretations of the Vedas according to tradition,
we find the Sankhya of Kapila with its twofold principle of things, matter
and intelligence, and its various branches, some material, some spiritual, some
mystical, as one or other principle was exclusively considered. But among
the twenty-five principles of things laid down in the Sankhya philosophy, we
look in vain for a Divinity. Things are there considered to stand on their
own basis.

"There is the principle of ideistic rationalism. When God was left out-
side as an element, he soon became ignored. Philosophy ceased to be a
science of principles in their relation with things, ceased to be a serious ac-
counting for the cosmos, its origin and destiny, or of man, his position and
relations, and narrowed down with the ancients to a system of knowing.
Planted in their speculations upon their own existence, these men ceased to
be certain of their own explanations. They became skeptics. They assert
with Protagoras the relativity of all truth. With the Nyaya system of
India, they build up dialectics, and reduce all philosophy to the problem of

" These three periods have had their cycles. With the introduction of
Christianity we find the first period again revive. Christian philosophers
sought to reconcile the pagan cosmogony and science with Christian teach-
ings. Hence the effort of Jerome, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine.
Then came the Scholastic period, when all science and religion were built up
on the natural basis of the Aristotelian philosophy. Finally, we are still
struggling through the Cartesian period, with its one problem of knowing.
The fruits of this last period are already making their appearance. The
skepticism of Hume is redolent of it ; so is the atheism of Mill ; so is the
materialism of Bain ; and the evolution of Spencer, which merges this prob-
lem of knowing into the unknowable, is racy of the soil. Philosophic prin-
ciples that lead the mind to these results must have somewhere a flaw. It


were of advantage to examine those of the leading systems of this latter

" Descartes began by secularizing philosophy. He then reduced it to a
method, .after which he sought a principle that would be its basis. He under-
took to doubt of many things which he believed with certainty. This was a
grave error. There was already contradiction in his mind, for how doubt
and be certain of the same thing at the same time ? But let us hear him
determine the fundamental principles of his philosophy : ' I afterward noticed
that while I wished to think everything false, it became necessary for me,
who so thought, to be something, and remarking that this truth, / think and
I therefore exist, was so firmly established that the most extravagant supposi-
tions of the skeptics could not shake it, I judged that I could without scruple
accept it as the first principle of the philosophy I sought.' Now, this prin-
ciple, while it is a necessary condition of all knowing, establishes the identity
of him who thinks, and nothing more. ' The I think,' Kant properly re-
marks, ' must accompany all my speculations.' But, admitting nothing else
than one's identity, it is impossible to rise beyond it. And as Descartes
began in illusion, it was only by illusion that he got further. But a philoso-
phy illusory in its beginning and illusory in its process must needs be illu-
sory in its results. It then becomes a romance. But life is too short and
too much hangs upon it to spend its most effectual part in unraveling the
threads of a romance. Not in Descartes is the principle of philosophy.

" Locke also reduced all philosophy to the operations of the understand-
ing. His fundamental principle he bases upon the origin of ideas. ' These
two,' I say, ' viz., external material things, as the objects of sensation, and the
operations of our own minds within, as the objects of reflection, are to me
the only originals from whence all our ideas take their beginnings.' The
whole of philosophy is within him only a question of knowing. Hence,
throughout his book he speaks not of time and space, of substance and
accident, of finiteness and infinity, but of their ideas. Upon such a basis it
were natural to ask. How know we that there are external objects correspond-
ing to the ideas we possess ? And this question brings us to the ideism of
Berkeley. And if we are not certain of the reality of external nature, what
grounds have we for believing in the reality of our ideas — our soul ? Then
we are simply subjects of impressions. This reasoning lands us at the skep-
ticism of Hume. Again, since reflection is based upon sensation, and gives
nothing that is not found in sensation, for all reflex acts assert the primitive
act, and neither more nor less, why is not sensation the sole origin of all our
knowledge ? Here is the sensism of Condillac : ' By their fruits you shall
know them.' The principle logically running into such extremes can not be
the true principle of philosophy. ' After all,' says Reid, ' the improvements
made by Malebranche, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume may still be called the
Cartesian system.' It is still the one problem of knowing. How is it with
Reid himself? Reid is in the same sense a Cartesian. While refuting



Locke, often in a masterly manner, he himself runs in a parallel groove.
He has but a philosophy of the human mind and its intellectual powers.
It is still a philosophy of knowing. It is the principle of common sense.
Of the judgments that make up this principle he says : ' Such original and
natural judgments are therefore a part of that furniture which Nature hath
given to the human understanding. They are the inspirations of the
Almighty, no less than our notions of simple apprehensions. They serve
to direct us in the common affairs of life, when our reasoning faculties would
leave us in the dark. They are a part of our constitution, and all the dis-
coveries of our reason are grounded upon them. They make up what is
called the common sense of mankind, and what is manifestly contrary to any
of these first principles is what we call absurd. This principle has been rec-
ognized by F^nelon and Bufifier. But it is simply a motive of certitude, and
can not therefore be called a principle of philosophy, with its basis in the
nature of things. Kant undertook to revolutionize philosophy. His system
is that of judgment and reason, pure and practical. It is still the philosophy
of knowing. Now he thus sums up his philosophy and its use : ' The greatest
and perhaps the only advantage of all philosophy of pure reason is but of a
negative character, inasmuch as it is not an organon for the extension, but a
discipline for the determination of limits, and instead of discovering truth, it
simply guards against error.' It is well that we possess safeguards against
error and that we know the limits of thought, but the whole of philosophy
can not consist in this knowledge. Moreover, while in points of detail
Kant is often admirable in his reflections, it must be confessed that his
Critique of Pure Reason is the destruction of all reason ; for when it at-
tempts to show that the reasons for truth and error are equally convincing,
and that on the most vital questions, it breaks down the foundation of all
certainty. Balmes vindicated its existence and laid down its principles in a
masterly way. With an ardent love for truth and a burning zeal to defend
it, with a brilliant and well-trained philosophic genius, this man attacked all
the great problems of philosophy, and he spoke upon no subject that he did
not say something worth remembering. Surely with Balmes we ought to
find the basis of true philosophy. But whether he wished to fight the errors
of the age on their own grounds, or whether unconsciously he was influenced
by the philosophic atmosphere of his day, the fact is that he, too, bases all
philosophy upon the problem of knowing. ' The study of philosophy,' he
says, ' ought to begin with the examination of the question of certainty ; be-
fore raising the edifice, the foundation must be laid.' Balmes has done much
for philosophy. He has overthrown many of its idols ; he has thoroughly
explored some of the most interesting problems of intelligence ; he has
cleared the grounds of the weeds and briers of errors. He knew much
philosophic truth, but he evidently missed the principle of philosophy. He
admits that all truths have a unity of origin, and that there is ' in the order
of beings ' a truth the source of all others. That truth he calls God. But a



few pages after that he truly asserts that from the idea of God no man can
infer either the reaUty or possibility of creation. Were the truths of the
finite order to flow from God, as a necessary consequence, pantheism were
good philosophy. To assert God is to assert that God is, or God is being,
which is that he is himself ; and as he is infinite and necessary, he is self-
sufficient, and nothing is necessary for himself but his own essence. Such
an ideal formula gives but God. It is a reactionary extreme against the
other error of Cartesianism which asserts only man's self.

" Gioberti, feeling the force of such reasoning, undertook to establish an
ideal formula that would include the proper relations of the finite with the
infinite. He begins by asserting that ' to-day in Europe there is no longer
any philosophy,' and that ' true philosophy no longer lives anywhere outside
of religion.' He consequently goes to religion for philosophy. That princi-
ple he rightly conceives to express the true relation of the finite with the infi-
nite. He finds that relation admirably expressed in the opening words of
the Scriptures : ' In the beginning God created heaven and earth.' He con-
siders the source of philosophical errors to lie in the natural. The latter
' expresses,' says Gioberti, ' in the order of facts what by the other is signified
in 'the order of ideas.' But man can not attain to the knowledge of the
supernatural by himself. The light of faith strengthens all his natural facul-
ties to apprehend the mysterious truths it presents for their acceptance. No
special faculty is given, but those already possessed are enabled by a super-
natural means to know the supernatural. Grace supposes Nature. And it
were confounding the one w^th the other to make grace an essential part of
man's nature. Had God so wished, man were complete without the super-
natural order, because, being finite, a finite happiness would have sufficed
him. But being raised to the plane of the supernatural, a capacity for the
enjoyment of the infinite has been given him. And it is this capacity that
Gioberti misapprehends as a distinct faculty, for he defines it to be the senti-
ment of intellective power inexplicable in the course of time, and before the
event of the second creative cycle, or the passing into the other life. And
the note of the superintelligible consists in our inaptitude to comprehend
it. We know this feeling, this yearning, not of one faculty, but of our whole
nature, after a good superior to any that finiteness can offer. It is the note
of our predestination to the supernatural. Let us recognize it for what it is.
The age is but too prone to ignore it altogether. The supernatural is ; in its
vivifying rays we live, move, and are. Gioberti's principle was a step in the
right direction ; the great fault to be found with it is its inadequacy. And
now let us endeavor to find a principle embodied in a formula that will in-
clude both the natural and the supernatural orders.

" Truth is actuality. All generalization is based thereon. The general-
izations of reasoning, therefore, have their foundations in actuality. But the
primary element of all reasoning is the proposition. Its right use and appli-
cation is explained in logic. Logic, then, is based upon actuality. Its origin



and life it receives from the divine Word. And as it is the same Word that
speaks in the misapprehension of the creative act. He therefore establishes
as the philosophical principle the ideal formula, Being creates existences.
It is a sublime philosophical truth ; and it were the adequate embodiment of
the whole truth were there no other than the natural order ; but there is also
the supernatural order, of which it is the province of philosophy to take cog-
nizance ; otherwise it would be supposing man to be what he is not. The
formula of Gioberti is adequate for the creation prior to the appearance of a
man upon the arena of existence. But since he is destined to a supernatural
end, and lives and moves in the atmosphere of grace, the philosophical for-
mula that will embody the real relations of things must contain another term
expressive of the supernatural. Gioberti felt the weakness of his position on
this point, and therefore for the apprehension of the supernatural gave man

Online LibraryRossiter JohnsonA history of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893; by authority of the Board of Directors → online text (page 47 of 67)