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Evolutionary Naturalism

Evolutionary Naturalism



Author of "Critical Realism," "The Next Step In Religion,"
"The Essentials of Philosophy," Etc.

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Copyright, 1922



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Printed in the United States of America
All Rights Reserved








To paraphrase a saying which gained considerable notoriety a
decade ago in the field of politics, we are all naturalists now.
But, even so, this common naturalism is of a very vague an(J_general
sort, capable of covering an immense diversity of opinion. \lt is an
admission of n direction more than a clearly formulated belief It is
less a philosophical system than a recognition of the impressive impli-
cations of the physical and the biological sciences.! And, not to be
V outdone, psychology has swelled the chorus by pointing out the organic
» roots of behavior and of consciousness.
y)j^ But just because an adequate naturalism has never been formulated
and defended, we find that many who are naturalistic in their general
outlook are yet sharp in their criticism of naturalism as a philosophy
Why is there this apparent contradiction? Why is there this conser-
^ vative withholding of allegiance to naturalism on the part of the

iW majority of philosophers? Why is naturalism insistently defined in
I H so narrow a way that it becomes a thing ol straw easily torn to
pieces? This situation has awakened my interest and I wish to say
a few words about it.

To define naturalism in a narrow and indefensible way and then to
tear it to pieces may be a pleasant enough dialectical exercise, but
^ surely it is not consonant with the serious aim of philosophy to dis-
•j cover the truth about nature and ourselves as children of nature.
J There is something childish, rhetorical and merely verbal in this
«^ procedure, something which smacks of the lecture-room instead of
the laboratory. Such lecturers are in the habit of making remarks
such as the following : "No philosopher to-day is a materialist," "Athe-
ism has been completely discredited," "No one to-day knows what life
is," etc. The vicious effect of such dicta is the encouragement of

But among the more serious and competent thinkers there is the
effort to work out exact definitions and to do justice to the actual
content of both science and philosophy. Why, then, do so many of
these, also, attack naturalism? The reason is, I think, twofold. First
in order comes the recognition of the crying defects of the naturalism
of a few decades ago. Second may be placed the momentum of ideal-


ism. Clearly, there is need for a nezv naturalism which has avoided
the pitfalls into which the old naturalism fell. In this book I have
uut forward what I call evolutionarv naturalism, as able to meet the
objections of the past and to challenge acceptance. It is, I maintain,
free from the defects of the old naturalisms which founded themselves
upon the results of the exact sciences alone, leaving out the levels of
organic and social behavior. And it meets the momentum of spiritual-
ism bj' the counter energy of the modern realistic movement. Evolu-
tionary naturalism is the reflection into a focal system and the inter-
pretation of the general results of all the sciences. It is a system of
philosophy. Nor would evolutionary naturalism stress science alone.
All valid human experience can find a place in the IVeltanschauung
thus outlined.

Those who desire to do justice to evolutionary naturalism must be
on their guard against identifying it with some special meaning cur-
rent in the past. Let it be understood that I am not defending the
naturalistic ethics of three decades ago, nor associational psychology,
nor the naive philosophizings of Haeckel, Huxley and Spencer. These
past naturalisms were products of their period, which is not ours.
Evolutionary naturalism is the contemporary of pragmatism, genetic
psj'chology, behaviorism, electronic physics, social ethics and episte-
mological realism. I pray that this be noted. Thus when G. P. Adams
writes that "The very essence of naturalism lies in withdrawing ideas
and loyalties from objective significant structures in which they may
participate, and in viewing them as the fruition of natural life proc-
esses and interests,"^ he clearly has in mind the naturalistic ethics of
the first flush of Darwinism. Surely ideas must make good in the
world and they must be prospective just as the organism is. Prag-
matism has had many relevant things to say upon this point ; and yet
American pragmatism is strongly biological and naturalistic in its
outlook. But I feel certain that Professor Adams would not contest
my interpretation.

Again, when Balfour asserts that "The very essence of the phys-
ical order of things is that it creates nothing new. Change is never
more than a redistribution of that which never changes,"- he is as-
suming a degree of Eleaticism in the outlook of science that I doubt
is there. Modern science is beginning to accept the notion of creative
S3'nthesis. If naturalism founded itself upon a denial of novelty, it
would condemn itself to be a philosophy which could not account for
experience as it is. Much theism has taken its leap with an outworn
science as a springboard.

It would be easy to find other illustrations of the identification of
naturalism with past formulations. Ward, Perry and Spaulding occur
to one. In the case of Ward, the motives are obvious. He was fight-

^ G. P. Adams, Idealism and the Modern Age, p. 133.
' Balfour, Theism and Humanism, p. 39.


ing free from the grip of an inadequate naturalism. And .
thinker I owe him much. The neo-realists are influenced in part ,
the limitations of a naturalism founded on the exact sciences only and
in part by their theory of knowledge. They wish to make logical
being and values coordinate with physical being, whereas I wish to
include them in a concrete and evolutionary way. The chapters in
the book dealing with the epistemology of evolutionary naturalism
will attack this Platonic extension of being.

I cannot close without a word as to the situation in philosophy
to-day. The critical realist is of the opinion that there is far more
agreement in the ranks than is realized. It is not his purpose to
found a new philosophical sect. Let me take this opportunity to say
that it is his opinion that critical realism does justice to the insights
of both pragmatism and neo-realism. I have tried to develop this
thesis in Chapter IV. I have hopes that Evolutionary Naturalism
will be taken by pragmatists and neo-realists, alike, as a constructive
attempt at the metaphysical development of that "new pluralism," as
Professor Woodbridge calls it, toward which they are both working.

The present work is the fulfilment of the promise made in my
first book some five years ago that I would subsequently deal with the
categories. Perhaps I did not fully realize then how much I was
undertaking. This book was in substance completed two years ago,
though there have since been minor alterations. I take this opportunity
of promising a third book to deal with human life, that is, with values
and institutions.

I wish to make acknowledgment to my wife for her helpfulness and
loyalty ; also, to the Open Court Publishing Company for their cour-
tesy and careful attention to all those details which fall upon the
broad shoulders of publishers.

Roy Wood Sellars.
Ann Arbor, December, 1920.




Chapter I


The Requirements of An Adequate Naturalism 1

The Aim of a More Flexible Naturalism — The Spirit of
Naturalism and Modem Science — Two Common Forms of
Speculative Naturalism — The Situation in Philosophy — The
IdealTstic Criticism of Naturalism — The Inadequacy of Past
Naturalism — Evolutionary Naturalism.

Chapter II
The Epistemology of Evolutionary Naturalism 21

The Common-Sense View of Knowledge — Difficulties Con-
fronting Naive Realism — The Nature of Knowledge a Prob-
lem — An Explanation of Terms.

Chapter III
The Epistemology of Evolutionary Naturalism (Continued).... 41

A Critical View of Knowledge — Different Meanings ojCon-
sciousness — ^The Grasp of Knowledge — Knowledge of Other
Minds — The Question of Truth — Subsistence and Existence.

Chapter IV
The Status of the Categories 64

Traditional Views — The Pattern of Experience^
— Objective Idealism — Pragmatism and Neo-Realism — Crit-
ical Realism — The Status of the Categories.

Chapter V

Space 83

Space a Strategic Category for Realism — A Genetic Ap-
proach — Sensational Space — Perceptual Space — Empiricism
vs. Nativism — The Truth of Preceptual Spatial Judgments —
Conceptual Empirical Space — Mathematical Space — Space as
a Categorj^ — .\n Historical Retrospect — Kant's Antinomies —
Is Nature Infinitely Divisible?

Chapter VI

Time 105

The Elementary Experience of Time — The Specious Present
— The Addition of Memory and Expectation — Cormnon or
Standardized Time — Mathematical Time — Kant's Antinomy
— Time As a Scientific Category — Temporal Distinctions —
Change the Objective Basis of Scientific Time — A Return
to Kant's Antinomy.


Chapter VII


Things and Their Properties 124

Natural Pluralism — Realistic Meanings — The Rise of These
Meanings — The Interpretation of the Not-Self in Terms of
the Self — The Interpretation of the Self in Terms of the
Not-Self — The Aspects and Properties of Things — The
Paradox of Common-Sense Realism — Lockian Realism —
Berkeley's Idealism — Properties Are Cases of Knowledge —
Constant Properties and Powers — Reflections and Sugges-

Chapter VIII

Change, Identity and Conservation 145

Two Sets of Problems — Identity and Change — Changes of
Things — The Fluctuating Boundaries of Thinghood — Things
As Physical Systems — Change for Science — Can We Think
Change Without Contradiction? — The One and the Many —
The Meaning of Individuality^Self-Identity and Change.

Chapter IX

Quantities and Qualities 173

The Qualitative View of the World — The Quantitative View
of the World — Eleaticism Versus Dynamism— The Primary
and the Secondary Qualities — The Extra-Organic Founda-
tion of the Scientific Properties — The Correlation Between
Scientific Properties and Sensations — All Sensational Qual-
ities Are Subjective and None Are Unreal — The Quantita-
tive View of the World Only a Quantitative Study of the

Chapter X

Physical Connections and Relations 194

Variety of Relations — The Category of Relation and the
Method of Knowledge — The Connections of Things— Tra-
ditional Metaphysical Terms — Logical Considerations — A

Chapter XI

Motion, Force and Activity 216

Preliminary Distinctions — An Application of the Genetic
Method — A Return to Space and Time — Zeno's Paradoxes
— The Movement versus the Path Traversed — Typical Prob-
lems — Motion and Force — The Dynamic versus the Inert —
The Significance of Activity — Experiences.


Chapter XII


Uniformity and Causality 239

Change and Causality — A Genetic Study — The Idea of
Agency — The Discovery of Causal Uniformities — The Pos-
tulate of Uniformity — Implications of This Interpretation —
Kant versus Hume — Empirical Uniformities Only the Be-
ginning of Science — Causality the Basis of Uniformity —
The Category of Causality a Deepening of Time and Space.

Chapter XIII

Potentiality, Necessity and_Nov£lly^ 260

The Interconnection of These Categorie s — Nove lty and Po-
tentiality — Possibility and Impossibility — Probability versus
Certainty — Subjective Chance versus Objective Chance —
How Shall We Conceive Necessity? — A Fresh Return to

Chapter XIV

Evolutionary Naturalism and the Mind-Body Problem 287

Existential Relation versus Causal Relation — Traditional
Solutions— +'The Empirical Difference Between Interactionism
and Parallelism— rWhy Has Mind Been Excluded from the
Organism? — New Tendencies in Science — The Thesis of
Evolutionary Naturalism — Mind As a Physical Category —
Added Knowledge About the Organism — ^Suggestions in
Favor of Evolutionary Naturalism — The Epistemological
Situation — The Relation Between Consciousness and the
Brain — The Nature and Function of Consciousness — Advan-
tages of This Theory — Consciousness and Mind — Pan-
psychism and Materialism Are Extremes.

Chapter XV
Mechanism, Teleology and Purpose 320

Animism — ^Two Mistakes of the Past— The Controversy Be-
tween Mechanism and Vitalism^Is Organization Effective?
— The Organism a Particular Substance — The Light Mind
Throws on the Organism — Difficulties and Implications —
Empirical Teleology in Biology'— Purpose and Efficient




THE aim of the present investigation is to work out in
a systematic fashion the possibility of an adequate^
naturalism. The time has come for a persistent effort to
throw the scientific and philosophical insights of the last
generation into an organized whole. If I am not much mis-
taken, the period of systems is again dawning for philos-
ophy ; systems, however, founded upon the careful integra-
tion of knowledge with criticism. I would not be surprised
if something of finality resulted from the controlled specu-
lation that is now feasible. At no time in the past have the
materials and instruments of philosophy been so rich and
carefully fashioned. A master mind has an opportunity for
interpretative synthesis never before equaled. Surely before
long the outline of an adequate worl d-view w ill be achieved.

That this coming world-view will be of the nature of an
evolutionary naturalism is the thesis of the present work. I
shall point out the main problems to be solved and accom-
pany this indication of problems with pretty systematic at-
tempts at their solution. Nowhere shall I consciously resort
tp ambiguity and equivocation. The problems of philosophy
are to my way of thinking as specific as those of the special

Philosophy like science is a human achievement, and so
rests upon man's capacities. Unlike science, philosophy is
forced to consider those capacities and processes which make
it possible. It is for this reason that philosophy is neces-


sarily so engrossed with man. Knowledge is a human affair,
even though that which is known is distinct from the
knower. But monjo^^art nf nature, and so these capaci-
ties and processes operative in science and philosophy must
find their natural explanation. Intelligence must be given
its locus and attachments. In other words, science and
philosophy are properties of man. To explain them, we
must comprehend man's capacities and his place in the world.
The final problem of philosophy is to connect the fact and
content of knowledge with its conditions. How does knowing
occur in the kind of world that is actually known? Know-
ing is a fact and must be connected up with the world which
the sciences study. Thus a system of philosophy answering
this question is the capstone of science.

If this is the case, it is not strange that the possibility
of an adequate philosophy waited upon the advance of the
special sciences. The biological sciences had to be added
to the inorganic sciences before the data for the solution
of philosophy's problem approached completeness. The next
task was to bring the mental sciences into such close con-
tact with biology that the operations they bore witness to
could be seen to be rooted in the organism. Only as this
grounding of mind in the body became demonstrably evid-
dent did the conditions of a satisfactory philosophy exist.
Only then did knowledge become, itself, a natural fact cor-
relatable with all other natural facts. Philosophy is the
science which explains the other sciences as human achieve-
ments and thereby completes science.

As we pass from problem to problem, we shall see that
the two great enemies of an evolutionary naturalism are
Platonism and Kantianism. Both deny this self-explanatory
character of nature. In a sense, they are both supernatural-
istic. They desire to transcend space.
I I Naturalism stands for the self-sufficiency and intelligibil-
\ ity of the world of space and time. Supernaturalism main-
^ tains that this realm is not self-sufficient and that it can be
understood only as the field of operation of a spiritual real-
ity outside itself. Historically and logically, naturalism is


associated with science, while snpernaturalism finds expres- ]
sion in an ethical metaphysics, the rule of the Good.

The great difficulty c onfrontin p ^ naturah ^tn Vi^g j^ppn thp
inclusion of man in natur e^.-an inclusion that would do jus-
tice to all his distinguishing characteristics. An adequate
naturalism must not belittle man in order to press him into
some rigid scheme. It must not be a priori in its methods
and assumptions, but work creatively upon all that can be
known about all phases of nature. To-day the naturalist
has no excuse for little faith.

We have suggested that supernaturalism is the antithesis -
of naturalism. If naturalism stresses the self-sufficiency
and intelligibility of nature, it can be defeated only by dem- j
onstrating the insufficiency of nature. In the past, theo-
logical speculation sought to prove the rational need for
some primal source beyond nature, for a Necessary Being
upon which the contingent world could be grounded. As
is well known, the analyses of Hume and Kant gave pause
to this direct and assured refutation of naturalism. The
three proofs of scholasticism, the cosmological, the onto-^
logical and the teleological, were shown to contain assump- ^
tions which had small measure of plausibility when critically ^

But Kant himself suggested a more subtle and indirect
way of approach than that of the confident scholasticism
of the precritical period, namely, an appeal to inner convic-
tions or demands of the moral and religious self. But can
man's life be divided by a hatchet into two compartments
in this easy fashion? Any semblance of plausibility in such
a division luas due to the Kantian disposal of the physical
zvorld as phenomenal. Only because nature was more or
less illusory could beliefs conflicting with the tide of natural
fact retain their prestige.

Now as time passed, ethics and, with it, the theory of
values were swept into the current of empirical investiga-
tion. English utilitarianism, evolutionism, a broader study
of social facts, a more adequate psychology, all these new
elements undermined the innate practical reason on its own


ground. Psychologically and ethically, man was becoming
a part of nature, comprehensible only genetically and bio-
logically. The Kantian dualism between the theoretical and
the practical reason no longer sounded relevant to the facts

,'^ of human life. Man was a very complex whole immersed
'' and functioning in nature.

The strength of this more subtle attack upon naturalism
lay, then, in two things: (1) its denial of physical realism,
and (2) its assertion of a contradiction between determinism
and empirical freedom. These two motives run through
the opposition to naturalism characteristic of the nineteenth

I century. Idealism maintains, on the one hand, that physical

' nature is a realm of causal determinism and so contradicts
man's freedom ; on the other hand, that nature is a construc-
tion and not an independent reality. An adequate natural-
ism must meet both of these contentions. It must demon-
strate the validity of physical realism as an epistemology
and point out the possibility of reconciling determinism with
empirical freedom.

Naturalism has been given many meanings in the course
of this age-long controversy. Most of these meanings have
been slightly derogatory. The reader must, therefore, be
on his guard against the application to the evolutionary
naturalism forming to-day of interpretations which were
in a measure those of the older, less adequate naturalism
of the past. The ethics of modern naturalism, for instance,
are by no means those of a crude Darwinism. We belong
to a generation which has realized that while man is an
animal he is not a brute.

Those who attack naturalism usually forget its larger

setting and significance. They are not trying to save nat-

, uralism from injustice to itself but to destroy it for the

^ greater glory of some view more kindly to supernaturalistic

beliefs. Hence, we find naturalism identified without a re-

-^mainder with naive materialism, positivism, agnosticism, the

^ mechanical view of nature, etc. The weaknesses of past
formulations were taken as conclusive for the basic fallacy
of naturalism itself. But were anti-naturalistic positions


any less open to criticism ? The truth is that a secret animus
was at work. But cannot the thinker examine these funda-
mental questions with the candor and objectivity of the best
type of scientist ?

In m}^ own thinking, I have always hesitated to identify
naturalism with naive materialism, positivism, the mechan-
ical view of nature, or the bias of the physicist to reduce the
whole world to facts of physics and nothing more. Has ^
not the time come for the attempted formulation of a more
adequate naturalism than those of the past? For a philos-
ophy giving due weight to all the sciences and to the various
sides of man's actual nature? The formulations of natural-
ism have often been narrow and harsh, while the demands ^
of supernaturalism have been sentimental and exaggerated.^
The warfare between naturalist and antinaturalist has re-""^
sembled that between mechanist and vitalist in biology.''^
While vitalism has gained little headway as a doctrine, it
has prevented scientists from falling too completely into dog-
matic slumber. But surely the time is becoming ripe for a
step beyond the sharp contrasts of the past, into a broad
and sympathetic empiricism.

The Spirit of Naturalism and Modern Science. — The
following characterization of naturalism is true to its spirit:
"At first tentative, but becoming ever more distinctly con-
scious of its real motive, naturalism has always arisen \n/'
opposition to what we may call 'supernatural' propositions. ^
whether these be the naive mythological explanations of ^
world-phenomena found in primitive religions, or the super- -^
natural popular metaphysics which usually accompanies the ^
higher forms. It is actuated at the same time by one of
the most admirable impulses in human nature — the impulse
to explain and understand, and to explain, if possible,
through simple, familiar and ordinary causes."^ The spirit
of naturalism Avould seem to be one with the spirit of science
itself. And many formulations of naturalism have been the
products of the speculatively inclined scientist in his mo-
ment of indulgence in far-reaching generalization.

1 Otto. Naturalism and Religion, p. 18.


The specialist works in his own field in accordance with
the technique which he has inherited and refined. His is
the task to secure data that will help to solve specific prob-
lems ; and his views are often the reflections of his methods
and habits. Yet, if he is a man of keen curiosity with some
natural bent for wider thought, he will sooner or later
formulate views concerning the larger relations of things.
In short, he will assume the role of philosopher and inter-
pret fundamental questions in the light of the concepts and
data with which he is familiar.

But these concepts and data are not necessarily sufficient
for the foundation of an adequate naturalism. How could
the physicist expect to do justice to chemical processes?

Online LibraryRoy Wood SellarsEvolutionary naturalism → online text (page 1 of 31)