The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays


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An elaborate preface to a philosophic work usually impresses one as a last desperate effort on the part of its author to convey what he feels he has not quite managed to say in the body of his book. Nevertheless, a collection of essays on various topics written during a series of years may perhaps find room for an independent word to indicate the kind of unity they seem, to their writer, to possess. Probably every one acquainted with present philosophic thought-found, with some notable exceptions, in periodicals rather than in books-would term it a philosophy of transition and reconstruction. Its various representatives agree in what they oppose-the orthodox British empiricism of two generations ago and the orthodox Neo-Kantian idealism of the last generation-rather than in what they proffer.

The essays of this volume belong, I suppose, to what has come to be known (since the earlier of them were written) as the pragmatic phase of the newer movement. Now a recent German critic has described pragmatism as, " Epistemologically, nominalism; psychologically, voluntarism; cosmologically, energism ; metaphysically, agnosticism; ethically, meliorism on the basis of the Bentham

(x)-Mill utilitarianism."[1] It maybe that pragmatism will turn out to be all of this formidable array; but even should it, the one who thus defines it has hardly come within earshot of it. For whatever else pragmatism is or is not, the pragmatic spirit is primarily a revolt against that habit of mind which disposes of anything whatever --even so humble an affair as a new method in Philosophy by tucking it away, after this fashion, in the pigeon holes of a filing cabinet. There are other vital phases of contemporary transition and revision; there are, for example, a new realism and naturalistic idealism. When I recall that I find myself more interested (even though their representatives might decline to reciprocate) in such phases than in the systems marked by the labels of our German critic, I am confirmed in a belief that after all it is better to view pragmatism quite vaguely as part and parcel of a general movement of intellectual reconstruction. For otherwise we seem to have no recourse save to define pragmatism-as does our German author-in terms of the very past systems against which it is a reaction; or, in escaping that alternative, to regard it as a fixed rival system making like claim to

(xi) completeness and finality. And if, as I believe, one of the marked traits of the pragmatic movement is just the surrender of every such claim, how have we furthered our understanding of pragmatism?

Classic philosophies have to be revised because they must be squared up with the many social and intellectual tendencies that have revealed themselves since those philosophies matured. The conquest of the sciences by the experimental method of inquiry; the injection of evolutionary ideas into the study of life and society; the application of the historic method to religions and morals as well as to institutions; the creation of the sciences of "origins" and of the cultural development of mankind-how can such intellectual changes occur and leave philosophy what it was and where it was? Nor can philosophy remain an indifferent spectator of the rise of what may be termed the new individualism in art and letters, with its naturalistic method applied in a religious, almost mystic spirit to what is primitive, obscure, varied, inchoate, and growing in nature and human character. The age of Darwin, Helmholtz, Pasteur, Ibsen, Maeterlinck, Rodin, and Henry James must feel some uneasiness until it has liquidated its philosophic inheritance in current intellectual coin. And to accuse those who are concerned in this transaction of ignorant contempt for the classic past of philosophy is to over

(xii) look the inspiration the movement of translation draws from the fact that the history of philosophy has become only too well understood.

Any revision of customary notions with its elimination-instead of " solution "-of many traditionary problems cannot hope, however, for any unity save that of tendency and operation. Elaborate and imposing system, the regimenting and uniforming of thoughts, are, at present, evidence that we are assisting at a stage performance in which borrowed--or hired-figures are maneuvering. Tentatively and piecemeal must the reconstruction of our stock notions proceed. As a contribution to such a revision, the present collection of essays is submitted. With one or two exceptions, their order is that of a reversed chronology, the later essays coming first. The facts regarding the conditions of their first appearance are given in connection with each essay. I wish to thank the Editors of the Philosophical Review, of Mind, of the Hibbert Journal, of the Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, and of the Popular Science Monthly, and the Directors of the Press of Chicago and Columbia Universities, respectively, for permission to reprint such of the essays as appeared originally under their several auspices.

NEW YORK CITY, March 1, 1910


  1. The affair is even more portentous in the German with its capital letters and series of muses: "Gewiss ist der Pragmatismus erkenntnisstheoretisch Nominalismus, psychologisch Voluntarismus, naturphilosophisch Energismus, metaphysisch Agnosticismus, ethisch Meliorismus auf Grundlage des Bentham-Millschen Utilitarismus:'

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