Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/870

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

But we have here also an explanation of the powerful hold of this system on the instructed and independent mind of the period. Dr. Fairbairn truly says that "to conceive a system so positive and universal as Mr. Spencer's is itself an education to an age." But more than this is true; for if, as confessed, this system has attained a "remarkable influence," that influence has actually been an educational power on a great scale. What is it that Spencer has brought to his contemporaries which they had not before, and which is so adapted to the general condition of thought that barely to conceive it is "an education to an age"? Dr. Fairbairn having omitted the most important answer to this question, we are now prepared to give it for him.

Mr. Spencer, as we have intimated, has first given to the world a philosophy that is an outgrowth of science, and answers the clear requirements of advancing knowledge. The older philosophy, with its lofty scorn of truth as an end and its emptiness of everything useful, had so trifled with the commonsense of mankind that its very name fell into reproach. Spencer has redeemed it and vindicated its rightful supremacy by showing that its sphere Is the realities of nature and experience, and its function to formulate the deepest interpretation and the widest ascertainable truth of the universe. Philosophy, as he views it, is not merely a skillfully reasoned body of speculation; it is nothing, if not true—nothing, unless it compels assent as the highest of verities. Science passes into philosophy as it furnishes generalizations from all orders of phenomena which merge into truths that are universal. Claiming no ideal perfection or completeness, it gathers established principles from all scientific sources into systematic expression, and thus acquires a harmony as perfect as the discovered harmonies of nature, and a unity as absolute as the demonstrated unity of the universe. The formation of such a philosophy implied a reorganization of knowledge that should bring its hitherto diverse branches into closer relations of dependence, the separate orders of truth into higher coördination, and thus give a strength to the fabric derived from the validity of its scientific elements. Such a philosophy must widen its scope and grow ever more consistent, more congruous, and more comprehensively unified with every extension of knowledge. Who expects that the transcendental and metaphysical systems will ever be brought into mutual confirmation or any possibility of agreement? Concord has only given us a new illustration of the old and hopeless discord. Spencer's philosophy has made its auspicious way because it gave to the age what it imperatively needed. Men were wearied by futile speculation on the one hand, and appalled by the growing details of science on the other; and they wanted a higher synthesis of verified truth, a constructive philosophy of science. It is as a new organon of knowledge that Spencer's philosophy has gained its commanding influence over the active mind of the period, and it is this trait that has made it one of the most widening, elevating, and potent educative agencies of the age.

Another feature of the synthetic philosophy, though implied in what has been said, is so important in accounting for its "remarkable influence" that it requires to be brought out more explicitly. Spencer's system is sharply contrasted with preceding philosophical systems by its recognition of the great value of knowlege for useful ends. Plis philosophy is animated by a grand utility. Holding that truth is to be supremely valued for its own sake, and that philosophy is justified in its truth alone, Mr. Spencer finds that the highest truth involves also the highest good, and his system thus becomes nobly tributary to the advancement of human welfare. Science has sufficiently exem-