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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

FEBRUARY, 1882.


 

THE SEVEN WORLD-PROBLEMS.
By EMIL DU BOIS-REYMOND.[1]

WHEN, eight years ago, I undertook to address a public sitting of the Association of German Naturalists and Physicians, I hesitated for a long time before deciding to choose the "Limits of our Knowledge of Nature"[2] as my subject. The impossibility, on the one hand, of comprehending the existence of matter and force, and, on the other hand, of explaining consciousness, even in its lowest degree, on a mechanical theory, seemed to me a truism. That even the simplest sensation can not be made comprehensible as the result of any arrangement or movement of matter, has long been recognized by eminent thinkers. Although I knew that false ideas on the last point had been widely diffused, I was almost ashamed to offer so stale a draught, and hoped to awaken interest only through the novelty of my arguments. The reception given my exposition showed me that I had mistaken the condition of the case. Treated coolly at first, my essay soon became the object of numerous criticisms, which seemed to come from a diversity of points of view—from cordial approbation to utter rejection and censure—and the word ignorabimus, in which the investigation culminated, became a kind of philosophical shibboleth.

Flattering as it was to me to see my exposition regarded as a Kantian fact, I must decline the honor, for nothing was contained in it of which any one might not have informed himself by a study of the older philosophical writers. But, since philosophy was perverted by Kant, its culture has taken on so esoteric a character; it has, so far, unlearned the language of common sense and intelligent thought, and

  1. An address delivered in the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, in honor of the birthday of Leibnitz, July 8, 1880.
  2. See "Popular Science Monthly," vol. v, p. 17 (May, 1874).