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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/635

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MATERIALISM AND POSITIVISM.

MATERIALISM AND POSITIVISM.
By W. D. LE SUEUR.

MATERIALISTS and positivists are commonly classed together by those who have never well understood what either materialism or positivism really is. Positivism is supposed to be materialistic because it fails to call in spiritual existences in explanation of phenomena—because, in other words, it stops short at facts, and does not seek to search out ultimate causes. The people who draw this inference take for granted, apparently, in their ordinary thinkings, that all facts must be facts of matter, and that those who confine themselves to facts must consequently be materialists. There is, therefore, really a fundamental materialism in the very criticism that fastens upon positivism the charge of materialism. Let us, however, look a little more closely into materialism considered as a mode of philosophical belief.

What do we mean by matter? First of all, it is obvious that we mean something that is objective to the mind or thinking faculty—something the mind finds upon its path, as it were, and that is the source to it of certain definite impressions. All impressions made upon the mind do not, however, equally connect themselves with the idea of matter. Some, of course, do not so connect themselves at all. When we are struck by the generosity or baseness of an action, or feel the influence of character, or experience the pleasure of harmonious or the pain of discordant relations, our consciousness is in no way concerned with matter. There might be no such thing as matter in the world, for aught we know or care about it at such moments. Yet our impressions have the very highest degree of definiteness. But even impressions made directly on our physical senses do not all, with equal force, bring the conception of matter before the mind. The word "phantasm" bears witness that visual impressions do not always convey a belief in the existence of the external reality called matter. It means, literally, "an appearance"; but it has come to mean an appearance void of all substantive reality. There is the same implication when we speak of "rubbing our eyes" to make sure that we see a thing. The sense of hearing is, in like manner, sometimes distrusted; and it may be said that, if we lived in a world in which our only knowledge of objective existence was through sights and sounds, our idea of matter, if we had one at all, would be very different from what it actually is. There is, however, another sense, the testimony of which is held to be surer than that of any other, the sense of touch. Sight may deceive, hearing may deceive; but what we can touch and feel is real. Here we find the true basis of the popular idea of matter—that which can be felt; that which resists our muscles. It is true