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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/719

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

THE BAD LOGIC OF MATERIALISM.

IN a preceding article we used the expression, "healthy materialism," for that view of things which frankly recognizes and makes practical allowance for the dependence of psychical phenomena upon material conditions, without undertaking in the least to decide the question as to the relations ultimately existing between mind and matter. This view we represented as at once conservative and progressive: conservative, in the limits which it recognizes as set to intellectual activity and in the prudence it enjoins in regard to all intellectual operations; progressive, in the aid which it affords toward securing the proper material basis for all intellectual and moral effort, and in the economy of labor which thence results.

This is not the materialism, however, against which the world has so strong a prejudice. The greatest sticklers to-day for a spiritualistic philosophy would make no objection to acknowledging the facts on which materialism, in the sense above described, is founded—that health of body is, other things being equal, the best condition for health of mind; that a certain relation must be observed between physical nutrition and repair on the one hand and intellectual effort on the other; that the quality, both of thought and of feeling, depends largely on the condition of the physical functions, and so on. No, these truths have been too much ignored in the past, but they are widely advocated to-day by teachers of unblemished orthodoxy; nevertheless, a strong feeling against what is called "materialism" survives. The common feeling on the subject is that materialistic theories tend to rob human life of a certain dignity, to undo something that the ages have wrought. Men seem to exclaim, in the words of Shelley:

"... What can they avail?
They cast on all things surest, brightest, best,
Doubt, insecurity, astonishment."

The explanation and, as we think, the justification of this feeling lies in the fact that materialism as held, and more or less blatantly professed, by many, is in effect an attempt to explain higher orders of phenomena by lower, to ignore the complexities of existence, and to reduce everything to a kind of mechanical basis. Starting from the assumption that matter is not only the cause of everything, but is everything, they proceed to interpret matter according to the lowest and simplest properties it manifests. They want what Mr. Stallo calls a mechanical explanation of the universe; but, not content with that, they strive as much as possible to blind themselves to the fact that, while mechanical relations may lie at the basis of all things, in the actual evolution of the universe, relations of a much higher and more complex order have been established. We have heard men argue thus: "Matter is everything and everything is matter; morality can not inhere in or be any property of matter, therefore morality is an illusion, a prejudice, a superstition." Exception might of course be taken here to the major premise that matter is everything; matter, according to Mr. Spencer, not to mention less advanced thinkers, being simply one mode of the manifestation of the Unknowable Cause of all things. But, waiving this objection, and meeting the materialist on his own ground, we might say: "You affirm that matter is coextensive with existence, that whatever we have any knowledge of is some form