Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/261

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

and the question of human freedom is nothing if not practical. What then is gained—is anything gained—is the case in any way altered—by telling ourselves that, though there is certainty in the case, there is no necessity? Suppose I held a loaded pistol to Prof. Huxley's ear, and offered to pull the trigger, should I reconcile him to the operation by telling him that, though it certainly would kill him, there was not the least necessity that it should do so? And with regard to volition and action, as the result of preceding causes, is not the case precisely similar? Let Prof. Huxley turn to all the past actions of humanity. Can he point to any smallest movement of any single human being, which has not been the product of causes, which in their turn have been the product of other causes? Or can he point to any causes which, under given conditions, could have produced any effects other than those they have produced, unless he uses the word could in the foolish and fantastic sense which would enable him to say that unsupported stones could possibly fly upward? For all practical purposes the distinction between must and will is neither more nor less than a feeble and childish sophism. Theoretically no doubt it will bear this meaning—that the Unknowable might have so made man, that at any given moment he could be a different being: but it does nothing to break the force of what all science teaches us—that man, formed as he is, can not act otherwise than as he does. The universe may have no necessity at the back of it; but its presence and its past alike are a necessity at the back of us; and it is not necessity, but it is doubt of necessity, that is really "the shadow of our own mind's throwing."

And now let us face Prof. Huxley's other argument, which is to save life from degradation by taking away the reproach from matter. If it is true, he tells us, to say that everything, mind included, is matter, it is equally true to say that everything, matter included, is mind; and thus, he argues, the dignity we all attribute to mind, at once is seen to diffuse itself throughout the entire universe. Mr. Herbert Spencer puts the same view thus:

Such an attitude of mind [contempt for matter and dread of materialism] is significant not so much of a reverence for the Unknown Cause, as of an irreverence for those familiar forms in which the Unknown Cause is manifested to us.[1]. . . But whoever remembers that the forms of existence of which the uncultivated speak with so much scorn. . . are found to be the more marvelous the more they are investigated, and are also to be found to be in their natures absolutely incomprehensible. . . will see that the course proposed [a reduction of all things to terras of matter] does not imply a degradation of the so-called higher, but an elevation of the so-called lower.

The answer to this argument, so far as it touches any ethical or religious question, is at once obvious and conclusive. The one

  1. "First Principles," p. 556.