Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/556

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
534
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

gooned by the voice of authority, and therefore they are not all working on the same lines; but they are working, and their sincere labors will not be in vain.

The question, however, at present is whether the various liberal schools referred to by Mr. Mallock stand committed to the new dogmatic system which he has described. The first thing that strikes a careful reader of his article is that he has not given a single quotation from any leader of modern thought indicating acceptance of the views in question—a thing which it would certainly have been easy to do if these views were, as he maintains, fundamental with them all. It is an illusion into which a man easily falls, whose own thought has run in dogmatic lines, to suppose that others must have constructed for themselves a philosophical or logical framework of equal rigidity. The truth can not, therefore, be too often repeated that the essential mark of modern thought is the taking of the world just as it is, and the reduction of all theories more or less to the rank of working hypotheses. Whether the changes in human affairs support the theory of a great secular drift toward better conditions is a question to be decided simply according to the evidence, which can hardly under any circumstances be of a demonstrative character in the full sense. The simple fact that men have the power of rationally adapting means to ends is enough to prompt to effort and inspire hope, for in this power lies the key to the highest possibilities of advancement. He who knows can, and, as long as this is the case, the path of knowledge will be the upward path. Knowledge, to be sure, is sometimes abused. Why? For want of more knowledge. There may come periods in the history of a people when the virtue of such knowledge as they possess has become exhausted, and when in the rude school of experience they may have to learn other practical lessons as the necessary condition of further advance; but how all this may be is a matter for which no individual man is responsible, and one who should wait to devise a practical philosophy for himself until he had cast the horoscope of humanity would not be wise. The late Mr. Arnold thought he had discovered clear traces of "a power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness"; but he did not wait for the formulation of that discovery, if such it was, before striving to order his own life on principles of righteousness. And if some one comes forward and points out, as one critic at least of Mr. Arnold did, that whether "the power" is making for righteousness or not depends upon the stage of a nation's development, there being periods when the general forces make rather for unrighteousness, no one is obliged, even though he may regard the criticism as pertinent and well-founded, to abandon his previously adopted plan of life.