Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/523

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
515
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

fortune is apt to humble us. It is not strange then that the succeeding generation of philosophers should have been meek, and that even so late as 1874, Wundt should have felt the need of proving that philosophy had a right to exist, and might justly claim a place among the sciences.[1]

This period of reaction, however, was as transitory as its cause had been. The disturbed pendulum was simply swinging to the other side before resuming its regular movements. The metaphysical need or impulse, as Schopenhauer terms it, is too powerful in man to be permanently suppressed. To ask why is one of the noblest functions of the human being; to stifle such inquiry would be equivalent to destroying all intellectual activity. It cannot be stifled. Philosophy is not of an age, but for all time. The last philosopher will die when the last man dies, unless, indeed, that individual happen to be a hopeless idiot. Whoever is capable of thought at all will attempt in some way, be it ever so crude, to explain to himself the world and his place in the world. 'What does it all mean?'[2] 'What is it all for?' are questions which force themselves upon every intelligent being, and are answered by him according to the light that is in him. (Indeed, his queries themselves are pregnant with entire metaphysical systems.) Nor can the exact sciences themselves operate without metaphysical conceptions. However violently they may protest against metaphysics as though it were the plague itself, they inevitably succumb to the disease, if disease it be. Is the theory of descent utterly free from the taint? Is the atomic theory which Greek philosophy originated in the fourth century B. C. any the less metaphysical because it is promulgated by modern scientists? Is not the attempt to reduce all material facts to their ultimates, matter and force or energy, metaphysical? Is not the theory of the indestructibility of matter and the conservation of energy, as conceived by many, metaphysical? Is not the attempt to refer all energies to one ultimate energy a bold and grand attempt to reach a unity, a first principle, on which all else depends? And what can be more metaphysical than that? In truth, the philosophical tendency to reduce plurality and diversity to unity, to find one common principle that may be able to explain all phenomena, prevails in every scientific procedure, because it constitutes the very essence of mental activity. We can not resist the impulse to unify our experiences, we would reach a comprehensive survey of all existence, discover the principle or principles which will explain all facts. The different sciences dealing with different sets of facts may find ultimates capable of accounting for their facts respectively, but only by ignoring other facts. They give us, as it were,


  1. Wundt, Aufgabe der Philosophie.
  2. 'Was ist der Sinn der Welt?'—Lotze.