Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 48.djvu/661

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THE FAILURE OF SCIENTIFIC MATERIALISM.

that the subjects of the empire were glad to change their masters, because instead of multiplied, intricate, and vexatious taxes, the legacy of old Rome, they found themselves subject to a simple tribute, easily collected and easily paid.[1]


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THE FAILURE OF SCIENTIFIC MATERIALISM.[2]

By WILHELM OSTWALD,

PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF LEIPSIC.

THE complaint has gone up in all ages that so little agreement prevails respecting the most important and most fundamental questions of humanity. Only within our own days has the cry with respect to one of the greatest of these questions been silenced; and although many contradictions are still current, it may yet be said that rarely at any time has a so relatively great unanimity existed concerning the theory of the world of outward phenomena as prevails just now in our scientific century. From the mathematician to the practicing physician, every scientifically thinking man, in answer to the question how he supposes the world is intrinsically constituted, would sum up his view, by saying that the universe is composed of atoms in motion, and that these atoms and the forces operating between them are the ultimate realities of which individual phenomena consist. The phrase can be heard and read in hundredfold repetitions, that no other explanation of the physical world can be found than one that rests upon the "mechanics of atoms"; matter and motion seem to be the ultimate concepts to which the diversity of natural phenomena must be referred. This conception may be called scientific materialism.

I purpose to express my conviction that this so generally accepted conception is untenable; that this mechanical view of the world does not answer the purpose for which it has been formed, and that it is contradictory of indubitable and generally known

  1. The most available source of information on this subject is the historian Gibbon (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, edition with notes by Milman, Guizot, and Smith; New York, Harper's), who in turn specially cites as the authority for his statements the two collections of ancient laws designated by the names of the two Byzantine Emperors under whom they were made, as the Codex Theodosianus and Codex Justinianus, and the writings of Zosimus, a Greek historian, who lived in the early part of the fifth century a. d., and whose history of the Roman Empire is still extant. For an exceedingly graphic account of Roman experiences in attempting to tax personal property (from which quotations have here been made) see Roman Imperialism, by J. R. Seeley, London, 1870.
  2. An address delivered before the third general session of the meeting of the Society of German Naturalists and Physicians, at Lubeck, on September 20, 1895.