Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/351

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347
SOMETHING NEW IN "FREEWILL"

men to deny the existence of the external world. They have induced some to maintain that every man has his own truth, which is true for him; and others to advance the doctrine that no truth is attainable by man. They have caused one philosopher to talk as though he had created the world; and another to declare that there is no evidence of the existence of minds in one's neighbors. Not the least remarkable feat is the production of the persuasion — a persuasion very tenaciously held to by some — that there is something cheering and even pious in the doctrine that men's actions are, to some degree, at least, quite unaccountable, and can not be expected to be congruous with the character and environment of the person in connection with whom they mysteriously make their inexplicable appearance.

This does not at all mean that we are in a measure ignorant of what individuals and classes of men will do under given circumstances. No man denies such ignorance on our part, and all men strive to lessen it. It means that no conceivable increase in our knowledge could be expected to help us — that we are not concerned with the question of knowledge or ignorance at all. It means that certain actions have nothing to do with what has preceded them; nothing with the character of the supposed agent, but who is really not the agent; nothing with his surroundings with the influences which have been brought to bear upon him. Such actions just appear; nobody causes them, nobody can prevent them. There is no reason why they should happen in connection with one man rather than with another, or at one time rather than at another. There is nothing in any one to call them into being or to inhibit them. The baby, the grown man, the hardened criminal, the philanthropist, the dullard, the man of genius, the devoted mother, the cold-hearted coquette — all these may suffer such actions, and there is no more reason for expecting one of these to serve as the stage for their appearance than there is for expecting another to serve as such. The play has nothing to do with the stage; it may break out anywhere!

O tempora! O mores! are there those who harbor such thoughts about their fellow-men? Indeed there are; this is the doctrine of the "freewillist," stripped of its domino and set out without disguise. I am convinced that it would not even get a hearing, were it not that we often confuse it with the very different doctrine that men are under certain circumstances free, and that we come to regard it as the opposite of that very unscientific doctrine fatalism.

Of freedom, "freedom," and fatalism I have already written at some length in The Popular Science Monthly,[1] and I shall not treat of them in detail here. But we have recently been offered some such curious "freewill" reasonings by Professor James, in that much-discussed little work "Pragmatism," that I can not but think that a brief

  1. December, 1900, and October, 1901.