Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/139

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133
MODERN THOUGHT

MODERN THOUGHT[1]
By Dr. EDWARD F. WILLIAMS
CHICAGO, ILL.

WHILE purely metaphysical writings have not ceased to attract attention, it must be admitted that public interest has been drifting away from them and busying itself with inferences drawn from the study of nature and with speculations based upon these inferences. Yet here a philosophy has grown up, taking the form ordinarily of the theories more or less striking which leaders in scientific studies have held concerning the origin and laws of the universe. Some of these theories express very clear and decided opinions concerning man, his origin, capacity and destiny. But all agree that he stands in close relation to the visible, and that he alone of all living creatures can exercise a real and an intelligent control over it.

In a review of the thought of the last century, or century and a half, one is compelled to begin with a recognition of a fact which the majority of scientists, some of them unwillingly, accept, that back of all that appears, ever has appeared, or ever will appear, is thought, the outcome of mind, intelligent, directing, self-controlling mind. It is through the exercise of mental power that the meaning of nature is discerned, that significance is given to facts which penetration into her secrets has revealed. Neither atoms nor their combinations are of the least importance unless there is mind to make use of this combination. When we observe the changes which are constantly occurring in the natural world we can not avoid the question, What has thought to do with them? What influence have these changes had upon thought, what part has thought had in bringing them about?

Passing over for the present scientific theories formed and held in America, in southern or eastern Europe, and confining ourselves to the three great centers of modern European thought, France, Germany and Great Britain, we shall not be far out of the way if we assert that the beginnings of modern scientific theories are found in England or Scotland and have been made by individuals working in isolation with little help and scant encouragement from government, or royal societies,

  1. See review and statement of various forms of scientific thought presented and discussed with great ability by John Theodore Merz in his "History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century," two volumes, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1905. This is one of the most valuable books of the time.