Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/89

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85
MODERN SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT

MODERN SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT AND ITS INFLUENCE ON PHILOSOPHY
By Professor HARRY BEAL TORREY
REED COLLEGE
I

TO enter upon a discussion of the influence of modern scientific thought upon philosophy is to find one's self beset by temptations to a discursiveness not possible within the given conditions of time and space. Under such pressure, one might be led easily into a consideration of relative values—efficacy of methods, seriousness of limitations, ultimate soundness of criteria, the final significance of present tendencies. As I write, however, these problems seem so turgid with potential misunderstanding as to embarrass rather than facilitate the discussion that, as a student of biology, I had planned. To avoid such embarrassments, attention will be focused on the general theme through an examination into the nature of scientific truth. This procedure not only will put into my hands an instrument whose uses are relatively familiar to me, but will serve, I believe, to illuminate some of the most significant phases of modern philosophic thought.

Poincaré has somewhere made a suggestive comparison between the Gallic and Anglo-Saxon genius. Characteristic of the one is a feeling for form, for symmetry, for logical completeness, for finality; characteristic of the other is a feeling for substance, development, function, change. For the one, truth lies in the result; for the other, in the process. One is represented by a deductive, the other by an inductive type of mind.

I have no desire to raise here a national issue. Whatever the merit of this characterization of these ethnic groups, it will serve my purpose if it give vividness to the statement that the same general differences distinguish certain philosophers and scientific investigators. Wherever one finds a faith in final causes, a hope in the revelation of ultimate truth, there one finds a philosopher who, like the Frenchman of Poincaré, has drawn the essential elements of his inspiration from the philosophy characteristic of ancient Greece. Modern science may have supplied his convenience with the telephone and the electric light, the automobile and the thoroughbred, aniline dyes and serum therapy; but it has done little more. Until he views the truth as nothing final, as existing in