A Brief History of Modern Philosophy/Book 9

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New Theories of the Problems of Knowledge and of Value.

A. The Problem of Knowledge.

1. German Neo-Kantianism.

With the declining influence of the speculative philosophy and the growing demand for a scientific world theory following it again making itself felt, partly in positivism, partly in materialism, partly in the new idealism, it was but natural that the problem of knowledge—as was the case in the period of Hume and Kant—should again assume a position of prominence. It raised the inevitable question of the ability of the human intellect, from its inherent nature, to construct such a world-theory, and of the limitations to which it is subject. It was evident that the reaction against Kant, in both its positivistic and its romantic aspects, had overreached itself, and the study of Kant was again resumed for the purpose of orientation. As we have observed, there was a critical undercurrent constantly making itself felt during the first half of the century (cf. Fries and Beneke, as well as Herbart, Schleiermacher and Schopenhauer). This now becomes the dominant current for a time, supported by the revival of a thorough study of the master both philologically and historically.

In his Geschichte des Materialismus (1865) Friederich Albert Lange (1828-1875), who was professor of philosophy at Zürich and later at Marburg, opposes the epistemological method to both the romantic speculation and the materialistic conception of nature. Like Fechner, he conceives the whole of material nature—including the brains of men and of animals—as explainable by means of continuously active material energies. So far as method is concerned, materialism is right. But the phenomena of consciousness are not to be construed as members of the material series; they are subjective experiences whose objective correlates constitute the brain processes.—That is to say, Lange, like Fechner and Wundt, accepts the Spinozistic hypothesis. He furthermore combines with this the Kantian point of view. For even if we should assume that our sensations and ideas are products of material processes, these material processes themselves would still be nothing more than objects of consciousness, ideas formed by us according to the laws of our mind. As a matter of fact, it may readily be that even the Kantian distinction between phenomenon and thing-in-itself is a product of our mental organization (Lange offers this suggestion in a letter published in Ellisen's Biographie Lange's, see p. 258 ff., published letters.)

In addition to natural science and epistemology, Lange likewise finds room for speculative and religious ideas. But he does not regard such ideas as having any theoretical and objective significance. They are subjective supplements of empirical reality, proceeding from the needs of the spirit. They must be understood from the viewpoint of their value to human life, and not from the viewpoint of their foundation and their origin. Lange here combines a liberal practical idealism with theoretical idealism. But it can only be expressed in figurative or symbolical form. Lange insists that criticism should place more stress on the ideal and psychologically valuable elements of positive faith, instead of directly attacking the dogmas of popular religion. In this way the general public would not dissipate its energy in useless dogmatic controversies.

Lange elaborated his ideal and critical theory of the social problem in his essay on Die Arbeitfrage (1865). The central thought of this essay is this, namely, that the chief duty of human society consists in seeking to put an end to the struggle for existence.

Lange is the most influential of the German Neo-Kantians. His masterly work affects wide circles both by the excellence of its form as by the richness of its content and its profound statement of the problen. He was however the herald of a new school which, with various nuances, strove to renew the Kantian theory of knowledge. Hemann Cohen's works are specifically devoted to an elaboration of the rationalistic elements in Kant's philosophy, whilst Alois Riehl inclines more towards positivism. Frederick Paulsen, whose general views are closely related to those of Fechner and Wundt, in his exposition of Kant, has directed special attention to Kant's metaphysical assumptions which are unaffected by the Critique of Reason. Windelband and Rickert conceive genuine criticism as the theory of eternal values, in which the standard of the true, the good and the beautiful is found, and they lay great stress on the distinction between the method of concept-formation practiced by the natural sciences as compared with that of the historical sciences, which are related to each other as generalization and individualization.

Criticism has become a vital factor both in the statement and in the treatment of the problems in German thought through the labors of this group of scholars.

2. French Criticism and the Philosophy of Discontinuity

In France, after the middle of the nineteenth century, the critical school is represented by the vigorous thinker Charles Renouvier (1815-1903), who in the name of logic and ethics attacks all idealistic and realistic attempts to construe being as a continuous totality. He directed his polemics with particular force against the concept of actual infinity, which he regarded as a logical contradiction and an empirical falsehood. For an infinite which is at the same time regarded as a determinate whole is a contradiction, and experience teaches us that the principle of definite number applies to everything. With actual infinity continuity is likewise destroyed, — for continuity must indeed presuppose infinitely many gradations, — and with continuity necessity. In opposition to Kant's attempt to prove the principle' of causality, Renouvier returns to Hume's position and thus attains a radical philosophy of discontinuity. He regards every distinction as a discontinuity. And as a matter of fact it is not only in our knowledge of nature that we are constantly compelled to recognize leaps. The first principles of our knowledge are postulated by a leap, i.e. by an act of choice. Renouvier was profoundly influenced by Kant's antinomies; it is his opinion however that, if we wish to retain the principles of logic, we are obliged to accept the theses and reject the antitheses.

Renouvier has published a sketch of his philosophical development in an exceedingly interesting essay found in Equisse d'une classification des systemes philosophiques (1885) (Comment je suis arrive a cette conclusion, ibid., II, pp. 355-405).—For the various phases of Renouvier's philosophy I must refer the reader to Gabriel Seailles: La philosophie de Charles Renouvier, 1905.

The choice of first principles determines the world-theory, and in this connection Renouvier in his later years (Les dilemmes de la metaphysique, 1901) emphasized more and more the antithesis of thing and personality. If we remember that things always exist only as objects for personalities, our world-view must necessarily assume the character of monadology or of personalism. (See particularly Renouvier's last essay, L'Personalisme, 1903.) In this way he passes from criticism and the theory of discontinuity to spiritualistic metaphor. As a critical philosopher he seeks to show that the universe must have a beginning—because of the principle of definite number—as a personalist he explains this beginning as the act of a god who (on account of the existence of evil) is not however to be regarded as absolute or almighty. Renouvier constantly insists on the epistemological principle of relativity (la loi de relation): our knowledge aims to discover the relations which things bear to each other; each object represents to us a system of relations; our knowledge itself consists of a relation of things to us and hence all objects are only phenomena. Religious postulates alone can transcend phenomena—but even these postulates, as acts of thought, are governed by the principle, or, more correctly, the method of relativity (la methode des relations).

This vigorous and profound thinker remained busily occupied with his philosophy even on his death-bed. He experienced a sense of incompleteness, and he did not wish to die until he had given his ideas a definite form. A close friend has preserved his last words and expositions (Ch. Renouvier: Les derniers entretiens. Recueillis par L. Prat).

The philosophy of Emile Boutroux (born 1845[1], erstwhile professor at the Sorbonne, now directeur de la fondation Thiers) belongs to a tendency originating from Maine de Biran. In his criticism of the principle of causality he approaches Renouvier; but it is not so much the theory of continuity that he opposes, as the attempts to conceive everything as identical or homogeneous and to reduce the individual to the universal (De la contingence des lois de la nature, 1875; De l'idée de la loi naturelle dans la science et la philosophie contemporaine, 1895). Like Comte he insists that every new field of experience requires new principles which cannot be deduced from the principles which apply to other fields. The more concrete principles cannot be reduced to abstract principles. The more we enter into the concrete, so much the more does the dynamic gain transcendence over the mechanical, the qualitative over the quantitative. It is possible furthermore for new beginnings to take place in nature which cannot be derived from their antecedents. As a matter of fact the whole uniform system of nature revealed to us by science is nothing more than the river bed which is formed by an inherent spontaneous evolution, and which may be changed by variations of this evolution. The spontaneous variations (les variations contingents) bear witness to the freedom which constitutes the inner nature of things.—Epistemologically considered the so-called laws of nature are nothing more than a summary of the methods applied in the effort to understand things (assimiler les choses à notre intelligence).

Henri Bergson (born 1859)[2], professor at the College de France) carries forward the movement begun by ' Renouvier and Boutroux in a manner which is quite unique and characteristic. He regards the quantitative method of explanation as merely the technical instrument employed by us for the purpose of understanding what is actually and immediately given in experience, which is always qualitative and continuous. Even language, and the scientific method of explanation still more so, casts our experiences in atomic form, as if they sustained the same objective relations to each other as positions in space. The inner stream of spiritual phenomena are thus transformed into a mechanically arranged mass. This is how it happens that the inner, dynamic, free and continuous activity is denied. The indeterminists are here guilty of the same error as the determinists, because they likewise isolate the individual moments of psychical evolution. The whole problem of freedom has arisen through a misunderstanding. Spontaneous evolution has its origin in the soul as a whole and there is no analysis that can do it justice (Les données immédiates de la conscience, 1888).

Bergson criticizes the fundamental presupposition of science. It is only by a process of analytic and distinguishing definition that we are enabled to discover the elements between which the laws prevail. It is a matter of profound importance that the difference between the given continuity and the scientific distinctions be insisted on. This is the only way that thought can conform to life. Bergson hopes however to realize a higher science, a metaphysics, by means of the fact that he reverts from differentiation to integration, from analysis to intuition—and thus to true empiricism (Introduction a la Metatphysique, Revue de la Metatphysique et Morale, 1903). At this point Bergson reminds us of Bradley. The real problem would be whether "metaphysics," or even any intelligent comprehension of the world whatever, is possible without a dissolution of the intuitions. Analysis is therefore an indispensable instrument of thought, even though, as Bergson has so effectively insisted, it must be practiced with critical precaution.

Bergson develops his concept of the soul as consisting of a memory synthesis in detail in his book Matière et Mémoire (1897). It is only sensation, not memory, that requires a material organ. Bergson thus substitutes a sort of dualism of sensation and memory for the usual distinction of soul and body, which is scarcely reconcilable with his theory of the continuity of psychical life. That is to say, he ascribes a practical significance to sensations, and hence, according to him, the whole body of natural science with its atomic theories and its similar spaces and times constitutes a great system of instruments by means of which we are enabled to assert our mastery over material nature

Philosophical discussion in France has in recent years been quite vigorous and significant. The Bulletin de la société française de philosophie furnishes the opportunity of following the progress of the refined and profound, at once personal and chivalrous, discussions of the younger French philosophers. Adolphus Levi: L'indeterminismo nella filosofia francese contemporanea (1905), furnishes a valuable comprehensive treatment of the whole movement in French philosophy in its relation to the concepts of causality and continuity.

3. The Economico-biological Theory of Knowledge

The critical philosophy had already to a certain degree regarded knowledge from the economico-biological view-point. Viewed from the standpoint of analytical method, which Kant himself applied in his Prolegomena, the problem of Kant's Critique of Reason may be thus formulated: What presuppositions must I postulate if thought is to be regarded as means to an end, at least to the intellectual end of understanding. We are confined by similar lines of thought in recent philosophical literature from various quarters.

Noted natural scientists, reflecting upon the principles of their science, have observed that the definitions of the concepts and the presuppositions of science must seek their justification in the fact that they furnish the possibility of an intellectual elaboration and interpretation of the facts. Their necessity rests upon this fact alone, which however is not apodictic until the possibility of other concepts and presuppositions than those now in use, serving the same purpose quite as well, is excluded. Maxwell expressed this view in 1885, Ernst Mach in 1863.

Avenarius, from 1876 onward, developed his natural history of the problems from a purely psychological viewpoint: because of the fact that consciousness does not possess an infinite ideational capacity it is obliged to introduce economy into its thought, which gives rise to the problem of construing what is given in experience with the least possible subjective addition.

Pragmatism so called shows a similar tendency. This term was first introduced by the American mathematician and philosopher Peirce (1878), and afterwards appropriated by his fellow countryman, William James (1898), who combines it with a whole psychological and philosophical system. Pragmatism establishes the concepts and presuppositions by the practical consequences involved in the experiences to which they lead. If we were wholly indifferent to the consequences of our presuppositions we would not postulate them, we would at least draw no conclusion from them.

1. James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), the noted physicist who was a professor at Cambridge, was a student of philosophy under William Hamilton, of whom he reminds us by his emphasis of the dynamic character of knowledge. He regards the mind as an organ, whose use may be valuable in itself, even though its practical significance consists in the results of its functional activity. The progress of the exact sciences rests upon the fact that we are able to elaborate ideas, in which all particular facts are represented and from which exact, mathematical conclusions can be deduced. In this respect the formation of number series has been singularly important: we are thus enabled to conceive physical variations after the analogy of the relations in the number series, according to the laws of numbers. This analogy can likewise be carried through most readily in its application to changes of position, and the natural science of the last three centuries has therefore aimed as far as possible to construe all phenomena as processes of motion. The theory of atoms rests upon a comprehensive analogy between the qualitative changes of matter and the movements of material points in space. As a matter of fact even geometry is really a theory of motion: a geometrical line is the path of a motion from one point to another.—The justification of the presuppositions lies in the fact that they lead to fruitful tasks and problems. Thus, e.g., the principle of the conservation of energy raises very definite questions in connection with every new phenomenon: whence does the energy here expended originate, and into what new form is it transformed, when the phenomenon ceases?—(Maxwell's epistemological treatises are found in the second volume of his Scientific Papers.)

Ernst Mach (born 1838[3], professor at Vienna) was led to the problems of epistemology by the study of the history of natural science. The following are his chief works: Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwickelung (4th ed., 1901), Die Analyse der Empfindungen (4th ed., 1903), Erkenntniss und Irrtum (1905).

Mach made an attempt early in life to discover a point of view which he would not be obliged to surrender when passing from the subject of physics to that of psychology. He found such a viewpoint in the priority of sensation to all concepts of atoms and souls. The concepts, formulated by scientific thought, are conditioned by the necessity of an adaptation to the given. Thought—both in its syntheses as well as in its analyses—is a case of biological adaptation. Because of the fact then that quantitative arrangements are simpler and more comprehensive than qualitative arrangements, and because they simplify the view of large groups of experiences, we apply them wherever possible, and to this end such concepts as energy, mass and atom are formulated; concepts, therefore, which have no metaphysical significance. The entire mechanical explanation of nature rests upon a sublime analogy between the movements of masses in space and the qualitative changes of things (in temperature, electrical conditions, etc.). But we have no right to construe the universe as a pure mechanism. The immediately given consists of nothing more than complexes of sensation, which physics, by the help of its fruitful analogies, interprets as movements.

2. Richard Avenarius (1843-1896), a professor at Zürich, was prepared for his later theories by his studies of Spinoza (Über die beiden ersten Phasen des Spinozistischen Pantheizmus, 1868), for the theory of identity is a splendid example of the reduction of all ideas to a single idea. The title of a later treatise (Philosophie als Denken der Welt nach dem Prinzip des kleinsten Kraftmasses, 1876) gives definite expression to the economic theory, and his chief work (Kritik der reinen Erfahrung, 1890) consists of an investigation of the physiological and psychological conditions of the origin and the evanescence of problems. In his last essay (Der menschilche Welthegriff, 1891) he seeks to sift out the last vestige of animism, the reading of subjective elements into actual experience, completely.

A problem presupposes a "vital difference" i.e. a state of tension between the individual and the environment. Such a state of tension arises whenever the stimuli proceeding from the objective world demand a greater or smaller expenditure of energy than the individual is capable of furnishing.

Whenever the stimulus (R) and the energy on hand (E) balance each other (so that R = E), we have a vital maximum of preservation: Recognition is possible; the individual feels at home and has confidence in his ideas and perceptions.

But if a greater effort is required than the individual is capable of putting forward (i.e. R > E), the individual discovers contradictions, deviations and exceptions in the given; it appears strange and recognition is impossible. Every extension of the circle of experience, every enlargement of the horizon, is liable to bring with it new problems. The advance of civilization increases the problems.

Conversely, if the energy is greater than the demand (so that R < E), a desire to transcend the given will arise. The result will be a practical idealism or a romantic yearning.

Avenarius made a special study of the case of R > E. The solution involves three stages—need, effort, discharge —and the problem disappears. Avenarius regards these three stages of problematization and deproblematization essentially as symptoms of certain physiological processes in the brain. His theory is physiological rather than psychological —even though as a matter of fact he constantly deduces the correlative physiological processes from the psychological "symptoms."

The result of the process, the deproblematization, does not always constitute a real solution. A tentative or purely individual viewpoint may be attained, without excluding the possibility of a new state of tension, a new problematization. Deproblematization is definite and universal only whenever a perfect adaptation has taken place, from which all subjective and tentative elements have been eliminated. This is realized whenever knowledge essentially consists in a quantitative description, and a description furthermore in which the consequent is always the equivalent of the antecedent. We have then realized the viewpoint of pure experience.

Avenarius differs from Maxwell and Mach, especially from the fact that he failed to see the relation between economy and symbolism (analogizing), as he underestimates the significance and the necessity of analogy in general.

3. William James (born 1842[4]), the Harvard professor, in an article published in 1898 (The Pragmatic Method, reprinted in The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, 1904) laid the foundation of a theory of knowledge by which he wished at once to review and correct the classical English philosophy. He has elaborated his theory more fully in a series of articles which appeared in the above-mentioned periodical during the years 1904 and 1905. He had already placed great stress on the continuity of psychic life in his Principles of Psychology (1890), by insisting that what is actually given in psychical experience consists of an incessant "stream of thought," and he has applied this conception to the special problems of psychology with telling effect. He calls this original flux of life "pure experience" (an expression which he uses more consistently than Avenarius). It is only for practical reasons that we depart from the original flux of life: distinctions, definitions, and axioms are postulated for the purpose of realizing certain ends. This conception of knowledge is what constitutes pragmatism, whilst rationalism, which accords the highest place to abstract thought, regards those intellectual instruments of thought as immediate revelations of the absolute. If we establish the elements, which we carve out of this continuous stream for the purposes of solving our problems conceptually, they may be interchanged, and operations with these elements enable us to attain results similar to those of actual experience. But this is not the case with all the elements however. There is more discontinuity in the universe than we ordinarily suppose and we cannot always combine one part of our experience with another or substitute it for another.

Just as pragmatism leads to empiricism, so, according to James, does empiricism also lead to pluralism. James has stated this clearly in his preface to the collection of essays published under the title The Will to Believe (1897). Pure experience really presents nothing more than factual transitions, no "intellectual" transitions. Our knowledge consists of combinations made by continuous transition, we know no absolute and rational unity. In addition to combinations there are as a matter of fact disparate phenomena: new facts arise in the world and there is an absolute beginning. The unity of nature is a matter which is only coming to pass gradually, i.e. in proportion as we verify our ideas.

It is an open question whether such a radical pluralism as James adopts is possible. According to James the combination is quite as much a matter of fact as the manifold variety of phenomena, and the unity of the universe is construed as in process of realization. In addition to this James assumes the possibility of substitutions; but these presuppose the existence of something more than mere differences. (The author of this text-book has developed this critical suggestion more fully in an article which appeared in the Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods (1915) under the title A Philosophical Confession.)

We shall have occasion to refer to James' philosophy of religion in the following section.

B. The Problem of Values.[edit]

It is one of the signs of the times that the problem of values occupies such a prominent place in philosophical discussion at present, and that, as compared with other problems, it is coming forward with greater independence than formerly. There is a growing conviction that the final word on the value of existence cannot be established purely theoretically. Here however there will always remain at least a philosophical problem; the investigation of the psychological basis and the inherent consistency of efforts at evaluation. This point presents three types.—Guyau and Nietsche expect new forms of life to arise, and they base their expectation upon the fact that the overflowing fullness of vital energy in our present experience and our present conditions of life cannot find an adequate outlet. Like Rousseau they insist on the right of spontaneous, instinctive life as against analytic reflection. The formula R < E finds its application here.—Rudolph Eucken likewise makes the contradiction between the capacity and the actual status of men his starting-point. The life of every-day experience is incoherent, without any center of gravity, and suffers from the contrast between nature and value. The only possibility of a true culture is through a new concentration which lays hold of a "spiritual substance" beyond the confines of experience,—"a spiritual existence" in which what has been already acquired is preserved and from which new constructions proceed. William James treats religious problems purely psychologically. He seeks to examine religion as it manifests itself at first hand in individual men, "personal religion" (as against institutional religion"), which is a result of the individual's life-experiences, the experiences which determine his fundamental attitude and his method of reacting towards the fact of life. This fundamental attitude or this reaction constitutes religion whenever on account of contrasts and conflicts they acquire a transcendent character.

1. Jean Maria Guyau (1854-1888) exemplifies a rare combination of subjective emotion with indefatigable reflection. He feels the profound difficulty of the problems and the illusion of the majority of the solutions, but he holds that the illusions are valuable if only they are fruitful, i.e. if they excite the activity of the intellect and the will. (See the poem, Illusion féconde in Vers d'un Philosophie.)—Guyau enjoyed a home-life which was peculiarly favorable to his activity as a student and author. Early in life however he fell a victim to an incurable disease of the chest, but this did not suppress the energy of his intellect and his vital courage.

His first literary attempt was a criticism of English utilitarianism and evolutionism (La morale Anglaise contemporaine, 1879). Here he takes the ground that English moral philosophy must inevitably lead to the uncertainty and illusoriness of the moral feelings themselves due to their psychologico-genetic explanation of these feelings: i.e. if conscience is evolved from more elementary feelings it is really nothing more than a pure elementary feeling itself! There exists an immediate impulse however towards self-development, an impulse which may assume the character of devotion, of altruism, without the assistance of any association of ideas and evolution!—In his own theories he endeavors to avoid the difficulties which he charges against the English school (Esquisse d' une morale sans obligation ni sanction, 1885). The development of life is the goal which nature has set for itself, and ethics in the theory of the ways and means by which the highest and fullest development of life may be realized. It is necessary to maintain and develop both the subjective and the objective phases of life, and the sympathetic emotions and social life are of the highest importance for both phases, because isolation and egoism restrict the horizon and the efficiency of the individual. The highest virtue—the attribute of character which makes for the highest development of life—is therefore generosity. Reflection and analysis are thus not construed as hostile powers (as under the presuppositions of the English school). For the expansive energy which forms the basis of life begets hope and courage and makes possible what would otherwise be impossible. The only sanction which the ethics of the future will require is that of the subjective satisfaction which corresponds to the greatness of the risk (le plaisir de risque).

Guyau likewise bases his philosophy of religion on the impulse of expansion (L'irreligion de l'avenir, 1887). The day of religion is past. Religion consists essentially of man's feeling of fellowship with the personal director of the course of the universe. It finds its characteristic expression in the mythological explanation of nature, in a form of worship with magic rites and in a body of dogmas which are regarded as absolute truths. Religion is in process of complete dissolution in every one of these directions. What is best in religious life will be able to survive; the impulse to transcend the bare facts of experience and to discover a higher unity will not vanish with religion. As a matter of fact this impulse is only now finding room for free development, since the rigid, dogmatic forms no longer impose obstacles. Everyone will express his sense of fellowship with existence—the ideal sociology of existence—in his own way. The disharmonies of the universe will be felt more profoundly than before, but the fundamental note will assume the character of sublimity, and the world will be one of hope and of courage for life and for death.

2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) builds on the same fundamental principle as Guyau, only that in him the conflict between the poet and the philosopher is even more pronounced than in the case of the Frenchman. Both Guyau and Nietzsche oppose an emphatic affirmative to the negations of pessimism. But whilst Guyau guards his subjective disposition and his melancholy resignation against the change and the evanescence of values, Nietzsche assumes an attitude of disdain and contempt for both past and present, and his hope for a glorious future constantly assumes a more untractable and spasmodic character.

As a youth Nietzsche, along with philosophical studies, devoted himself zealously to classical philology, and became professor in this department at Basle at the age of twenty-four. Owing to ill-health and his comprehensive literary plans he afterwards resigned his position and thereafter lived mostly in Engadine and Northern Italy, until insanity made it necessary for him to return to his German home and be cared for by his mother and sister.

Nietzsche's chief aim is to establish a new, positive estimate of life on the basis of the historical facts of civilization. The clearest statement of his purpose is found in the essay written in his youth, The Birth of Tragedy (1872). He contrasts the tragic-poetic view of life, symbolized in Dionysius and Apollo, with that of the intellectual optimism represented by Socrates. It is Nietzsche's purpose, as he said later on, to consider science from the viewpoint of art, and art from the viewpoint of life. Dionysius is consequently—i.e. the superabundant life, life absorbing and vanquishing pain and death—superior to Apollo, and Apollo is superior to Socrates.

This view leads to a severe criticism of Strauss, the optimistic free-thinker, and a glorification of Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner, given in Unzeitgemässen Betrachtungen (1873-1876). He soon finds however thag he must go farther than both these "educators." He familiarizes himself with the latest scientific and philosophical theories, and thenceforward we find a struggle between a more realistic and a purely subjective tendency. In addition to this he was horrified at pessimism, not only as he found it in Schopenhauer, but likewise as he found it in Richard Wagner. He then assailed his own old deities. During the whole of the remaining period in which he was still able to do anything he labored towards the discovery of an adequate, decisive expression of his opposition to every form of pessimism, to every form of depreciation of life, to all levelling processes. He particularly challenges the theories of morality which have been prevalent hitherto and insisted on "an inversion of all values." The most characteristic statements of this polemic are found in Jenseits von Gut und Böse (1886) and in the Geneaologie der Moral (1887). Here he develops the ideas advanced in the essays of his youth more rigidly, and the fundamental theory becomes a radical aristocratism, which leads to a social dualism. The goal of history is not in the infinitely distant future, but it is realized in the world's great men. The great mass of mankind is nothing more than an instrument, obstacle or copy. A higher, ruling caste is necessary, which exists for its own sake,— which is an end in itself, not at the same time an instrument. Corruption begins just as soon as the aristocracy no longer believe in their right to live, to rule and to treat the great masses as their laboring cyclops. Aristocracy must show the value of life by the mere fact of their existence. It is impossible to develop the highest virtues among the great masses. They are only capable of religion and civic morality. But, as history proves, the great masses have repeatedly been able to claim that their morality is the highest. The true estimate of life, as the sense of energy and might (Nietzsche later calls it Der Wille zur Macht) has frequently been overthrown by the uprising of the moral slaves—in Buddhism, in Socrates, in Christianity, in modern humanism. Even the tendency of natural science is in this direction: it even makes a democracy of nature by its principle of general uniformity!

Nietzsche frequently expresses himself as if he would abolish all morality. But he really demands nothing more than an inversion which has been necessitated by the domination of the morality of slavery. As he observes in one of his essays published posthumously (Der Wille zur Macht), he wishes to introduce a moral naturalism. He must however also have a standard for his "inversion." He discovers such a standard in the principle of the affirmation of life and of the increase of vital energy. From this point of view he wanted to elaborate a "number and measurement scale of energy," by which all values could be systematized scientifically. There is no kind of vital energy or vital pleasure which could here be excluded. Here Nietzsche appears as a utilitarian of the first rank. And he finally renounces his social dualism definitively, and then proposes as the end, not the happiness of the individual but the vigorous development of "the total life."

This change of attitude is still more prominent in the poetic elaboration of his ideas. The real tragedy and contradiction of his life consisted in his wasting so much time and energy in the effort to set forth his antipathy and contempt for things in general, whilst he failed to describe fully and clearly the tremendous positive conception of life which constituted his central idea. The poetic-philosphic treatise, Also sprach Zarathusthra 1883-1891), was left unfinished. Here he elaborates his ideas on the super-man: The aim of the present struggle is to evolve a new human type, related to the man of the present as man is related to the ape. This is the common aim of the whole human race. The period of dualism and of animosity should be relegated to the past. Zarathusthra, the seer and guide, hates his own hatred. And Nietzsche paradoxically advocates the affirmation of life in the strongest terms, life of every form and on every plane. The idea that the cycle of the universe must repeat itself became a controlling idea with him. According to his view the universe consists of a finite sum of elements, and hence the number of combinations of these elements must likewise be finite. It follows therefore that when the number of combinations has been exhausted the same course of evolution must begin anew. This idea of repetition or recurrence at first horrified Nietzsche, and he had a severe struggle before he could reconcile himself to it. Zarathustra reveals to man the blessed gospel of the coming of the super-man — but on the condition that man wishes to choose and emulate life despite its repetition. Just as all mankind yield their assent to this proposition, Zarathusthra dies for joy.

In this way according to Nietzsche the sublime expansion of the vital impulse vanquishes all disharmonies and all doubt. He is therefore admitted to a place in the history of philosophy, not because of his scientific treatment of its problems, but because of his experience of the profound antitheses of life, and because of his effort to elaborate these experiences in ideas and symbols.

3. Rudolf Eucken (born 1846[5]) professor at Jena, the original seat of metaphysical idealism, following a series of preliminary treatises (Die Einheit des Geisteslebens, 1888; Der Kampf um einen geistigen Lebensinhalt, 1896) has elaborated the religious problem of our age in his work on Der Wahrheitsgehalt der Religion (1901).

The aim of this work is to show that religion harmonizes with the innermost ground of our being. If this is true, it must follow that every attack and every criticism will serve only to bring out the eternal principle of religion with increasing clearness.

The civilization of the ancients over-estimated the form and culminate in the barrenness of plastic art; the civilization introduced by the renaissance over-estimated the energy and culminated in a restless striving without any absolute aim. The Church, as a matter of course, furnishes a total view of the useful life in its perfection, but it over-estimates the historical forms, in which the total view was once expressed, and it therefore regards all truth as imitation and repetition, whilst on the other hand it isolates the highest realities from actual, every-day life. Critical philosophy has contrasted the realm of value with the realm of reality. But there still remains the task of construing the valuable as the most truly real. A new metaphysic will avail nothing at this point. The only way to attain the goal is through living experience. Eucken applies the term Noōlogy to the effort to affirm the absolute reality of the spiritual world, on the ground that it would otherwise be impossible to maintain the absolute obligations and the superiority of spiritual values. The noōlogical view would direct its attention to the permanent, the free and the rational, as manifested in experience. Particularly in the case of the beginning of a new form of experience—organic, psychical and the higher spiritual life,—noōlogy will discover profound motives. The noōlogical view cannot justify itself by proofs; its basis consists of a spiritual impulse, which is aroused by the experience of the disharmonies of life, and which not only leads to indefinite religious ideas, to a "universal religion," but at its culmination can lead to a "characteristic religion" with definitely formed general symbols. The great symbols formulated by the founders of the positive religions bear witness to the presence of a divine energy in spiritual evolution. Noōlogy therefore culminates in metaphysics.

1. Whilst Eucken regards a purely psychological and epistemological treatment of the problem of religion inadequate, this method of treatment has nevertheless been quite prominent in recent years. A number of American investigators have made valuable individual contributions (Stanley Hall, Leuba, Coe, etc.). James' book on Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature (1902) here takes first rank.

According to James the study of religious phenomena reveals how scant a portion of our spiritual life can be clearly explained. Consciousness shades off through a large number of degrees into the unconscious or subconscious, and it frequently happens that the fundamental presuppositions of our conscious ideas proceed from the "subliminal" (or " submarginal") region. Conscious arguments frequently affect only the surface of our nature, and a spontaneous and immediate conviction is the deep thing in us. James is inclined to regard the influences which issue from that deeper region as the means by which a higher order of things works in us. Every attempt to define this order more precisely is of course an interpretation; any single experience may be the subject of various religious interpretations. The majority of people are lacking in critical insight and care, not in faith; they are too prone to base a dogmatic belief on every vivid idea.

Every emotion may, under given circumstances, acquire a religious character. This character manifests itself by the fact that man sums up his vital experiences which give rise to a total attitude, which determine his entire attitude towards life. Spiritual life thus acquires a unity and harmony which are otherwise sought for in vain. In some natures this unity of life is the result of profound spiritual struggles, and can only be realized by a crisis, a "conversion"; in other natures however it arises by successive growth or spontaneous unfolding. This represents the difference between religious leaders: the difference between the healthy and the sick souls, or, better still, between the once-born and the twice-born. But in both classes the goal cannot be attained without the inflow of energy from unconscious sources. How this fact shall be interpreted is a private matter for each individual. James is himself convinced of the fact that new powers and starting-points may proceed from those dark sources, and he thinks that in academic circles we dismiss this possibility all too quickly. Religion rests upon a cosmological hypothesis, which cannot however be formulated dogmatically. The religious consciousness can never accept the tragedies and shipwrecks of life as the final word concerning existence.

Our judgment of the value of religion must likewise be based on experience. We judge religious phenomena by their fruits, and as a matter of fact this has always been the case. The principle of pragmatism is likewise applicable here. Reverence for deity ceases whenever it fails to affect the heart, and whenever it conflicts, in its whole character, with something the value of which we have experienced and do not wish to deny. Mankind retains the gods which it can use, and whose commandments substantiate the requirements which they make of themselves and of others. We constantly apply human standards.

James assumes a sympathetic attitude towards religion. He is convinced that the best fruits of religious experience are the best things in history. The inner life here manifests a fervor and an energy, a subjectivity and a concentration which lifts us into a higher atmosphere.—James does not discuss the intimate relation which exists between "personal" and "institutional" religion. His treatise however suggests points of view which are very fruitful from which to consider the problem of religion—or, if we prefer, the problem of an equivalent of religion.

  1. Died 1921 (Wikisource contributor note)
  2. Died 1941 (Wikisource contributor note)
  3. Died 1916 (Wikisource contributor note)
  4. Died 1910
  5. Died 1926