Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 27.djvu/12

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Aural Surgery;’ translations of Von Tröltsch on ‘The Surgical Diseases of the Ear,’ and Helmholtz on ‘The Mechanism of the Ossicles and the Membrana Tympani’ (New Sydenham Soc.). In 1875 he began to suffer from a cerebral disorder produced by overwork, and in the autumn sailed for the Azores. He had hardly landed, however, when he died on 16 Dec. of acute inflammation of the brain. He was buried in the English church at Ponta Delgada in the island of São Miguel. His fugitive essays were edited by his son, Mr. C. H. Hinton, with an introduction by Mr. Shadworth Hodgson, under the title ‘Chapters on the Art of Thinking, and other Essays,’ in 1879. Two volumes of selections from his commonplace book (printed for his own convenience in 1874, and now in the British Museum, 4 vols. 8vo) were published; one entitled ‘Philosophy and Religion,’ edited by Caroline Haddon in 1881, and another entitled ‘The Law Breaker and the Coming of the Law,’ edited by his widow, in 1884.

As a thinker Hinton, whatever his faults, lacked neither originality nor comprehensiveness. Accepting from idealism the doctrine that existence is limited by consciousness, he sought in the activity exhibited in volition, which he identified with spirit, the key to the interpretation of the noumenal, or, as he preferred to say, the ‘actual’ world, and the reconciliation of religion and science. The popular realism, which regards objects as material ‘things in themselves,’ together with the popular idea of God as the creator of the world from nothing by successive acts, and its governor through secondary causes and miraculous interpositions, he treats as due to a certain ‘spiritual deadness,’ the intellectual analogue of sin, to which man is prone, and as exploded by scientific materialism, which, however, in its turn is proved by philosophy to have but a relative validity. Hence the ideas of matter and force, and also the ordinary theological idea of God, must give place to that of universal spirit as the ‘actuality’ of things. Accordingly he names his system ‘actualism’ as opposed to idealism and materialism. He hoped for a time to save the essence of Christianity, though his rationalisation of its tenets led him nearer to pantheism. To the last, however, he made free and uncritical use of biblical phraseology.

Hinton was also much occupied with the problem of the unification of knowledge, the solution of which he sought in the category of ‘equilibration.’ The inorganic world exhibits motion and resistance in unstable equilibrium, the organic world ‘vital force’ and chemical affinity in unstable equilibrium. Function is the effect of the temporary preponderance of the latter over the former force. Structure results from function modified by resistance. Thus chemical affinity being a mode of molecular motion, biology is affiliated to physics through the conceptions of motion, resistance, tension, and unstable equilibrium. The weakest point in this theory is the obscurity in which it leaves the ‘vital force;’ nor can Hinton be said to have made out his revolutionary theory of function, which makes it not the cause but the effect of waste. Hinton finds the analogue of his biological theory in the mental and moral evolution of the race. Scientific procedure implies an unstable equilibrium between fact and theory. In other words, the first step consists in placing upon the facts to be explained a provisional construction, called by Hinton a theory, but more usually termed an hypothesis. Both the survey of the facts and the theory are necessarily inadequate, and as further facts are accumulated the theory is modified to suit them. As the result of this gradual articulation of the theory, it becomes at last so complicated that it sinks, as it were, by its own weight, and is replaced by some simpler theory. In this curious analogy ‘theory’ corresponds to ‘vital force,’ facts to ‘chemical affinity,’ their accumulation to the process of nutrition, and the final discrediting of the theory to ‘function.’ Hinton's analysis of scientific method coincides in a remarkable way with the Hegelian idea of a ‘dialectic movement’ inherent in thought itself, a coincidence the more striking as he was unacquainted with the Hegelian philosophy.

In the moral sphere Hinton traces the same process. As an individual self, man is a negation, a limitation of the divine Spirit, and can thus only attain his true life through unselfishness, whereby he transcends himself and becomes one with God. In fact, however, he has done just the opposite, making himself the centre of the universe, his own supposed interest, mundane or spiritual, his principal concern. The moral centre of gravity must, therefore, be shifted from self-regard to regard for others, from egoism to altruism or mutual service. Hinton's premature death prevented him from giving orderly expression to his ethical system. The volume entitled ‘The Law-breaker and the Coming of the Law’ presents it in so ill-digested a shape as to be hardly intelligible. The work is also marred by hints as to the need of a reform of the institution of marriage, which seem to point in the direction of free love.

[Life and Letters, edited by Ellice Hopkins, with introduction by Sir W. W. Gull, 1878; Chapters on the Art of Thinking, with Mr.