Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/637

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617
MATERIALISM AND POSITIVISM.

alone. He asks only support for his feet; and that he finds in the instinctive confidence in his physical and mental powers, with which, in common with other men, he is endowed. To the positivist a fact is a fact, wherever and in whatever guise he meets it. And all facts stand to him upon an equal level in point of authority. Having learned to dispense with the spirit hypothesis, he has learned to dispense also with bad metaphysics, particularly with the bad metaphysics that lie at the foundation of materialism. He repudiates the idea that a superior degree of reality attaches to hard things, and he bewares of drawing the metaphysical conclusion that tangible things constitute the stuff of the universe. A hard thing is well in its way: so is a soft thing; so is an impalpable thing. What the universe is ultimately made of he does not inquire, because he knows the inquiry is vain. He is content with facts, and to him a fact is whatever produces a complete and definite impression upon the mind. He does not make his own mind the measure and test of all possible existence, but he holds that it is the measure and test of all things that concern him. There may be things of which he knows and can know nothing, but he indulges in no speculations in regard to these—his duty being, as he conceives, to apply himself assiduously to the knowable order.

To the positivist, I have said, all facts are of equal authority; and, in order to decide what is a fact, and what therefore he should treat as a reality, he merely asks, Is it capable of definitely affecting my mind? Whatever stands definitely related to the mind is a fact, and has all the reality that can be discovered in anything whatsoever. All we can say of a piece of granite is that it definitely affects the mind; we know it as so-and-so. Whether it be, as Mr. Herbert Spencer maintains, but the representation of an unknowable reality, the positivist does not inquire: enough for him that he is able to cognize it under certain definite forms. But what we here say of a piece of granite, which would be the materialist's choice illustration of real existence, we may say equally of an action, a word, a thought, an impulse, a characteristic, a tendency. These are all facts, capable of definitely affecting the mind, and often affecting the mind more intimately and powerfully by far than tangible objects. What is it in my friend that is of most concern to me? His bodily frame? By no means. He could not exist without a bodily frame, any more than he could walk without ground to walk on. But his bodily frame may have nothing in it to please the eye, or in any way to arrest attention. The color of his hair, his weight, or even his stature, might change materially, and the difference to me would be little more than if he had changed his clothes, provided the disposition of his mind, those mental and moral qualities that had won my regard, had remained unchanged. In this case, disposition, a thing wholly impalpable, is of vastly more account to me, as an element in my environment, than the whole assemblage of physical properties and qualities represented by