Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/639

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619
MATERIALISM AND POSITIVISM.

not a reality to the æsthetic sense. The emotional nature finds its realities in the things that kindle emotion, not in those that furnish matter for intellectual exercise or for physical sensation. Who can ever forget those exquisitely simple words of the poet Tennyson?—

"And the stately ships go on

To their haven under the hill;
But oh, for the touch of a vanished hand,

And the sound of a voice that is still!"

The vanished hand, the silent voice, are here but symbols of a thousand clustering associations dear to the heart in past times, and dear to the heart still. The physical sensation is the nexus of things that no physical methods could possibly enable us to understand, things known only to the emotional nature. The touch or the voice that thrills one human being will be wholly indifferent to another—will, in fact, rank only as a mere physical sensation. The heart of a mother would be rent by the cry of her child in pain or in danger; but what would that cry be to a devouring beast? It would have no relation, except as a definite volume of sound, to anything in the beast's nature, and therefore, in all the elements that would speak to a human—to say nothing of a mother's—heart, would be non-existent.

It is, however, when we consider man in society that the range of impalpable realities becomes widest, and embraces facts of the deepest import; and just as society becomes more complex does this truth assume deeper significance. In a society like ours, at every step a man takes through life, he encounters forces as real as those of physical nature, but whose seat is in social institutions and in the dispositions of individual men. There are ambitions, interests, customs, prejudices, conventionalities, and a thousand intangible forms of social force, that all react upon the individual man like so many conflicting winds and currents. The individual can and does react against these, and herein he differs from a wave-tossed vessel; but, steer his course with as firm a hand and as steady an eye as he may, the great composition of social forces will powerfully affect the line of his movement.

The great practical defect of a materialistic philosophy is that it leads its adherents to underestimate all forces and influences that can not be reasoned about as we reason about the laws of matter. The materialist rests by preference on a relatively low plane of thought; and he is at a great disadvantage when he has to deal with matters that lie in a higher plane. But many are materialists in this way who would utterly repudiate materialism in theory. In other words, there are many whose methods of judgment are wholly unsuited (through excess of simplicity) to questions involving the higher human motives, or the less obvious conditions of human happiness. Many a man has made a disastrous business failure through a too materialistic way of looking at things. He wants money, let us say, for his business; he