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INFLUENCE OF SCIENCE UPON PHILOSOPHY.
IN his thoughtful little work on "Recent British Philosophy," Prof. Masson, of the University of Edinburgh, has the following suggestive passages upon the subject indicated in the present title:
"However earnestly we may contend for such a notion of Philosophy as shall keep up the tradition of it as something more than Science, yet the perpetual liability of Philosophy to modifications, at the hands of Science, is a fact obvious to all. Not a new scientific discovery can be made, not a new scientific conception can get abroad, but it exercises a disturbing influence on the previous system of thought, antiquating something, disintegrating something, compelling some readjustment of the parts to each other, some trepidation of the axis of the whole. Sometimes the action is almost revolutionary. What a derangement in men's ideas about every thing whatsoever, what a compulsion to new modes of thinking, and to new habits of speech, must have been caused by the propagation of the Copernican Astronomy! What a wrench to all one's habits of thought, to be taught that the little ball which carries us rotates on itself, and is one of a small company of celestial bodies that perform their periodical wanderings round the sun, in lieu of the older astronomical faith, according to which the earth was fixed in the centre, and the limitless azure with its fires was one vast spectacular sphere, composed of ten successive and independent spherical transparencies, made to wheel round the earth diurnally for her solitary pleasure! Man's thoughts, even about himself and his destinies, could not but be changed in some respects by this compulsion of his imagination to a totally new way of fancying physical immensity and our earth's share in its proceedings. . . .
"It is not every day, indeed nor every century, that there occurs such a vast compulsory shifting of the very axis of men's conceptions of the physical universe as that which our ancestors had so reluctantly to submit to only a century or two ago. But every generation, every year brings with it a quantum of new scientific conceptions, new scientific truths. They creep in upon us on all sides. Is Philosophy to stand in the midst of them haughtily and superciliously, taking no notice? She cannot do so and live. Whether she knows it or not, these are her appointed food. She must eat them up or perish. They do not constitute her vitality, any more than the food that men eat constitutes the life that is in them; but, just as men, in order merely to continue alive, must refresh themselves continually with food, so Philosophy, that she may not fall down emaciated and dead by the wayside, must not only not hold aloof from Science, but must regard what Science brings as her daily and delicious nutriment. Whatever definition of Philosophy we adopt—whether we call it simply and beautifully, with Plato in one passage, 'a meditation of death,' or adopt some of the more labored definitions that have been given expressly to indicate its relations to Science—it is equally certain that a philosophy that should be out of accord with any ascertained scientific truth or tendency to truth, or that should not in some efficient manner harmonize for the reason all the conceptions and informations of contemporary science, would be of no use for educated intelligences, and would exist as a refuge for others only by sufferance. Shall Philosophy pretend to regulate the human spirit, and not know what is passing within it to supervise and direct man's thinkings, and not know what they are?
"In no age so conspicuously as in our own has there been a crowding in of new scientific conceptions of all kinds to exercise a perturbing influence on Speculative Philosophy. They have come in almost too fast for Philosophy's powers of reception. She has visibly reeled amid their shocks, and has not yet recovered her equilibrium. Within those years alone which we are engaged in surveying there have been developments of native British science, not to speak of influxes of scientific ideas, hints, and probabilities from without, in the midst of which British Philosophy has looked about her scared and bewildered, and has felt that some of her oldest statements about herself, and some of the most important terms in her vocabulary, require reëxplication."