Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/393

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

anatomy and medicine. Still, when all is said and done, Hegel shone the bright particular star of the constellation. Indeed, so far as our perplexing proximity permits fair judgment, we must rank him foremost among the systematic thinkers of the nineteenth century. The ceaseless praises and recriminations that have encompassed his memory ever since his death, in 1831, prove no less. Present signs of his returning influence among the Teutonic peoples indicate much the same thing. But, some one will inquire, what has all this to do with Darwin's hold upon the general imagination? I answer, everything! For while, schooled by long neglect, even contumely, we philosophers have learned to consume our own smoke in comparative silence, you, my scientific colleagues, may be prepared to take the word of one who, perhaps more than any of your coadjutors, possesses the right to speak with authority on the occasion of the Darwin Centennial. Professor H. F. Osborn writes:

It is a very striking fact that the basis of our modern methods of studying the evolution problem was established not by the early naturalists nor by the speculative writers, but by the philosophers. They alone were upon the main track of modern thought.[1]

Many proofs might be adduced readily. Two mere indications must suffice here. Hegel, for instance, insists, and rightly, that the botanists of his day, obsessed by classification, did not realize the force of Goethe's position, "eben well ein Ganzes darin dargestellt wurde."[2] Again, Goethe himself formulated Spencer's famous principle about the passage from indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to definite, coherent heterogeneity. Goethe points out:

The more imperfect a being is the more do its individual parts resemble each other, and the more do these parts resemble the whole. The more perfect the being is, the more dissimilar are its parts. In the former case the parts are more or less a repetition of the whole; in the latter case they are totally unlike the whole. The more the parts resemble each other, the less subordination is there of one to the other. Subordination of parts indicates high grade of organization.[3]

But, like other incalculable human forces, the idealists bore their manifest limitations. And Hegel may be taken as their consecrated representative. Perhaps we may understand this matter best by saying that, after a fashion, he came too soon. His central thesis embodied a theory of universal development, a theory that has had no parallel for boldness and penetration since Plato and his unique pupil, Aristotle. Now, a huge framework of this sort needs multifarious filling in. And one may well admire the temerity of the philosopher when he recalls the condition of knowledge between 1813 and 1816, the years that wit-

  1. "From the Greeks to Darwin," p. 87.
  2. "Naturphil.," p. 489.
  3. "Life of Goethe," G. H. Lewes, p. 358.