Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/52

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down to the polyp, and from this even to the mosses and lichens, and, finally, down to the lowest stage of nature known to us, namely, to crude matter; from which matter and its forces, according to mechanical laws, . . . the entire system of nature (which in organized beings is to us so incomprehensible that we feel constrained to think another principle for it) seems to descend."[1]

Here it remains open to the archeologist of nature to derive from the surviving traces of her earliest revolutions, according to any natural mechanism known to him or conjectured by him, the whole of that great family of creatures (for so we should have (müsste) to think of it, if the above-mentioned relationship is to have any ground). He can suppose the womb of Mother Earth . . . to have given birth at first to creatures of less purposive form; these in turn to have brought forth others (diese wiederum andere [Geschöpfe] gebären lassen) better adapted to the places where they originated and to their relations with one another; until finally Nature's womb, grown torpid and ossified, produced only species that underwent no further modifications; so that the number of species from that time forward remained just what it was at the moment when Nature's potency in the production of forms reached its end. Only, he must still in the end ascribe to this universal mother an organization purposively predisposed for the production of all these creatures. Otherwise the purposiveness of form characteristic of the products of the animal and vegetable kingdoms would be inconceivable.

Now this passage, though it painstakingly avoids all positive affirmation, doubtless sounds as if Kant intended by it, if not to indicate his own conversion to transformism, at least to issue to others a dispensation to embrace that doctrine. But the following note, attached to the end of the second paragraph, puts a different face upon the matter:

We may call a hypothesis of this kind a daring adventure (ein gewagtes Abenteuer) of the reason; there are doubtless few investigators of Nature, even of the most acute minds, to whom the hypothesis has not at times presented itself. For absurd it is not—in the sense in which generatio æquivoca—the production of an organized being through the mechanism of crude, inorganic matter—is absurd. It would after all be a case of generatio univoca, in the most general sense of the word, since the hypothesis supposes that every organism is derived from another organism, though the one may differ from the other in species; as if, for example, certain water-animals transformed themselves little by little into marsh-animals and these in turn, after some generations, into land-animals. A priori, in the judgment of reason alone, there is nothing self-contradictory in this. Only, experience shows no example of such a thing. According to experience, all generation is not only generatio univoca (in contrast with generation of the organic out of the inorganic), but also generatio homonima, in which the parent produces progeny having the same organization as itself. Generatio heteronima [i. e., transformation of species], so far as our knowledge of Nature through experience reaches, is nowhere found.

This is certainly not the language of a believer, still less that of an advocate. True, Kant's position has significantly changed since two years previous. He has at last fairly discriminated the question concerning transformation from that concerning equivocal generation, and

  1. The entire hypothesis mentioned down to this point, it will presently appear, Kant really rejects as not only untrue but absurd. For it is a hypothesis implying "equivocal generation" and the reducibility of organic processes to mechanical laws.