Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Kritisk teori, vetenskap och filosofi

I en utmärkt artikel i Compact beskriver Jacob Shell, professor i geografi vid Temple University, i samband med Bruno Latours bortgång den dramatiska förändring som vad han på det karaktäristiskt amerikanska, litet svepande sättet kallar den “kritiska teorins” uppfattning om vetenskapen genomgått under de senaste årtiondena.

Den typ av analys av vetenskapens objektivitetsanspråk och produktionen av dess fakta som Latour ägnade sig åt på 80- och 90-talet var en del av en stor rörelse som utvecklades ur den “vanliga” vetenskapsteorin, den analytiska filosofins inre upplösningsprocess, vetenskapssociologin, strukturalismen, poststrukturalismen, den “nya vänsterns” modifierade marxism, Foucault, vad som kom att kallas postmodernismen, Frankfurtskolans kritiska teori i inskränkt mening, och en rad individuella tänkare som inte så lätt kan hänföras till en enda större riktning. Att sammanfatta allt detta – och alla underavdelningar till varje riktning – som bara “kritisk teori” blir väl lätt lite för inexakt, och inte minst när Shell också uppfattar hela denna “kritiska teoris” företrädare som härstammande från 60-talets “motkultur”.

Men i mycket av denna teoretiska miljö (“many post-1960s intellectuals”) fanns förvisso “a lingering aversion…to various institutional and technological projects associated with Cold War-era ‘Big Science’”, som “had been linked with the military-industrial complex and the West’s pursuit of geopolitical dominance”. De var formade av motståndet mot “Fordist mass production, technocratic administration, the development of nuclear weaponry, and the figure of the ‘obedient engineer’”. Mot, kan man också säga, hela den borgerliga liberalismens dominerande, ideologiska rationalism och positivism. Detta präglade förvisso också den egentligt politiskt medvetna motkulturen.

Men låt oss här ändå, för diskussionen av just hans artikel, acceptera Shells benämning av det samlade inflytandet från alla de nämnda riktningarna som kritisk teori.

Även om Latours aktör-nätverk-analys och alla andra kritiska analyser av de institutionella och sociala sammanhangen bakom vetenskapens fakta var i striktare mening filosofiskt ytliga och problematiska när det gällde de djupare dimensionerna av de allmänna frågorna om vetenskap, fakta och sanning som sådana, ägde de andra delsanningar, och en hel del viktiga bakomliggande incitament, i motståndet mot en viss typ av vetenskap vid en viss tid och i ett visst sammanhang.

På 80- och 90-talen hade, förklarar Shell, den kritiska teorin “obvious appeal to critical theorists in the social sciences and humanities, who also needed to persuade institutions and funding bodies of the value of their work”. Men på kort tid har denna vetenskapskritik förfallit, ja med ett viktigt undantag, könsskillnadernas biologi, övergått i sin motsats, ett okritiskt accepterande av den samtida vetenskapen. Latour själv ändrade sig, när han upptäckte att klimatfrågan krävde den vetenskapliga objektivitet han ifrågasatt och att forskningen om den inte var en del av kalla krigets “Big Science” och det övriga negativa som vetenskapen associerats med. Tvärtom: klimatforskarna “aligned themselves with activist causes that originated in the counterculture, and saw themselves as fighting on behalf of humanity as a whole and against the fossil fuel industry and other industrial juggernauts. Hence, to join with the forces critiquing climate science would be a tactical error that mistook the struggles of the early 21st century for those of the previous century.”

Latour förfärades av hur klimatskeptiker och konspirationsteoretiker kunde använda argument liknande hans egna. Nu gällde det i stället att “lita på vetenskapen”: “In recent years”, noterar Shell, “the need to ‘trust the science’ has nearly become an article of faith among college-educated elites, regardless of how much critical theory they studied in college.”

Liksom vetenskapen och dess utövare utsätter sig för kritisk-teoretisk analys, gör även den kritiska teorin och dess utövare själva det. Även de har sitt institutionella, sociala, politiska sammanhang. Shell fäster uppmärksamheten vid hur den nya okritiska hållningen har lett till en mindre fördelaktig position för de kritiska teoretikerna själva: “One objective of late 20th century critical theory had been to maintain the intellectual sovereignty of the social theorist and of the institutional and livelihood trappings around this figure. A theorist who doesn’t merely ‘trust the science’ has his or her own type of work to do, and thus has solid ground on which to assert intellectual autonomy.” Men vilka uppgifter återstår för de kritiska teoretiker som givit upp denna hållning gentemot vetenskapen? “After all, this attitude places such a figure well downstream from the social arena Latour spent the prime of his career critiquing: that of science and its social, technological, and monetary support systems.” En sådan kritisk teoretiker väntar då bara passivt på att motta “truths worked out in advance somewhere upstream”. Som bäst lägger denne kritiske teoretiker bara till “some intellectual polish – or develops a hermeneutic to stigmatize skeptics.”

Latour insåg dock att den kritiska teorin för att bevara sin autonomi måste äga “some kind of value system more fundamental than science”, och sökte finna en utväg hos Heidegger, vars distinktion mellan autentisk och alienerande erfarenhet “Latour hoped to repurpose as a mechanism to help a new generation of critical theorists distinguish ‘good’ from ‘bad’ science.”

Detta, framhåller Shell, har inte fungerat. Vad han kallar en “coalitional logic” – ett viktigt begrepp som även i denna artikel skulle behövt utredas åtminstone litet närmare – har i stället lett till att inte bara vetenskapen själv, och inte heller bara de stiftelser som fondar de kritiska teoretikernas arbete, utan också politiska partier och aktivister avgör vilken vetenskap som ska accepteras som god respektive dålig. De kritiska teoretikerna väntar alltså bara, som “coalitionally subordinate”, efter att ha förlorat sin autonomi och prestige, på deras instruktioner. Därmed har de “largely settled into the role of rubber-stamping the latest ideological fads of cultural liberalism. Critical theorists’ relinquishment of their critical stance has kept them comfortably ensconced in academia at the expense of the intellectual autonomy they once enjoyed.”

Vid det här laget, på 2020-talet, har situationen ytterligare förvärrats i och med att de f.d. kritiska teoretikerna också gett sig in i kampen mot “misinformation” (Shell menar väl även “disinformation”): “This alignment amounts to being even more credulous about claims of stable, non-political distinctions between truth and falsehood, since such distinctions are necessary to determine what counts as ‘misinformation’.” Ja, liksom de nyligen fördömde Agambens kritik av Covid-forskningen, skulle de, tror Shell på goda grunder, sannolikt reagera mot Latours användning av Heidegger “with instant suspicion about its reactionary connotations”.

Latour sträckte sig alltså mot filosofin för att hantera den nya situationen. Filosofiska inslag fanns givetvis i hela den gamla vetenskapskritiken, om än mer i vissa riktningar än andra. Men de var otillräckliga. Och p.g.a. denna brist riskerade de giltiga delsanningarna hela tiden att gå förlorade genom en implicit relativism som i de mer långtgående, postmoderna formerna på nytt sätt bejakades som central och definierande. Bortom delsanningarna kvarstod de viktigaste frågorna om vetenskap, fakta och sanning som orörda av de sociala och institutionella ramarna, aktör-nätverksrelationerna, intressenas spel.

De kritiska teoretikerna behövde förvisso “some kind of value system more fundamental than science”. De ägde långtifrån ett fullt hållbart sådant. Det mått av filosofi som ingick i den kritiska teorin kunde inte tillhandahålla det. Och det gör inte heller Heidegger. Från mitt perspektiv beror alla här uppkomna problemen på den utsträckning i vilken man helt enkelt glömt bort de egentligt filosofiska insikter som var centrala för idealismen – omedelbart den moderna, under 1800-talet utvecklade, men i vidare mening eller på ett djupare plan också idealismen i allmänhet – i dess främsta former. Fenomenologin har, föreslår jag, med tiden visat sig alltmer uppenbart otillräcklig.

Idealismens analyser av den erfarenhetsmässiga helheten, av olika typer och nivåer av erfarenhetens modaliteter såväl som av rationalitet, begreppsbildning, dialektik och pragmatism är alltfort relevanta, ja de relevanta, de som fortfarande behövs, de som man måste arbeta vidare utifrån. Och de behövs både för att rädda den kritiska teorins delsanningar på den sociologiska nivån undan deras bristande teoretiska underlag, och för att rädda en riktig allmän förståelse av vetenskapen i sig och i relation till de av den kritiska teorin belysta sociologiska sammanhangen. Och det handlar om mer än mer fundamentala värdesystem. Det finns ingen egentligt teoretisk vetenskap utan filosofi. All vetenskap är en kontinuerligt självkorrigerande process av objektivitets-, totalitets- och absoluthetsapproximation, förutan vilken man alltid måste befinna sig lika mycket i relativitetens utmarker som man gjorde från början.

Claes Ryn om sin roman A Desperate Man

Lois Lindstrom intervjuade 2013 i sitt TV-program The Bookman’s Corner Claes Ryn om hans då publicerade roman A Desperate Man. Videon har funnits tidigare på YouTube, men var sedan försvunnen en tid. För något år sedan dök den upp igen på Lindstroms egen kanal:

New Paper

Here is the abstract of my paper ‘Christian and Vedantic Personalism: The Nature and Cause of the Difference’, which, in my absence (the Covid situation, chaos at European airports), was presented at the 16th International Conference of Persons in Mexico City in early August:

What could perhaps, with proper explanations, be called “Vedantic personalism” has been introduced on a few occasions at the International Conference on Persons, and most fully in a panel at Lund in Sweden in 2013; it has also in fact been briefly mentioned by a few Western personalist thinkers ever since the 19th century. In this paper, I will point to what I find to be the central difference between western, Christian personalism and such Vedantic personalism, and provide a basic account of what I regard as its main historical cause, namely the specific features which define the general view of the human being in at least “exoteric”, orthodox Abrahamitic and, in some respects, specifically Christian religion and theology. This will be a kind of introduction to a further exploration of some manifestations of this difference and of its influence throughout the western theology and philosophy that have been relevant to personalism, an exploration which will also highlight points or moments which nonetheless, due in large part to the different influence of Greek idealism, to some extent approximate Vedantic personalism.

Although I have continued to attend conferences, this is my first paper since, as I mentioned here, I had to leave the academy in 2015.

Keith Ward om medvetande

Bland de många böcker Ward utgivit sedan jag senast diskuterade honom här är jag, av naturliga skäl, inte minst benägen att nämna hans korta sammanfattning av sin åskådning förra året i den nya serien My Theology, betitlad Personal Idealism. Redan vid den 12:e International Conference on Persons i Lund 2013 försvarade han sin position i termer av personalistisk idealism, och idag behandlar han den utförligare i samma termer även i andra böcker, som Sharing in the Divine Nature: A Personalist Metaphysics, från 2020.

16th International Conference on Persons

The 16th International Conference on Persons, having been postponed one year because of Covid, was held last week at Anahuac University in Mexico City. It was at the same time the first Congreso Mundial de Personalismo, organized in collaboration with the Asociación Española de Personalismo and the Asociación Iberoamericana de Personalismo. Among the organizers was also the Hildebrand Project of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. More information here and the programme here.

Boksamtal om Tage Lindbom

På måndag den 7:e februari 17.00 talar Tomas Lindbom om sin far Tage Lindbom med filosofen Bengt Kristensson Uggla i Mikaelskapellet på Karlbergsvägen 64 i Stockholm, i ett arrangemang av Svenska Kyrkan. Tomas Lindbom gav förra året ut den ypperliga biografin över sin far, I otakt med tidsandan, som jag skrev om här. Missa inte detta evenemang!

Biografi över Tage Lindbom

Tage Lindboms son, Frankrikekännaren Tomas Lindbom, har på egna förlaget Tomas Lindbom Relation publicerat en “personlig biografi” över sin far, I otakt med tidsandan. Den är utmärkt välskriven, med stor förståelse för faderns tänkande, dess bakgrund och dess relevans (som sonen framhåller är mer uppenbar idag än tidigare), och med omsorgsfullt och skarpt återgivna händelser och detaljer av alla slag.

Ingen annan skulle ha kunnat ge denna rundmålning av Lindboms hela sociala och kulturella värld. Boken är oavbrutet fascinerande, på ett sätt som inte störs av ens de kortaste svagare och mer likgiltiga partier.

Tage Lindbom var en av Sveriges viktigaste tänkare, och bokens utgivning är i sig en händelse. Rimligen kommer den också åtföljas av något offentligt releaseevenemang. För min del blir det givetvis nödvändigt att återkomma till den.

I samband med biografin publicerar Tomas Lindbom också nya upplagor av två av faderns viktigaste böcker, Efter Atlantis (1951) och Sancho Panzas väderkvarnar (1962). Alla titlarna kan beställas på www.tagelindbom.se.

Några teser om idealismen, filosofin och den andliga traditionen

Jag var tidigare, åtminstone under några år, primärt filosofihistoriker. Den filosofi jag i denna egenskap ägnade mig åt var av det slaget som delvis rör sig inom ett område som filosofin har gemensamt med teologin.

Filosofin och filosofihistorien kan inte skiljas från varandra. Inte bara av det triviala skälet att den senare handlar om den förra. Utan också av det mindre triviala skälet att den förra handlar om den senare.

Det filosofihistoriska studiet har lett mig till vissa filosofiska positioner. Men vissa filosofiska positioner ledde mig till det filosofihistoriska studiet. Att jag primärt var filosofihistoriker, innebar inte att jag inte ville försvara vissa filosofiska positioner.

Jag har vad jag menar vara allvarliga invändningar mot båda de dominerande strömningarna i 1900-talets filosofi, den företrädesvis anglo-amerikanska s.k. analytiska filosofin och den kontinentaleuropeiska med utgångspunkt i fenomenologin och representerad främst av Heidegger.

Jag tror att det finns anledning att försvara aspekter av den i allmän mening idealistiska filosofin i västerlandet, både den klassiska och den moderna, och främst i de personalistiska former jag ägnade mig åt i mina huvudsakliga akademiska publikationer.

Men i den mån jag själv har försökt göra det, har jag också föreslagit att de kan och bör fördjupas, kompletteras, förstärkas och modifieras genom att förbindas med främst Vedanta.

Det var aldrig nödvändigt att radikalt bryta med den huvudsakliga idealistiska skolbildningen i den svenska filosofin under 1800- och det tidiga 1900-talet. Filosofin skulle vinna på att fortsätta verka inom eller utifrån den.

Delsanningar och perifera sanningar finns givetvis utspridda i de flesta filosofiska riktningar, tidigare och senare. De är inte oviktiga. Tänkandet är en dialektisk helhet som hänger samman, över alla gränser mellan skolor.

Men i det de förblir spridda i relativitetens utmarker, kopplade till begränsade och felaktiga helhetliga åskådningar, är dessa sanningar bara förbiflimrande fragment som alltid tenderar att gå förlorade.

Inte bara personalismen utan i viss mån även idealismen är en levande riktning i dagens filosofi. I själva verket fortlevde idealismen i olika former genom hela 1900-talet hos många framstående men av de dominerande riktningarna marginaliserade tänkare.

Den personalistiska idealismen är ett resultat av en koherent, kumulativ utveckling i den västerländska filosofin alltsedan antiken.

Det går, föreslår jag, att argumentera för att man inom den västerländska filosofin hittills inte kommit längre, ifråga om systematiskt elaborerad, helhetlig världs- och livsåskådning, än i den personalistiska idealismen.

På flera sätt kan den, i helhetligt åskådningsmässiga termer, ses som en essens och kulmination av det europeiska och västerländska tänkandet.

Delsanningarna i andra riktningar måste, föreslår jag, relateras till, förstås utifrån, och modifieras i enlighet med den.

Till skillnad från andra och senare filosofiska riktningar öppnar sig idealismen i viss mån mot Vedanta (och även den personalistiska idealismen har där partiella anknytningspunkter) och vad som blev det “esoteriska” tänkandet i de abrahamitiska andliga traditionerna.

Samtidigt finns det en hel del i exempelvis de senaste årtiondenas medvetandefilosofi som bekräftar den personalistiska och övriga idealismen och som kan bidra till att vidareutveckla den.

Vissa former av den moderna idealismen utgör den västerländska modernitetens enda verkliga filosofi.

Med detta menar jag inte att det inte förekommit mycket verkligt tänkande. I det har förvisso också funnits mycket fili för tankens olika områden. Vad som saknats är sofin, sådan jag förstår den.

Mycket i detta tänkande som inte är verklig filosofi äger också betydande värde. Inte minst när det relateras till den verkliga filosofin och därmed ses i rätt perspektiv – vilket naturligtvis bara kan göras av den verkliga filosofin.

Dock är det givetvis omöjligt att vinna generell, eller ens högst begränsad, acceptans för denna förståelse av den verkliga filosofin, och den uppfattning av sofin som den bygger på, bland dagens filosofer.

Även utifrån förståelsen av den antika filosofin är det nödvändigt att åtminstone bejaka att det finns andra definitioner av sofin, för vilka fili hyses. Att filosofin därför kan handla om just denna definition. Eller om fili för en sofi som vi ännu inte kan definiera.

De flesta moderna filosofer omfattar ju dock inget sofibegrepp överhuvudtaget. Såtillvida är termen filosofi betydelselös även för dem själva. Den är bara en inadekvat, hävdvunnen beteckning för deras sedan länge på annat sätt definierade akademiska disciplin.

För mig är sofin identisk med den “stora andliga traditionen”, sådan denna definieras – åtminstone i stora drag – av vissa bestämda tänkare och skolor.

Därför ser jag Platon som den paradigmatiske klassiske filosofen i vad gäller själva förståelsen av filosofin.

För honom är filosofin, i Sokrates efterföljd, en strävan efter ett slags rekonstruktiv, rationell nykonceptualisering av denna tradition (eller vad man fragmentariskt uppfattade av den), efter naturspekulationens och “sofisternas” icke-traditionella begynnelse.

Fastän det är ett förhållningssätt till en existerande tradition är det ett nytt förhållningssätt, och därmed tillräckligt för att konsolidera filosofin som skild från denna tradition som sådan, från sofin, som en självständig intellektuell disciplin av fili i väst.

Detta var ett nytt fenomen, en produkt av den västerländska differentieringsprocessen i vid mening (d.v.s. vidare, eller allmännare, än Voegelins). Därför finns, i strikt mening, ingen icke-västerländsk filosofi.

De icke- eller antitraditionella formerna av den antika filosofin, med deras annorlunda sofiförståelse och därmed annorlunda uppgifter för den frigjorda rationaliteten, är förstås än mer specifikt västerländska.

Deras betydelse ska dock inte överdrivas. Den var större för den västerländska moderniteten än under antiken. Pierre Hadot balanserar bilden av den tidiga filosofin på ett sätt som bringar den närmare traditionella kulturers andliga övningar.

Omvänt har icke- eller antitraditionella tankeriktningar förvisso funnits i andra kulturer. Men de har inte principiellt organiserats i en som enhetlig föreställd “öppen” institutionell disciplin på det sätt som den antika filosofin åtminstone gav viktiga impulser till i väst.

Vedanta är inte filosofi, i den här angivna, precisa historiska meningen, och inte heller teologi, som är den redan partiellt differentierade, “uppenbarade” abrahamitiska sofin såsom rationellt bearbetad av den grekiska filosofin. Vedanta är ett inomtraditionellt läromässigt uttryck för sofin, och en disciplin av tolkning av detta givna uttryck.

Men eftersom Vedanta är ett uttryck för och en disciplin för tolkningen av just sofin, äger den, oaktat dennas traditionella givenhet, en intellektuell karaktär som för den i närheten av vissa av filosofins filiskt spekulativa lärouttryck.

Att säga att filosofins lärouttryck är filiskt spekulativa är endast att ange deras grundläggande karaktär som resultat av differentieringsprocessen. Det innebär givetvis inget förnekande av att också den filiska spekulationen kan uppfatta och uttrycka sofin.

Så sker alltså redan i viss mån hos Platon. Men vi ser det i än högre grad hos Plotinos, vars tänkande är mindre präglat av differentieringen och därför står närmare den fragmentariskt uppfattade traditionen.

Platonism är mer än bara Platon och filosofi som specifikt anknyter endast till honom. Det är hela den stora filosofiska riktning, hela den typ av filosofi, som har sin utgångspunkt hos Platon.

Under antiken omfattar den även, och inte minst, Plotinos. Denne är i själva verket mer typisk för platonismen, eller för vad som allmänt menas med platonism, än Platon själv.

Jag har använt två olika traditionsbegrepp här. Den “stora andliga traditionen” är inte begränsad till det “traditionella samhället” i betydelsen det fördifferentiella samhället eller det delvis differentierade, delvis traditionellt rekonstruerade medeltida europeiska.

Det förra begreppet kan inte alltid förstås i termer av en kontinuitet skapad av direkt historisk förmedling, faktisk historisk påverkan.

Den traditionalistiska skolans speciella, från den etymologiska betydelsen avvikande traditionsbegrepp medger i sig att det förhåller sig så. Men det är starkt knutet till det traditionella samhällets begrepp i den angivna meningen.

Åtminstone någon historisk, kulturell transmission äger förstås alltid rum, och normalt är den stark och specifik. Såtillvida behöver den etymologiska betydelsen inte överges.

Men den kan också vara mycket svag och allmän. I princip gäller att individer i olika kulturer och olika tider, även postdifferentiella, enbart p.g.a. verklighetens natur når mer eller mindre liknande och identiska insikter.

Dessa kan sammanställas som inte bara teoretisk (i betydelsen åskådningsmässig) philosophia perennis, utan även som en hel kultur av andlig praktik.

Det är dessa konvergerande historiska uttryck i deras överblickbarhet och sammanställbarhet som kan kallas en tradition i en “mjuk” mening.

Idealism är inte det bästa tänkbara namnet för uttryck för och riktningar inom filosofin (som specifikt differentiell, västlig disciplin) som ibland mer eller mindre kan sägas tillhöra denna tradition. Men det är p.g.a. platonismen ett vedertaget sådant.

Det finns också andra viktiga betydelser av idealism på en lägre eller ytligare nivå, utvecklade i den moderna filosofin. Men det är primärt i den angivna, högsta eller djupaste meningen jag har velat försvara den idealistiska filosofin, den “klassiska” idealismen.

Intervju med Claes Ryn

SwebbTV:s Mikael Wilgert har glädjande nog gjort flera längre intervjuer med Claes Ryn i år. Denna senaste är den hittills bästa:

What Is Humanism?

There are two reasons why it is important today to answer this question with a sufficient degree of precision.

The first is that humanism is often conceived today exclusively in terms of secular humanism, as an affirmation of the dignity of man, or humanity, understood in naturalistic terms, and as a negation of theism and sometimes of any real spiritual dimension.

The second is that humanism has long been confused with or in substance identified with what Irving Babbitt called humanitarianism, the sentimental, romantic view of humanity that underlies the modern ideologies, not least underpinning (in the distinctly modern dialectic and synthesis of romanticism and rationalism) the abstractly universalist notion of human rights. Hence it has become a central part of the polemic arsenal deployed against the truths of traditional views of human nature. Increasingly, humanism is attacked and rejected by critics of today’s dominant political correctness as simply part of the latter’s propagandistic terminology.

These partly related developments are most unfortunate. In order to clarify and specify at least much of what I mean by humanism, I will now publish Babbitt’s essay ‘What Is Humanism?’ from his first book, Literature and the American College, published in 1908.

Babbitt was critical of some of the dogmatic positions of orthodox Christianity, although defending other, ethical aspects of it as essential elements of true humanism. But he explicitly and repeatedly affirmed the existence of a higher level of “meditation”, above the humanistic level of ethical “mediation”. Thus not only the less dogmatic tradition of Christian humanism, but Babbitt’s own New Humanism, which was also influenced by his own contribution to the introduction of Eastern thought – primarily Buddhism and Confucianism – in the West, is reconcilable with spirituality and religion as I understand and defend them.

In my texts not least in the category Value-Centered Historicism I have devoted much space to his criticism of humanitarianism, and, more generally, of the modern dynamic of combined rationalism and romanticism. Sometimes, in this criticism, he includes modern philosophical idealism among his targets; Babbitt seems to have kept a significant distance to his philosophical colleagues – Royce and others – at Harvard in the Golden Age of American philosophy.

Partly following Folke Leander and Claes Ryn, but going much further than they, I have tried to show why and how idealism needs to be defended against, or rather, is in fact not invalidated by this criticism; why and how idealism must rather be reformulated in a way which assimilates the New Humanist criticism.

Although dubious and weakened forms of idealism have certainly supported and been part of the distorted humanism that is humanitarianism, the modified and adjusted idealism that would result from the incorporation of the Babbittian analysis is of course likewise harmonizable with the superior spiritual level of “meditation”. I submit, in accordance with my extensive argumentation in my various articles and shorter texts in the Philosophy category (with all its three sub-categories) and other publications, that such idealism is an essential part of true humanism.

Readers familiar with these texts will also, when reading Babbitt’s essay, see more clearly the reasons for my suggested personalistic supplementation and modification of Babbitt’s humanism.

Babbitt’s essay is divided into three parts, following a brief introduction:

One of our federal judges said, not long ago, that what the American people need is ten per cent of thought and ninety per cent of action. In that case we ought all to be happy, for that is about what we have already. One is reminded by contrast of an accusation brought by a recent historian of Greek philosophy against Socrates, who, according to this historian, exaggerates the reasonableness of human nature. Only think rightly, Socrates seems to say, and right acting may be counted on to follow. The English and American temper is in this respect almost the reverse of Socratic. Act strenuously, would appear to be our faith, and right thinking will take care of itself. We feel that we can afford to “muddle along” in theory if only we attain to practical efficiency.

This comparative indifference to clearness and consistency of thought is visible even in that chief object of our national concern, education. The firmness of the American’s faith in the blessings of education is equaled only by the vagueness of his ideas as to the kind of education to which these blessings are annexed. One can scarcely consider the tremendous stir we have been making for the past thirty years or more about education, the time and energy and enthusiasm we are ready to lavish on educational undertakings, the libraries and laboratories and endowments, without being reminded of the words of Sir Joshua Reynolds: “A provision of endless apparatus, a bustle of infinite inquiry and research, may be employed to evade and shuffle off real labor – the real labor of thinking.” We live so fast, as the saying is, that we have no time to think. The task of organizing and operating a huge and complex educational machinery has left us scant leisure for calm reflection. Evidently a little less eagerness for action and a little more of the Socratic spirit would do no harm. We are likely, however, to be arrested at the very outset of any attempt to clarify our notions about education, as Socrates was in dealing with the problems of his own time, by the need of accurate definition. The Socratic method is, indeed, in its very essence a process of right defining. It divides and subdivides and distinguishes between the diverse and sometimes contradictory concepts that lurk beneath one word; it is a perpetual protest, in short, against the confusion that arises from the careless use of general terms, especially when they have become popular catchwords. If Socrates were here to-day, we can picture to ourselves how he would go around “cross-examining” those of us (there are some college presidents in the number) who repeat so glibly the current platitudes about liberty and progress, democracy, service, and the like; and he would no doubt get himself set down as a public nuisance for his pains, as he was by his fellow Athenians.

A good example of the confusion rising from general terms is the term that is more important than any other, perhaps, for our present argument. To make a plea for humanism without explaining the word would give rise to endless misunderstanding. It is equally on the lips of the socialistic dreamer and the exponent of the latest philosophical fad. In an age of happy liberty like the present, when any one can employ almost any general term very much as he pleases, it is perhaps inevitable that the term humanism, which still has certain gracious associations lingering about it, should be appropriated by various theorists, in the hope, apparently, that the benefit of the associations may accrue to an entirely different order of ideas. Thus the Oxford philosopher, Mr. F. C. S. Schiller, claims to be a humanist, and in the name of humanism threatens to “do strange deeds upon the clouds“. Renan says that the religion of the future will be a “true humanism”. The utopists who have described their vision of the future as “humanism” or the “new humanism” are too numerous to mention. Gladstone speaks of the humanism of Auguste Comte, Professor Herford of the humanism of Rousseau, and the Germans in general of the humanism of Herder; whereas Comte, Rousseau, and Herder were all three not humanists, but humanitarian enthusiasts. A prominent periodical, on the other hand, laments the decay of the “humanitarian spirit” at Harvard, meaning no doubt humanistic. We evidently need a working definition not only of humanism, but of the words with which it is related or confused – humane, humanistic, humanitarian, humanitarianism. And these words, if successfully defined, will help us to a further necessary definition, – that of the college. For any discussion of the place of literature in the college is conditioned by a previous question: whether there will be any college for literature to have a place in. The college has been brought to this predicament not so much perhaps by its avowed enemies as by those who profess to be its friends. Under these circumstances our prayer, like that of Ajax, should be to fight in the light.

I

The first step in our quest would seem to be to go back to the Latin words (humanus, humanitas) from which all the words of our group are derived. Most of the material we need will be found in a recent and excellent study by M. Gaston Boissier of the ancient meanings of humanitas. From M. Boissier’s paper it would appear that humanitas was from the start a fairly elastic virtue with the Romans, and that the word came to be used rather loosely, so that in a late Latin writer, Aulus Gellius, we find a complaint that it had been turned aside from its true meaning. Humanitas, says Gellius, is incorrectly used to denote a “promiscuous benevolence, what the Greeks call philanthropy”, whereas the word really implies doctrine and discipline, and is applicable not to men in general but only to a select few, – it is, in short, aristocratic and not democratic in its implication. [See Noctes Atticae, xiii, 17.]

The confusion that Gellius complains of is not only interesting in itself, but closely akin to one that we need to be on guard against to-day. If we are to believe Gellius, the Roman decadence was like our own age in that it tended to make love for one’s fellow men, or altruism, as we call it, do duty for most of the other virtues. It confused humanism with philanthropy. Only our philanthropy has been profoundly modified, as we shall see more fully later, by becoming associated with an idea of which only the barest beginnings can be found in antiquity – the idea of progress.

It was some inkling of the difference between a universal philanthropy and the indoctrinating and disciplining of the individual that led Aulus Gellius to make his protest. Two words were probably needed in his time; they are certainly needed today. A person who has sympathy for mankind in the lump, faith in its future progress, and desire to serve the great cause of this progress, should be called not a humanist, but a humanitarian, and his creed may be designated as humanitarianism. From the present tendency to regard humanism as an abbreviated and convenient form for humanitarianism there must arise every manner of confusion. The humanitarian lays stress almost solely upon breadth of knowledge and sympathy. The poet Schiller, for instance, speaks as a humanitarian and not as a humanist when he would “clasp the millions to his bosom”, and bestow “a kiss upon the whole world”. The humanist is more selective in his caresses. Aulus Gellius, who was a man of somewhat crabbed and pedantic temper, would apparently exclude sympathy almost entirely from his conception of humanitas and confine the meaning to what he calls cura et disciplina; and he cites the authority of Cicero. Cicero, however, seems to have avoided any such one-sided view. Like the admirable humanist that he was, he no doubt knew that what is wanted is not sympathy alone, nor again discipline and selection alone, but a disciplined and selective sympathy. Sympathy without selection becomes flabby, and a selection which is unsympathetic tends to grow disdainful.

The humanist, then, as opposed to the humanitarian, is interested in the perfecting of the individual rather than in schemes for the elevation of mankind as a whole; and although he allows largely for sympathy, he insists that it be disciplined and tempered by judgment. One of the most recent attempts to define humanism, that of Brunetière, [Histoire de la littérature française classique, t. 1, p. 28.] who was supposed to be out of touch with his own time, suffers, nevertheless, from our present failure to see in the term anything more than the fullness of knowledge and sympathy. Brunetière thinks he has discovered a complete definition of humanism in the celebrated line of Terence: “Humani nihil a me alienum puto.” This line expresses very well a universal concern for one’s fellow creatures, but fails to define the humanist because of the entire absence of the idea of selection. It is spoken in the play as an excuse for meddling; and might serve appropriately enough as a motto for the humanitarian busybody with whom we are all so familiar nowadays, who goes around with schemes for reforming almost everything – except himself. As applied to literature, the line might be cited as a justification for reading anything, from Plato to the Sunday supplement. Cosmopolitan breadth of knowledge and sympathy do not by themselves suffice; to be humanized these qualities need to be tempered by discipline and selection. From this point of view the Latin literae humaniores is a happier phrase than our English “humane letters,” because of the greater emphasis the Latin comparative puts on the need of selection.

The true humanist maintains a just balance between sympathy and selection. We moderns, even a champion of the past like Brunetière, tend to lay an undue stress on the element of sympathy. On the other hand, the ancients in general, both Greek and Roman, inclined to sacrifice sympathy to selection. Gellius’s protest against confusing humanitas with a promiscuous philanthropy instead of reserving it for doctrine and discipline would by itself be entirely misleading. Ancient humanism is as a whole intensely aristocratic in temper; its sympathies run in what would seem to us narrow channels; it is naturally disdainful of the humble and lowly who have not been indoctrinated and disciplined. Indeed, an unselective and universal sympathy, the sense of the brotherhood of man, as we term it, is usually supposed to have come into the world only with Christianity. We may go farther and say that the exaltation of love and sympathy as supreme and all-sufficing principles that do not need to be supplemented by doctrine and discipline is largely peculiar to our modern and humanitarian era. Historically, Christians have always inclined to reserve their sympathies for those who had the same doctrine and discipline as themselves, and only too often have joined to a sympathy for their own kind a fanatical hatred for everybody else. One whole side of Christianity has put a tremendous emphasis on selection – even to the point of conceiving of God Himself as selective rather than sympathetic (“Many are called, few are chosen”, etc.). We may be sure that stalwart believers like St. Paul or St. Augustine or Pascal would look upon our modern humanitarians with their talk of social problems and their tendency to reduce religion to a phase of the tenement-house question as weaklings and degenerates. Humanitarianism, however, and the place it accords to sympathy is so important for our subject that we shall have to revert to it later. For the present, it is enough to oppose the democratic inclusiveness of our modern sympathies to the aristocratic aloofness of the ancient humanist and his disdain of the profane vulgar (Odi profanum vulgus et arceo). This aloofness and disdain are reflected and in some ways intensified in the humanism of the Renaissance. The man of the Renaissance felt himself doubly set above the “raskall many”, first by his doctrine and discipline and then by the learned medium through which the doctrine and discipline were conveyed. The echo of this haughty humanism is heard in the lines of Milton:

“Nor do I name of men the common rout,

That wandering loose about,

Grow up and perish as the summer fly,

Heads without name, no more remembered.”

Later on this humanistic ideal became more and more conventionalized and associated with a hierarchy of rank and privilege. The sense of intellectual superiority was reinforced by the sense of social superiority. The consequent narrowing of sympathy is what Amiel objects to in the English gentleman: “Between gentlemen, courtesy, equality, social proprieties; below that level, haughtiness, disdain, coldness, indifference…The politeness of a gentleman is not human and general, but quite individual and personal.” It is a pity, no doubt, that the Englishman is thus narrow in his sympathies; but it will be a greater pity, if, in enlarging his sympathies, he allows his traditional disciplines, humanistic and religious, to be relaxed and enervated. The English humanist is not entirely untrue to his ancient prototype even in the faults of which Amiel complains. There is a real relation, as Professor Butcher points out, between the English idea of the gentleman and scholar and the view of the cultivated man that was once held in the intensely aristocratic democracy of Athens.

II

We should of course remember that though we have been talking of ancient humanism and humanists, the word humanist was not used until the Renaissance and the word humanism not until a still later period. In studying the humanism of the Renaissance the significant contrast that we need to note is the one commonly made at this time between humanity and divinity. In its essence the Renaissance is a protest against the time when there was too much divinity and not enough humanity, against the starving and stunting of certain sides of man by mediaeval theology, against a vision of the supernatural that imposed a mortal constraint upon his more purely human and natural faculties. The models of a full and free play of these faculties were sought in the ancient classics, but the cult of the ancients soon became itself a superstition, so that a man was called a humanist from the mere fact of having received an initiation into the ancient languages, even though he had little or nothing of the doctrine and discipline that the term should imply. Very few of the early Italian humanists were really humane. For many of them humanism, so far from being a doctrine and discipline, was a revolt from all discipline, a wild rebound from the mediaeval extreme into an opposite excess. What predominates in the first part of the Renaissance is a movement of emancipation – emancipation of the senses, of the intellect, and in the northern countries of the conscience. It was the first great modern era of expansion, the first forward push of individualism. As in all such periods, the chief stress is on the broadening of knowledge, and, so far as was compatible with the humanistic exclusiveness, of sympathy. The men of that time had what Emerson calls a canine appetite for knowledge. The ardor with which they broke away from the bonds and leading-strings of mediaeval tradition, the exuberance with which they celebrated the healing of the long feud between nature and human nature, obscured for a time the need of decorum and selection. A writer like Rabelais, for instance, is neither decorous nor select; and so in spite of his great genius would probably have seemed to a cultivated ancient barbaric rather than humane. Such a disorderly and undisciplined unfolding of the faculties of the individual, such an overemphasis on the benefits of liberty as compared with the benefits of restraint, brought in its train the evils that are peculiar to periods of expansion. There was an increase in anarchical self-assertion and self-indulgence that seemed a menace to the very existence of society; and so society reacted against the individual and an era of expansion was followed by an era of concentration. This change took place at different times, and under different circumstances, in different countries. In Italy the change coincides roughly with the sack of Rome (1527) and the Council of Trent; in France it follows the frightful anarchy of the wars of religion and finds political expression in Henry IV, and literary expression in Malherbe. Of course in so complex a period as the Renaissance we must allow for innumerable eddies and crosscurrents and for almost any number of individual exceptions. In an age as well as in an individual there are generally elements, often important elements, that run counter to the main tendency. But if one is not a German doctor who has to prove his “originality”, or a lover of paradox for its own sake, it is usually possible to discern the main drift in spite of the eddies and counter-currents.

We may affirm, then, that the main drift of the later Renaissance was away from a humanism that favored a free expansion toward a humanism that was in the highest degree disciplinary and selective. The whole movement was complicated by what is at bottom a different problem, the need that was felt in France and Italy, at least, of protecting society against the individual. One can insist on selection and discipline without at the same time being so distrustful of individualism. Many of the humanists of this period fell into hardness and narrowness (in other words, ceased to be humane) from overemphasis on a discipline that was to be imposed from without and from above, and on a doctrine that was to be codified in a multitude of minute prescriptions. The essence of art, according to that highly astringent genius, Scaliger, who had a European influence on the literary criticism of this age, is electio et fastidium sui – selection and fastidiousness toward one’s self (in practice Scaliger reserved his fastidiousness for other people). This spirit of fastidious selection gained ground until instead of the expansive Rabelais we have the exclusive Malherbe, until a purism grew up that threatened to impoverish men’s ideas and emotions as well as their vocabulary. Castiglione had said in his treatise on the Courtier up of the gentleman an element of aloofness and disdain (sprezzatura), a saying that, properly interpreted, contains a profound truth. Unfortunately, aristocratic aloofness, coupled with fastidious selection and unleavened by broad and sympathetic knowledge, leads straight to the attitude that Voltaire has hit off in his sketch of the noble Venetian lord Pococurante, – to the type of scholar who would be esteemed, not like the man of today by the inclusiveness of his sympathies, but by the number of things he had rejected. Pococurante had cultivated sprezzatura with a vengeance, and rejected almost everything except a few verses of Virgil and Horace. “What a great man is this Pococurante!” says the awe-stricken Candide; “nothing can please him”.

The contrast between the disciplinary and selective humanism of the later Renaissance and the earlier period of expansion should not blind us to the underlying unity of aim. Like the ancient humanists whom they took as their guides, the men of both periods aimed at forming the complete man (totus, teres atque rotundus). But the men of the later period and the neo-classicists in general hoped to attain this completeness not so much by the virtues of expansion as by the virtues of concentration. It seemed to them that the men of the earlier period had left too much opening for the whims and vagaries of the individual; and so they were chiefly concerned with making a selection of subjects and establishing a doctrine and discipline that should be universal and human. To this end the classical doctrine and discipline were to be put into the service of the doctrine and discipline of Christianity. This attempt at a compromise between the pagan and Christian traditions is visible both in Catholic countries in the Jesuit schools, and in Protestant countries in the selection of studies that took shape in the old college curriculum. No doubt the selection of both divinity and humanity that was intended to be representative was inadequate; and no doubt the whole compromise between doctrines and disciplines, that were in many respects divergent and in some respects hostile, laid itself open to the charge of being superficial. The men of the early Renaissance had felt more acutely the antagonism between divinity as then understood and humanity, and had often taken sides uncompromisingly for one or the other. Machiavelli accused Christianity of having made the world effeminate, whereas Luther looked on the study of the pagan classics, except within the narrowest bounds, as pernicious. Calvin execrated Rabelais, and Rabelais denounced Calvin as an impostor. Yet, after all, the effort to make the ancient humanities and arts of expression tributary to Christianity was in many respects admirable, and the motto that summed it up, sapiens atque eloquens pietas, might still, if properly interpreted, be used to define the purpose of the college.

A desideratum of scholarship at present is a study of the way certain subjects came to be selected as representative and united into one discipline with elements that were drawn from religion; we need, in short, a more careful history than has yet been written of the old college curriculum. Closely connected with this and equally needful is a history of the development of the gentleman, going back to the work of Castiglione and other Italian treatises on manners in the sixteenth century, and making clear especially how the conception of the gentleman came to unite with that of the scholar so as to form an ideal of which something still survives in England. A Castiglione in Italy and a Sir Philip Sidney in England already realize the ideal of the gentleman and scholar, and that with the splendid vitality of the Renaissance. But a Scaliger, for all his fastidious selection, remains a colossal pedant. In general, it is only under French influence that scholarship gets itself disengaged from pedantry and acquires urbanity and polish, that the standards of the humanist coalesce with those of the man of the world. But it is likewise under French influence that the ideal of the gentleman and scholar is externalized and conventionalized, until in some of the later neo-classic Pococurantes it has degenerated into a mixture of snobbishness and superficiality, until what had once been a profound insight becomes a mere polite prejudice. We must not, however, be like the leaders of the great romantic revolt who, in their eagerness to get rid of the husk of convention, disregarded also the humane aspiration. Even in his worst artificiality, the neo-classicist is still related to the ancient humanist by his horror of one-sidedness, of all that tends to the atrophy of certain faculties and the hypertrophy of others, by his avoidance of everything that is excessive and over-emphatic; and, inasmuch as it is hard to be an enthusiast and at the same time moderate, by his distrust of enthusiasm. He cultivates detachment and freedom from affectation (sprezzatura) and wonders at nothing (nil admirari); whereas the romanticist, as all the world knows, is prone to wonder at everything – especially at himself and his own genius. In his appearance and behavior, the neo-classicist would be true to the general traits of human nature, and is even careful to avoid technical and professional terms in his writing and conversation. “Perfected good breeding”, says Dr. Johnson, “consists in having no particular mark of any profession, but a general elegance of manners.” (A standard that Dr. Johnson himself did not entirely attain.) At the bottom of the whole point of view is the fear of specialization. “The true gentleman and scholar” (honnête homme), says La Rochefoucauld, “is he who does not pride himself on anything.” We may contrast this with a maxim that is sometimes heard in the American business world: A man who knows two things is damned. In other words, the man of that time would rather have been thought superficial than one-sided, the man of today would rather be thought one-sided than superficial.

III

We may perhaps venture to sum up the results of our search for a definition of humanism. We have seen that the humanist, as we know him historically, moved between an extreme of sympathy and an extreme of discipline and selection, and became humane in proportion as he mediated between these extremes. To state this truth more generally, the true mark of excellence in a man, as Pascal puts it, is his power to harmonize in himself opposite virtues and to occupy all the space between them (tout l’entredeux). By his ability thus to unite in himself opposite qualities man shows his humanity, his superiority of essence over other animals. Thus Saint François de Sales, we are told, united in himself the qualities of the eagle and the dove – he was an eagle of gentleness. The historian of Greek philosophy we have already quoted remarks on the perfect harmony that Socrates had attained between thought and feeling. If we compare Socrates in this respect with Rousseau, who said that “his heart and his head did not seem to belong to the same individual,” we shall perceive the difference between a sage and a sophist. Man is a creature who is foredoomed to one-sidedness, yet who becomes humane only in proportion as he triumphs over this fatality of his nature, only as he arrives at that measure which comes from tempering his virtues, each by its opposite. The aim, as Matthew Arnold has said in the most admirable of his critical phrases, is to see life steadily and see it whole; but this is an aim, alas, that no one has ever attained completely – not even Sophocles, to whom Arnold applies it. After man has made the simpler adjustments, there are other and more difficult adjustments awaiting him beyond, and the goal is, in a sense, infinitely remote.

For most practical purposes, the law of measure is the supreme law of life, because it bounds and includes all other laws. It was doubtless the perception of this fact that led the most eminent personality of the Far East, Gotama Buddha, to proclaim in the opening sentence of his first sermon that extremes are barbarous. But India as a whole failed to learn the lesson. Greece is perhaps the most humane of countries, because it not only formulated clearly the law of measure (“nothing too much”), but also perceived the avenging nemesis that overtakes every form of insolent excess (ὕβρις) or violation of this law.

Of course, even in Greece any effective insight into the law of measure was confined to a minority, though at times a large minority. The majority at any particular instant in Greece or elsewhere is almost sure to be unsound, and unsound because it is one-sided. We may borrow a homely illustration from the theory of commercial crises. A minority of men may be prudent and temper their enterprise with discretion, but the majority is sure to over-trade, and so unless restrained by the prudent few will finally bring on themselves the nemesis of a panic. The excess from which Greek civilization suffered should be of special interest, because it is plain that so humane a people could not have failed to make any of the ordinary adjustments. Without attempting to treat fully so difficult a topic, we may say that Greece, having lost its traditional standards through the growth of intellectual skepticism, fell into a dangerous and excessive mobility of mind because of its failure to develop new standards that would unify its life and impose a discipline upon the individual. It failed, in short, to mediate between unity and diversity, or, as the philosophers express it, between the absolute and the relative. The wisest Greek thinkers, notably Socrates and Plato, saw the problem and sought a solution; but by putting Socrates to death Athens made plain that it was unable to distinguish between its sages and its sophists.

There is the One, says Plato, and there is the Many. “Show me the man who can combine the One with the Many and I will follow in his footsteps, even as in those of a God.”  [Phaedrus, 266 B. The Greeks in general did not associate the law of measure with the problem of the One and the Many. Aristotle, who was in this respect a more representative Greek than Plato, can scarcely be said to have connected his theory of the contemplative life or attainment to a sense of the divine unity, with his theory of virtue as a mediating between extremes.] To harmonize the One with the Many, this is indeed a difficult adjustment, perhaps the most difficult of all, and so important, withal, that nations have perished from their failure to achieve it. Ancient India was devoured by a too overpowering sense of the One. The failure of Greece, on the other hand, to attain to this restraining sense of unity led at last to the pernicious pliancy of the “hungry Greekling”, whose picture Juvenal has drawn.

The present time in its loss of traditional standards is not without analogy to the Athens of the Periclean age; and so it is not surprising, perhaps, that we should see a refurbishing of the old sophistries. The so-called humanism of a writer like Mr. F. C. S. Schiller has in it something of the intellectual impressionism of a Protagoras. [Mr. Schiller himself points out this connection (see Humanism, p. xvii). As will appear clearly from a later passage (pp. 136 ff.) I do not quarrel with the pragmatists for their appeal to experience and practical results, but for their failure, because of an insufficient feeling for the One, to arrive at real criteria for testing experience and discriminating between judgments and mere passing impressions.] Like the ancient sophist, the pragmatist would forego the discipline of a central standard, and make of individual man and his thoughts and feelings the measure of all things. “Why may not the advancing front of experience”, says Professor James, “carrying its imminent satisfaction and dissatisfaction, cut against the black inane, as the luminous orb of the moon cuts against the black abyss?” [Humanism and Truth, p. 16.] But the sun and moon and stars have their preordained courses, and do not dare, as the old Pythagoreans said, to transgress their numbers. To make Professor James’s metaphor just, the moon would need to deny its allegiance to the central unity, and wander off by itself on an impressionistic journey of exploration through space. It is doubtless better to be a pragmatist than to devote one’s self to embracing the cloud Junos of Hegelian metaphysics. But that persons who have developed such an extreme sense of the otherwiseness of things as Professor James and his school should be called humanists – this we may seriously doubt. There would seem to be nothing less humane – or humanistic – than pluralism pushed to this excess, unless it be monism pushed to a similar extremity.

The human mind, if it is to keep its sanity, must maintain the nicest balance between unity and plurality. There are moments when it should have the sense of communion with absolute being, and of the obligation to higher standards that this insight brings; other moments when it should see itself as but a passing phase of the everlasting flux and relativity of nature; moments when, with Emerson, it should feel itself “alone with the gods alone”; and moments when, with Sainte-Beuve, it should look upon itself as only the “most fugitive of illusions in the bosom of the infinite illusion”. If man’s nobility lies in his kinship to the One, he is at the same time a phenomenon among other phenomena, and only at his risk and peril neglects his phenomenal self. The humane poise of his faculties suffers equally from an excess of naturalism and an excess of supernaturalism. We have seen how the Renaissance protested against the supernaturalist excess of the Middle Ages, against a one-sidedness that widened unduly the gap between nature and human nature. Since that time the world has been tending to the opposite extreme; not content with establishing a better harmony between nature and human nature, it would close up the gap entirely. Man, according to the celebrated dictum of Spinoza, is not in nature as one empire in another empire, but as a part in a whole. Important faculties that the supernaturalist allowed to decay the naturalist has cultivated, but other faculties, especially those relating to the contemplative life, are becoming atrophied through long disuse. Man has gained immensely in his grasp on facts, but in the meanwhile has become so immersed in their multiplicity as to lose that vision of the One by which his lower self was once overawed and restrained. “There are two laws discrete,” as Emerson says in his memorable lines; and since we cannot reconcile the “Law for man” and the “Law for thing”, he would have us preserve our sense for each separately, and maintain a sort of “double consciousness,” a “public” and a “private” nature; and he adds in a curious image that a man must ride alternately on the horses of these two natures, “as the equestrians in the circus throw themselves nimbly from horse to horse, or plant one foot on the back of one and the other foot on the back of the other”.

There is, perhaps, too much of this spiritual circus-riding in Emerson. Unity and plurality appear too often in his work, not as reconciled opposites, but as clashing antinomies. He is too satisfied with saying about half the time that everything is like everything else, and the rest of the time that everything is different from everything else. And so his genius has elevation and serenity, indeed, but at the same time a disquieting vagueness and lack of grip in dealing with particulars. Yet Emerson remains an important witness to certain truths of the spirit in an age of scientific materialism. His judgment of his own time is likely to be definitive:

“Things are in the saddle

And ride mankind.”

Man himself and the products of his spirit, language, and literature, are treated not as having a law of their own, but as things; as entirely subject to the same methods that have won for science such triumphs over phenomenal nature. The president of a congress of anthropologists recently chose as a motto for his annual address the humanistic maxim: “The proper study of mankind is man”; and no one, probably, was conscious of any incongruity. At this rate, we may soon see set up as a type of the true humanist the Chicago professor who recently spent a year in collecting cats’-cradles on the Congo.

The humanities need to be defended to-day against the encroachments of physical science, as they once needed to be against the encroachment of theology. But first we must keep a promise already made, and in the following essay try to trace from its origins that great naturalistic and humanitarian movement which is not only taking the place of the humanistic point of view, but actually rendering it unintelligible for the men of the present generation.


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