Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Intellectual Development of Scotland
Chapter V - Recent Developments in Philosophy

Since Ferrier's day the German influence has come in like a flood, and to this influence may largely be attributed the unsatisfactory state in which the Hamiltonian philosophy was left. Hamilton thought he could more effectually combat the views of Hume by calling Kant to the aid of Reid. The German, like the Scottish, philosopher opposed the views of Locke which Hume had drawn to their logical conclusion with such lamentable consequences. Instead, however, of falling back, as Reid did, upon common sense, Kant revived the innate theory in a new form. Instead of innate ideas, he postulated for the mind an innate structure by means of which it is compelled to think under certain necessary and universal forms. Reality, in that case, was not an affair of sense impressions but of thought forms; but it needs little reflection to see that Kant brings us no nearer Reality than Hume. According to Hume all we know is sense impressions; according to Kant, before we can have knowledge sense impressions must be taken up and poured into the mould of the categories. But at the end of the process we are still without guarantee that the knowledge so acquired is in touch with Reality. In a word, Kant, like Hume, ends in phenomenalism. Hamilton clearly did not recognize the logical germs of Agnosticism which lay hidden in Kant's theory of knowledge. When he wrote his famous Edinburgh Review article he was mainly intent upon checking the career of Cousin, who, beginning as a disciple of Reid, was coquetting with Schelling and his theory of the Absolute.

Hamilton, as already mentioned, hoped to bring back religious feeling by means of faith, but in a scientific age when reason was proceeding from victory to victory, it was a foregone conclusion that a theory which chained the human mind to phenomena and refused to soar into transcendental regions would be eagerly accepted. Accordingly leaders of scientific thought in this country, and in Germany, under the shadow of the names of Kant and Hamilton, prided themselves on the adoption of Naturalism with its contempt for all metaphysical speculations. Upon Hamilton's doctrine of the Relativity of Knowledge, Herbert Spencer erected his system of philosophy, and Huxley relates that his Agnosticism owed its origin to Hamilton's essay on the Philosophy of the Unconditioned.

If Scottish philosophy was to remain true to its traditions, if its conclusions were to harmonize with the fundamental tenets of theology— namely, belief in man as an intellectual and moral being capable of reaching the truth in regard to his relations to God and the world, the Kantian element which Hamilton had introduced must be got rid of. Among the first direct attacks upon Hamilton was The Philosophy of the Infinite by a former student of Hamilton, Henry Calderwood, who afterwards became Professor of Moral Philosophy in Edinburgh University, a book which even at this time of day will repay perusal by those who are perplexed by the prevailing Agnosticism. The late Dr. McCosh also proved a vigorous assailant of the theory of Hamilton, who has nowhere been more severely handled than in his own country. Professor Pringle Pattison, who now occupies Hamilton's chair, deals very fully with the inherent weaknesses of the doctrine of Relativity in his invaluable Scottish Philosophy, and comes to the conclusion that any attempt to ingraft the Agnostic relativity of Kant's Critique upon the Natural Realism of the Scottish philosophy is contrary to the genius of the latter. Professor James Seth, who succeeded Calder-wood in the chair of Moral Philosophy, also deals with the subject in his Ethical Principles. Dealing with the Unknown and the Unknowable of Hamilton and Spencer from the ethical point of view, Professor Seth says: "Agnosticism if it is true must carry with it the ultimate disappearance of religion and with religion of all morality higher than utility. . . . The practical life is connected in a rational being with the theoretical; we cannot be permanently illogical either in morality or religion. The postulate of man's spiritual life is the harmony of nature and spirit, or the spiritual constitution of the universe." The late Professor Flint proved himself a discerning and penetrating critic of Hamilton, and in his work on Agnosticism he shows with his accustomed lucidity and depth the religious significance of the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge.

The importance of Kant in the history of philosophy is greatly owing to the fact that out of his system developed two opposite theories, one which might be labelled Agnostic, and the other Absolute. In Germany an attempt was made to get rid of the phenomenalism of Kant's system by laying stress on the innate element, the thought forms which by Fichte and Schel-ling were made the basis of a system of Idealism which owes its comprehensive originality to the architectonic intellect of Hegel. Hegel's aim was to get rid of the dualism which resulted from the doctrine of relativity. Accepting Kant's dictum that knowledge is constituted by thought, Hegel concluded that if the world is intelligible only to a self, analysis of the self should yield the law of the world process, the universal thought process. With Kant, as we saw, knowledge is relative, because in the act of thought we are establishing relations, and as Hamilton understood it, the Absolute exists entirely out of relation, it cannot be known. To this a Hegelian would reply that the Absolute is not the unrelated, but the sum of all relations, and that in the act of thought we are in presence not of mere phenomena, but of the all-embracing Reality. Introduced into Scotland by the late Dr. Hutchison-Stirling, a thinker of great intellectual virility, whose writings influenced a generation of Scottish students, Hegelianism soon became popular, and for a time eclipsed the Scottish School. Through the writings of the two Cairds and the enthusiastic advocacy of a band of young men, German modes of thinking gained the ascendency. In this connection special mention should be made of Mr. R. B. (now Lord) Haldane's profound work The Pathway to Reality.

Of late there are signs of a reaction. The claims of Hegelianism have been pitched too high, and among Scottish philosophers there are those, like Mr. A. J. Balfour, who have dealt it damaging blows. In the region of philosophy Mr. Balfour has proved himself a master. Among the most abstruse problems he moves with the ease born of capacity. His early work, In Defence of Philosophic Doubt, showed him in quite a Humian vein, directing his critical shafts, not at the metaphysicians, but at the scientists and the assumptions upon which they were erecting their creed of Naturalism. In his latest book, The Foundations of Belief, Mr. Balfour directs his pointed arrows against German Idealism as expounded by its Scottish and English advocates. It is difficult to find the clue to Mr. Balfour's own system, as he is much more occupied in criticism of other thinkers than in scientifically formulating his own views. His object seems to be not so much to come forth as a constructive thinker as to protest against the arrogance of scientists on the one hand and the conceit of Hegelians on the other, and to inculcate the duty of humility in presence of the vast problem of Existence which reason by itself is competent to discover, but which by itself is incompetent to solve.

In the writings of the venerable Professor Fraser the reverential caution of the Scottish school is well displayed. He steers clear between Agnosticism on the one hand, with its creeping helplessness, and Hegelianism with its soaring audacity on the other. He does not, like the Agnostics, belittle reason in presence of the higher problems, nor yet does he imagine that man with his intellectual measuring line can plumb the Infinite. Scottish philosophers have always laid stress upon faith as well as reason in their study of the scheme of things. With Kant they agree in laying emphasis upon the moral side of the problem, and recognize that by conscience as well as by reason a way of approach is open to the Infinite. They deny that reason can do nothing, and that it can do everything. They strike a middle path; they trust to the universal and necessary principles of reason, as far as they go, and when the path ends they are prepared to believe that in the result, as in the process, the true and the good will prevail, in a word that the universe will be found to be rational through and through. This is the conclusion to which Professor Fraser comes in his Gifford lectures on Theism. These lectures, together with his works on Locke and Berkeley, breathe the spirit of the Scottish philosophy in its best form, as combining the deepest search into the great problems of life and destiny with the reverential awe, humility, and trust that spring from religious feeling.

In the writings of Professor Pringle Pattison we find the best elements of the German school blended with the characteristics of the Scottish school. He has been able to combat Agnosticism, which has developed into Materialism, without running, as Hegelianism is so apt to do, into Pantheism. Professor Pringle Pattison's Idealism is not of this type. In his view the highest philosophy does not obliterate the distinction between the divine and the human, and does not destroy man's hope of immortality. The system of Idealism which he has reached enables him to meet Materialism at all points, without, as in the case of Hegelianism, committing philosophic suicide just when victory is within reach. How, then, does the Professor combat Materialism? He refuses to accept as valid its interpretation of the Universe in terms of mechanics. The mechanical view, as he puts it, "through looking ever backward finds an explanation of things in reducing them to their lowest terms, and presents us, for example, with Matter and Motion as philosophical ultimates." View the Universe from the mechanical standpoint, and when we pass the inorganic sphere we are baffled at every step: Materialism fails hopelessly to account for life and consciousness, and in despair is driven to give the whole thing up as an insoluble puzzle. In the practical sphere this means either Pessimism or Stoicism, according to individual temperament, or, where the religious instinct is too strong to be suppressed, the cult of Mysticism or the religion of Humanity. Now, according to Professor Pringle Pattison, we get rid of these intellectual nightmares by interpreting life teleologically. In other words, we can only understand the Universe and man, we can only discern their meaning and value when we study them, not in their lowest, but in their highest manifestations.

Inasmuch as the latest product of the Universe is self-conscious spirit we are justified in postulating Spirit, not Matter, at the outset of the great evolutionary process. The last word of science, like that of philosophy, as interpreted by Professor Pringle Pattison, is neither Agnosticism nor Pantheism, but Theism ; and thus room is found for the sentiment of religion which with him means self-surrender of the human will to the divine. Without religion man is a unit struggling with an evil nature and adverse circumstances; with religion man feels that God is with him. Religion, in the view of Professor Pringle Pattison, like philosophy, seeks after the Supreme harmony.

What of human destiny ? Our philosopher will have nothing to do with systems which mock humanity's highest aspirations, or meet them with an Agnostic note of interrogation. He can find no consolation in the progress of humanity if the individual withers and drops into nothingness like the dead leaves of autumn. In his Man's Place on the Cosmos he pins his faith to "the old idea of the world as the training-ground of individual character," and rests firmly in the belief "that whatever of wisdom and goodness there is in us was not born out of nothing, but has its fount somewhere and somehow in a more perfect goodness and truth." Professor Pringle Pattison, it will be seen, links philosophy to religion.

In these days of cosmopolitanism it will not be possible for any country to claim for itself a distinctively national school of philosophy. Thought is becoming universalized: into one mighty stream are flowing innumerable rills. One thing is certain. If the philosophy of the future is to be victorious in its combat with a materialistic civilization, with all its soul-deadening and intellect-blighting influences, it can only be by keeping steadily before the eyes of mankind the three great problems which throughout its history has ever occupied the attention of the Scottish School of Philosophy— God, the world, and man.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus