Completion of Cosmical Principle
In in the field of Physical inquiry there still remain doubtless vast regions of discovery unexplored: the amount of what we know is trifling indeed compared with that of the unknown; but the inductive spirit assures us that it is only waiting to be made known, and that what appears now most obscure will assuredly some day be as clearly understood as what is now well-known, though once equally obscure: and farther, that there is no real mystery in nature, nothing which is in itself essentially incapable of being understood.
Raw Optical Scan
But it is more especially that union and combination of different branches of science~ when brought to bear upon each other, of which we have noticed some striking instances5 besides the immense extension of modern discovery in so in ' newly opened
I channels, and the lofty generalisations to which it has led, which have been required in order to realise
and to justify the elevated conceptions, which the science of the present day presses upon us with ra
pidly accumulating force, of the true and worthy idea of Cosmos, first fully and emphatically brought Humboldt's
into the posit ion it ought to occupy in general esti
mation by the great and masterly work of Humboldt.
ESS'LY IV 3
Again, it has been in a kindred spirit that, even in the more advanced inquiries of modern times, the appeal has been made to final causes as the primary 'Find causes.
guiding principle in the investigation of organised structure, instead of regarding that idea as the
ulterior result a striking exemplification of the neglect of Bacon's caution that final causes were too often wrongly placed" in science: made the beginning when they should be the end the seed when they should be the fruit. Undue predominance had been given to this view from the happy accident of its valuable application in the great discovery of
Harvey. But here, as in other scieneps, the same contest between the mystical and the positive principle was long carried on. Even the brilliant discoveries of the school of Cuvier were much mixed up with the indications of this narrower view; and those
who looked only to more limited conclusions could not see the higher bearing of the struggle between the older school of teleology and the advocates of the newer and more transcendental doctrine of "unity of composition " laid down as the true basis uDity of composi
of philosophical method in these sciences by Geoffroy tion. St. Hilaire and his disciples, which the fuller exten
HISTORICAL MTCH. [E88AY I.,!,
N111tiral It would be almost superfluous to dwell on
vast modern enlargement given to the natural h,4~j
tory sciences, by the immense extension of res
and exploration into the haunts of nature in
quarters of the globe, a. research which has be
incessantly carried on with ever increasing resultg.'
confirmatory of the most recondite systems of ordean,
according to which the types of all organic lifel ~'
whether vegetable or animal, are evolved in nevex,,,
ending variety and profusion: while with the ai(,!,~;,
of comparative physiology all those complicated rela
tions of structure and function have been elucidated,
which so conspicuously indicate the deeply seatecj~,'
analogies which pervade all the arrangements
nature, and show the intimate relation of one portiou,'~,
to another in the most beautiful adjustment and har,"!,
monious adaptation, and thus unconsciously inspir ,
those higher contemplations which the laboured pro ,J
cesses of reasoning may fail to teach.
Pbysiology The physiological sciences have been longer than,~,, ~
mystical. others under the dominion of a narrow and
spirit, mainly dependent on the hypothesis of somel ~,
peculiarly mysterious and supernatural principle as
the source of vitality and of all animal functionsk
, 1 1~1 ,
Theory of life.
170 HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSAY 1. 1 CV.
Sion of the inductive logic must entirely sanction, and every successive generalisation must tend to
The nature of the vital principle is of all subjects) of this kind, perhaps, the least as,yet understood)q and therefore has been the most involved in mysfi7,, cism. We may, nevertheless, feel assured that W, .will one day be completely reduced to some mode Of physical action in accordance with fixed laws, even if the explanation should be found to include somt~, physical or chemical agent not yet recognised. Fol :~ lowing in the steps of those processes of investlp*7", tion by which the circulation of the blood, the'~ system of respiration, and other portions of the animal economy now best understood, have be 11'', made known, every fresh researc4 and discovery , in physiology clears up, and traces the connectio of some series of vital functions to the like exquisitely adjusted combination of physical action.,t, Chemistry, on. the one hand, succeeds in effectin continually closer approximation to the synthesiq~,, as it has done so extensively to the antly8is of", organic structures. And it is thus indisputably the~ converging point of these varied researches, ulti
ESSAY 1. § IV. I THEORY OF LIFE.
mately, however remotely, to establish a physical theory of the vital principle.'
if beyond physical principles we entertain other ideas of a different kind bearing on the mental const,itution of man, these clearly require a distinct, yet still inductive, examination; and still further, any higher moral or religious considerations bearing on the subject can only be conceptions of a totally
different order independent of all scientific deductions, superadded by the creation of faith.
And the same'assurance applying to existing life must also be equally extended (on the same principle)
to the past, and to all those marvellous changes in species which geological epochs disclose to us, and
which, occurring as part of a regular series, and giving rise to equally regular results connected on every side with other events going on by natural
I As a specimen of the prejudice still existing on this subject, I extract the following notice of a physiological communication made to the British Association, from Ws Report (1857) . 11 Prof. Alison's views were chiefly directed to oppose the modern tendency of medical investigation, which he regarded as likely to degrade the science to that of a subordinate department of chemistry on the one hand, and of mechanical science on the other, omitting the one consideration of that indispensable though less intelligible class of phenomena which are known to be vital. P. 109.
Life in Geological epoch.
112 HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSAYI. §XV. i
causes, must themselves be equally referred to naturat
causes. The case of palaeontoloo, cal speculation i
but an exemplification of what must be the course of
progress in all parts of physical inquiry all alike con
ducive to the final establishment of the universality
and eternity of law and order, continuity and intel
ligence; while the question of the first origination of
all things is one which science is necessarily, and must
ever be, incompetent to, disclose, or even to conceive.'
Unphiloso The question as to the origin of new species in
spirit of past epochs ought to be one simply of rational philo
discussion. sophical conjecture as to the most probable mode in
which, conformably to natural analogies, it might be
imagined to have taken place. Yet, instead of a
calm discussion of this kind, which is all that could
be attainable, the subject has been the mere battle ,
I While on this subJect I cannot omit to take this occasion of re
cording a protest against the now prevalent but barbarous use of the term 11 Biology." Nos never means 11 life" in the sense of "vitality It meass the " life " of a man as progressing in time his birth, actions,
and death. Plato has 11 19ios toois," the lifetime of life. (Epinom. 9 82 :11
Unfortunately the term ,Zoology," which would be the proper one for this branch of science has been already appropriated to what ought to' have been called Zoography :" but there is still 11 Zoonomy," the science of the laws of life, open to adoption, and at any rate much better than 11 biology;" which, if It mean anything, would be a theory of the facts of biography.
_SSAY IV ] NEW SPECIES.
field between extreme visionary fancies on the one side and obstinate prejudice and bigotry on the other. Instead of the real discussion of comparative proba Origin of species.
bility in supposing the production of new forms either
out of inorganic matter directly, or by modi~cation of existing organised types indirectly, the ideas started
seem to have referred to the metaphysical paradox of orignitation of existence out of nothing; or the like
ideal speculations, which were, yet more unreasonably, mixed up with the cause of revealed religion.
Such was the spirit in which several speculative
theories broached on this subject were met. The original hypothesis of Lamarck, and the more recent
philosophical romance of the 11 Vestiges of Creation," were alike accepted or encountered in the same
totally unphilosophical manner. Even men Of SCience have not discriminated between what are pro
fessedly hypothetical, yet legitimate, conjectures', and what are real scientific conclusions, and have ob
3 Thus a parallel case in the plurality of worlds is well described by Huyghens, as one 11 ubt verlsimilia invenisse laus summa est, et
indaggatio, lpsa rerum, turn maximarum, turn occultissimarum habet oblectationern. Sed verisimilium multi sunt gradus, alii allis veritad
propiores, in quo dillgenter aeAlmando priecipuus judiell usus ver
titur:' C. 11ugenh Cosmotheoros, p. 10, 1698.
Spirit of m),sticism.
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSAY 1. JrVi k'
jected to the one as if proposed in the other character; while theological animosity has been excited in equal absence of a power of distinction between, the proper field of scientific speculation, and that of, religious faith.
The same narrow temper was equally displayed
if when certain experimentalists had alleged, even i
erroneously, the actual development of organic life by physical means, and when, instead of fair criticism and repetition of trials, their experiments were denounced as impious, ridicule substituted for inquiry, and anathemas for refutation.
In general, we may observe, that confusion of ideas and mystici8m in speculation, when displayed in science, evince the intensity in which they must influence the whole tenor of the thoughts. Such notions must be deeply seated indeed to affect reasoning on subjects from which they might seem most alien, and which axe so eminently calculated in.their.i, own nature to demand and to encourage clearer and, more rational views. When then this tendency is evinced even in science, it is not wonderfal that it should exist in a tenfold degree in subjects of a more obscure nature, and thus more congenial
ESSAY L § IV ] SUPERSTITION.
to its influence. Mysticism in science is the unfailing index to superstition in theology; as, on the other hand, the rejection. of the one is a considerable step towards an emancipation from the other.
That in ignorant ages such appearances as those Astrology, of comets, or even brilliant meteors, should inspire terror, is not surprising. But the mere fact of the configruration of the planets we might suppose would hardly attract notice. Yet, from the importance assigned to these conjunctions by astrology, they have kept some hold on public apprehension. It
is on record that, in 1682, a remarkable conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn produced an extraordinary alarm in Scotland.'
There are still to be found serious believers in stellar influence; but under a different form it is
Only the same astrological spirit which survives in some who attach a religious importance to a conjunction of several of the planets together, which Laplace
calculates took place B.C. 4004, the date assigned by
the Hebrew chronology to the creation; between which and a planetary conjunction, it is impossible
I R. Chambers, "Domestic Annals of Scotland," vol. U. 456, 1858.
i ~~' ~
[EsSAY L § lv ~
to see any rational connection; but even in a biblical point of view, the Septuagint translatio113 Made from older versions now lost, places the date much earlier, and thus would subvert the horoscope.
In those subjects which lie, as it were, on the frontiers of positive science, and axe at present necessarily matters of mere speculative conjecture, though there may be little tending to advance real , inductive truth, yet in the discussion of them we may often find much that is instructive in regard to the mode and chaxacter of the reasoning commonly applied to such investigation. Of this class are the whole range of questions so much agitated in our days, respecting what axe termed mesmerism, electro biology, and other allied forms of influences on the human organisation, as yet little understood, or even properly inquired into, which yet ought, from their nature, to be fair and proper subjects for that strict inductive examination which they have hardly ever received. They have, on the contrary, been almost universally abandoned to the most utterly unscientific modes of treatment; and, instead of calm criticism, have been made subjects of childish and superstitious credulity or sense
Egsky L § IV.] 31 kTERIALISM
less controversy, as if questions of faith instead
of facts. .
In phrenology we have another instance in which Phrenology. violent partisanship, on either side, has divested of its true philosophic character what ought to be simply a branch of inductive inquiry. calmly viewed, it exhibits only a set of the most unexpected relations~ at first collected and examined in the most purely
empirical manner, in complete absence of anytheory; out of which, by slow degrees, a system has been
elicited, of which it can only be said, that at present it exhibits just that sort of rough, general coherency which, in spite of numberless objections in detail, gives an assurance of something too deeply seated in
truth to be put down as mere random coincidence or
By theological pole
mics, of course, the opprobrium
of materialism and necessitarianism has been liberally heaped on the disciples of Gall and Spurzheim, with the same regard to fairness, and even competent knowledge of their system, as is usual in similar cases.
The question of materialism has been much agi Materialism.
tated in connection with physiology, and has been too
often taken Lip even by some eminent physiologists,
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESBAY 1. § 17.
in a spirit fax removed from that of philosophic freedom.
.Thus Cuvier eagerly pressed arguments against materialism in the spirit of alarm, probably not per. ceiving the utter harmlessness of the doctrine, sup
posing it could be established. Nor is the reasoning which he adduces less remarkable for its irrelevancy to the real point at issue. "Materialism," he conz tends, "is a very hazardous assertion, becau8e we "have, after all, no real proof of the existence of 11 matter." And in this reasoning he has found many followers and admirers. But it is apt to be overlooked that our. proofs of the existence both of matter and of mind stand upon exactly the same level, and really turn upon the definition of "existence; " while the question whether intellectual phenomena can be ascribed to any modification of matter acting, or acted upon, under particular conditions, is totally independent of any speculations as to the mode in which we conceive the existence of matter.
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