The next International Congress of
Philosophy is to be held at Prague in 1934, with President Masaryk of
Czechoslovakia at its head. Every member of the Seventh Congress will
wish it well, while feeling that the meeting which closed at Oxford on
September 5  has set a standard
in many respects which it will not be easy to exceed.
The Congress had never met in England
before. It had met five times on the continent, at Paris, Geneva,
Heidelberg, Bologna, and Naples, and once in America when it convened at
Harvard in 1926. The time was ripe for an English session, and for such
a session Oxford was the almost inevitable choice. Not that the choice
was without minor risks; those who know what Oxford weather can be like
will read a little skeptically of five days of almost unbroken
sunshine. But so it was. The physical conditions in other respects
were hardly less satisfactory. Six of the men’s colleges, New College,
Merton, Corpus, Hertford, Magdalen, and Oriel, and one of the women’s,
St. Hilda’s, opened their doors to the Congress, providing the members
in most cases, as they do for their undergraduates, with two rooms
apiece. Expeditions were arranged to Windsor Castle and Eton by motor,
and to Nuneham Park by steamer; and in unphilosophic interludes, there
were countless things to do for anyone with an eye to architecture or
history. If one could not content oneself, as many did, with peering
into endless green quadrangles or strolling in Addison’s walk or the
Christ Church meadows, one could go on a visit to Newman’s rooms at
Oriel or Johnson’s at Pembroke, or search out the portraits of Duns
Scotus and Bradley at Merton, Hobbes at Hertford, Green and Caird at
Balliol. Christ Church offered, for an evening’s social gathering, its
great dining hall, where Locke looked down from the walls, a little
apprehensively one thought, though whether in uneasiness at the strange
company of all those Indian viceroys, or in alarm at the stranger
doctrines of his successors, one hardly knew. On another day tables
were scattered over the lawn of a Magdalen quadrangle, and Oxford
philosophers and their wives served a hospitable English tea to their
polyglot hundreds of visitors.
The sessions of the Congress were all
held in a single large building on the High Street, the University
Examination Schools. It was admirably suited for the purpose. There
were often four sessions running at once, and if there were subjects or
celebrities in several of them that one could not bear to miss, it was
not thought in the least unseemly if one dodged out of one door and in
through another at the turn of a paper. The largest of the rooms held
over eight hundred auditors, and for the session of welcome on the
opening night, it was full. At this session, the President, Professor
J. A. Smith, gave the address of welcome, and was responded to by
Professor Brunschvicg for France, the Greek minister to Great Britain
for the home of philosophers generally, Senatore Croce for Italy,
Professor Driesch for Germany, and Professor R. B. Perry for the United
States. The session began and ended on strikingly different notes.
Professor Smith suggested that the real community of minds lay in the
intellectual life and that the Congress was a means to increasing what
was common. Professor Perry was disposed to think that such meetings
might, on the contrary, serve to sharpen intellectual differences, but
that this in itself was no small service. And he painted, with humorous
touches, the picture of a “happy fellowship of irreducible differences.”
Such conferences always have their
lighter and personal side, which lingers in the memory longer than its
importance perhaps would warrant. It is hard to forget the patriarchal
genial Professor Alexander, there on the platform under the noses of the
speakers, fixing his ear-trumpet in place with alarming decision at the
critical points, and turning to the audience with a roguish twinkle if
the point failed to come off. And these Congresses will be tamer
affairs when there is no Professor Lutoslawski to dazzle and puzzle them
with the incalculable meteorology of his moods. One remembers
pleasantly, too, an effervescent little Dutch philosopher who
facilitated his flow of English by launching into a high-pitched lyrical
chant from which, once he had achieved it, he was always reluctant to
descend. And then there was the unlucky Frenchman who, whenever told by
the chairman that his time was up, heard the audience burst into
applause, and taking this as the support of honest merit against a
malevolent chairman, rose renewed like Antaeus from each decisive
outburst and went on till his voice was lost in the storm. One minor
lesson of the Congress is that a twenty-minute paper should be a
twenty-minute paper. On too many occasions the chairman was
embarrassed, the audience made restive, and the effect of a good paper
largely nullified by failure to conform to so simple a rule.
There were some notable absences to
regret. Mr. Santayana was not there, nor M. Bergson, nor Mr. Russell,
nor Professor Dewey. Professor Joachim was to have presided at one
session, but was overtaken by illness while on vacation in Germany and
could not come. The chairman of the American Congress Committee,
Professor Armstrong, was also prevented from attending, as was Professor
Aliotta of Italy, who was to have contributed a paper. Several members
who were present were prevented at the last minute, through illness or
otherwise, from taking their appointed part, including Dr. Dawes Hicks,
Professor de Ruggiero, and Professor de Wulf. An absence of a different
kind, which was felt by the American members in much deeper and more
personal fashion, was that of Professor A. W. Moore of Chicago, the news
of whose death in London arrived just as the Congress began.
On its philosophical side the Congress
was a medley of voices in which it would take much ingenuity to discern
a harmony or even a dominant strain. One wondered what had become of
the old militant systems, with their high claims, their sharp issues,
and their uncompromising advocacy. Not a single champion of Hegelian
idealism, for example, took the floor in its behalf. The cynic would no
doubt account for this by saying that the “home of lost causes” had
added another to its list, but it was perhaps due rather, at least in
part, to the self-denying ordinance imposed by Oxford on itself, where
the great tradition is by no means dead, and in part to the fact that
idealism is in a state of heart-searching preliminary to voicing itself
anew. But at any rate it was noteworthy that in almost every symposium
the issue was not between systems, but between individuals. Professor
Whitehead, in one of the impromptu discussions, drew a parallel between
the present state of speculation and its state in Greece just before the
great outburst in Socrates and his successors, a state in which science
was refusing to rest content with the evidence of sense and was running
out on every hand into speculation, without as yet any sort of agreement
as to how to interpret its new findings. That was probably the
impression of many about the Congress. There was more activity of
thought, more alertness and eagerness than ever. In the course of the
next decade or so, it might lead to something of immense significance.
But it has not done so yet. Reflection has ceased to flow in the old
channels of idealism and realism, mechanism and teleology, absolutism
and pragmatism, but it has yet to find firm channels of its own.
There was only one notable exception to
this at the Congress, and that was Croce. (Professor Alexander might
have been another, but his only paper dealt with a recent and special
interest of his, esthetics.) Croce appeared as the one redoubtable
advocate of philosophy on the grand scale, and his presence, so far as
one could judge, aroused more notice than that of any other member.
Since his chief paper, printed in Italian, had, even apart from its
authorship, a good deal of general interest, it deserves special notice.
It was entitled “Antistoricismo,” the
Anti-historical Spirit. Such a spirit seemed to him now everywhere
apparent. It takes two forms. The first, which he called “futurism,”
is the worship of vitality, force, and activity for their own sakes, and
of the new simply for its novelty, the worship of a future without a
past. Futurist artists would like to start absolutely afresh without
warping themselves through an attempt to master old forms; futurist
politicians would like to do away at a stroke with customs and
institutions evolved by the trial and error of centuries. Between the
lines one could read Croce’s reference to what America stands for in
European eyes, and to what he considers the wild experimentation in
Russia. The second form of futurism is an exaltation of the absolute,
of system and uniformity, which in art would return to a rigorous
classicism, and in social matters would suppress individual enterprise
by an inflexible rule from above. (Surely, said his hearers to
themselves, this is Fascism or nothing.) On the face of things, these
tendencies seem opposites, but the fact is that the one passes into the
other with the greatest readiness; anarchy is next door to despotism,
and despotism is only too likely to become arbitrary. And the two are
merely twin branches of one stem, the spirit of the French Revolution.
They are complementary sides of experience, chopped sharply off from
each other, developed in fanatical abstraction, and therefore incapable
of expressing the rich fullness of human nature. The first is in
essence the cult of the irrational, which tends to run out into an orgy
of impulse; the second is an abstract rationalism which, in the attempt
to fix man’s values for him, ends by making them merely irrelevant to
the real needs of his nature.
Such outbursts of the anti-historical
spirit are by no means new in history. We have an example of it in the
rigid otherworldliness of the early Christians, and another in the
rationalism of the enlightenment. But Christian otherworldliness
brought charity with it, and the enlightenment brought with it
humanitarianism and a new sensibility to the rights of men. Is there
any corresponding fruit of the anti-historical spirit of to-day? Croce
looked for it in vain. Neither the new cult of vitality nor the new
authoritarianism seemed to provide the forms in which a life that was
genial and creative could grow up, and into which men could throw
themselves with confidence, love, and joy. People are trying to be free
by modelling themselves on the barbarians, and all they are attaining by
it is a barrenness which the real barbarians (who did not know they were
such) would never have endured. Imperialism, a shrill nationalism,
Marxian socialism, a reactionary Catholicism, the resistance of all
attempts to build a peaceable European community, and the espousal of
such causes even by the intellectuals—these are all symptoms of a lack
of that sanity which only comes with the historical mind.
As philosophers, what should we do
about it? Croce answered in parables. Suppose, he said, quoting the
poet Hebbel, that people no longer care to dress in silk; what is the
silk-worm to do? It can only do what its nature demands, spin away
patiently by itself. Suppose we were living in the times of Alboin and
Attila, of Gregory and Boethius; with which side should we cast our
lot? If we act in the historical spirit, he answered, we must do what
Gregory did, throw ourselves into the main stream of civilization and
culture, and trust that its deepened current can absorb again, as it
once did, the barbarisms of the time. This does not mean conservatism.
On the contrary, “the truth is that the historical and the liberal
spirits are inseparable, so much so that history can not be better
defined than as the story of liberty; only so does it get sense and
intelligibility.” To enter by reflection into the meaning of the world
process that is working itself out through history is at once the truest
philosophy and the truest religion. “He who opens his heart to the
historical spirit feels himself no longer alone, but united to the life
of the universe, brother and son and comrade of those great minds who,
their labor over, still live in the works they have achieved.”
For learning to become so eloquent was
naturally an impressive thing. Whatever one thought about the
correctness of it all, one could only concede the sweep and power of the
reflection that found voice in it, and own gratefully that, whatever
Croce may say, the great tradition of philosophizing is not dead.
Perhaps of all the conferences, the one
in which there was the nearest approach to agreement was one held on the
first morning and opened by Professor John Laird. The question was, “Is
the Distinction between Moral Rightness and Wrongness Ultimate?”
Professor Laird took the familiar view that the rightness or wrongness
of an action is to be found by balancing the goods it entails against
those of other possible actions, that “good is not merely a reason for
duty, but the reason for it.” His argument for this view took a
novel form. It is plain that some duties, for example, prudence and
benevolence, must be justified in this fashion; to produce good for self
or others in their very essence. Now every moral action is either
self-regarding or other-regarding,” if not both. “From this it follows
that the principle I am engaged in defending is relevant to any
moral action whatsoever.” But is it all that is relevant? Does not the
good which makes it our duty to tell the truth lie partly in “the
present intrinsic dignity of truthtelling,” and not merely in future
consequences? Yes, said Professor Laird, we must admit that it does.
Need we then give up our principle? Not at all, he replied. All we
need do is to include such goods among the goods that we must take
account of in estimating rightness, and our principle will stand as
sound and general. M. Parodi seemed to agree with this, and though the
other symposiasts, Professor Medicus and Dr. Schiller, dealt chiefly
with other issues, they too seemed to differ only in detail.
The session on mechanism and vitalism
also revealed a notable measure of agreement. It made clear that the
present trend of thought on this issue is toward neither of the old
extremes, but toward a middle position which may be roughly identified
with the “holism” of General Smuts. The older mechanistic theory was
left without an advocate. On the other hand two papers were devoted to
the defence of a thoroughgoing teleology. Professor Wildon Carr
maintained roundly that “if we abstract from purpose we negate the
essence” of any living thing, and indeed that the world process itself
can be understood only in the light of the end which it is realizing.
And Professor J. E. Boodin, dismissing mechanistic cosmology as “more of
a myth than the Timaeus,” offered in its place a view which he described
boldly as “An Animistic Cosmology.” Mechanism can give no account of the
origin of the state of affairs which it assumes, it can not account for
the resistance to entropy, it can not account for the maintenance of
order, or the apparent bending of events to one end. And ”if we must
assume a non-mechanical factor, why not include this in our conception
as somehow immanent in the cosmos, instead of introducing it as a
deus ex machina, when our mechanical account fails?”
But such uncompromising purposiveness
did not represent the main trend of thought on this problem. Professor
J. S. Haldane, speaking from the chair, presented it more precisely when
he said that in his opinion biological processes were neither mechanical
nor purposive. It was clear, he thought, that no conceivable extension
of mechanism could explain how an organism maintained and reproduced its
structure (he had long ago declined a readership in biochemistry at
Oxford because he was not clear that, as then conceived, there was any
such field); but, notwithstanding vigorous dissent from Professor Carr,
he went on to say that this maintenance as a whole could not be
described as purposive either. This, with minor differences, was the
view also of Professor Hoernlé, Mr. Joad, and Professor Ungerer of
Karlsruhe. “The antithesis of mechanism and purpose is out of date”
declared Professor Hoernlé; “the battle is one of mechanism versus
holism.” And holism in biology means that under “the guidance of the
concept of the living being as a self-maintaining whole,” we should take
as the important thing in our study the agencies by which this is
Professor Woodbridge’s discussion of
“the Implications of the Genetic Method” lent further impetus to this
trend of opinion. When we try in the old fashion to explain a process
teleologically, after the analogy of the artist producing a picture, we
are going outside the process proper and, instead of showing how its
factors contribute to a result, trying to show why the process occurred
at all. Such a proceeding when applied to nature is wholly futile. The
true genetic method “leaves the fact of teleology precisely where it
finds it” and devotes itself simply to “finding the cooperating factors
in the production of a result.” It does not try to explain teleology,
which is probably beyond explanation, but uses it as a principle for the
ordering and describing of fact. In another paper of the same
symposium, Professor Singer attempted such a description of the facts of
organic functioning in terms of the mathematical relations among classes
and groups of points, a description which represented perhaps the
nearest approach to a mechanistic theory that appeared. In striking
contrast was Professor Driesch, who, accepting the fact of holistic
behavior, insisted again on his well-known theory that there must
supervene upon mechanical processes a vital factor or entelechy if these
processes are to come alive.
The sessions on logic and the theory of
knowledge seemed more notable for their revival of doctrines already
familiar than for their fertility of anything novel. Professor Lossky
improved the opportunity to bring before the Congress the main features
of his recent work on logic, based on an intuitionist philosophy. These
features strongly recalled the logic of Bradley and Bosanquet on the one
hand and on the other the Aristotelianism supported in the paper of
Professor Noel of Louvain. The necessity we find in judgment and
inference is not imposed by ourselves, as Kant supposed, but as
Professor Noel put it “il exprime la structure même des choses.” When
in judgment, we tie a predicate to a subject, what we are really trying
to do is to discover the consequent of a ground. Thus every judgment is
synthetic, and states a connection of content, not a class inclusion;
and the true principle of the syllogism is not the dictum de omni,
but this, that the ground of the ground is the ground of the
consequent. Perhaps the chief surprise about this is that it should be
offered as anything new. But after listening to some expositions of
more recent logical doctrine, one hears these old things gladly. They
help to keep alive the moribund tradition that logic has something to do
with truth (and not mere validity) on the one hand, and with philosophy
on the other.
A view of logical law which was
strikingly at variance with Professor Lossky’s was offered by Professor
Lalande of the Sorbonne, whose paper was presented for him by Professor
Robin. He began by considering and rejecting three common
interpretations of logical laws, that they are pure forms, that they are
the most general laws of the sciences, and that they are laws which,
meaningless without a content, still hold of every content alike. These
are all, he maintained, mistakes; “but if we agree to take all these
laws of formal logic and logistic as statements of value or
logical obligation, tout s’éclaire et s’ordonne. ” The principle of
identity will then read, “The right and obligation to affirm or to deny
a single proposition is invariable and imprescriptible”; the principle
of induction will become, “In the absence of indication to the contrary,
one ought to judge that what has always happened in a certain way in the
past will happen in the same way in the future.” These views of
Professors Lossky and Lalande could perhaps be reconciled by a thinker
who held, as for example Royce did, that reality is the attainment of an
end, since then logical laws could be equally a description of the real
and a guide to the will. But there were those in his audience who did
not think that, without such a metaphysic, Professor Lalande’s theory
would much advance the case. For if we have a right and duty to think
so and not otherwise, is it not because the real world is constructed
so, and thinking otherwise misses the truth? And again, if so, does not
logic make its claim upon us, as Professor Lossky maintained, because it
reports how the real is put together?
Another defence, and an effective one,
of a position which some had thought superseded, was offered by
Professor Montague on behalf of causality. With the view that has
approved itself to so many modern scientists, following Mach and
Pearson, that all we can find in causality is a constant conjunction of
events, he was unable to rest content. For in spite of the denials of
the positivists it seemed to him clear that “we have the quality of
enforcement as itself a datum . . . we have the feeling of one
experience generating another.” The true question, then, is whether
this activity or process of enforcement goes on in the facts
independently of our perceiving it. And this, he maintained, it did.
For “in a world in which the events were independent and lacking in any
real casual bonds, these repeated concurrences would be outrageous runs
of luck,” while if we assume a real causal power, they are accounted for
as the simple expression of it. Not nearly enough had been made, he
thought, of the extraordinary improbability of events that were really
independent behaving as the empiricists admit they behave. For
antecedently, every amount of uniformity is equally likely. Perfect
uniformity would therefore be infinitely improbable. If the infinitely
improbable nevertheless occurs, why does it do so, it may be
luck. But once assume the bare possibility of a causal power in nature,
and “then the fact of nature’s routines transforms it into an
overwhelming probability.” And on the side of this probability
Professor Montague cast in his lot.
It was unfortunate that Professor
Husserl could not be present to speak for the much-discussed school of
German phenomenologists. But their work was discriminatingly criticised
by Hans Driesch. So far as valid, he said, their program consisted in
three endeavors. In the first place, it sought to supply a descriptive
psychology of thought, reducing experience so far as possible to the
unanalyzable elements of which it is composed, such elements as are
pointed to by words like “this,” “different,” “pleasure.” Secondly, it
sought to offer a doctrine of categories, in the sense of a complete
account of the relations which may be seen to hold a priori
between the elements so distinguished. Under this head would fall
syllogistic logic, for example, and the whole of arithmetic and
geometry. Finally, it sought to fix conceptually the types of empirical
order which recur most constantly, and which are exemplified in ordinary
thought about ”matter” or “organisms.” So far, Driesch thought
phenomenology legitimate and useful. All beyond this—and he enumerated
various other claims—he held sweepingly to be mistaken.
The single session devoted to esthetics
produced an unexpected element of drama. Miss V. B. Evans of the
University of Wales, having undertaken a criticism of Croce, found the
Senator on hand in person to defend himself, while he in turn found that
he had to defend himself not solely against a young lady from Wales, but
also against the ex-commissar of education for Soviet Russia, M.
Lunacharsky. Feeling was obviously strong in the Russo-Italian part of
the debate, but it was kept under admirable restraint.
M. Lunacharsky was protesting against
the “bourgeois” treatment of art. Theoretical esthetics and the study
of art form for its own sake held little attraction for him, and he made
a fervent appeal for the communist attitude, in which the important
things about art were held to be its expression of popular feeling and
its promotion of social betterment. For this view he and his countrymen
were taken sharply to task by Croce, who reminded him that he (Croce)
did not speak of Communism from hearsay, that he had closely studied
Marx and written on him, that it was by intellectual conviction that he
had parted company with him (“malheureusement!” from M. Lunacharsky),
that communists had never had acquaintance with art (witness Marx’s
deplorable verses), and that to estimate artistic values in economic
terms was a radical mistake.
M. Lunacharsky was not alone, however,
in thinking that esthetics had stressed too exclusively the
philosophical problems of art. In a paper on “Die Bedeutung der
Soziologie für die Aesthetik,” Professor Müller-Freienfels of Berlin
urged that the reflective study of art had suffered by running in turn
to two extremes. It first tried, in Platonic or Kantian fashion, to
define an absolute standard of beauty, and then finding this hard to
attain or apply, flew to “ein alle Normen verwerfender Psychologismus”
in which values seemed nothing but individual caprice. What is now
needed, he thought, was a study of the middle ground between these, the
ways in which art-forms are influenced by pressures from the group,
pressures from religion, science, morals, and industry. He mentioned the
effect of psycho-analysis on poetry, of “der Filmtechnik” on the tempo
of German drama, of the reaction against photography in developing
impressionism. “There is no ‘art as such,’ but only ‘art for a subject
who is esthetically awake,’ and who is not to be looked at alone, but as
part of a group which deeply and constantly modifies his esthetical
receptiveness. . . . The competition of art forms does not go on in a
realm of pure spirit, but is always at the same time a rivalry between
actual groups” in which “victory or defeat is not decided by conformity
to absolute standards, but by the deployment of social forces” (soziologischen
Machtkonstellation). Müller-Freienfels was careful to add, however,
that such study was only a necessary supplement and by no means a
substitute for philosophical esthetics.
But the paper that was received with
most interest in this section was undoubtedly that of Professor
Alexander, who, with the distinction of the Order of Merit fresh upon
him (he is the only Englishman except Bradley who has received the Order
for philosophy) was in a sense the ”grand old man” of the Congress. He
took the question, How should one go about it to distinguish truth,
goodness, and beauty? and suggested that there are two ways of doing
this. The first way is “to observe the differences in the controls
engaged in the creation of these values. For in all three there
enter two constituents: one is the mind itself, the other the material
upon which it works.” Now in art the product is controlled by both
these factors. On the one hand, “the artist has to obey the nature of
the stuff in which he works,” whether paint or marble or words; on the
other hand, the significance that this material gains comes from his
mind. And the distinction of beauty from truth and goodness lies in
this, that “in truth and goodness this double control is replaced by a
single one, in truth control from the material, and in goodness control
from the mind. They are in fact limiting cases in which one of the two
controls evident in art varies in favor of the other.” Science and
morality, it is true, are in a sense both works of art. But in science
the play of the mind is completely subordinated to fact. “In morals, on
the other hand, the product is controlled, if it is to have goodness,
entirely from the mind,” and indeed even the material is mental, for “it
is the passions which in virtue are regulated.” The distinction between
the three values is thus extraordinarily neat and simple. In beauty we
have control by both mind and material; in truth by material alone; in
goodness by mind alone.
But we can distinguish them otherwise.
All values satisfy desire (“I believe myself,” said Professor
Alexander, “that it is this which makes them valuable”) and we can
distinguish them psychologically through the desires they satisfy. Thus
the desire to be good is “the social passion or sentiment,” “sociality,
sublimated by intelligence and insight.” The desire for truth is
“sublimated curiosity,” the impulse we see in dogs and monkeys, grown
“disinterested and socialized.” The desire for beauty was harder to
identify, but Professor Alexander, greatly daring, went on to describe
it as “a sublimation of the constructiveness exhibited in various
animals (bees, beavers, ants, and nightingales).” Unfortunately the
chairman’s gavel compelled him to leave this an intriguing hint; nor did
the later discussion, so far as the writer heard it, serve to bring from
him a reply to the criticism that is first suggested, namely, that his
distinctions are based on characters extrinsic to the values
His distinction between matter and
form, however, found an able defender in Miss Evans, who devoted her
paper to proving it valid. It was here that she drew from Croce a reply
to both Alexander and herself, reaffirming his familiar doctrine that
beauty is really what Alexander thought goodness to be, an expression
which, so far as it succeeded, was an expression simply and solely of
That the new developments in physics
should come up for appraisal by the philosophers was, of course,
inevitable. Were these developments of any great moment for philosophy?
Did they call for any large revision in one’s thought of the structure
of things, or in one’s view of the nature of matter, or of the relation
of time and space, or in the theory of knowledge? These were the
questions asked, and at one time or another in the Congress, they all
came up for discussion. Two general impressions emerged; first, that,
since the last Congress, the relativity theory has receded into the
background and been replaced by the quantum theory as the center of
speculative interest; second, that while philosophers are still
uncertain of the positive import of this theory, they are by no means
convinced of the most disturbing claim that is made for it, namely, that
it does away with the law of causality.
This latter crucial point was discussed
by Professor Zawirski of Posen in a paper on “La Théorie des Quanta et
le Principe de Causalité.” After sketching the development of the
theory in Einstein, Exner, and Bohr, he said that “the critical attack
on the principle of causality was made by Heisenberg in 1927,” when “he
showed that the law is unverifiable, not by reason of the inaccuracy of
our means of measurement, but unverifiable in principle, and hence
scientifically worthless. Heisenberg showed this by proving that though
we can determine the position or the momentum of a particle, the more
exactly we determine the one, the more indeterminate we must leave the
other; hence in the very nature of the case, indeterminateness can not
be excluded. It follows that “in the formula of the law of causality,
viz., ‘every present determinate state entails a certain determinate
state to follow,’ the antecedent is false. The present state of any
system is by no means determinate, or its determinateness is at least
unverifiable in principle.” Are we to accept this, asked Professor
Zawirski, as successfully impugning the law of causality? His own reply
was No, and he appeared to be moved by three reasons. In the first
place, science was in such rapid flux that what seemed demonstrably
impossible to-day might cease to be so to-morrow, and we could not
refashion our ultimate principles daily. Secondly, he argued ad
hominem. Does a scientist accept the conservation of energy?
Ordinarily, yes. But if Heisenberg is right, “does it not follow that
this principle is forever unverifiable? If one accepts it, is one not
saying that something is determinate in reality which must be left
wholly indeterminate in experience?” And if this is to be done in one
case, why not in another? Thirdly, ”the new theory, though rejecting
the causal principle, does not hold to an absolute chaos; on the
contrary, it admits of order, since according to it, the disorder exists
only inside its microcosmic wholes, and even here this is limited by
statistical laws. Is that not a bit enigmatic?” If chaos really
obtained in the microcosms, is it likely that we should get order in the
macrocosms? Professor Zawirski thought not.
That the quantum theory had not
disposed of causality, Professor Jorgenson of Copenhagen agreed. He
then went on to ask the question what recent physics could teach us
about the stuff of the physical world. The answer, he said, was
obscure, for two very different views had both established themselves,
on the one hand the theory developed by de Broglie and Schrödinger that
matter is composed of continuous waves, on the other the theory of
Heisenberg, Jordan, and Dirac that it is, composed of discontinuous
particles. Bohr has shown that these are “complementary concepts” and
both of them true, but the facts remain that “the application of the one
excludes the simultaneous application of the other” and that the sort of
entity which could behave in both ways at once is utterly unimaginable.
“Physics,” concluded Professor Jorgenson, “thus has become a science of
an exceedingly symbolical character, the principle metaphysical outcome
of which chiefly seems to be that all the ideas so far formed concerning
the nature of the elements of the physical world have broken down, and
that we are left at present with a symbolism that works surprisingly
well, but whose proper meaning, granted that it has any, nobody has as
Speculation as to what the new views
imply about space and time produced what was perhaps the most
startlingly original suggestion of the Congress. Unfortunately, its
author, Professor Northrop of Yale, had not time within the limits of
his paper to give his proof, so one was left fascinated, but uneasy.
The suggestion was this, that following in the wake of the new physics,
we can solve the ancient problem of the relation of the eternal and the
temporal if we recognize two type of atoms, microscopic atoms, and
macroscopic ones which include these. Microscopic atoms do not exist or
move in space or time at all: “instead they move and are in the
macroscopic atom,” which itself is at rest. That time and space are
really unnecessary as referents for describing natural processes has
been shown by Einstein, who found light-propagation, matter, and motion
enough in themselves. “No longer can motion and natural processes be
regarded as occurring in space, or time, or spacetime . . . it is
literally true that natural processes are in eternity rather than in
time.” Nevertheless, time is too near the heart of things to be taken
as merely phenomenal. How, then, are we to conceive the relation of
time and eternity? In this manner, replied Professor Northrop, we must
“identify the eternal aspect of nature and experience with the effects
of the changeless form of the macrocosmic atom, and their temporal
character with the changing relations and molar properties arising from
the motion of the microscopic particles. Both time and eternity are
real. Their difference centers in the fact that the real has two types
of atomic parts, one of which is at rest, the other in motion.” It will
be conceded that this is a startling bid for the solution of this
ancient problem. The author alluded to the fact that his grounds for it
had been developed in this Journal (Vol. XXV, pp. 449-467).
The effects of this state of things
upon the theory of knowledge were discussed by Mr. C. E. M. Joad. The
new physics on the face of it, he said, is idealistic or at least
Kantian in its bias; atomic theory suggests that we never know a piece
of matter directly,” but only the effects upon us of the unknown X to
which Professor Jorgenson had referred. Thus science was conceived by a
writer like Eddington, is concerned not with reality, but with the
appearances of reality to minds whose vision is feeble and distorting.
Mr. Joad desired to protest against this view. After all, he insisted,
“scientific knowledge is itself founded upon and checked by experiences
such as that of seeing a red patch,” and if we are going to dismiss the
red patches and their kind as unreal, we must dismiss, too, the whole
structure founded on them. But this would abolish science itself. How,
then, are we to retain it? Only, he replied, by being realistic from
the beginning. We must concede that both in sensing red patches and in
building theoretical constructions we are in contact with an independent
world as it really is. And for consistency’s sake he went on to admit
that all the changing objects of speculative science are real, but exist
in different orders of reality. The difficulties of this position, some
of which were pointed out by the chairman, Professor Prichard, were not
very convincingly met.
The piquant question, Has philosophy
any practical value? disclosed no morbid doubts among the philosophers
as to whether they had a calling. Their subject was important, even
practically important; so far they all agreed, but as to just what its
value was, opinions differed. Probably the opinion with the largest
support was that of Professor Field of Bristol. “Most human beings,” he
said, “have a greater or lesser number of general principles of conduct
in their minds by which their behavior is influenced.” We get most of
these from tradition and take them for granted, but they are all the
expressions of men’s attempts to register the upshot of their
experiments in living. These digests of our past are the guides of our
future. But rightly to digest and interpret experience is the business
of reflection, and such reflection is philosophy. Its practical value
lies in “influencing and modifying the accepted standards of conduct
which lie in the background of our minds,” “in the constant and vigilant
criticism of the assumptions which, without it, we should too readily
take for granted.” As a rule these assumptions change slowly. We may
not know that they are changing at all until some day we wake up to find
that men’s thought on a particular matter of morals or politics has
suffered a total transformation. And in this change philosophy, if not.
the cause, is at least a cause, and an indispensable one.
Professor Bouglé of the Sorbonne
answered the question rather differently. If anyone questions whether
philosophy has practical effects, he suggested, one may simply point to
the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Communist Manifesto. “That
ideas created the forces of the democratic and socialist movements we
should not maintain for a moment. . . . But a time comes when, to
coordinate their conduct and give coherence to their feelings, the
proponents of a cause need a system of ideas to hold to. A philosophy
gives them this. It defines the principles which serve as a rallying
point for groping instincts, aspirations, traditions; elle fournit des
drapeaux à la foule—it puts banners at the head of the mob.” But having
said this, he turned round and questioned whether such thought is
philosophy at all. Indeed, he confessed to some disillusionment with
philosophy as speculative science, and in the study of morals was
inclined to put sociology in the place of prime importance. Here, at
least, we get something certain, while philosophic appraisements of
values are forever shifting. But the chairman, Professor Sorley,
dissented. Descriptive sociology itself, he thought, could give no
guidance whatever. What does give guidance is philosophical reflection
and appraisal, directed upon facts which sociology may provide but can
But undoubtedly the most startling view
of philosophy’s function was offered by Professor Schlick of Vienna.
The first person in modern times, he asserted, who has seen “with
absolute clearness” the business of philosophy is Mr. Ludwig
Wittgenstein. His great discovery is this, that philosophy is not a
science, but the process of making ideas clear. Science is the only
knowledge worthy the name, and the only philosophy worthy the name
consists of the ”activities, proceedings, and contrivances necessary for
the discovery and proof” of scientific propositions, and for
ascertaining what they mean. By reason of this discovery, “we are
witnessing the beginning of a new era of philosophy.” “Metaphysical
tendencies will be entirely abandoned, simply because there is no such
thing as metaphysics, the apparent descriptions of it being just
nonsensical phrases.” The consummation Professor Schlick devoutly
wished and confidently looked forward to was that “no more books will be
written about philosophy, but that all books will be written in a
philosophical manner.” One fancies the ghost of Comte clapping its
hands in the background; but do not these prophecies of the death of
metaphysics grow a little unconvincing as the world’s great age keeps
forgetting to usher itself in?
American members contributed many
admirable papers, only a few of which it has been possible to mention.
In one of the historical sessions, there were three American
contributors: Professor Bakewell, who described the work of Royce in
interpreting the American spirit; Professor Perry, who dissected the
elements of William James’s empiricism and its historical connections;
and Professor Townsend, who described the theory of intuition developed
by Jonathan Edwards. Nor were these the only historical papers.
Professor Morris Cohen defended the view that the historian has a right
to discuss what is and has been in the light of what might have been.
Professor Robinson of Cornell described the sort of disputation which
gave rise to the Topics of Aristotle. Professor Hendel traced the
development in modern thought of the idea of political obligation.
Professor A. A. Roback proposed an inquiry, at once historical and
analytic, into the common elements of thought and feeling revealed by
the greater Jewish philosophers.
Americans were also fully represented
on the side of logic and epistemology. Both Professor Sellars, who
explained how critical realism could be maintained without essences, and
Professor Ducasse, who discussed the judgment of existence, intrigued
their chairmen into debates which unhappily can not even be summarized
here. Mr. Weiss pointed out that the Principia Mathematica
embodies only one of many similar logics, all branches of a more general
logic that remains to be developed.
Nor were the American voices silent
about values. There were closely allied papers by Professor Kruse of
Wesleyan University on how differing views of the judgment of value
would affect the meaning of pessimism, and by Professor Tsanoff of the
Rice Institute on the nature of evil. Professor Brightman submitted the
thesis that real selves or unities of consciousness are so bound up with
religion that the two must be accepted or rejected together. Professor
D. S. Mackay maintained that emergent evolution provides a sufficient
basis for a naturalistic ethics. Finally, Professor Hartshorne of
Chicago developed a highly interesting argument to prove that sensations
are really species of affections and hence that there can be no hard and
fast line between objective facts and subjective values.
A few final reflections. Many felt
that the British organizers had been quite too generous in their
self-effacement. Not a single man from either Oxford or Cambridge read
a paper, with the exception of Dr. Schiller, who would be the first to
admit that he is no “true copy” of either. The loss was partly made up
by enlisting these men as chairmen, but while some of them, notably
Professor Prichard and Mr. Joseph, took a vigorous part in the debate,
to the general pleasure and profit, most of them were more scrupulous
than their auditors could have wished in leaving the floor free for
others. That was a pity, as a glance at the names of the chairmen will
readily explain. The program throughout exhibited British fairness
leaning and almost leaping backward.
As a means for the discussion of
speculative issues, the success of the Congress was not unqualified.
For the most part, this was inevitable, but it applies very differently
to the papers themselves and to the following discussions. The
impromptu discussions as a rule were disappointing; and they could
hardly, indeed, be otherwise when speakers in various languages were
offering first impressions of difficult arguments never heard before.
But they were certainly better than they would have been if printed
copies of all the papers had not been circulated at the beginning of the
Congress. These were an invaluable aid, particularly in following an
unfamiliar tongue. But viewed as discussion, there was an obvious
shortcoming in the papers themselves: while those of a single session
dealt with the same general theme, they had not, I believe, been seen by
other contributors to the same symposium, and hence in many cases, not
only failed to break lances with each other, but, like Mr. Leacock’s
hero, galloped furiously into the great open spaces in all directions at
once. Apparently philosophers always do this unless bridled and bitted.
Would their wild free spirit be broken if A were asked to write a paper
and send it to B, and B to write on that, and C on his two
predecessors? That would take time; it would be in some cases an
unfortunate curb; but it would join an issue.
As usual in these Congresses, the
difficulties of language were a frequent cause of stumbling. English,
French, German, and Italian were all official, though English was much
the most commonly used; and the member who could follow papers in all of
them was an object of much envy. To Dr. Schiller this difficulty seemed
particularly grave; in some of these languages, he pointed out, there
were no equivalents for words that stood for fundamental ideas in the
others; “meaning” is “a word which can not be rendered by any simple
equivalent in French and German,” and the English distinction between
right and wrong “can not be translated into French at all.” He
was for appointing an “International Committee on Nomenclature” which
would list the chief philosophic terms in use, with their translation or
equivalents in the various tongues. But whatever the merits of this
proposal, it did not advance beyond a “first reading.”
It is tempting but dangerous to record
impressions of the state of philosophy in the contributing countries.
If a single one may be hazarded, it is that at the moment philosophy
seems most vigorous in England, Italy, and the United States. But this
means a different thing in each instance. In Italy philosophic inquiry
is apparently concentrated in a very small but active group, Croce,
Gentile, Aliotta, Ruggiero, perhaps one or two others. The strength of
England at the moment lies not so much in a few conspicuous figures as
in a relatively large group of men—one could name twelve or fifteen at
least—who are doing work that is genuinely distinguished, whether or not
of the very first order. In America this diffusion of activity has been
carried one step farther. There are perhaps few figures that would be
called dominant, while the volume of philosophic activity is certainly
greater than anywhere else in the world. Foreign critics who are
disposed unkindly—and they are a large class in Europe at present—hint
that American thought is more notable for its quantity than for its
quality. To that there can be but one answer, and at least the
beginning of it was supplied by some of the admirable papers presented
to the Congress by Americans.
The foregoing is, of course, a very
fragmentary record, which has not attempted the impossible task of
reporting, or even alluding to, all of the eighty-two papers
contributed. The complete record is shortly to appear in the official
volume of the Congress. Meanwhile the program of the conferences, as
distributed to the members at the time, is appended herewith.
9 p.m. Address of Welcome by
Replies by Professor L.
Brunschvicg, His Excellency M. Caclamanos, Senatore Benedetto Croce,
Professor R. B. Perry.
Division A. Section 1. “Is a
philosophy of history consistent with the facts of history~” Chairman:
DR. J. B. BAILLIE.
Professor Jacques Chevalier,
Professor Morris R. Cohen, Professor N. Hartmann.
Division B. Section 1. “The
nature of perception and its objects.” Chairman: PROFESSOR H. A.
Professor Charles Hartshorne,
Professor G. Dawes Hicks, Mr. C. E. M. Joad, Professor C. J. Ducasse,
Professor Thadee Kotarbinski.
Division C. Section 1. “Is the
distinction between moral rightness and wrongness ultimate?” Chairman:
THE PROVOST OF ORIEL.
Professor J. Laird, Professor
F. Medicus, Monsieur D. Parodi, Dr. F. C. S. Schiller.
Division D. Section 1. (a)
Ancient Philosophy. “What is alive and what is dead in the Philosophy of
Classical Antiquity?’ , Chairman: PROFESSOR A. S. FERGUSON.
Professor J. Stenzel,
Professor L. Robin, Professor H. Gomperz, Professor Charles Werner, Dr.
R. G. F. Robinson.
General Session. Division A.
“Are recent advances in Physics of metaphysical importance?” Chairman:
PROFESSOR J. A. SMITH.
Professor A. Aliotta,
Professor F. Enriques, Professor Jørgen Jørgensen, Dr. Z. Zawirski.
Conversazione. Christ Church
Division A. Section 2. “Must
biological processes be either purposive or mechanistic?” Chairman:
PROFESSOR J. S. HALDANE.
Professor H. Wildon Carr,
Professor R. F. A. HoernIe, Professor E. A. Singer, Professor Emil
Ungerer, Professor F. J. E. Woodbridge.
Division A. Section 3. “The
relation between Metaphysics and Religion.”, Chairman: DR. C. C. J.
Professor Edgar S. Brightman,
Senatore Dr. Benedetto Croce, Professor Ph. Kohnstamm, Professor F.
Division C. Section 2. “Is the
ground of political obligation always one and the same?” Chairman:
PROFESSOR N. KEMP SMITH.
Professor W. Macmahon Ball,
Professor G. Davy, Professor Ch. W. Hendel, Jr., Dr. J. Nissen.
Division D. Section 2.
Philosophy of the 17th and 18th Centuries. “Has Kant by the introduction
of his Transcendental Method rendered unnecessary the study of his
predecessors?”, Chairman: PROFESSOR A. A. BOWMAN.
Professor F. H. Anderson, Dr.
A. C. Ewing.
Garden Party. Magdalen
General Session. Division B.
“Logic and Epistemology.” Chairman: PROFESSOR J. L. STOCKS.
(a) “The value of recent
contributions to Logic.” Professor A. Lalande, Professor D.
Michaeltschev, Dr. Paul Weiss.
(b) “Phenomenology.” Professor
Division B. Section 2. “The
nature and source of non-perceptual factors in thinking.” Chairman:
PROFESSOR G. E. MOORE.
Professor Reginald Jackson,
Professor Wm. Pepperell Montague, Professor L. Noel, Professor H. G.
Division B. Section 3. “The
relation of scientific thinking to the ideal of knowledge.” Chairman:
PROFESSOR T. PERCY NUNN.
Professor B. Bauch, Professor
L. Brunschvicg, Professor E. Dupreel, Professor Raffaelo Piccoli.
Division C. Section 3. “Recent
suggestions in the Theory of Fine Art.” Chairman: MR. JUSTICE MEREDITH.
Professor S. Alexander, Miss
V. Burdwood Evans, Professor Richard Müller-Freienfels.
Division D. Section 3.
“Philosophy of the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Chairman: PROFESSOR A. N.
Professor Ch. M. Bakewell,
Professor H. Heimsoeth, Professor R. B. Perry, Professor J. L. Stocks.
General Session. Division C.
“The value of Ethical and Political Philosophy as guides in practice.”
Chairman: PROFESSOR W. R. SORLEY.
Professor C. Bouglé, Professor
G. C. Field, Professor W. Lutoslawski, Professor Leo Polak.
Business Meeting. Oriel
Division A. Open Meeting.
Chairman: PROFESSOR L. J.
Professor J. E. Boodin,
Professor F. S. C. Northrop, Professor E. M. Radl, Professor M. Schlick,
Miss L. S. Stebbing, Professor G. F. Stout.
Division B. Open Meeting.
Chairman: MR. H. W. B. JOSEPH.
Professor Malte Jacobsson, Dr.
George Katkov, Professor N. D. Lossky, Professor G. D. Scraba, Professor
R. W. Sellars.
Division C. Open Meeting.
Chairman: REV. PRINCIPAL G.
Professor L. Krusé, Professor
D. S. Mackay, Professor R. A. Tsanoff, Professor W. Tatarkiewicz.
Division D. Section 1. (b)
Mediæval and Oriental Philosophy.
Chairman: PROFESSOR F. W.
Professor A. A. Roback,
Professor Guido de Ruggiero, Professor Konstanti Michalski, Rev. C. J.
Shebbeare, Professor de Wulf.
General Session. Division D.
“In what respects has Philosophy progressed?”, Chairman: PROFESSOR J. H.
Miss H. D. Oakeley, Professor
Adolf Phalen, Professor H. Zoltowski.
Posted March 26, 2007
to Blanshard page