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Art. 7.-THE NEW REALISM.
1. Philosophical Essays. By Bertrand Russell. Longmans, 1910.
2. The Problems of Philosophy. By the same (Home Univ. Library). Williams and Norgate, .
3. Our Knowledge of the External World (Lowell Lectures). London. By the same. New York: Open Court Publ. Co., 1914.
4. The New Realism. By E. B. Holt, W. T. Marvin, W. P. Montague, R. B. Perry, W. B. Pitkin, and E. G. Spaulding. New York: Macmillan, 1912.
5. The Distinction between Mind and its Objects. By Bernard Bosanquet. Manchester Univ. Press, 1913. 6. Neo-realistic Theories of Mind or Consciousness. By R. F. A. Hoernle. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Reid, 1914. 7. The Working Faith of the Social Reformer and other Essays. By Henry Jones. Macmillan, 1910.
8. A Defence of Idealism: some Questions and Conclusions. By May Sinclair. Macmillan, 1917.
THE interest of the educated public in the disputes of the philosophers is apt to be slender. But a very simple line of reflections will enable any one who wants to understand it to bring the most important recent departure in philosophy tolerably well into focus. The new method is called Realism. It includes at least three main groups in its following-the 'new realists' of America, the Manchester school in this country, and the still more important though somewhat undefined group who follow Mr G. E. Moore and Mr Bertrand Russell. While we cannot as yet speak confidently of its history-every separate modification of the theory seems to have had its own private history-we can yet see upon the movement as a whole the hall-mark of a genuine departure. It is impossible that so many different versions of the same general way of looking at things should have sprung into being all about the same time, in such widely different quarters, without a genuine reason. And the reason, speaking in quite general terms, is easy to signalise. It is not that the various advocates of the theory have all been to a common master to learn their new way of thinking. It is rather that they have been
breathing a common atmosphere and have been driven, largely independently of each other, to seek in various directions the intellectual nourishment which that atmosphere has seemed unable to supply. To bring their movement into focus we only need to apprehend what it is in the general intellectual environment of them and us which is inviting people in the direction they have taken.
The incentive to Realism, the invitation which the present state of thought apparently extends to us all to become realists, is not difficult to state in outline. It is a species of spiritual exhaustion-a recurrent phenomenon in the history of thought.
The arena in which philosophies fight out their battles is always limited; and the scene witnessed in it is always a diversified one. Only rarely is any one philosophy to be found in full possession and without a rival. But at different periods there are predominating influences; and for a considerable time now there have been such. A spirit of Idealism has been abroad among thinkers. It is an Idealism of classical ancestry which 'twenty years ago,' as Mr Russell says, 'held almost unquestioned sway in all Anglo-Saxon universities.' Even Mr Russell will allow that this Idealism is still a strong, although now, in his view, a decaying force. Now, this powerful influence has been exerted in the direction of fostering an ancient habit, which Mr Russell notes and deprecates in his 'Problems of Philosophy,' of ignoring the limits of philosophical knowledge, and unweariedly aspiring to a knowledge that is not really possible. He would have philosophy confine itself to humbler tasks.
'Most philosophers-or, at any rate, very many-profess to be able to prove, by a priori metaphysical reasoning, such things as the fundamental dogmas of religion, the essential rationality of the universe, the illusoriness of matter, the unreality of all evil, and so on. There can be no doubt that the hope of finding reason to believe such theses as these has been the chief inspiration of many lifelong students of philosophy. This hope, I believe, is vain. It would seem that knowledge concerning the universe as a whole is not to be obtained by metaphysics, and that the proposed proofs that,
* 'Our Knowledge of the External World,' p. 4.
in virtue of the laws of logic, such and such things must exist and such and such others cannot, are not capable of surviving a critical scrutiny.'
We may here perceive, in crude outline, the motive to Realism. By an inevitable circumstance of his being, man's problems are furnished by his desires. The fact generates in him a tendency to try to let his desires provide also the solutions; and it ends in an exhausting effort to believe what he wishes to believe. There is a
strong sense that such effort has been too long protracted. It is the ruin of philosophy, and not of philosophy only but of much that we value more. This, at any rate, is the verdict of the most eminent and eloquent of the English realists. That our whole human dignity requires us to cease clinging to sheer impossibilities born of religious hopes and aspirations, is the central thesis of Mr Russell's unique little essay The free man's worship.' Man has from time immemorial placed a God of some sort behind the natural order of things. Scientific investigation has not justified him. The universe, so far as investigation can show us, follows no divine plan.' Rather is it the very negation of such a thing, a mere game, ultra-Mephistophelian in its meaninglessness.
"That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noon-day brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.'†
How, asks the author, are we to preserve our aspirations untarnished in such a world of sheer brute force? Not, he answers, by falling down and worshipping it,
*The Problems of Philosophy,' pp. 220-221.
and then trying, like Carlyle and Nietzsche, to persuade ourselves that this inhuman remnant is all we wanted for a divinity; but rather by ceasing to try to believe in a God any longer, saying roundly that there is none at all, none except that great creature of the imagination who should have reigned over the earth but is not there. This devotion to a great non-existent, to the God who never was, is not and never will be-this alone is the free man's worship.
'If Power is bad, as it seems to be, let us reject it from our hearts. In this lies Man's true freedom: in determination to worship only the God created by our own love of the good, to respect only the heaven which inspires the insight of our own best moments. In action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free, free from our fellow-men, free from the petty planet on which our bodies impotently crawl, free even, while we live, from the tyranny of death.' *
Read in this light, the phenomenon of Realism is simply a renewed sense of the need of fact. If man will be man, let him cease to allow his futile desires to prescribe what reality shall be. There is no salvation for us except in acknowledging fact, in being realists. And when one asks where one is to go to find the 'real,' the answer is not far to seek. We are to go to the report which the sciences have given us of the world we are in. The method of science is conceived as that of practically accepting as fact what is given to us as such, and in taking as proved what has been mathematically demonstrated. By taking whatever that method yields for our knowledge, and what our imagination supplies for our ideals, we must stand equipped before the world. Realists in general, although mostly without raising these ultimate aspects of the question at all, are endeavouring to supply the knowledge' side of this balance-sheet. They are endeavouring to evolve some statement of what knowledge regarding the problems of philosophy can be had on these terms. To put it shortly-taking the given as the factual, and the logical as the true, they are trying what that commonsense plan will enable them to make of the world.
* Philosophical Essays,' pp. 63–64.
Such is the incentive in the air, and such is the realist response. The effort of the will to believe has proved exhausting and it must be ended.
But we have not yet penetrated to the heart of the matter. We are told to go back to the methods which have yielded the magnificent results of science, to go back to its way of handling data and making inferences. But philosophy had got thus far before. Now, Mr Bosanquet, whose word in such a matter is surely authoritative, and who is certainly the last authority to say so easily, says that twentieth-century realism may fairly be described as a new situation in the philosophical world.' We must endeavour, if we would understand it clearly, to grasp what is new about it; and this enterprise, we must admit at once, will make rather harder going for us than the above general outline.
The most general features of the movement which we have been tracing are not new. The common-sense ground just described had already been found untenable by philosophy. It was this discovery, partly, which gave rise to the idealism of the present time in England. Idealism found common-sense philosophy in possession, found it wanting, and for it substituted itself. What we are witnessing now is the Idealism which supplanted common sense, itself on its trial. And to get at the root of its weakness, we have to ask wherein it found common sense weak. For, undoubtedly, by a recuperated and rearmed common sense it is now being attacked.
Viewing the matter in the broadest possible way, but using terms in a perfectly justifiable sense, the answer to the question, 'Where did Idealism find common sense wanting?' can be put, in a formal fashion, very shortly. It was characteristic of common sense, then as now, to rely on given facts and consistent logic. Putting it quite bluntly, then, the discovery which Idealism made was that those facts and that logic really lead you to God.t It acknowledged, of course, with the very next breath, that man is utterly incapable of seeing every step of the way thither. He does not see the way, except in the
The Distinction between Mind and its Objects,' p. 5.
+ Common sense, of course, could find its way there too; but not by its facts and its logic.