Darwin and Modern Science: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of the Origin of Species

By A. C. Seward | Go to book overview

XXII THE INFLUENCE OF THE CONCEPTION OF EVOLUTION ON MODERN PHILOSOPHY

BY H. HÖFFDING. Professor of Philosophy in the University of Copenhagen.


I.

IT is difficult to draw a sharp line between philosophy and natural science. The naturalist who introduces a new principle, or demonstrates a fact which throws a new light on existence, not only renders an important service to philosophy but is himself a philosopher in the broader sense of the word. The aim of philosophy in the stricter sense is to attain points of view from which the fundamental phenomena and the principles of the special sciences can be seen in their relative importance and connection. But philosophy in this stricter sense has always been influenced by philosophy in the broader sense. Greek philosophy came under the influence of logic and mathematics, modern philosophy under the influence of natural science. The name of Charles Darwin stands with those of Galileo, Newton, and Robert Mayer -- names which denote new problems and great alterations in our conception of the universe.

First of all we must lay stress on Darwin's own personality. His deep love of truth, his indefatigable inquiry, his wide horizon, and his steady self-criticism make him a scientific model, even if his results and theories should eventually come to possess mainly an historical interest. In the intellectual domain the primary object is to reach high summits from which wide surveys are possible, to reach them toiling honestly upwards by the way of experience, and then not to turn dizzy when a summit is gained. Darwinians have sometimes turned dizzy, but Darwin never. He saw from the first the great importance of his hypothesis, not only because of its solution of the old problem as to the value of the concept of species, not only because of the grand picture of natural evolution which it unrolls, but also because of the life and inspiration its method would impart to the study of comparative anatomy, of instinct and of heredity, and

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