1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Form of Doctrine of Evolution.

(Part 6)


Form of doctrine of evolution.—Let us now see how the doctrine of evolution deals with the problems of becoming as above defined. And here it becomes necessary to distinguish between different ways of formulating and interpreting the idea of evolution. The various modes conceiving and interpreting the idea of a natural evolution of things depend on the answers given to the three principal questions respecting the nature and causes of the process. These are:—I. How far is the process a real objective one? II. What is the nature of that reality which makes the content, so to speak, of the process of evolution? and III. How is the process effected?

I. First of all, very different views may be taken of the reality of the becoming, generation, and transformation. On the one side we have the extreme view of the eleatics, that there is no such thing as change or individual object, that real being is one and unchangeable, and that what appears like the formation and destruction of things is an illusion of the senses. At the other extreme we have the view that all reality consist in the process of becoming, or self-realization, and that nothing persists save this law of evolution itself. Between these two extremes there lie a number of intermediate conceptions, as that of a varying and progressive activity, of a persistent force, or a gradual manifestation of an unchanging substance. The reality of the process is viewed in a peculiar light from the stand-point of modern subjective idealism, which regards time as nothing but a mental form. It is to be added that the process of cosmic evolution may present different degrees of reality. Thus to the ancient atomist the real part of the process is the combination of atoms. There is no absolute generation or destruction of things. Further, the evolution of the world of sensible qualities (colour, &c.) of things, is illusory, and has only a subjective existence in our sensations. The modern scientific doctrine of evolution carries out this view of its reality, both by its conception of the material world as objectively real only in its forces and movements, and by its doctrine of the conservation of energy, which teaches that amind all change and transformation there is something (though not necessary a metaphysical thing) which persists.

II. Secondly, the view of evolution will vary according to the conception of that substance or real thing which enters into the process and constitutes its essential content. We have said that the problems of being and becoming (esse and fieri) are distinct, yet they cannot be discussed in perfect isolation. More particularly our idea of becoming must be determined by our notion of that existing reality which underlies the process.

It follows from our definition that its main problem is to conceived of material and mental development in their mutual relation. There are various ways of effecting this result. First of all, the material and the mental may be regarded from a dualistic point of view of perfectly distinct kind of reality. According tot his view, physical evolution as taking place in the inorganic world, and mental evolution as unfolded in man’s history, are two unconnected processes. Further, the fact of their correlation in organic development must either be left unexplained altogether, or can only be referred to the arbitrary action of some supernatural power.

Opposed to this dualistic conception of reality there are the monistic conceptions, which conceive of all parts of the process of evolution as homogeneous and identical. Of

These the first is the materialistic, which assumed but one substance, and regards mind as but a property or particular manifestation of matter. On this view, mental evolution is simply one phase of material, and the whole course of cosmic evolution may be described as a production of mind out of matter.

The next monistic conception is the spiritualistic, which assumes but one substance—mind, and resolved the reality of the material world into a spiritual principle.1 According to this way of looking at the world-process, material and mental evolution are but two continuous phases of one spiritual movement. From the operation of inanimate nature up to human history it is the same spiritual reality which manifests itself.

Finally, there is the monistic conception in the narrow modern sense, viz., that which views the material and the mental as two sides of one and the same reality. According to this view, physical evolution as manifested in the material world, and mental evolution as seen in human life, may each be regarded as a two-sided process. The first is simply that part of the process in which the material side is most conspicuous ; the second, that in which the mental side is so. This monistic conception shows itself in a number of forms,—from the crude semi-mythological conception of a cosmic organism or world-animal, which is at once body and soul, up to metaphysical doctrine of one substance with two attributes.

III. In the third place, the form of the doctrine of evolution will vary according to the conception of the force or activity which effects the process. This point, though closely related to the last, is not identical with it. It is one thing to understand what it is evolves itself, another thing to comprehend how the process is brought about. The latter point is of even greater importance for studying the various theories of evolution than the former.

There are two strongly contrasted modes a viewing all action or change. The first is drawn from the region of physical events, and views the change as conditioned by antecedents of efficient causes. This way of looking at change gives the mechanical view of evolution. The second is drawn from the region of our conscious volitions regarded as themselves undetermined by antecedent causes, and conceives of change as related to and determined by some end or purpose. This gives the teleological view of evolution. Although there is a natural affinity between the mechanical and the materialistic conception of evolution on the one side, and between the teleological and the spiritualistic on the other, they are not exactly co-extensive. The teleological view does no doubt imply the acceptance of a spiritual or quasi-spiritual principle ; it refers the form and order of the world to the action of an intelligence (conscious or unconscious) which combines particular events as means to some comprehensive out. The mechanical view, on the other hand, does not necessarily imply the acceptance of a material principle as the one reality. It is applicable to mind as well as to body. Thus, on the determinist theory, mental development is as much a mechanical process as physical development.

Adopting this distinction between the mechanical and teleological conception of evolution as the essential one, we may roughly classify the various systems of evolution under the three heads:—(a), those in which the mechanical view predominates ; (b), those in which the teleological view predominates ; and (c), those in which the two views are combined in some larger conception.

(a.) The mechanical interpretation may first of all be combined with a dualistic theory. Such would be Descartes’s doctrine of evolution if it had been fully worked out on its mental side. It has been observed, however, that the mechanical view is naturally allied to the materialistic theory. Systems of evolution which arise out of this combination seek to resolve all appearance of order and purpose in the physical world into the combined effect of elementary forces or actions. They adopt a mechanical conception of organic bodies and their processes. Finally, they regard mental life and its evolution as a process of combination exactly analogous to that of physical evolution and closely correlated with a certain mode of this process. In this way they lead to a materialistic conception of man’s origin and development as conditioned by physical circumstances and organic changes.

This thorough-going materialistic way of viewing the origin and formation of the world finds its greatest obstacle in the genesis of conscious life. Hence it has from the earliest been modified in one or two ways so as to provide a primordial source of sensation and thought, without, however abandoning a strictly mechani

FOOTNOTE (p.753)

1 Of course, there is a transition from the dualistic theory to the spiritualistic in those doctrines which allow a certain reality to matter, but only as something dead or existing potentially.

cal view of the process. The first and crude form in which this modification presents itself is that of an original, thin, quasi-material substance (as ether), which may serve as the raw material, so to speak, of individual minds. The formation of these minds, however, is regarded as a strictly mechanical process, and related to that of physical evolution in the narrow sense. This theory of the origin of mental existence clearly approaches one of the forms of the doctrine of emanation already referred to. We have only to conceive of the primordial mental substance as the infinite being, transcending our finite world, and the doctrine becomes one of emanation. The second modification of this view consists in the theory that all parts of matter are endowed with sensibility, but that the sensations are not themselves (as teleological factors) the productive force in the process, but are rather the appendages of the real factors. The world forms itself according to strictly mechanical laws of combination, and the evolution of the various grades of mind in the organic region takes place by a comparison of elementary feelings exactly similar to the process of material combination.

Before leaving the systems which are based on the mechanical view, a bare allusion must be made to a recent suggestion that all things consist ultimately of mental substance ("mind-stuff"), which combines itself both in the material world and in the region of conscious mind according to strictly mechanical principles.

(b) The second mode of viewing the process of evolution subordinates the idea of physical cause to that of final cause. The force which efforts the continual production and transformation of things is conceived of more or less distinctly after the analogy of rational impulse towards an end, and the process is regarded as determined or conditioned by this element of purpose.

This teleological view of evolution may be found in a number of systems of nature, which look on the material world as at once bodily and vital or spiritual, though it is often difficult to say whether any particular system should be called dualistic or monistic (in the narrow sense). Thus we have the evolution of the physical world referred to a vital principles which pervades all matter, and of which the essential nature is productivity, to a formative plastic principle which moulds the dead material into various shapes, to an organizing cosmic force, and so on. In all these conceptions, which appear to aim more especially at an explanation of organic forms and life, the element of purpose appears ina nascent shape. Nature is personified as a worker who aims unconsciously and instinctively at some dimly descried end, such as the most various production, the progressive manifestation of life, and so on. In some of these systems, notably in the Aristotelian, the genesis of conscious mind is explained along with that of organic life. By means of the supposition that mind is but the formative principle of the individual organism.

The idea of purpose becomes more definite, and, at the same time a further step is taken towards the explanation of mental life as development out of physical, in those systems which project a distinct spiritual principle into nature. The way in which this is frequently done is by means of the theory of a world-soul which animates the whole of the material world and directs all parts of its evolution. When this spiritual principle is regarded not only as the formative force, but also as the substantial source of conscious mental life, which has eternally coexisted with matter, we have, as already remarked, a pantheistic conception of evolution which, like another and cognate conception already referred to. Approximates to one form of the emanation theory.

The full development of this way of regarding the world and its evolution as the world of a spiritual principle aiming towards an end is to be found in certain doctrines of Objective Idealism, which resolve all material existence into a mode of mental existence—will and thought. These theories clearly simplify the conception of evolution to the utmost, by the identification both of the substantial reality which enters into all parts of the world-process, and of the rationale of all parts of the process itself. In the systems now referred to, the mechanical idea is wholly taken up into the teleological. Purpose is the higher law of things, and it is one purpose which manifests itself through all stages of the world’s evolution,—in the region of inorganic nature, of organic life, and of human history. The first genesis of conscious life is explained as a particular moment in this process. In some spiritualistic systems an attempt is made to combine the mechanical (causal) and teleological ideas under the notion of logical development. Yet as a rule the teleological way of conceiving the process predominates.

(The systems which seek to combine the teleological and the mechanical view of evolution are for the most part based on the monistic idea that the material and the mental are two equally real aspects of one thing. It is clear that this conception of reality provides a way of doing justice to both modes of looking at evolution. In this manner the systems now spoken of are able to regard all parts of evolution as identical in nature, being alike links in a chain of purposeful effects.

This way of regarding the world in its process of evolution will vary according to the particular view of the one reality underlying material and mental phenomena. Thus we may have a universalistic conception of evolution as the two-sided activity of one undivided substance. This idea passes easily into a pantheistic view of the world-process as determined by a divine reason which is also the principle of necessity. In the second place, we may have an individualistic conception of this two-sided process, according to which the world arises out of the unceasing activity of an indefinite number of elements endowed with motion and sensation, and so comprehending a mechanical and a teleological factor. It has already been remarked, however, that this conception may be combined with a strictly mechanical view of evolution.

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