1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Cudworth. Locke. The Idea of Progress in History.

(Part 15)


Cudworth.—One or two English writers belonging to the latter part of the 17th century must be glanced at here. Of these the first is Cudworth, who, in his work The True Intellectual System of the Universe, elaborately criticises the various "atheistic" modes of explaining the origin and form of the world as a natural process. Cudworth emphasizes especially the difficulty of explaining the rise of consciousness, and seeks to show how the early Greek atomical physiologists were driven to assume a spiritual principle over and above their material elements. He dwells on the signs of purpose in nature, and argues that no fortuitous combination of elements could have sufficed to produce that balance of male and female individuals on which the preservation of species depends. Yet though thus an anti-evolutionist, Cudworth provides a way of interpreting the evolution of life by means of an immanent principle, since he refers the forms of nature to a plastic principle, which does not involve consciousness, though it may be called a drowsy unawakened cognitioin.

Locke.—In Locke we find, with a retention of certain anti-evolutionist ideas, a marked tendency to this made of viewing the world. To Locke the universe is the result of a direct act of creation, even matter being limited in duration and created. Even if matter were eternal it would, he thinks, be incapable of producing motion ; and if motion is itself conceived as eternal, thought can never begin to be. The first eternal being is thus spiritual or "cogitative," and contains it itself al the perfections that can ever after exist. He repeatedly insists on the impossibility of senseless matter putting on sense.1 Yet while thus placing himself at a point of view opposed to that of a gradual evolution of the organic world, Locke prepared the way for this doctrine in more ways than one. First of all, he genetic method as applied to the mind’s ideas—which laid the foundations of English analytical psychology—was a step in the direction of a conception of mental life a gradual evolution. Again he works towards the same end in his celebrated refutation of the scholastic theory of real specific essences. In this argument he emphasizes the vagueness of the boundaries which mark of organic species with a view to show that thee do not correspond to absolutely fixed division in the objective world, that they are made by the mind, not by nature.2 This idea of the continuity of species is developed more fully in a remarkable passage (Essay, bk. iii. Ch vi. § 12), where he is arguing in favour of the hypothesis, afterwards elaborated by Leibnitz, of a graduated series of minds (species of spirits) from the Deity down to the lowest animal intelligence. He here observes that "all quite down from us the descent is by easy steps, and a continued series of things, that in each remove differ very little from one another." Thus man approaches the beasts, and the animal kingdom is nearly joined with the vegetable, and so on down to the lowest and "most inorganical parts of matter." Finally, it is to be observed that Locke had a singularly clear view of organic arrangement (which of course he explained according to a teleology) as an adaptation to the circumstances of the environment or to "the neighbourhood of the bodies that surround us." Thus he suggests that man has not eyes of a microscopic delicacy, because he would receive no great advantage from such acute organs, since though adding indefinitely to his speculative knowledge of the physical world they would not practically benefit their possessor (e.g., by enabling him to avoid things at a convenient distance).3

Idea of Progress in History.—Before leaving the 17th century we must just refer to the writers who laid the foundations of the essentially modern conception of human history as a gradual upward progress. According to Prof. Flint,4 there were four men who in this century seized and made

FOOTNOTE (p. 759)

(1) Yet he leaves open the question whether the Deity has annexed thought to matter as a faculty, or whether it rests on a distinct spiritual principle.

(2) Locke half playfully touches on certain monsters, with respect to which it is difficult to determine whether they ought to be called men. (Essay, book iii. ch. vi. sect. 26, 27.)

(3) A similar coincidence between the teleological and the modern evolutional way of viewing things is to be met with in Locke’s account of the use of pain in relation to the preservation to the preservation of our being bk. ii. ch. vii. sect. 4.

(4) Philosophy of History, Introduction, p. 28 sq., where an interesting sketch of the growth of the idea of progress is to be found.

prominent this idea, namely, Bodin, Bacon, Descartes and Pascal. The former distinctly argues against the idea of a deterioration of man in the past. In this way we see that just as advancing natural science was preparing the way for a doctrine of physical evolution, so advancing historical research was leading to the application of similar idea to the collection human life.

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