1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Recent [mid-19th Century] French Writers.

(Part 27)


Recent [i.e. Mid 19th Century] French Writers.—The French thought of the latter part of the century offers us but little in the way of a discussion of the problems with which evolution has to do. The activity of biological speculation appears to have influenced but a few philosophic minds. Naturalists have of course discussed the doctrine of evolution, and one of these, E.Quinet, in his La Creation, seeks to apply Mr Darwin’s theory to problems of art and morality. Thus the ideal of art should, he thinks, be based on the doctrine of evolution, and be "the presentment of superior forms which slumber still in the bosom of actual things," or the embodiment of "the possible development of the human type in the progress of nature and man," So the ideas of duty and virtue are to be based on this doctrine. Man is the only animal which can retrograde, and evil is retrogression in the path laid down by nature. It is an anachronism, or a revolt of man against himself. Among philosophical writers proper, the first place must be given to Mr. Th. Ribot, who, in his sympathetic exposition of Mr Spencer’s doctrine of evolution in his Recent English Psychology, and in his interesting psychological study On Heredity, shows himself to be pervaded with the new ideas, more especially in their bearing on mental phenomena. M. Ribot regards mental evolution of this connexion between the two domains of phenomena is compatible with idealism no less than with materialism. He would eliminate the conception of progress as a subjective one, and says that that idea of historical progress must be taken up into the that of an objective cosmic process. M. Ribot makes many interesting applications of his law of mental heredity, which he rightly regards as a factor in mental ; as, for example, when he speaks of free will as expressing the fixed personal factor in conduct,—namely, the inherited character. Of other philosophic writers who have affected by the English doctrine of evolution, it is sufficient to name the late Léon Dumont, who was one of the first in France to apply the ideas of Mr Darwin and Mr Spencer to problems of psychology ; and Professor A. Espinas, who in his work Des Sociétés Animales aims at Furthering the theory of man’s psychical derivation from lower types of mind. A writer who appears to be in a less distinct manner influenced by the idea of evolution is M. Taine, in whose psychological and historical studies the indirect effect of a study of English evolutionists is traceable. On the other hand the older and teleological view of the world has not wanted its defenders. The most signal supporter of this direction, in the face of doctrine of evolution, is M. Paul Janet, who, in his earlier work Le Materialisme Contemporain, and still more in his recent publication Les Causes Finales, draws a sharp line between the regions of the organic and the inorganic, and maintains that the complex arrangements of the latter are only explicable by means of teleological conceptions.

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