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LEGS OF BIRD AND CHICK
25. IMPRESSION OF TAIL OF ARCHÆOPTERYX
26. SKELETONS OF FEET: ANCHITHERIUM, HIPPARION, HORSE
DEC 29 1926
THE DOCTRINE OF DESCENT
Introduction-Summary of the Results of Linguistic Inquiry-Positive Knowledge preliminary to the Doctrine of Descent-Belief in Miracle-The Limits of the Investigation of Nature.
A CRAVING to understand existence pervades mankind, and the life of every self-conscious individual. Every system of philosophy has endeavoured to penetrate into the nature of things, and has originated in the attempt to apprehend the coherency of those great series of material and spiritual phenomena, of which man flatters himself that he is the centre or the end.
Some quiet themselves by emphasizing the contrast between mind and body, idea and phenomenon; others, by the catchword of identity; some have deemed themselves and the world in the most beautiful harmony; others, from the times of the Buddhists, in the 6th century B.C., to the eccentric saints of the present day, the followers and reformers of Schopenhauer's system, regard the world as a mere accumulation of discomfort and conflict, from which the sage may escape by a
complete withdrawal into himself, and a return, by the force of an iron will, to an absence of needs and to nothingness.
In all these endeavours to be reconciled and contented with the world, the consciousness of man has made no very important progress. Marvellous as are the attainments of our generation, whether in the domain of individual sciences, or in the sphere of commerce and industry, it is scarcely less wonderful how little certain. or advanced is the opinion of the multitude on general questions. Even now, as much as in the days of Aristophanes, the multitude, and likewise many men of "culture," allow themselves to be imposed upon by empty jargon. We no longer burn witches, but verdicts of heresy still abound. As the basis of scientific medicine, our experimental physiology enjoys unexampled encouragement, and a general instinctive recognition unparalleled in former times; but these do not prevent the door from remaining open, in all classes of society, to the most audacious quackery.
We have only to look round at the spiritualists and summoners of souls, who now form special sects and societies; at the advocates of cures by sympathy and incantation, and we can but marvel at the extensive sway of a superstition hardly superior to the Fetichism of a race so alien to ourselves as are the negroes. These are only individual cases of the very widespread lack of judgment, which prevails wherever the supposed enigma of human existence is concerned. Millions and millions who would turn away indignantly if required to believe that anything not entirely natural occurred in the most complicated machine, in the most elaborate product
of the chemical retort, or in the strangest results of physical experiment, are yet disposed to seek a dualism behind the processes of life. Wherever, also, the explanation of life, and the reduction of vital phenomena to their true natural causes is concerned, they would wish to deny point-blank the possibility of such explanation or such knowledge, and to refer life to an unapproachable and mystic domain. Or, if the solution of the problem of life be admitted in the abstract, at least something peculiar, and a different standard from that by which other living beings may be measured, is required for the beloved Self.
If we thus see, on the one side, a great portion of our contemporaries either standing before the most important of all problems in utter perplexity and helplessness, or solving it by the theology of revelation, we may, fortunately, point, on the other side, to the goodly host of those who, since the development of science has admitted of it, have encountered the investigation of man's place in nature with sincere interest, and have weighed the problem with intelligence.
This craving for a knowledge based on philosophical and natural science, became apparent about a century ago, and coincided with the first beginnings of linguistic science. It is the more appropriate to allude here to this, as the theories of the origin of language are profoundly affected and influenced by opinions as to the origin of Man, and vice versa.
The result of an inquiry, made in 1580, as to the language of Paradise, having been that God spoke Danish, Adam Swedish, and the serpent French, Leibnitz, in his letters to Newton, first attempted to regulate the