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Futility of Philosophy

Extracts from an address, delivered at the Ingersoll Forum Pythian Temple, New York, Feb. 6, 1938.


I have consumed about forty years of my pilgrimage in two or three corners of the world, seeking the philosopher's stone called truth. I have consulted all the adepts of antiquity, Epicurus and Augustine, Plato and Malebranche, and I still remain in ignorance. In all the crucibles of philosophers,there are perhaps two or three ounces of gold, but all the rest is caput moyuum, insipid mire, from which nothing can he extracted.
-- VOLTAIRE.


Philosophers are wonderful people. The less they understand of a thing, the more words they make over it ... As Spiller remarks, they possess the most extraordinary talent for bringing the simplest things into the most boundless confusion, and they water and plaster over the simplest ideas and opinions with such a mass of high-sounding, apparently learned, but in reality empty and unintelligible words and phrases, that a rational man loses his senses over it.
-- LUDWIG BUCHNER, Force and Matter, p. 257.


It cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions. If you ask a mathematician, a mineralogist, a historian, or any other man of learning, what body of definite truths has been ascertained by his science, his answer will last as long as you are willing to listen. But if you put the same question to a philosopher, he will, if he is candid,:have to confess that his study has not achieved positive results such as have been achieved by other sciences.
-- BERTRAND RUSSELL, The Problems of Philosophy, p. 239


I am not concerned with philosophy as such, since it seems to me to lead to no agreed and substantial results.
- JOSEPH McCABE, Life and Morals in Ancient Greece and Rome, p 36.


I consulted hundreds of students of mine, asking for their frank opinion. I accosted my colleagues, -scientists and philosophers. I went about the town, gathering information. One truth has been found, as a result: that we, professional philosophers, neither study nor teach problems of real worth and significance to our contemporaries. The ideas, or concepts to be more precise, we are concerned with are largely dead or empty.
-- PROF. RALPH B. WINN, College of The City of New York.


WALKING through Times Square the other evening; I chanced to see the name of a new play blazoned in electric lights. It was humorously called "Hurrah for What?" Every time I recall those Words I think of philosophy.


There was a time when learned men took philosophy seriously, when it was looked upon as a means of acquiring knowledge. That age is past. In the vernacular of our day, philosophy is "all washed up."


Turn to the "Want Section" of any large newspaper and you will find there plenty of advertisements for chemists, engineers, technicians. You will not find an advertisement reading: "Wanted: a philosopher".


There is a reason for this. We live in a Practical world, and what knowledge we have may be traced to the findings of science. All the benefits of our civilization are rooted in science. It is science--not philosophy-which has given us the X-ray, the electric light, the wireless, the telephone, the ocean liner, the railroad, the automobile, and the thousands upon thousands of devices which make our lives more comfortable and secure.


It is science alone which has given us a knowledge of ourselves and the universe around us. It has kept our feet on the ground, yet given us the means to span and explore space. It has given us everything that counts highest in the life of man. Throw away your text-books in every branch of science and what would you have left? Ditch every book on philosophy and metaphysics, and you still have accessible every bit of knowledge in the world. You could turn to science.


No industry would think of maintaining a chair of philosophy; yet it is precisely in the field of production and enterprise that problems arise daily dealing with reality, and it is the pretension of the philosopher that he covers every branch of knowledge. Yet it is to the scientist, rather than to the philosopher, that industry turns for a Solution of its technical problems. What railroad or public utility would think of maintaining a staff of philosophers to run its affairs!


When the Nobel Prize was established for awards to those who had made the greatest contributions to the progress of mankind, the branches specified were Physics, Chemistry, Physiology and Medicine, Literature and Peace. Philosophy was left out !


The "problems" of philosophy are mostly no problems at all. They are mainly windy concoctions for blowing dust in other people's eyes. Even Bishop Berkeley seems to have recognized this.


Berkeley, in an unguarded moment, let the cat out of the bag : He said:''I am inclined to think that the far greater part, if not all, of those difficulties which have hitherto amused philosophers, and blocked up the way to knowledge, are entirely owing to ourselves. That we have first raised a dust, and then complain we cannot see."1 The same thought has been expressed by Joad: "Many of the disputes of the philosophers are disputes about what exactly it is that they are disputing about."
1. Quoted by Buckle, History of Civilization in England, 3 vol. ed., vol. 1, p. 166.


Dr. J. A. Gengerelli, in the Scientific Monthly for May, 1942, begins his article with these significant words:
"It is not: too much to say that for the overwhelming majority of scientists philosophy con notes a sort of intellectual catch-as-catch-can with no holds barred, a domain of pure verbalism where it is possible to assert opposites in the same breath and ask all manner of idiotic questions .. . Now there is a reason for this; for in the history of philosophy will be found pious mouthings and nonsense sufficient to corroborate this opinion a hundred times over."


Ask a philosopher what philosophy is about, and he will look at you in disgust. He will tell you that the greatest thinkers of all time were the philosophers. The real thinking of the world is done, not by philosophers, but by the thousands research technicians of modem times. It is the laboratory expert today, the experimental chemist and physicist, the engineer, the anatomist and surgeon, the biologist and physiologist, the bacteriologist and physician, the inventor, and industrialist who have served mankind best. They have taught us not only how to think but what to think about.


Strip philosophy of its verbiage and what have you left? Nothing but a sorry mixture of meaningless meanderings and a beating of the air. Our substantial thinking is not done in the philosophic field.


The longest way round is the accepted procedure of philosophic thinking. Without complexity of thought the philosopher would be helpless; he feels himself at home only when he is lost in a jungle of words,


A flighty imagination is also a requisite of a philosophic mind. Added to this, one must have the power to use words in a double or doubtful sense, and to clog up the machinery of thinking with verbal monkey-wrenches. Above all, one must avoid clarity of expression as he would a plague.


Some one has said that truth is simpler than it first seems to be. This is unquestionably so: for even an equation in algebra is simplicity itself. It would be hard to find anything so delightfully simple as the multiplication table.


Why, then, all the bombastic language of philosophy and its parade of words? Why the exalting of nitwits, who glut up our library shelves with their heavy tomes? Why the insufferable nonsense which passes for "wisdom"?


Philosophy has concerned itself with more ridiculous "problems" than have been raved over in padded cells. Among these are: "How do I know I exist?" "And if I.do exist, how can I convince others?" Anyone who wastes time discussing these issues today should consult a psychiatrist.


Our adepts at words have wasted more time discussing "space," and more space discussing "time," than on any other subjects. They have bewildered themselves, as well as everyone else addicted to philosophy. Anything so concise as a clear definition would enjoy the philosopher. He cannot.believe that "space" is quite so simple as "the distance between two or more points." As for time, he would rebel at the suggestion that it is "a definite portion of duration." Such terminology would not give him the desired inspiration to write a huge book.


One is expected, I suppose, to slop over sentimentally every time philosophy is mentioned. There will be no slopping here, for the precise reason that there is nothing in philosophy to slop over. Thirty years of hard reading and reflection have convinced me that philosophy is barren soil; the few stubbles it has raised are not worth the attention given it.


Science, in contrast with philosophy, is always concerned with "definite knowledge"and is based upon it. Indeed, it is the only knowledge that benefits man and precisely that which philosophy avoids.


A sea captain wants to know "definitely" where he is: he turns to scientific instruments to determine his latitude and longitude; a bridge builder wants to know "definitely" the tensile strength of his material, in order that his structure may sustain the weight; a chemist.wants to know "definitely" what nitro-glycerin will do under certain circumstances; a surgeon wants to know "definitely"' where this; or that organ is before he begins to operate." "Definite knowledge" is the only knowledge that counts, and without it we get nowhere. No astronomer could foretell an eclipse or predict the return of a comet without "definite knowledge". It is "definite knowledge" which has raised man out of the muck and quagmire of philosophy.


True, philosophers have occasionally proclaimed a truth, but it would indeed be surprising if, in a system of guess-work, they did not sometimes guess right. Yet the mass of their errors, in relation to truth, is as a mountain to a mole hill. We have had to unlearn most of what philosophy has taught us.


Philosophy has sought to justify itself by the plea that it is an adjunct of science--that it classifies and coordinates the facts of the scientists. This is gorgeous fiction, for it is that very thing that science does for itself.


Science is classified knowledge. It is an all-embracing, a self-contained and.self-efficient system. It discovers facts and shows their interrelations. All the sciences overlap or interlock one another, and furnish a completely coordinating system of our knowledge of the world. Science make philosophy superfluous.


Excepting theology, there is no literature, in the world, so gutted with nonsense as philosophy. For profound stupidity one may turn to the philosophers.

Consider Plato. Here is a philosopher who would have destroyed everything that makes for the esthetic values of life. He detested art. In his "Republic," says A.W. Benn, 2 "sculpture, painting, and the drawing are altogether proscribed on the ground that they "substitute the appearances for the realities of things."
2 History of Ancient Philosophy, p. 68.


Where would the world's art treasures be today if Plato had had his way ? For, senility of thinking he stands supreme. Try this one in respect to his belief in the transmigration of souls:


Whereas the body is liable to speedy dissolution, the soul is almost quite indissoluble ... But the soul which is polluted and engrossed by the corporeal... cannot obtain this abstraction . . She enters into the body of some animal of a nature congenial to her former life of sensuality or violence and becomes an ass or a wolf or a kite. . . . Those who have practiced virtue without philosophy, they are allowed to pass into gentle and evil natures, such as bees and ants. But only the philosopher who departs pure is permitted to enter the company of the gods. 3
3. Dialogue "Phoedo."


Every schoolboy knows that objects seen at a distance are actually larger than they seem to be, that distance makes them appear smaller. It requires no colossal intellect to comprehend this. Yet, being a philosopher, Epicurus could not grasp even the essentials of this idea. We failed utterly to apply the commonplace knowledge of everyday experience to the size of distant bodies. He was as muddled in this as he was in many other things. "As for science," writes Benn, 4 "Epicurus was so utterly ignorant of it as to disbelieve in the sphericity of the earth, to declare that the antipodes were impossible, and to believe that the sun, moon and stars were no larger than they appeared to us to be."
4. History of Ancient Philosophy, p. 122


It is a pity, of course, that opinions such as these constitute the general stock of trade of the classical philosophers. But the greater pity is that we of today, with all the science at our command, should give them shelf space.


Among the crackpots of antiquity, there is no more exalted individual than Aristotle. He was, and probably is today, the most conspicuous and influential figure in the field of philosophy. He is still the stand-by of the Roman Catholic Church. What he wrote was for the most part drivel, in spite of the awe we are expected to feel when his name is mentioned.


Tyndall--a scientist of the first rank--reviewed Aristotle in his famous Belfast Address. What he said in his inaugural speech as President of the British Association is well worth repeating here:


"As a physicist, Aristotle displayed what we should consider some of the worst attributes of a modern physical investigator-- indistinctness of ideas, confusion of mind, and a confident use of language, which led to the delusive notion that he had really mastered his subject, while he as yet had failed to grasp even the elements of it. He put words in the place of things, subject in the place of object. He preached induction without practicing it, inverting the true order of inquiry by passing from the general to the particular, instead of from the particular to the general. He made of the universe a closed sphere, in the center of which he fixed the earth, proving from general principles, to his own satisfaction and that of the world for nearly two thousand years, that no other universe was possible. .. . He affirmed that a vacuum could not exist, and proved that if it did exist motion in it would be impossible. He determined a priori how many species of animals must exist, and showed on general principles why animals must have such and such parts.... Aristotle's errors of detail were grave and numerous. He affirmed that only in man we had the beatings of the heart, that the left side of the body was colder than the right, that men have more teeth than women, and that there is an empty space, not at the front, but at the back, of every man's head.''


One would suppose that.such a simple matter as that of determining who had more teeth-men or women--could have been quickly settled even in Aristotle's time, but apparently it never occurred to this gigantic intellect to count them! It was then, as it is now, the method of philosophy to shun observation and talk in a trance.


The errors of Aristotle are as silly as they are numerous. He believed not only that men should marry at the age of thirty-seven, when they are then "in the prime of life," but that it is better to marry in winter than in summer, or when the north wind blows. Women with child, he thought, should walk to the temple daily in order to "worship the gods who preside over birth." 5
5. The Politics of Aristotle, p. 192.


Briefly, Aristotle was a tyro of the first order; and if we ask ourselves what he accomplished, the answer is "plenty." He demoralized learning for two thousand years!


Next to Aristotle, no one looms larger in the field of.speculation than Lord Bacon. He is England's chief contributor to the intellectual mess. This doughty champion of everything wrong dazzled his countrymen with rhetoric, not through anything he said, but by the way he said it.


Did the world bite? It did--at least that part of it that swallowed philosophy. The Baconian philosophy became the most powerful factor in bungling men's thoughts, during the "revival'' of learning.


Thus Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England, became the floodlight of philosophy in the English speaking world. And having gained his place of eminence, he immediately set about to cripple the work of science: "He persistently rejected the Copernican theory."6 As a backward dragger of knowledge he was distinctly a success.
6. London and the Advancement of Science (British Association), p. 18.


There was, of course, little excuse for the shallow ideas incorporated in the Baconian philosophy. Science had already been born with the coming of Copernicus, and thinking men wanted to know. Observation and experiment had taken the place of mere speculation and guesswork. Yet the Baconian philosophy persisted with the hollow rumbling of an empty cask.


"If, then, Bacon himself," says the Encyclopedia Britannica, "made no contributions to science, if no discovery can be shown to be due to the use of his rules, if his method be logically defective . . it may not unreasonably be asked, How has he come to be looked upon as the great leader in the reformation of modern science?" The answer is simple enough. Bacon's reputation rests not on anything discovered or clarified in the field of learning but on his striking personality, his "incomparable power and eloquence." It was his gushing language, his courtly manners, and dazzling presence that won him renown, and when he passed out the world was as intellectually befogged as it was before.


Right here let us consider the basic requirements for a philosophic mind.


There are certain rules, of course, for becoming a philosopher. The first and foremost is, never speak intelligibly. The more you obscure an issue, or befog your listener, the higher you will be rated as a philosopher. If you write clearly you will never be considered profound.


Never use one word when seven will serve. The more prolix and involved your language, the less you will be understood. It is essential to present your idea in a cloud of words. Pack in as many phrases as you can, particularly if they convey no meaning. Never be brief or to the point. That would ruin your chances among those who admire only what they cannot understand.


In sum, the more you can muddle a subject, the higher you will stand in the held of philosophy. If you doubt this, turn to Hegel himself, who is an excellent example of the cryptic and mystic' type.


Here is a philosopher who boasted of his inability to make himself clear. "One man has understood me," said Hegel, "and even he has not." No wonder that the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" maintains: "Hegelianism is confessedly one of the most difficult of philosophies."


Hence, tomes of eager "commentators" explaining Hegel's meanings and each explaining him differently. The man who jabbers most "explains'" him best.


If you think you are intelligent, sharpen (or dull) your wits on the following from Hegel:


Philosophy shows that the Idea advances to an infinite antithesis; that, viz., between the Idea in its free, universal form-in which it exists for itself -and the contrasted form of abstract introversion, reflection on itself, which is formal existence-for-self, personality, formal freedom, such as belongs to Spirit only. The universal Idea exists thus as the substantial totality of things on the one side, and as the abstract essence of free volition on the other side. This reflection of the mind on itself is individual self-consciousness -- polar opposite of the Idea in its general form, and therefore existing in absolute Limitation. This polar opposite is consequently limitation, particularization, for the universal absolute being; it is the side of its definite existence; the sphere of its formal reality, the sphere of the reverence paid to God. To comprehend the absolute connection of this antithesis, is the profound task of metaphysics.7
7. Philosophy of History, (Willey edition) p 26.


Curious as it may seem, Empedocles believed in the pre-existence of individuals in various states of consciousness, "to the extent of remembering that he himself had previously existed as a boy and a girl, a bush, a bird, and a fish." 8 How he remembered having existed as a "bush" is any one's guess. At any rate, he was a philosopher and a logician, and it will not do to question him too closely. It is sufficient to know that he knew what he knew.
8. A.W. Benn, History of Ancient Philosophy, p. 21.


If the greatest "thinkers" of antiquity were unable to reason better than, this, we need not marvel at the low level of mentality existing at the time, and may take it for granted that the common man's guess was as good as the philosopher's. Science was not yet born, and philosophy was vying with theology in the utterance of gibberish.


For classical twaddle turn to Roger Bacon. "He believed in astrology, in the doctrine of signatures, and in the philosopher's stone," says the "Encyclopaedia Britannica, ''and knew that the circle had been squared." Bacon "knew'' a great many more things that weren't so. There seemed to be no limit to the asininities which he, as a philosopher, could absorb.


Bacon believed not only that "all true wisdom is contained in the Scriptures, at least implicity," but that "the true end of philosophy is to rise from the imperfect knowledge of created things to a knowledge of the Creator." All of which is excellent theology and pious blah. It is also very good metaphysics.


Speaking of metaphysics reminds me of what Ingersoll once said: "I will give you my definition of metaphysics. Two fools get together; each admits what neither can prove, and thereupon both of them say,'hence we infer.' That is all there is to metaphysics."


The fault lies, not in the philosophers, but in philosophy itself. It is a "system" without any standards or rules a verbal free-for-all without any rules, and each one an authority by his mere statement. Anything goes as long as you say it is so.


A number of chemists, given a problem in chemistry, arrive at the same conclusions. Philosophers, however, in debating a philosophic "problem", arrive at as many divergent opinions as there are philosophers.


Science as systematized knowledge, is forever checking and double-checking itself. When a scientist makes a mistake, he can always be corrected by his fellow-scientists, through the accepted rules of science. But where, by the mystical yardstick.of philosophy, can one philosopher check the errors of another? It is a noisy encounter, with the one swinging the biggest windbag of words winning the encounter.


Philosophy has bungled a thousand-problems to every one it has solved. It has, generally speaking, been on the side of mysticism and metaphysics. It has lent very substantial support to theology itself. This is bad enough, but I accuse it of even more. I accuse it of having very materially, at times, blocked the flow of opinion and interfered with freedom of thought. It stands before the world, indicted on this charge.


I know of no scientist who has been guilty of fostering intolerance, though philosophers have. It is painful to note that some of them have been as ruthless as priests in the suppression of ideas. Consider the following lines from Bury, 9 the historian:
9. History of Freedom Of Thought, p. 35.


It may seem curious that to find the persecuting spirit in Greece we have to turn to the philosophers. Plato, the most brilliant disciple of Socrates, constructed in his later years an ideal State. In this State he instituted a religion considerably different from the current religion, and proposed to compel all the citizens to believe in his gods on pain of death or imprisonment. All freedom of discussion was excluded under the cast-iron system which he conceived.


Nor is this an extraordinary instance of the inquisitional urge. Hobbes was just as bad, for "he was a champion not of freedom of conscience," says Bury, 10 "but of coercion in its most uncompromising form," and Rousseau, too, denied the principles of toleration. As for Locke, "he was a theist," says McCabe, 11 "and sanctioned the suppression of atheists." "Those are not all to be tolerated," says Locke, 12 "who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves it."
10. History of Freedom of Thought, p. 130
11. McCabe's A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists
12. History of Freedom of Thought, p. 103


I know of some social philosophers today who, if they could, would "liquidate" their opponents right here in America. The persecution mania is not yet dead, and we find it particularly prevalent in that part of the world where Marxian philosophy prevails. There they expound "dialectics" and bump off their political opponents like flies.


Violence, not reason, is the every-day argument of the thug, and it is only a gangster-minded philosophy that will resort to violence for the spreading of ideas.


The history of philosophy is the history of the refutation of one philosophy after another. Each, in turn, has been decapitated by its successor. Heads have fallen into the basket with the ruthless rapidity of those fresh from the guillotine. From Thales to Dewey, the slaughter is complete. The comedy of errors lies in the one thing of which each "school" of philosophy is certain: that all other "schools" are wrong. In this they are right.


Science, on the other hand, is permanently placed. Bit by bit, slowly through the years, it has erected a substantial structure of knowledge dominating the entire field of thought. We turn to science when we really want to know.


Philosophy is making a last desperate effort to retain a place in the sun. It now labels every one who "reasons things out" a philosopher. Our "lovers of wisdom" now embrace every type who "thinks,'' from the man who plays a game of bridge to the one who determines how much starch should go into our shirts. There is a "philosophy" of life and a "philosophy" for everything except, perhaps, the cooking of tripe. What more need be said? Merely that philosophy is doomed; it cannot escape from the incubus of its witches'-brew of words and the abracadabra of its earliest oracles. The roots of its errors are too deeply embedded in: the follies of the past.


Nor are our present-day philosophers one whit better than those who have gone before. For unintelligibility of language and monstrous verbalism they stand supreme. It would be hard to find among the yogis of antiquity any to compare with our modern muddlers of thought.


Take Whitehead, for example, who, for the moment, is the grand mogul of the philosophic world. Occupying the chair of philosophy at Harvard University, he speaks as an oracle of modern times. Test your gray matter on the following lines from his "Process' and Reality" (p. 99) :


"The prehensions of the concrescent subject and the formal constitutions of the members of the contemporary nexus which is the chair-image are thus conditioned by the properties of the same environment in the past. The animal body is so constructed that, with rough accuracy and in normal conditions, important emphasis is thus 'laid upon those regions in the contemporary world which are particularly relevant for the future existence of the enduring object of which the immediate percipient is one occasion."


"A reference to the Category of Transmutation will show that perception of the contemporary 'images' in the mode of 'presentational immediacy' is an 'impure' prehension. The subsidiary 'pure' physical prehensions are the components which provide some definite information as to the physical world; the subsidiary 'pure' mental prehensions are the components by reason of which the theory of 'secondary qualities' was introduced into the theory of perception. The account here given traces back these secondary qualities to their root in physical prehensions expressed by the 'withness' of the body."


I trust you do not feel half as foolish in reading this quotation as I do in presenting it to you. I have quoted Whitehead at length merely that you may test your powers as a philosopher. To me, the whole thing reads as intelligibly backwards as it does forward.


Make no mistake regarding Whitehead. He is "tops" today in philosophic circles, and there are few of the ancients who could have jumbled things as thoroughly as he. Indeed, they would have envied him in more ways than one.


Do not think I would in any way dissuade you from reading the philosophers. They have their use; and nothing in finer, after a busy day at the office, than to take a work on philosophy, sit back in an easy chair, and glide into unconsciousness. As sleep-producers there is nothing to equal them.


"Whoever wishes to became a philosopher," warns Bertrand Russell,'" "must learn not to be frightened by absurdities." The rule applies as much to the one who reads philosophy as he who writes it.13 It merely implies that he who takes it up must be prepared for the worst.


We can pass up such drivel as Whitehead's allusion to the 'withness' of the body, but when he tells us "we are mistaken in classifying a drop of water as being a material object,"14 we pause. We, feel that the wires have been crossed and there is a short circuit somewhere.
13. The Problems of Philosophy, p. 31.
14. An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge.


Philosophers are strange birds. They will deny "objective reality," then turn around and take the subway train home. They will sell or "will" to others a house they are not sure is "there," or which they maintain exists only in their own
"consciousness." They will even put money in a bank they are not, sure exists.


A modern philosopher 15 has just discovered that "nothingness as such happens to be a highly complex entity." If you doubt this, take a little"nothing" and add a little more "nothing" to it, and see how much "nothing" you have. If it doesn't become a "complex entity,'' there is something wrong with your brain.


Two philosophers16 have written a book called "The Meaning of Meaning." All that is needed now is another philosopher to write on "The Meaning of the Meaning of Meaning." And if this is not enough, you can turn philosopher yourself and explain "What is What?"
15. Jacques J. Cohen, Studies in Psycho-Physics.
16. C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards.


If you like to get bogged down in metaphysical quagmires, turn to the Scientific Monthly for March,1943, and read an article on "What Is Knowledge?" After you have finished it, you will not be sure whether you have read it or not. For it is the contention of the author, Dr. Archie J. Bahm, that we cannot be sure about anything in the matter of trusting our senses.


A stick, if placed in water, he says, appears "bent," yet we were "sure," by the evidence of our eyes, that it was straight before it was submerged. Now our visual faculty testifies that the stick is "crooked." If we touch the stick, we feel it is still straight. The sense of touch nullifies the evidence of our eyes. Which are we to believe, the sense of sight or the sense of touch? And if our senses are so unreliable that they do not check each other, how can we depend on them ?


"Is the bent stick really straight? The naive realist pulls it out and puts it back in several times and feels of it several times to prove that it is really straight. But how can he discount the fact that it also appears bent repeatedly?"


What our philosopher fails to note is that a stick in water presents a different visual image than a stick' in air because there are two different mediums involved: the shimmering, semi-transparent liquid with its reflecting surface and the thin, transparent atmosphere. Each reveals the object differently, which.accounts for the difference in the appearance of the stick. If our philosopher were to thrust the stick deep into a bucket of melted tar, it would disappear; would he therefore believe that the stick had ceased to exist merely because he could no longer see it? And would he insist that his eyesight was valueless because he could not see through a barrel of tar?


Philosophers can waste more words getting involved over simple matters than some of our theologians, and, like members of the cloth, are never so happy as when they are posing "mysteries" for the befuddlement of others.


Happily, no one takes the philosophers seriously in every-day life. An engineer who refused to lay railroad tracks because they seem to converge, and because of his belief that a train might fall off the roadbed where the rails appear to meet, would be sent to an institution for the mentally deranged--or to a chair of philosophy.


One cannot think of anything so crazy that some philosopher has not taken it seriously. Indeed, if the average individual were to talk as philosophers do he would be consigned to a psychopathic ward.


Consider a hypothetical case:


Imagine, if you will, a board of directors meeting of the General Electric Company. The chairman of the board has just risen to propose the making of a new dynamo. Up jumps a member of the board to exclaim: "Mr. Chairman, your proposal may be important, but shouldn't we first settle the question as to whether or not we exist ?"


That man, I assure you, is a typical philosopher. He is all "gummed up" reading Descartes and isn't yet sure whether he "is" or he "isn't." But he's not going to let a little thing like a dynamo interfere with his philosophy.


Word jugglery is the chief stock in trade of our philosophers today. They obscure the simplest truths by their verbal legerdemain and the sleekest kind of mental trickery. Many a philosopher could teach a Jesuit tricks.


Truth is simple, direct, crystal clear. It may be expressed, by those who have it, in simple and understandable language, without resort to rhetorical smokescreens and gas-mask language. This is because truth has nothing to conceal.


Here, for the record, is Joseph McCabe's experience in philosophy as expressed in his "Philosophers and Their Dreams":


"When I quit my chair of philosophy in the Church and philosophic friends reared in the best traditions Of the Berlin school told me disdainfully that I had never read any real philosophy at all, I, to please them, ploughed through works of Kant, Hegel, Lotze, Sigwart, Bosanquet, etc., and, like Omar, I came out of the temple no wiser than I had gone in-but with a strange buzzing in my ears. If you want to know what America has made of the job, tackle the works of Josiah Royce, A.N. Whitehead, and John Dewey, admittedly the best American philosophers of recent times. Even summaries of their systems by pupils run to hundreds of pages. If you do not say that they are as clear as mud you will probably feel something like the distinguished biologist, Prof. T.. H. Morgan, who speaks of these 'lucubrations, hallucinations, and obsessions of the human mind, which, masquerading under the illumination of introspective metaphysics and transcendental philosophy, pretend to solve all the riddles of the universe'".


Mention of Dr. Dewey takes me back to a balmy evening several years ago, when I found myself, with hundreds of others, in a packed hall, waiting for the famous philosopher to speak.


I had been watching a clock over the doctor's head, and, at exactly seven minutes after he began, I left the hall, while my fellow auditors continued to gaze with starry-eyed attention at the fine-looking gentleman on the rostrum.


Unfair? Maybe. But not to myself. I left the hall through no discourtesy to the doctor, but rather on a simple calculation that a man who can't get going and say something in seven minutes is not likely to get started at all. At even a hundred-and-fifty words a minute, a speaker, in seven minutes, utters over a thousand words -- enough wordage, I take it, for a man as learned as Dr. Dewey to find adequate for the expression of an idea.


I regret that the best that American offer is the utter nonsense Mr. McCabe says it is.


While philosophy, in a classical and academic sense, represents an attempt to understand nature through the faculty of reasoning, it has failed dismally because of a fundamental defect: philosophers, as a whole, have sought to build up systems out of their own heads, in utter disregard of external facts and without considering objective reality. How often we find philosophers are gifted with ideas but not the slightest knowledge of science. I am reminded here of what McCabe has remarked concerning a most distinguished philosopher: "Eucken knows nothing whatever about science. He is a professor of philosophy."


Personally, I draw as sharp a line of demarcation between science and philosophy as I do between science and theology. The distinction rests on the methods they employ.


What, then, is science? What is philosophy?


Briefly, science is classified knowledge. It employs the empirical and inductive method in ascertaining truth. It draws its conclusions from carefully checked facts derived from observation and experiment. If we wish to see a splendid example of the scientific method we turn to Darwin.


Charles Darwin was a thorough scientist. He first collected a vast amount of well-sifted data, then drew his conclusions. "After five years' work," he says, "I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged. . .into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same subject." He gathered facts and reflected on them, in all, for more than twenty years before giving his conclusions to the world. Result: "The Origin of Species." That is science and the scientific method.


How, in contrast to this, does a philosopher proceed? Let me illustrate my point by referring to a specific case.


I know of no more respected name in the annals of philosophy than David Hume. He was a brilliant thinker. Yet when he wished to write on the subject of savage beliefs, he deliberately ignored all that was available in the way of empirical data. A scientist would have first gathered his facts, then reasoned from them. "But this," Buckle writes, "Hume abstains from doing. He refers to none of the numerous travelers who have visited such people; he does not, in the whole course of his work "Natural History of Religion", mention even a single book where facts respecting savage life are preserved."


Hume's "method," therefore, is strictly philosophical and wholly unscientific. "He believed," says Buckle, "that, by observing the principles of human nature, as he found them in his own mind, it: Was possible to explain the whole course of affairs, both moral and physical. . . Hume, therefore, believed that all the secrets of the external world are wrapped up the human mind. The mind was not only the key by which the treasure could be be unlocked; it was also the treasure itself."


This attitude, fatal to the acquisition of knowledge, has been philosophy's undoing. It has marked the entire history of abstract speculation and the "inner" search for "philosophic" truth. Hume was a profound writer, and there is no telling what he might have accomplished had he followed the inductive school of thinking, or pursued the scientific method. As it is, he is a good dust-collector on anybody's bookshelf.


Philosophy has always proceeded thus. The philosopher first establishes his principles, then looks about in the recesses of his mind to justify his opinion. The result is invariably speculation of the rankest kind.


I therefore despise philosophy as I despise theology, and for one reason: both have muddled men's minds.


One has relied on intellectual illumination from "within," the other on "revelation" from above. Neither is science, but the reverse.


It would be difficult to estimate how many brains philosophy has wrecked.. 'Like theology, it has paralyzed many promising mentalities and wasted the time of some of our brainiest men. The tragedy lies in something more than their personal befuddlement; the world has been deprived of what otherwise might have been illuminating thought.


What is left for philosophy to do after science gets through? Nothing but fold its tent and wander off into the barren regions of blind conjecture and verbal banalities. There it may speculate on profound questions like "Why do we exist, and if we had not existed, would there be more reason for it than for our existing
now?"


Science is not interested in verbal gymnastics. It leaves to philosophy the grave "problems" of "ultimate meaning" and such pedantic questions as "If there were nothing but nothing, would that 'nothing' exist ?" If philosophy has anything worth saying, it is time to say it or forever hold its peace. If any phase of it is worth a tinker's dam, we should know it by now. It has been on the scene long enough to register a sensible idea.


One need not look to the philosophers for a reply. They cannot justify a single question they "propound," for the precise reason that the very questions they raise do not call for serious answers. Their "problems" are as grave as "What becomes of the hole, of a doughnut when the doughnut is eaten?"and "Where was the Cheshire cat's smile before the cat was born?"


As chemistry rose from the crumbling ruins of alchemy, so has science, as a whole, slowly supplanted philosophy. Who will advocate that we must now go back to the musty retorts of the one and the sibylline confusions of the other? We are living in an age when the test of truth is in scientific demonstration. The man who abjures philosophy and follows science will have nothing to regret.


Philosophy today is largely a "pose." It seeks to impress the world with its high-power vocabulary and bewildering nomenclature. It has deliberately fuddled and befogged because it has nothing to say, and is precisely what it is, in all its verbal obscurity, because of its vacuity.


My plea is for science, the sole medium for the acquisition of knowledge. It consists of a rigid adherence to facts and the rejection of everything that cannot be measured by the yardstick of experience.


In conclusion: Don't be browbeaten by philosophy. Don't take empty, unintelligible verbalism for knowledge. In a word, ditch the philosophers.

Friends and Colleagues