- A review of Philosophy & War, by Émile Boutroux Trans. Fred Rothwell
- The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd
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438 ] A review of Philosophy & War, by Émile Boutroux Trans. Fred Rothwell London: Constable, 1916. Pp. xii + 212.1 The International Journal of Ethics, 27 (Oct 1916) 128 There are a few critical reflections upon German philosophy which should have been made long ago. Without the war, they might not have attracted so large an audience, but one regrets that Professor Boutroux buried them in a volume of commonplace patriotism. In his attacks upon everything else that is German, M. Boutroux is merely the average French (or English) university official; but in all that he says about philosophy he is the honnête hommequinesepiquederien.2 Consequently,hischaptersheaded“German Science” and “The Evolution of German Thought” are much the best. He deprecates, quite rightly, the lack of humanism in German scholarship. “German science makes a religion of competence” (5). Its aim is specialisation , laborious precision of detail, research jobbed out among a swarm of students–and nowhere the synthesis of a controlling mind. The true scientists will “think as men, whilst working as specialists” . They will respect the word of Descartes (and of Boileau as well): le bon sens.3 Good sense is the link connecting thought with reality. In both philosophy and science, the Germans have proved themselves incapable of observing the limitations of good sense. In philosophy, they fly either to intellectualism (as Hegel), or to radical voluntarism (as Fichte), or “to a union of these two doctrines” (83).4 The pure intellect, dedicated to abstractions, becomes sophistical and immoral; the pure will “takes itself as anend,andwillssimplyinordertowill”.Suchisthefatalityofmonism. In the philosophy of Aristotle, on the other hand, we find a god who is intelligence and goodness, apart from whom is material force which he permeates with desire and thought (200). It is a pity that M. Boutroux did not amplify this comparison of German philosophy with Greek philosophy and the Greek spirit.5 All that he says upon this subject is admirable. His condemnation of German politics, German warfare, the German nation, suffers from his application of his philosophicalconclusionswithoutfurthercontactwithevidence .Andhecomes [ 439 Review: Philosophy & War very near to glorifying war for its own sake (139, 151).6 His chapters on this war, and on the virtues of his nation, reveal all the conventional attitudes. T. Stearns Eliot / london, england. Notes 1. Émile Boutroux (1845-1921), professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne, was the author of The Philosophy of Fichte (1902), Science and Religion in Contemporary Philosophy (1908), and other works. Boutroux, whose preface is dated Christmas Eve 1915, wrote from the double perspective of an intellectual historian and a French patriot. “It is to remain French that we are fighting; it is from our national soul that we obtain the strength needed to adapt ourselves to present circumstances” (151). 2. Trans: the honest man who does not agitate himself without reason. TSE partially quotes “Le vrai honnête homme est celui qui ne se pique de rien” from Maximes (1665), 203, by François de La Rochefoucauld, to whom he referred a year earlier in “The Boston Evening Transcript” (written in Oct 1915). 3. Boutroux praises René Descartes (1596-1650) as a thinker who balanced metaphysics and science, pointing out that the Discours de la méthode (1637) begins with the words: “Le bon sens.” “The object of this famous introduction to scientific research is to prove that the same good sense governs both the practical life of the average man and the loftiest speculations of the mathematician, the physicist, and the philosopher” (4-5). The neoclassical critic Nicolas BoileauDespr éaux (1636-1711), not mentioned in Philosophy & War, uses “le bon sens” frequently in L’Art poétique (1674). 4. Boutroux examines the relation between German philosophy and German militarism, focusing especially on the idealism of Johann G. Fichte (1762-1814) and Hegel. 5. As the author of several books on Greek thought, including Socrates: Founder of Moral Science (1883), Boutroux contrasts the German tendency to see truth in extremes to the Greek principle that truth becomes error when not kept within bounds (viii). 6. Boutroux argues that “war everywhere calls forth in the nation, and will continue to do so, a new outburst of life. It directs our activities . . . along important channels; it inculcates habits and teaches lessons which have not only a military, but largely a human import” (151). ...