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Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915. Pp. xi + 192. 1

The Monist, 28 (Apr 1918) 319-20

Clearly, this book belongs to a type. To be in love with emotion has been our affliction since Rousseau; to believe in belief is a form of the same malady. Mr. Merz knows Schleiermacher; he may or may not have read Maeterlinck, or Bergson, or Jean Jacques; but he cannot have escaped Goethe. As for romanticism in theology, we find one fundamental assumption: there is something called religion, independent of articulate creeds; there is the conviction that religion is so valuable that it must be “true”; and there is the prejudice that science is hostile to religion. Strong passions do not need explanation; but just as a man who is not very much in love excuses the follies which he has committed for the purpose of appearing passionate, so the philosophical Christian apologizes for the religion in which he would like to believe, and interprets the weakness of his opponents as evidence of his own strength. Maeterlinck exulted in the “banqueroute de la science” because it made religion again possible. 2

In this book the learned historian of European thought expounds three ideas: (1) Science deals only with an “external” world, which is a development of the world of common sense “with a still greater restriction of fundamental data” (107) out of an earlier and larger reality. (2) Science describes and explains, its terms consist of “spatial data and their connections” [67]. Interpretation, i.e., the assignment (or the discovery?) of value and meaning, is reserved for religion. (3) Personality is that which is most real. The highest experience which we can have is the feeling of absolute dependence (Schleiermacher) which we trace to the influence of a higher power.

Mr. Merz decides, first, that the external world is a construction, that conceptual thought abstracts and selects. The products of this selection are subject and object, “an altered and fuller conception of reality,” space, time, causality [124]. These entities are carved out of a “primordial stream of thought” [95] which apparently antedates thinking, which is a reality wider (though it is said to be less “full”) than the external world. This internal possession is the earlier and truer aspect of our personality–a period (as well as an aspect) when we looked upon everything merely as “internal happenings” [170]. We entertained this hypothesis in our infancy, and our age sees the belief justified.

Although this is the earlier and truer aspect of our personality, yet contact with other personality leads us out of it. The first external object that the baby apprehends is its mother, not perhaps in her earlier and truer aspect, but as an influence, a spiritual pressure. Nothing else that we experience is so real as personality. The awareness of a group gives us law and morality. The awareness of a supreme spiritual pressure gives us religion.

Mr. Merz holds that mind is as much an abstraction as is matter. “[T]he totality of any experience . . . is of more importance, being more truly real, than the particles into which we . . . dissect it” (74). Whether personality is equivalent to this total experience, or is one of the particles, is not made clear.

The phrases “stream of thought” and “firmament of consciousness” recur many times. The account of description, explanation, and interpretation is the best part of the book (110-20).


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