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

The International Journal of Ethics, 27 (Oct 1916) 125-26

The learned historian of European thought has in this book 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 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. 2

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 as merely “internal happenings” [170]. We entertained this hypothesis in our infancy, and our age sees the belief justified.

But though this is the earlier and truer aspect of our personality, contact with other personalities 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. Throughout our life we remain animists–the most real things are other personalities. The awareness of a group of personalities gives us law and morality. The awareness of a supreme spiritual pressure gives us religion.

So far many of the orthodox idealistic phrases have answered the roll-call. One is, however, accustomed to find among idealists a clearer distinction between the point of view of genetic psychology and that of metaphysics. This is a form of anti-intellectualism which suggests Bergson. And idealists usually distinguish between immediate experience (which seems to correspond to Mr. Merz’s primordial consciousness) and the personality which is largely ideal construction. Mind, the author says, 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). Is personality equivalent to this totality of experience, or is it only a (very fiery) particle? 3

The phrases “stream of thought” and “firmament of consciousness” recur many times. Those who feel that not only their own creed but religion itself stands in need of defence, should not neglect the aid which this book offers them.

t. stearns eliot /london, england.

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