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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 homme qui ne se pique de rien. 2 Consequently, his chapters headed “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” [4]. 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 an end, and wills simply in order to will” [85]. Such is the fatality of monism. 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 philosophical conclusions without further contact with evidence. And he comes 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.

Published By:   Faber & Faber logo    Johns Hopkins University Press