The Synthetic Or Cosmic Philosophy -- By: John Bascom

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 033:132 (Oct 1876)
Article: The Synthetic Or Cosmic Philosophy
Author: John Bascom


The Synthetic Or Cosmic Philosophy

John Bascom

As the synthetic philosophy, so called by Mr. Spencer, or cosmic philosophy, as Mr. Fiske prefers to term it, has recently received a comprehensive yet compact statement by Mr. Fiske, and has been presented in full for a series of years by Mr. Spencer, it is in a position to claim and to accept thorough discussion. Its advocates are laborious, discriminating, and able; while their work is the culmination of a vigorous and continuous line of philosophic thought in England, extending through more than two centuries, and at the same time including much of the most advanced scientific sentiment of the present period.

There have been but few advocates of any system better fitted to enlarge, harmonize, compact, and present a philosophy than is Mr. Spencer. His powers of analysis and synthesis are extraordinary, and his style is clear, full, and plausible in the extreme. The breadth of the topics discussed, and his fulness of knowledge in each, enable him to frame an argument captivating in matter, and impressing the mind with more than its real strength. The scope and vigor

of Mr. Spencer’s discriminating and combining powers are something to be proud of, and to be rejoiced in, on the part of all who heartily entertain the themes presented. His candor also is very noteworthy; the candor of a mind too much occupied with its own conclusions, too sure of their value, and too able to confirm them by material taken from many diverse systems, to feel any strong temptation to leave its primary constructive labor and enter on an aggressive, destructive one. He pulls down only as he is in search of space or material for a new edifice. Rarely do bitter words escape him.

Mr. Fiske is an able advocate. His thought and his method of presentation are in harmony with those of Mr. Spencer. He states the positions of the philosophy clearly, combines them well, enforces them vigorously with new and old material. It may be rightly claimed that he does something more than this, and occasionally makes a fresh and cardinal point. We do think, however, that he has a little of the zeal of a proselyte, that he bandies too freely about the adjectives metaphysical and theological in the restricted and abusive meaning they have acquired in a limited school, and that there is an assumption, unintended perhaps, but none the less real, of superiority in his philosophical attitude, that can hardly receive a milder epithet than offensive. Of the last and more serious censure we give a few illustrations.

“This statement, I may observe in passing, is well illustrated by the abortive attempts of missionaries to civilize the lower races of manh...

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