You are on page 1of 11

A Problem in the History of Ideas

Author(s): Frederick J. Teggart


Reviewed work(s):
Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct., 1940), pp. 494-503
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2707126 .
Accessed: 12/03/2013 18:54
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

University of Pennsylvania Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to
Journal of the History of Ideas.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

DISCUSSION
A PROBLEM IN THE HISTORY OF IDEAS
BY

FREDERICK

J. TEGGART

In his prefatory"Reflectionson the Historyof Ideas" the editor points


out thatone of the aims of theJournalis the promotionof "mutual criticism
and mutual aid" amongthosewho pursue the study of intellectualhistory.
of policyas warrantforcalling attentionto the stress
I accept thisdefinition
whichthe writerhas placed upon "the oscillatorycharacterof much of the
historyof thought" (20). That a particular interpretationof historical
phenomenashould be given prominenceat the inauguration of this new
enterprise,and should be furtheremphasizedby the declaration that "no
honestobserver . . . can deny" its applicabilityto the subject under consideration,is a matterof utmostconcernfor the futureof a highlysignificant branch of scholarship. When an editor speaks in an authoritative
manner,it is to be anticipated that prospectivecontributors,seeking for
guidance and lookingfor approval, will adopt the commendedinterpretation,and as a consequencewill overlookthe necessityof comparingit with
otherscurrentat the presenttime.
The use of the term"oscillation" to describethe movementof change in
ideas is not without support in recent literature. Bertrand Russell, for
example,devotes a chapterof his Sceptical Essays (1928) to consideration
of "the oscillationfromsynthesisand intoleranceto analysis and tolerance,
and back again," and is of opinion that "various periodic oscillationsrun
throughthe historyof mankind" (219). The theory has, indeed, been
accordedwide recognitionsince Pareto publishedhis Sociologyin 1916. In
thisworkthe authorspeaks of oscillationsobservableduringmany centuries
"between scepticism and faith, materialism and idealism, logico-experimental science and metaphysics" (?1680); he thinksthat to write the historyof oscillationsin ideas would be to writethe historyof human thought
(?2329); he assertsthat the human mind oscillatesbetweentwo extremesof
opinion,and, being unable to halt at either,continuesin movementindefinitely (?2342). The descriptionwhichProfessorLovejoy gives of the view
he has adopted is that "on any intelligiblyformulablegeneral question,
there are usually two not entirelyunplausible extremepositions,with a
numberof intermediateones; and much of the historicspectacle,so far as
the dominanttendenciesof successiveperiods are concerned,seems to consist in alternate shiftsfrom one extremeto the other,either abruptly or
graduallythroughthe intermediatestages" (20).
The generalstatementwhichhas just been quoted is followedat once by
the remarkthat "the phenomenonis, of course, especially conspicuous in
494

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A PROBLEM

IN THE

HISTORY

OF IDEAS

495

political and social history." Pareto also brings changes in ideas into
juxtapositionwithpolitical phenomena. Thus he observesthat "in history
a period of faith will be followedby a period of scepticism,which will in
turn be followedby anotherperiod of faith,and this by anotherperiod of
scepticism,and so on" (?2341). He then declares that oscillationsin ideas
are consequencesof social movements,and so infersthat the "alternating
periods of faith and scepticismhave to be correlated with other facts"
(?2343). His next step-and it is to be rememberedthat Pareto was a professorof economics-is to say that "the oscillationswe are tryingto understand are like oscillationsin the econommic
field" (?2344). If now we consider the formula in use by economists-depressionfollowed by revival,
revivalby prosperity,prosperityby crisis,crisisby depressionagain, in continuous round-it will be recognizedthat the pattern underlyingPareto's
argumentis that of the "business cycle." So, too, the increasing awareness of oscillationsin ideas whichProfessorLovejoy postulateswould seem
to be anotherexpressionof the extentto which the imageryof economics
has imposeditselfon the thoughtof the moment.
Confidencein thegraphicrepresentation
ofundulations,fluctuations,
and
cycles is a definitephase of contemporarymentality. There will be many,
therefore,to agree withPareto that the effortrequired for an investigation
of thehistoryof oscillatorytheories"could muchmoreprofitablybe devoted
to objective study of the phenomenathemselves,. . . along with a search
formeasurableindicesforthe phenomenaand for a classificationof fluctuationsin orderof intensity,withthe object, if possible,of determiningwhat
themajor oscillationsare, and of discoveringa fewof theverynumerouscorrelationsprevailingbetweenoscillationsin different
phenomena" (?2330).
The policy advocatedby Pareto is, then,that we should accept his program
and go to work. The plan cannot,however,be endorsedby the studentof
intellectualhistory,for the special activityto whichhe is committedis just
that of inquiringinto the historyof theoriesand patternsof thought. He
mightratherbe expectedto wonderat the emphasisplaced, in 1940, on our
awareness of oscillationsin thought,when Aristotle,twenty-twoor three
centuriesago, had remarkedthat" thesame opinionsappear in cyclesamong
often" (MeteorologiaI. 339b; De Caelo
mennot once or twice,but infinitely
I. 270b; MetaphysicsXII. 1074b). And he mightbe expectedto wonderat
the currentinterestin a type of cyclic movementfor whichMachiavelli,at
thebeginningof thesixteenthcentury,providedthepatternin his Florentine
History: "States," he said, "will always be falling fromprosperityto adversity,and fromadversitytheywill ascend again to prosperity. Because
valor bringspeace, peace idleness,idlenessdisorder,and disorderruin; once
morefromruin arises good order,fromordervalor, and fromvalor success
and glory."
The phenomenonof oscillation,ProfessorLovejoy thinks,is especially

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

496

FREDERICK

J. TEGGART

conspicuousin political and social history;in his opinion the successionof


absolute monarchy,democracy,and dictatorship"seems to be the all-but
universalpatternof the sequences of politico-socialhistory,"and in confirmation of this opinion he argues that political history,"as Polybius long
since observed,. . . [has much] the look of a series of periodic recurrences." It would appear, therefore,
that in the fieldof intellectualhistory
the inquirer may, withoutfurtherquestion,accept the views of a political
historian concerningthe course of change in forms of governmentas a
standard by whichto judge the course of change in ideas. Such being the
case, it is essentialto noticethat in the opinionof Polybius "every body or
state or actionhas its natural periodsfirstof growth,thenof prime,and finally of decay" (vi. 51. 4), and thatthe cycle of change in political organization is "the course appointed by nature in which constitutionschange, decline,and finallyreturnto the point fromwhichtheystarted" (vi. 9. 10).
Professor Lovejoy mentionsthe "recurrences" of Polybius with approval, but withoutmaking referenceto the reliance which that writer
placed upon the conceptionof the "life cycle." It is of interest,therefore,
to notice that otherwritersof recent years who have accepted the theory
of "recurrences" have even been at pains to disclaimany dependenceupon
the analogy. To take an example,Dean Inge, in the OutspokenEssays published in 1922, was emphaticin saying that "this doctrineof recurrenceis
not popular to-day;but," he continued,"whetherwe like it or not,no other
view of the macrocosmis even tenable" (160), and he referredto Goethe,
Nietzsche,Kierkegaard, and Shelley as among those who adhered to this
belief. Three years later (1925), however,he found it necessary,seemingly
in responseto critics,to speak of "the notionthat civilizationsgrowold and
die like individuals" as untenable,and wenton to say that" thereis no valid
analogy betweenthe life of an organismand that of society"-yet in the
same article he continuedto employthe analogy in discussingthe rise and
fall of nations. Pareto found himselfin a similar difficulty.In a particular passage (?2330) he gave it as his opinion that the theoriesof Dr.
Draper (History of the Intellectual Developmentof Europe, 1864) "come
very close to experimentalrealities." Draper had separated the intellectual progressof Europe, "like that of an individual," into fiveperiods: the
ages of credulity,inquiry,faith,reason,and decrepitude. In a second passage, after quoting Draper's statementabout these "ages," Pareto (?2341
note) professedthat the author"clearly had an intuitiveperceptionof one
of our wide oscillations,"but thenwenton to say that he had let himselfbe
"led astray by a mistakenanalogy." The fact is, however,that Draper
was a physiologistwho, later in life, became interestedin intellectualhistory; and if he arrivedat one of Pareto's major oscillations,it was through
"tracing analogies," as he himselfsays,"between the life of individualsand
that of nations." Were Pareto writingnow,he mightwithequal propriety

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A PROBLEM

IN

THE

HISTORY

OF

IDEAS

497

claim the conceptionsof Spengler and of Toynbee as intuitiveperceptions


of his largeroscillations,but he would again be metby the fact that in these
instancesalso the patternsintroducedhad been derivedfromthe biological
analogy. And in this situation it is worthmentioningthat, in the judgmentof 0. G. S. Crawford(Antiquity,1931,p. 6), "no one except Spengler
has broughtthe wave theoryof civilizationinto relation with the organic
conceptof societyand shownthat the two are really inseparable." Pareto
assumed that he mightadopt the patternwhichDraper utilized in his Historyand yet reject the presuppositionsupon which the pattern was based.
When,however,a theoryformulatedby an earlier writeris taken over by a
later, acceptance of the conclusionsreadhed carries with it of necessityan
acceptance of and responsibilityfor the antecedentsteps. The procedure
by whicha resultis obtainedis part and parcel of that result. One cannot
admit the validity of Bury's contention(Idea of Progress, 110) when he
speaks of "those truthswhich were originallyestablishedby false reasoning."
ProfessorLovejoy approves of the ideas of Polybius concerning"recurrences," but does not referto the historian'suse of analogy. As a consequence he does not findoccasionto commentupon the insistenceof Polybius
on the conceptionexpressedin the terms"the course appointedby nature"
and "the natural periods" of growthand decay. Now Polybius was entirelyfamiliarwith the idea that each and everyformof life has a characteristic"life history,"for then as now one recognizedactivityof biological
inquirywas a determinationof the changes which a given organismpasses
throughin its developmentfromits primarystage until its natural death.
A "life history" is the course which an individual of a given species may
be expectedto follow,if nothinginterferes. The term"life cycle," as distinguishedfrom "life history," applies to the series of stages which the
organismexhibitsbetweensuccessiverecurrencesof its primarystage. Interest in the way things "naturally" grow or develop was prominentin
Greek thought. Thus Thucydides (i. 16) held that in all the different
localitiesof Hellas the peoples would have had a similardevelopmentif this,
in certaincases,had not been interferedwith; he thoughtthat certainof the
Hellenic peoples had met with obstacles to their natural and continuous
growth. The point of view is characteristicof the teachingof Hippocrates.
In his judgmentthe firstbusiness of medical science was to determinethe
course which diseases normally run, so that in each particular case the
physicianmightbe in a positionto make a prognosis,mightbe able to tell
what was to be expected. In his opinionthe aim of the practitionerwas to
protectthe patient against conditionsor circumstanceswhich mightinterferewiththe normalcourseof the disease and of his recovery. The conception of prognosiswas adopted by Polybius,as is clear,fromhis remarkthat
"he alone who has seen how each formnaturallyarises and develops,will be

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

498

FREDERICK

J. TEGGART

able to see when,how,and wherethe growth,perfection,change,and end of


each are likelyto occur again" (vi. 4. 12, tr.W. R. Paton). Cicero's way of
thinkingwas not dissimilar: "The foundation,"he said, "of that political
wisdomwhichis the aim of our whole discourseis an understandingof the
regularcurvingpath throughwhichgovernments
travel,in orderthat,when
you knowwhat directionany commonwealth
tends to take,you may be able
to hold it back or take measuresto meet the change" (Republic ii. 45, tr.
C. W. Keyes).
The type of argumentwhichappears in Polybius and Cicero was made
use of by Machiavelli,and at no time since the Renaissance has ceased to
influencethe thoughtof Western Europe. It lies back of the "true history" of Locke; the"life of the species" whichRousseau undertookto write
"after laying factsaside"; the "natural orderof things," which,in all the
modernstatesof Europe, Adam Smiththoughthad been,"in manyrespects,
entirelyinverted"; the "hypothetical historyof a single people" which
Condorcet regarded as "the golden mean between historical detail and
philosophicalspeculation." The procedure exemplifiedin these instances
was still consciouslyemployedin the earlier part of the nineteenthcentury.
Comte,for example,thoughtthat in dealing with historicalinformationit
was necessary,for scientificpurposes,to strip offfromit whateveris peculiar or irrelevantin order to transferit fromthe concreteto the abstract.
This is obviouslythe idea expressedby William Whewell,in his History of
the Inductive Sciences (1837): "Natural History, when systematically
treated,excludes all that is historical,for it classes objects by their permanent and universal propertiesand has nothingto do with the narrationof
particular or casual facts." In the twentiethcenturyits presence is evident in the various theoriesof political and cultural cycles and recurrences
which are the latest developmentsin the long endeavor to enlist Hippocratic prognosisin the serviceof the State. It will, then,be apparent that
" theoretical,"" conjectural," " abstract," or " natural" history,as it was
spokenof in the eighteenthcentury,was arrivedat by abstractionfromthe
actual chronologicalhistoryof men and countries; and, further,that "abstract" historyis not Historyas the word is to be understoodin the title of
the Journal. The search for natural, normal,typical sequences of change,
whetheroscillations,undulations,recurrences,or cycles,is a pursuit inapplicable to the Historyof Ideas.
In his "Reflections" ProfessorLovejoy introducesoscillationsand recurrences,not by way of contrastto History,but as providingan alternative
to the idea of progress. Thus he opposes "the oscillatorycharacterof much
of the historyof thought" to the view that "what we chieflywitnessin the
temporalsequence of beliefs . . . is the workingof an immanentdialectic
wherebyideas are progressivelyclarified",and, again, he sets the idea that
historyhas muchthe "look of a seriesof periodicrecurrences"over against

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A PROBLEM

IN THE

HISTORY

OF IDEAS

499

the notion that it moves continuouslyin some particular direction. The


editoris not the firstto place in oppositionthe idea of recurrencesand that
of a singleseries of changes. Aristotle,indeed,remarkedthat "Empedocles
supposes the course of Nature to returnupon itself,cominground again
periodicallyto its starting-point;while Anaxagoras makes it move continuously without repeating itself" (Physics I. 187a, tr. P. H. Wicksteed).
Amongothers,JohnStuart Mill, a centuryago, in his Systemof Logic (VI.
x. 3) argued that,fromthe reciprocalaction of the circumstancesin which
men are placed and theirefforts
to mould and shape thesecircumstancesfor
themselves,"there mustnecessarilyresulteithera cycle or a progress"; one
of these,he thought,"must be the type to which human affairsmust conform." He went on to say that, while Vico conceived the phenomenaof
human society as going throughperiodically the same series of changes,
later writers-and he has much to say of Comte-' 'universally adopted the
idea of a trajectoryor progressin lieu of an orbitor cycle."
There were writersin Mill's period, however,who found the choice betweenthe idea of a cycle and that of a progressless simplethan it appeared
to him. Not long after the publication of the Logic Herbert Spencer expressedthe convictionthat "the currentconceptionof progresswas shifting
and indefinite,"and set himself,in his essay on "Progress: its Law and
Cause" (1857), to demonstrate"what progresswas in itself." The undertakingwas accordedmoreelaboratetreatmentin his First Principles (1862),
and thepointto be observedis thatin thislater work (ch. 23, ?183) the argumentled him" to theconclusionthatthe entireprocessof things,as displayed
in the aggregateof the visibleUniverse,is analogous to the entireprocessof
thingsas displayed in the smallestaggregates." In the next paragraph he
stateshis finalposition,and thisis that "the universallyco-existentforcesof
attractionand repulsion . . . produce . . . alternateeras of Evolution and
Dissolution. And thus," he continues,"there is suggestedthe conceptionof
a past duringwhichtherehave been successiveEvolutions analogous to that
whichis now goingon; and a futureduringwhichsuccessiveothersuch Evolutionsmay go on"-presumably to infinity.It is certainlya fact worthyof
noticethata distinguishedadvocateof theidea of progressshould,in the last
resort,have foundhimselfcommittedto a theoryof recurrences. Singularly
enough,the positionof Dean Inge is also anomalous. In his discussionof the
idea of progress,thiswriterbegan by makingtheemphaticstatementin favor
of recurrenceswhichhas alreadybeen quoted,and proceededto denouncethe
idea of progress,as he himselfsays, "unmercifully." Nevertheless,in the
courseof his essay,he came to the point of sayingthat humanityhas not advanced "except by accumulatingknowledgeand experienceand the instrumentsof living" (175) -which is just what advocates of the idea take it to
mean. Moreover,his conclusion,that "for individuals,the path of progress
is always open," renders appropriate allegiance to the Stoic doctrine of

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

500

FREDERICK

J. TEGGART

progressio. It mightbe added that,while Spencer was busy withhis "Progress: its Law and Cause," James Martineau had occasion to declare that
withouta large acquaintancewiththe historyof ideas " theutmostacuteness
and depth may waste themselvesin reproducingdoctrineswhich have run
theircycle,and been forgot."
The examples given, and they might readily be multiplied, suggest
stronglythat the ideas whichMill regardedas antitheticalhave displayed a
markedtendencyto appear in thesame literarycontextand even to maintain
themselvesin the same mind. It is not remarkable,therefore,that in the
publishedwritingsof a present-daystatesmanthe thoughtthat "there is a
mysteriouscycle in human events" should crop up in the midstof an everpresentappeal to the idea of progress. As long ago as the seventeenthcentury,however,Pascal, who contributedto the formationof the idea of progress in his "Preface to a Treatise on Vacuum," recordedthoughtsof a differenttenorin his Pensees: "Man's nature is not always to advance; it has
its advances and retreats" (?354); "Nature acts by progress,itus et reditus;
it goes and returns,then advances further,then twice as much backwards,
thenmoreforwardthan ever,and so on" (?355). In his note to thispassage
M. Brunschviegrefersto HerbertSpencer; he would,however,have found a
closerresemblancein thewritingsof Madame Blavatsky.
If the difficulty
presentedby the association in men's minds of ideas
apparently incompatibleis to be resolved,this end can be attained only
throughrecourseto the historyof ideas. Should one, then,turn to Bury's
historyof the idea of progress,he would findthat the firststep in the formulation of a "complete doctrine" of progressconsistedin a simple modificationof the analogy betweenthe life of mankindand that of a single individual. Pascal (in 1647) had argued that "not only does each individual man
progressfromday to day in knowledge,but mankindas a whole constantly
progressesin proportionas theuniversegrowsolder,because the same thing
ages of a single
happensin thesuccessionof menin generalas in thedifferent
individual man; so the whole successionof men, throughoutthe centuries,
should be envisagedas the life of a single man who lives foreverand learns
continually" (Oeuvres, 1908, II, 139). Fontenelle (in 1688) likewiseutilized theanalogybetween" themenof all ages and a singleman." This man,
he says,whohas lived fromthebeginningof the worldup to the present,had
his infancyand his youth,and is now in his prime; but at this point,Fontenelle continues,the comparisonfails, for "the man in questionwill have no
old age . . . he will be evermoreand morecapable of thosethingswhichare
suited to his prime," in short,the writerthinks,therewill be no end to the
growthand developmentof humanwisdom (Oeuvres,1728,II, 134). It may
be imaginedthatin the realm of ideas great oaks do not fromtriflingacorns
grow. Yet even today the authorof Mysticismand Logic, in discoursingof
the idea of progress,makesthe endeavorto recaptureor possiblyto modern-

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A PROBLEM

IN

THE

HISTORY

OF

IDEAS

501

ize this same mode of thought. "An extra-terrestrial


philosopher,"he says
(106), "who had watched a single youth up to the age of twenty-oneand
had never come across any otherhuman being,mightconcludethat it is the
natureof humanbeingsto growcontinuallytaller and wiserin an indefinite
progress towards perfection." The argument of Fontenelle, it may be
added, was introducedas a weapon in a literarycontroversy,
and in opposition to views which one may find correctly,though undesignedly,presentedin Santayana 's Soliloquies.
It appears, then,that in the attemptto arrive at a comprehensionof the
facts of human experiencedifferent
intelligentpersons at the presenttime
representchange as a movementin a circle a "life cycle"; in a semicircle,
arc, or trajectory-a "life history"; in a series of undulations or wavesa sequenceof "life histories"; and in a straightline. Further,it is now evident that these various ways of looking at the historicalworld issue from
the same source-an analogy betweenthe movementor motionperceptible
in human affairsand the growthor developmentof a livingbeing.
The theoriesof recurrenceand progressalike have their ground in the
biological analogy. Nevertheless,the influenceof the theorieshas not been
the same,for,whilethe one impliesthat the natural course of change,if not
interferedwith,will lead to desirable results,the other calls imperatively
for action. On the one hand, as has already been pointedout, an acceptance
of the conceptof the "natural," held by Hippocrates and employedin the
eighteenthcentury,found expressionin the doctrineof laissez faire. Condoreet, on the other hand, an apostle of progress,wanted a science, not
merelyto foreseethe futureprogressof mankind,but to direct and hasten
it. Comte,too, based his Positive Philosophyon the idea that "from science comesprevision,fromprevisioncomesaction"; and the purpose of his
new sciencewas the creationof a new social system. In our own day, John
Dewey calls for "a foreseeingand contrivingintelligence" to direct our
progress,and puts "primary emphasisupon responsibilityfor intelligence,
for the power whichforesees,plans and constructsin advance." It is only
a step from this position to that of another contemporarywho thinks
"humanity must take the managementof things into its own hands."
Moreover,the long way that the advocates of action are prepared to go is
aptly illustratedby Whitehead'sdeclaration (Adventuresof Ideas, 53) that
"Progress consistsin modifyingthe laws of nature," and the purpose of
this dramaticmeasureis "that the Republic on Earth may conformto that
Societyto be discernedideally by the divinationof Wisdom."
It is time,however,to returnto the "Reflections" which have incited
this commentary,and to ask who is supposed to be referredto when the
editorsays that "we have becomeincreasinglyaware of the oscillatorycharacter of much of the historyof thought." The personal pronounobviously
does not apply to those confidentlyaddressed in the words, "Most of us

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

502

FREDERICK

J. TEGGART

accept the prosaic fact that the way to make progressis to build on what we
have," and so forth. It cannotbe intendedfor the present-dayfollowersof
Kant, Hegel, and Marx, of Rousseau and Comte,of Charles Darwin. It certainlydoes not representthosewho still have faithin the Christianconception of history. The pronounmuststand,then,forsome of the "intellectual
elementsof a population" which Pareto disparaged (?2344) rather than
for the personshe groupedunder "the masses at large." The historianof
ideas, however,will not concernhimselfwith eitherof these groups to the
exclusionof the other,thoughhe may show a predilectionfor the recorded
views of the "intellectual elements." Hence the pronoun,far fromindicating an increasedunanimityof opinion on a matterof importance,actually directsattentionto large classes of persons who remain unaffectedby
or indifferent
to the ideas of oscillations,undulations,and cycles. If one
were to hazard a parallel to the editor's idea of "increasing awareness," it
mightbe suggestedthat in recent years popular literaturein the United
States gives evidenceof strikingdifferences
of opinionwithrespectto interpretationsof human experience. The fact that these differences
of opinion
are accentuated may be tested by a moment'sreflectionon the probable
receptionin any group should one outspokenlyadvocate the exact recurrence of social phenomena,the progressof mankindtowardsperfection,the
" economicinterpretation"of anything,or the view that eventsin the world
today are in accordancewiththe consciousdesignsof Divine Providence.
Earlier in these commentsI expressedthe opinion that the preference
shown by the editor for the theoryof oscillationswould lead readers and
contributorsto overlookthe existenceof other interpretationsof history.
The remarkwas not introducedfor the purpose of leading up to some alternative view which mightbe consideredpreferable,but with the intent of
directingattentionto the diversitiesof opinion manifestin the writingsof
our contemporaries. The remarkwas, in fact, inspired by the observation
(recordedtimeswithoutnumberin the historyof science) that all advances
in knowledgesince the time of Thales and Anaximanderhave been the outcome of inquiriesset on footby the perceptionof some difficulty,
anomaly,
or inaccuracy in accepted explanations or explicationsof phenomena. It
had seemed,indeed, when the publication of the Journal was announced,
that those by whom it was institutedmust have been convinced that the
presentmenacingconfusionof ideas in the interpretationof human experience not only called for investigation,but created a situation in thought
which,under adequate leadership, held promise of new critical and constructiveefforts.With this situationand possibilityin mind,it was cause
for acute distressto findthe editorcounsellingall and sundrythat the history of human thought reveals a perpetual swinging of the pendulum
between "two not entirelyunplausible extremepositions." The motion
maybe doubted. Threehundredand twentyyearsago it was said that"wise

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A PROBLEM

IN THE

HISTORY

OF IDEAS

503

and serious men" are wont to suppose "that in the revolutionof time and
of the ages of the world the scienceshave their ebbs and flows; that at one
season theygrow and flourish,at anotherwitherand decay,yet in such sort
thatwhentheyhave reached a certainpoint and conditiontheycan advance
no further." But the statementmade then in the Novum Organum was
not givenas advice or utteredwithapproval-it was put forwardto describe
"by far the greatestobstacle to the advancementof knowledgeand to the
undertakingof new tasks therein."
The problemto whichthe titleof thesecommentsrefersis set by the multitude of opinions expressed at the presenttime in regard to the meaning
and significanceof civilizationand culture. The commentsmade have been
designedto showthat,withoutthe conscioususe of the historyof ideas as a
discipline,we go on generationaftergeneration,not swingingbetweentwo
extremes,but echoing confusedlythe conflictingviews which have been
accumulatedby our predecessorsin the course of centuries.
Universityof California
Editorial Note
ProfessorTeggart's interestingand learned commenton a single page of
the editor's "Reflectionson the History of Ideas" in Vol. I, No. 1, is especially welcomeas a contributiontowardsthat aim of "mutual criticismand
mutual aid" which is not least among the purposes of this journal. In
furtherpursuance of this aim the editorhad proposedto commentin turn,
in this issue, upon some of Mr. Teggart's observationswith which he finds
himselfin incompleteagreement. To do so adequately, however,would
resultin devotingtoo much of the space in a single numberto one topic,to
the exclusionof othercontributions;publicationof furtherdiscussionof it
is thereforedeferredto the next volume. But one or two apparent misconceptionsof Mr. Teggart about the policy of the journal should be corrected
withoutdelay. The journal is not committedto any "particular interpretation of historicalphenomena"; nor does the editor,when suggestingany
such interpretation,
"speak in an authoritativemanner"; nor are contributors such timidfolk as Mr. Teggart seemsto imagine. On the otherhand,
the editorenjoys (thoughMr. Teggart would seem to imply that he should
not enjoy) the same freedomof opinion as other contributors;and in the
"Reflections,"afterindicatingin thefirstsectionthe generalaims and hopes
inspiringthefoundationof such a periodical,he proceeded (as was expressly
explained) to present"opinions" on certain"currentlycontrovertedquestions," for which "the writeralone [was] responsible." It is therefore
difficultto understandthe cause of the apprehensionswhich Mr. Teggart
intimatesin his firstparagraph; at all events,he, and others,may be assured
that they are groundless-and also that, where controversialquestions of
interpretationand theoryare concerned,much is likely to appear in these
pages to which no memberof the Editorial Board should be presumedto
subscribe.
ARTHUR O. LovEJoY

This content downloaded on Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:54:48 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions