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Lesson Ia

The Twentieth Century

Melting Pot.
Everyone who has kept in touch with the current of the
modern trend of thought must be aware of the operation
of the mighty processes of tearing down, building up,
rearrangement and reconstruction now under way in the realm
of thought in every region of that realm, in fact. It may be
well said that modern thought is in the melting pot, and that
even the most careful observers are in ignorance of what will
finally come from that pot. Advanced thinkers along all lines of
human knowledge have tossed their conceptions into the great
crucible of Twentieth Century Thought, there to mingle with
the conceptions of others and to be fused into some wonderful
new combination, the exact nature of which is beyond the
knowing of even the most prescient thinker among us. Of
course, each contributor, or class of contributors, to the mass
of material which is placed into the great melting pot, feels
assured that his or her particular material must necessarily be
the predominant element in the new composition that their
particular theory will be in strong evidence in the new synthesis.
The Crucible of Modern Thought
But the thinker who stands aloof, who assumes the judicial
frame of mind, who regards the process from the viewpoint
affording the proper perspective, does not feel at all sure of the
final outcome. He sees the general trend of the thought currents,
but he also recognizes the operation of reaction following action,
of the play of the opposite poles of thought and he reserves
his final judgment of the outcome and waits, and waits. The
answer lies in the future the present is merely the scene of the
struggle and bubble. The materials of the new composition are
being tossed into the great pot, one by one, each day adding
new materials which will operate in determining the nature of
the composite substance which will be poured forth in the end,
and which will then go through the slow process of cooling and
crystallization. But he is either a thoughtless man, a bold man,
or an inspired prophet, who dares venture to predict the exact
nature of that which will come out of the crucible when all this
heterogeneous mass of crude material shall have been melted,
fused and amalgamated.
One seeking for the causes of this modern unrest in the
world of thought must go far back in the pages of philosophy in
his search. For much of the modern activity arises from causes
latent in the thought of hundreds, yes, thousands, of years
ago. There has been a constant evolution of thought, with its
action and reaction, its manifestation of the opposing poles of
activity, its tides and currents, its slipping back and its recovery
of lost ground. In this evolution there has been noticed the
constant swing of the pendulum of thought from one extreme
to another, and then back again the curious manifestation
of fashion in thought which causes a favorite set of ideas to
flourish for a while and then to sink into obscurity, there to
remain for centuries, only to spring up again with renewed
vigor after the passage of years. Strange as it may appear to
many, nearly all of the great modern philosophical truths have
been known in the past and have gone through this period of
obscurement and hiding, only to now emerge on the scene of
The Twentieth Century Melting Pot.

modern thought in full vigor, claiming their rightful place in the

evolution of thought.
It must be admitted, however, that the modern scientific
spirit that spirit which seeks truth for truth s sake which
follows reason wherever it may lead, irrespective of the
personal beliefs, theories and opinions of the investigators
seems to be unique and peculiar to this age. Never before in
the history of human thought has there been manifested such
an honest desire for the real truth as at present. We see thinkers
and investigators sorrowfully, but willingly, discarding many of
their old and hallowed ideas and beliefs, because investigation
has shown the unreasonableness of such beliefs. The spirit of
the materialists, who, in their search for evidence that matter
was the final and ultimate reality, found instead that matter, in
the old sense, melted into mystery and became non-existent,
and who then gladly accepted the new knowledge, is but one
evidence of the modern scientific spirit which is animating the
world s best thinkers. The courage and honesty of many of the
thinkers along theological lines, who find it necessary to throw
overboard their old dogmas, as the price of the discovery of
higher conceptions of truth, is akin to the instance just cited,
and requires even greater courage and honesty of purpose.
While this unrest in the world of thought seems to be
scattered over a large and varied field, yet if we will but closely
examine into the underlying causes, we will see that all these
varied manifestations and phases of the unrest really arise from
the changing foundations of popular philosophy. And, indeed,
the basic thought upon which philosophy rests is involved
in the shifting and readjustment. That basic thought is that
which men call the idea of fundamental principles, and which
underlies all philosophic thought, as the foundation-stones
underlie every edifice. A shifting of that foundation brings
down the house, or at least disturbs its equilibrium, cracks
its walls, and necessitates radical and important repairs. And
this is what has happened in the world of thought to-day. The
The Crucible of Modern Thought
ideas regarding fundamental principles are changing, and the
structure of thought erected thereupon is endangered its
walls are cracking, its beams slipping, its floors sagging, its roof
is awry. Just how great the damage just the extent of the
repairs needed these can be determined only by time, for the
shifting and slipping of the foundation is still under way. Some
think it will be necessary to tear down the walls and erect an
entirely new edifice upon the readjusted foundation who
This claim that the conception of the fundamental principles
is being disturbed, and is thus causing the trouble in the
edifice of modern thought, may seem strange to those who
have thought that the discoveries in physical science and the
unrest in sociological thought were the disturbing elements.
But the careful thinker will see that the real disturbance lies
far deeper than these. For these conceptions depend materially,
at least in their application and working-out, upon the world s
conception of the fundamental principles supporting the
phenomenal universe. All edifices of thought must be built
upon some foundation, and the only true foundation for
thought is the conception of the fundamental principles, upon
which depend the particular conception of philosophy, nature
and life built thereupon. At the last, all physical conceptions

must rest upon the basis of some metaphysical conception.

This may not be apparent at first thought, but a retracing of
the steps of reasoning will show that the statement is correct.
The parable of the house that is built upon shifting sand, and
that built upon the solid rock, is in accordance with the facts of
thought and philosophy. It sometimes happens, however, that
what has been thought to be a foundation of solid rock is finally
discovered to be but soft crumbling sandstone, which is rapidly
disintegrating into shifting sand. And this is what appears to be
the trouble to-day. The foundation is apparently crumbling, or
at least settling in a new adjustment of itself. And the settling
The Twentieth Century Melting Pot.
or crumbling process is disturbing thought and life in all of its
many phases.
Let us now examine the case of this shifting or crumbling
foundation. Let us see, if possible, the nature and extent of the
damage. In order to proceed intelligently we must, for the time
being, discard our prejudices and maintain the open mind. Let
us examine what men are saying and thinking about the matter,
and then proceed to make up our minds regarding the true
state of affairs. This is the purpose of this book, and this only.
I shall not try to convert anyone to my own particular views
on the subject. In fact, I shall endeavor to keep my own views
in the background. Instead of appearing as the counsel for the
prosecution or the defense, I shall try to occupy the seat of the
judge instead of making the argument of counsel on either
side, I shall try to follow the course of the judge in summing
up and reviewing the evidence and submitting the same to the
jury of the readers of this book. This is the only fair way, and I
trust that you, the jury, will give me the credit for fairness and
just intentions as we proceed.
The idea of fundamental principles depends upon the
conception of an underlying something, in which philosophy
holds that everything that is must live and move and
have its being. The human mind has ever tended toward
the conception of a Something underlying all individual
manifestations of being the ocean of being, in which all
particular beings are but as drops or particles. This universal
principle of being has been variously conceived of as being by
nature anything or everything from pure spirit to pure matter.
Theologians have conceived of it as a mysterious something
called spirit, connected in some way with Deity. Philosophers
have endeavored to attribute to it various and different natures.
Modern science has considered it either as the principle of
matter, on the one hand, or as that infinite and eternal energy
from which all things proceed, as Spencer put it, on the other
hand. Ancient Oriental metaphysicians, as well as modern
The Crucible of Modern Thought