A Great News Item

Boodin, John Elof. A Realistic Universe. New York; Macmillan.

IT is with a great deal of pleasure that we undertake to pass on what we consider an extremely important item of news to those of our readers who are interested in the nature and relations of things. That news may be stated briefly as follows: America is developing a great philosopher.

If this statement should prove to be true, is it not of supreme importance, even at a moment when the world is like a huge beehive in swarming time? For it is not the mere facts, however stupendous they may appear, that are important, but the truth that is discoverable is the relations between those facts; and it is the function of philosophy to discover relations.

The great philosopher who is now developing in America is John Elof Boodin of Carleton college at Northfield. Minnesotans may therefore claim the man as a fellow citizen, but they must share the philosopher with the world.

There are doubtless those among our readers who will say to themselves at this point: Why so much pother about a mere philosopher, even though he be the greatest, when the very existence of whole nations is at stake and when starvation on a world scale is being dreaded with good reason? But let us ask this philosopher to define philosophy for us. Here is the definition as Professor Boodin gives it: “It is the impression of the underlying failure which leads man to seek for unity and wholeness in our seemingly chaotic world. It is the terminus and clearing house of the specific activities for truth. It deals with the common and overlapping problems left over by the special influences. It indicates the ultimate direction and meaning of all our ideal striving. Historically and logically, therefore, it is the Alpha and Omega on our attempts to understand and appreciate our world. Like a perspective from some high mountain, it necessarily blurs details in emphasizing the main contours of the landscape. At best it is an outlook rather than a finished result. But as such, it corrects our partial emphases and conduces to sanity.”

Now it must be apparent to thinkers that what is needed most in the world is not an appreciation of events in detail, so much as a broad view of the whole situation. Men are by nature myopic. They see the world by pieces, overemphasize what they see, and miss the relations which alone make the pieces intelligible. Hence, men devote their faculties largely to condemning what they conceive to be obstacles, and are unaware that there is nothing in the world to be condemned or hated, in the last analysis, but that the supreme thing is to understand. And it is very plain just now that men in general, and even many of the world’s leaders, do not fully understand the forces at work in the world. Men habitually fail to see the “main contours of a huge landscape.” They see a hill, they see a river, they see a morass. Hence the practical value of philosophy.

But we have stated that Boodin is a great philosopher. Why, it may be asked, should we venture to single him out from among the other philosophers of our time? Because his philosophy expresses the inevitable attitude of the new era into which we are passing. So far as we know, this fact has not yet been pointed out by reviewers. To prove our contention in detail would require much more space than we have at our disposal, for there are 400 pages in “A Realistic Universe” and every page is packed with fine thinking. But it is possible to state that matter briefly by emphasizing one important phase of Boodin’s system of thought, and this can perhaps be done best by comparing his central idea with that of Bergson’s. To state it superficially, Bergson’s chief contention is that the world is a flux, that all is relative, that there is no permanence. With the ancient Greek he maintains that “everything flows.” This, it will be readily granted, is the characteristic outlook of an individualistic age, an age that repudiates standards of judgment, an age of impressionism in the arts and of anarchic tendencies in social and economic affairs. Bergson is a great philosopher in that his philosophy typifies a necessary phase of social evolution.

But here is the significant point. The individualistic era is pasing [sic] away in the throes of a world war, and with it must pass the significance of Bergsonian philosophy. The age of scientific social and economic organization is coming — an age in which the individual shall be disciplined, as never before, in the interest of the group. The difference between the Bergsonian philosophy and the Boodin philosophy is essentially the difference between the individualistic era and the co-operative era. Boodin is the philosopher of the latter as Bergson was the philosopher of the former. Boodin agrees with Bergson as to the relativity of all things. He agrees with him and with the ancient Greek that “everything flows.” But he maintains with convincing logic that relativity is impossible in a cosmos conceived as having no permanence. Relativity implies that things must be related to some permanence. What, then, may be conceived as permanent in a world of flux? Here is Boodin’s answer: Permanence in the direction of change!

No one who has carefully read “A Realistic Universe,” and especially the illuminating chapter on “Form,” can doubt that Boodin is the philosopher of the new era. And it is not too much to say, such is the searching power of his system of thought, that if every leader in the present world crisis could follow his thinking in all its implications, order would come out of international anarchy much sooner than is likely to be the case.