All Commentary
Friday, January 1, 1965

Flight From Reality: 4. Cutting Loose from Reality


Dr. Carson is Professor of American History at Grove City College, Pennsylvania. Among his earlier writings in THE FREEMAN were his series on The Fateful Turn and The American Tradition, both of which are now available as books.

Let us face… the bleakness of the modern world: admit that religion and philosophy are projections of the mind, and set about the betterment of man’s condition.

         JOH N BOW LE on Auguste Comte

The bent of men to reform—to make over man and society in their image—was held in check by traditional philosophy. Philosophy reined in the unbridled imagina­tion just as religion tended to puncture the human ego and di­vest it of false pride. Above all, rational philosophy imposed a strict discipline upon thought. The philosopher had to keep checking his conceptions and hold­ing them up beside reality; ideas had to bear a demonstrable rela­tion to reality. Reality had objec­tive existence in traditional West­ern philosophy; its being did not depend upon the human mind.

Men come to know reality by the use of reason. But reason was not conceived as a creation of hu­man ingenuity; it was rather a marvelous faculty given to man that he might guide himself by its use, its possession not an oc­casion for pride but an indication of the obligation to use it. Indeed, traditionally reason was author­ity, second only to revelation, and some would give it first place. The weight of authority, of reason, of reality, smothered any incipient reformism. It could be argued that philosophy, coupled with re­ligion, usually did the job too well, that philosophers were too sanguine about the possibilities of human improvement, that too low an estimate of human nature was usually held, that the imagi­nation was too severely circum­scribed.

This may well have been the case. But if the point needed mak­ing, it has been made a thousand times over by now. Moreover, the matter need not detain us in this study. The limits of the imagina­tion and the character of human nature are matters to be deter­mined by reference to reality. They cannot be made by those en­gaged in a flight from reality, nor are such things simply a matter of striking a nice balance between opposing views. Anyone who be­lieves that a balance between op­posing views bears any necessary relation to truth or right is al­ready far along on his flight.

My major point is that philos­ophy disciplined thought and re­quired thinkers continually to re­fer their ideas to reality. In these circumstances, reality was the main obstacle to reform, as it al­ways is in fact so far as ameliora­tive reforms by government are concerned, and such reformers as there were had to keep their pro­grams modest or make it clear that they were simply construct­ing romances.

By focusing upon an enduring reality, philosophers built an im­posing amount of knowledge over the centuries. This movement came to its climax, to the present, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The central insights of this Western tradition of philos­ophy, to review them, were: (1) there is an order in the universe; (2) this order is rational; (3) reality is objective—that is, exists outside the mind; (4) cause and effect operate in the universe and are inseparably linked together; (5) everything has a nature that is fixed and immutable; and (6) men do not create; instead, they discover, represent, reproduce, copy, and report. So long as these views held sway, the vision of pervasive reform was limited to recognized dreamers and ro­mancers.

Philosophers Set the Lead

A great reversal has taken place. Today, reformist intellec­tuals have gained the upper hand virtually everywhere, though their tenure in many places is probably precarious. They hold sway, and they press for continuous reform in virtually every area of life. A great many developments pre­ceded this triumph. One of the most essential of these was the cutting loose from reality.

The way was prepared for the departure from reality by ac­credited philosophers. Figura­tively, we might even say that the launching pads were built by phi­losophers. This is not the same as saying that the men in question were no longer in touch with reality. Indeed, no such judgment is intended, and no critique is to be made of the philosophical spec­ulations which prepared the way for the flight. It is doubtful that philosophers should be blamed for what other men make of their thought. At any rate, even as con­ceptions of the nature of man and the universe were being clarified and propounded, even as these conceptions were being used to buttress order in society and ex­tend liberty—that is, in the midst of the eighteenth century—some philosophers began to cut the ground from under the concep­tions. The most notable of these thinkers were George Berkeley, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant.

Berkeley Removed the Substance

Bishop Berkeley undermined the belief in the substantiality of reality. It was a common belief that there are substances such as we denominate wood, glass, iron, and so forth. These substances are called matter, in general terms. By a strict empirical approach, BerkeleyBerkeley was con­cerned to show,” says one philos­opher, “was that nothing exists independently of minds. He be­lieved that people used the word `matter’ to designate such a sup­posed independent existent, and he proposed to show that this word, so used, was merely a meaningless noise to which nothing corre­sponds.”1 demonstrated that we never actually experience any such substances. We see colors, hear sounds, smell odors, taste tastes, and feel hardness or soft­ness. If material substances exist, they cannot be known by the senses. “What He argued that only that which can be known can exist, or that it must be known to exist.

But mind knows only ideas. If matter existed, it could not be known. To affirm something as existing but unknowable involved an unacceptable contradiction to Berkeley. Apparently, he was not really interested in proving that we are wrong in conceiving of substance. Rather, he was con­cerned to show that it depends for its existence upon our thinking it. As he said, “All the Choir of Heaven and the furniture of earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have no substance without a mind.”² The objectivity of reality tended to diminish to the vanishing point when this view was accepted.

Cause and Effect Denied by Hume

David Hume, radical empiricist and philosophical skeptic, chal­lenged, among other things, the conception of necessary causality. Traditionally, effect was said to follow cause of necessity, that is, cause and effect are linked in such a way that they must happen in conjunction. One text describes Hume’s reasoning in the following way:

But now Hume asks, how have we arrived at this idea of necessary causality? To what actual experi­ences or impressions does this idea correspond? The ideas of cause and effect, he replied, are derived from nothing more than our experience of linking two events, one of which immediately precedes the other in time. That which comes first is known as the cause and that which follows is called the effect…. No­where do I find the impression of a necessary relation between the two. Where, then, does the idea of causal necessity come from? The answer is that it is based upon psychological habit.³

Hume no more disproved the operation of cause and effect than Berkeley disproved the existence of substance, but he did attempt to indicate that the basis of the belief in cause and effect is psy­chological rather than simply em­pirical. Moreover, he cast doubt upon the uniformity and regular­ity of its operation.

It might be well to add that Berkeley and Hume had done little, if any, more than to demon­strate the limits of simple empiri­cism. By so doing, they were showing the weakness of Locke’s psychology and perhaps some of Descartes’ assumptions. Since these latter may have been aber­rations from the Western tradi­tion, as some philosophers think, the assault might have done noth­ing more than to turn thought back into the mainstream. It did not, at least for most thinkers. The centuries-long assault upon Aristotle and the Schoolmen had borne fruit: they were dis­credited. Moreover, the Moderns were too proud of their achieve­ments to repudiate them in the face of philosophical difficulties.

Ties Between Reason and Reality Severed by Kant

Instead of returning to the mainstream of Western thought, then, most thinkers continued on the journey away from it. The central figure for this further shift was Immanuel Kant. Thought has followed divergent paths since the time of Kant, and most of these directions were made possible, if not tenable, by what he did to philosophy. Kant severed some of the major ties be­tween reason and reality; this operation very nearly killed metaphysics.’ More specifically, he dealt with the questions which Berkeley and Hume, among others, had raised, that is, the question of validating empirically derived data. Kant believed that scientists were accumulating knowledge, that this was much more certain than Hume’s skepti­cism would allow. Yet he accepted the views that knowledge is mind-dependent and that the senses bring us much less information than they appear to do. It turns out, by Kant’s exposition, that the mind is equipped with categories:

notably of time and space—which enable it to arrive at knowl­edge with the help of data. This is most convenient for the scientist, but, having affirmed the central role of the mind, would Kant not go further and let the mind arrive at truth—via reasonindependently of the senses? He would not. Such Pure Reason could not give us certain knowl­edge. All sorts of conceptions might be arrived at in this man­ner, but “these are conceptions the possibility of which has no ground to rest upon. For they are not based upon experience and its known laws; and without experi­ence, they are merely arbitrary conjunction of thoughts, which, though containing no internal con­tradiction, has no claim to objec­tive reality…. As far as concerns reality, it is self-evident that we cannot cogitate such a possibility… without the aid of experience; because reality is concerned only with sensation, as the matter of experience, and not with the form of thought, with which we can no doubt indulge in shaping fan­cies.”

Metaphysics Assigned Minor Role

Kant went on to maintain that we cannot attain certain knowledge of the soul, of the universe, or of God by the use of Pure Rea­son. They may exist, but reason does not certify this. Since no direct empirical evidence can be had of them, they cannot be ra­tionally proved or disproved. The proper use of metaphysics, Kant maintained, is to do with it pre­cisely what he had done, to reveal the categories or forms of knowl­edge, forms which are given such content as they have by experi­ence.

In short, metaphysics seems to be relegated to the role of telling us how we know what we know we know. Even this role for metaphysics is not certain (Kant is baffling and ambiguous, as usual), for he rules that empirical psy­chology should be separated from metaphysics,6 and this could con­ceivably result in an empirical science of how knowledge is at­tained. This leaves metaphysics with the almost wholly negative role of being used to demonstrate the limits of reason. Kant sug­gests as much:

That, as a purely speculative science, it is more useful in prevent­ing error, than in the extension of knowledge, does not detract from its value; on the contrary, the supreme office of censor which it occupies, assures to it the highest authority and importance.?

If Kant be accepted, the only fur­ther use of metaphysics would be in the elucidation of Kant’s ideas (a not inconsiderable task), since he has already used it fully in the way it can be used. In short, metaphysics could be relegated to the field of history of philosophy. In the main, this is what has hap­pened.

A Substitute for Reason

What Kant took away with one hand—the Pure Reason—he re­turned with the other—Practical Reason. What we cannot know—that is, God, freedom, immortal­ity, moral imperatives, principles, ideals—must be assumed. To ac­complish this intellectual feat, Kant resorted to the traditional distinctions between appearance and reality. The phenomenal world, the world accessible to the senses, the only world that can be known, is only an appearance. The real world is unknown and un­knowable, as Kant had earlier demonstrated to his satisfaction. Yet it must exist. No, that is not quite right. We must act as if it existed.

Kant affirmed the traditional morality, insisted upon the neces­sity of faith, and proclaimed that man participates in a moral order. Practically, Kant would have it, we do seem to know that there are moral imperatives. There may even be generally accepted beliefs about what many of these are. They can even be “proved” by the Practical Reason, by which Kant means reason operating upon as­sumptions about what reality must be like in order for appear­ances to be as we perceive them. Yet this kind of reason operates upon possibilities, not certainties, so far as philosophy is concerned. Kant said as much himself:

It is just the same as if I sought to find out how freedom itself as causality of a will is possible; for, in so doing, I would leave the philo­sophical basis of explanation behind, and I have no other. Certainly I could revel in the intelligible world, the world of intelligences, which still remains to me; but although I have a well founded idea of it, still I do not have the least knowledge of it, nor can I ever attain to it by all the exertions of my natural ca­pacity of reasons.

This stolid German, this reso­lute metaphysician, this deter­mined moralist, had left the house of philosophy in ruins: of this there should be no doubt. Let us review the “achievement.” Kant had changed the meaning of “ob­jective” from something which exists outside the mind to make it refer to a property of mind it­self; he had brought it into the interior world of consciousness.9 He had taught that mind can only know phenomena. Reason can only deal with reason. Then he declares that phenomena is only appear­ance, that reality is unknown and unknowable.

Kant did try to put the house to­gether again, or at least to build a shelter to protect the contents. This shelter appears to have been sustained only by the will and in­tellect of Kant. To put it another way, it was held together by the will to believe. When that was gone, the edifice collapsed. Since Kant could not bequeath to us the will to believe, he left us only the wreckage of philosophy. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the history of thought since his time has been largely the story of men picking up this or that piece of wreckage and trying to make a philosophy out of it.

Slow, but Inevitable

Several things need to be kept in mind in evaluating the impact of the deterioration of philosophy upon men and societies at large. First, any development in philoso­phy may wait a long while before it has any general consequences. Men, even most thinkers, tend to operate on the basis of received ideas, and these may be little al­tered in the course of a genera­tion. Second, the generality of men do not know what philoso­phers are thinking and would probably think them demented if they did. Most men accept the reality of an objective universe outside themselves, are conscious of its resistance to their wills, know something of the rules by which one deals with it (at least so far as these rules have bearing upon their immediate tasks), ac­cept cause and effect in the areas to which their immediate deci­sions reach, and are not apt to be much concerned about how they know what they know. Third, many of the major developments of the nineteenth century con­tinued to rest upon traditional philosophical beliefs and the seventeenth and eighteenth cen­tury foundation. Thus, in the polit­ical realm the trend was toward constitutionalism, representative government, laissez-faire econ­omy, the establishment of natural rights as civil liberties—all of which were based in earlier thought.

Yet the impact did come. It was felt first in the realm of thought itself, as thinkers diverged in vir­tually every direction from any unity. One intellectual historian, speaking of nineteenth century thought, says: “In the restless in­quiry and searching that have marked men’s intellectual pursuits since those days [eighteenth cen­tury], it is hard to find any… clear picture. Not only did men… fail to reach a measure of agreement on fundamentals; even within particular fields it is not easy to trace any simple line of development.””

Whatever explanations may be made of this phenomenon, one is central: the loss of the discipli­nary role of philosophy. Kant had opened the door to every sort of doctrine or idea. It does not mat­ter much that Kant had not in­tended such a result, or that he had labored mightily to divert men’s minds in the direction he wanted them to go. (Let us not attribute too much to Kant. After all, Hume’s skeptical work pre­ceded his.) But if reason can deal only with reason, not with reality, why should men bother to test their ideas by reason? If Kant can decide what reality is while as­serting that it cannot be finally proved that it is that way, why can’t men imagine a reality of their own? After all, some men would not be enamored of Kant’s moral universe. If the only knowl­edge that can be validated is that which comes by way of the senses, why not narrow the search for knowledge to empirical data? If no final proof can be offered for a transcendental realm, why assume that one exists? Why not simply accept the physical world for all there is? These are, indeed, some of the main directions that have been taken since the time of Kant. The flight from reality into melio­ristic reform was prepared for by these developments in thought. The position ascribed to Auguste Comte, quoted at the beginning of this piece, clearly follows the breakdown of philosophy.

But the concern here is with the cutting loose from reality, not as yet with the flight from it. De­velopments in philosophy pre­pared the way for it, but the ac­tual break occurred in specific work by thinkers. There were three major steps in the move­ment away from a fixed reality.

1. Abstract Rationalism

The first of these was the ap­pearance of a widespread tendency to abstract rationalism among would-be intellectuals or thinkers. Abstract reason is reason cut loose from foundations. Reason must have a referent; it must be about something. Abstract rationalism occurs when someone employs rea­son without reference to that which is necessary to its valid use. If reason is to lead to any valid conclusions, it must do so in terms of some reality. That is, it must refer to some metaphysical or physical reality, and, in the case of social thought, it must be tied to the way things can and do hap­pen. It should be obvious, then, that no one intends to reason ab­stractly, except possibly as an ex­ercise in logic. There has been no conscious movement devoted to the use of abstract reason. Rather, its employment can be ascribed to ig­norance, or, more kindly, to the failure to attend to reality.

There have been many varieties of usages of abstract rationalism.

Perhaps the most common occurs when there is an attempt to apply a rational truth without regard to the concrete situation or to the temporal manner and order in which things can and do occur. Rationalists are most apt to fall into this error. Eighteenth cen­tury thinkers and actors, imbued as they were with rationalism, in­clined to attend to the nature of things, were prone to this kind of behavior. Some of the best exam­ples of abstract rationalism at work occurred during the French Revolution and its aftermath. The French National Assembly issued a decree in August of 1789 which opened with these words: “The National Assembly hereby com­pletely abolishes the feudal sys­tem.”11 There follows a lengthy list particularizing what was abol­ished. The character of many of these provisions is illustrated by the following example:

Inasmuch as a national constitu­tion and public liberty are of more advantage to the provinces than the privileges which some of these en­joy, and inasmuch as the surrender of such privileges is essential to the intimate union of all parts of the realm, it is decreed that all the peculiar privileges, pecuniary or otherwise, of the provinces, prin­cipalities, districts, cantons, cities and communes, are once and for all abolished and are absorbed into the law common to all Frenchmen.¹²

Presumably, all local preroga­tives were abolished by one stroke of the pen. To fill the vacuum cre­ated by the abolition of exceed­ingly complex and tangled rela­tions, the Assembly proceeded to issue, a few days later, a general statement of the new political re­lationships which should prevail. The abstractness of some of the principles is astounding. For ex­ample:

The source of sovereignty is es­sentially in the nation; no body, no individual can exercise authority that does not proceed from it in plain terms.¹³

Does this mean that parents shall not exercise authority over their children until the nation author­izes them to do so? Possibly not, but who could say? At any rate, catastrophe followed.

It might be supposed that the French leaders had not taken suf­ficient care in defining their prin­ciples. Even so, the matter cuts deeper than that. Another exam­ple may reveal the deeper dimen­sions of the problem of abstract rationalism. Napoleon sent the following message to his appointee as king of Westphalia in 1807:

You will find enclosed the consti­tution of your kingdom…. You must faithfully observe it….14

Napoleon had caused to be drawn up a Constitution for a kingdom and sent it along to be observed. There had been no examination of the concrete situation, nor was there any consultation of the peo­ples involved. There was a logic behind this action. Human nature is everywhere the same. Natural law is universally applicable. Why not draw up a code for everyone? Though they may not, must not, be obvious to rationalists, there are many reasons why this should not be attempted. In the first place, it is both superfluous and ridiculous to enact natural laws. Natural laws operate just the same, and universally, whether they are enacted or not. Moreover, natural laws are of the nature of principles, not of laws passed by legislatures. These principles may inf orm human acts, but acts are particular things, and they must be if they are to be enforced by courts. Second, positive law must be cast in terms of the language, the customs, the institutions, the procedures, even the beliefs, of the peoples involved. If they are not, they will either wreak havoc or be of no effect, or a combination of both.

Reason, engaged in constructing programs, must be informed by the concrete situation, else it be­comes abstract rationalism. There have been many other kinds of ab­stract rationalism. They cannot be explored in detail here, though some of them crop up in historical exposition elsewhere in this work, but they can at least be named. Abstract rationalism occurs when anyone attempts to maintain that reality is restricted to that which can be known by reason. For ex­ample, some have denied the real­ity of altruism; it is, they say, only a mask under which self-in­terest is hidden. Self-interest can be rationally explained, so they claim, and there is no need to posit altruism to aid in explanation. Reason has been extended beyond its legitimate function and by so doing it has been made abstract.

Another abuse which may be ascribed to abstract rationalism is the raising of temporary phe­nomena to the level of universal truths. This results from failing to distinguish between the endur­ing and the changing. Rationalists are prone to this fallacy. A good example of this is T. R. Malthus’ formulation of exact laws of popu­lation increase and the increase of the means of subsistence. To wit:

It may safely be pronounced that the population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years, or increases in a geo­metrical ratio….

The means of subsistence, under circumstances the most favorable to human industry, could not pos­sibly be made to increase faster than in an arithmetical ratio.¹5

If these “laws” have any other referent than the recent history of England, it does not appear. Perhaps the most common variety of abstract rationalism in intellec­tual circles is the effort to impose a theoretical system upon reality. This results from what may be a laudable attempt to find the com­mon denominator in a mass of phenomena. Numerous instances of this have occurred in the case of historians applying Marx’s class struggle theory to history.

Abstract reason, then, is reason cut loose from reality. Rationalists may have ever been inclined or have tended to extend the use of reason beyond its proper sphere. But this was greatly aggravated from the early nineteenth century on by the state of philosophy. Kant used the Pure Reason to re­duce the sphere of reason to a purely formal role. But then he used the Practical Reason to affirm what could not be arrived at by reason. The impact of this was to leave “rationalism” unchecked by reason. This allowed such thinkers as Auguste Comte, and later Karl Marx, to produce and propagate their “rational” systems without being subjected to the traditional philosophical checks.

2. Imagination

A second development in cutting loose from reality occurred by way of the Romantic emphasis upon imagination. Romanticism was a conscious movement, more or less, which had its hey-day in Europe in the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth. Just as most of the paths which modern thought has taken con­verge on Kant as their starting point, so romanticism was the spirit or medium in which this thought was developed. There is a vagueness about the thought of Romantics which extended study does little to dispel. Romanticism was a protest, in part, against the Age of Reason, and Romantics tended to exalt the imagination. In consequence, virtually every sort of idea might be advanced and seriously considered.

My purpose, however, is to call attention to a facet of romanticism only, not to make a general de­scription or evaluation of it as a movement. The facet which con­ terns us has to do with the impe­tus it gave to the cutting loose from reality. This was mainly by way of the emphasis upon imagi­nation, and its unfettered use.

The philosophical background to this is quite relevant. David Hume, with his radical empiricist approach to knowledge, had shown that we get only bits and pieces—fragments—of information from the senses. Thus, though we have a clear idea of a house, for exam­ple, we have never seen a house all at once. We can see part of it at a glance, but to see more we have to shift our perspective; when we do that, we lose sight of the part we saw earlier. Our idea of a house, then, must consist of more than sense impressions; it must have been developed by the imagi­nation. Hume moved the imagina­tion to a central position for phil­osophical consideration. Berkeley had already maintained that all ideas are mind-dependent. Kant claimed that knowledge is possible because of categories in the mind, went further and moved objec­tivity into the mind.

We can leave the philosophers at this point, for they were still somewhat disciplined in their speculations. Others were not. They found in these new theories a license to use the imagination at will. More, some returned to faith and idealism after the demise of reason; they felt not only free to use the imagination without stint but a call to do so. The free and extended use of the imagination was the way to the highest truths.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American, may be used to stand for those who thought in this way. In his tribute to “The Poet,” Em­erson gives unstinted praise to the unrestricted use of the imagina­tion:

The poets are thus liberating gods…. An imaginative book ren­ders us much more service at first, by stimulating us through its tropes, than afterward when we arrive at the precise sense of the author. I think nothing is of any value in books excepting the transcendental and extraordinary. If a man is in­flamed and carried away by his thought, to that degree that he for­gets the authors and the public and heeds only this one dream which holds him like an insanity, let me read his paper, and you may have all the arguments and histories and criticisms…. Therefore we love the poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether in an ode or in an action or in looks and behavior, has yielded us a new thought. He un­locks our chains and admits us to a new scene.

The emancipation is dear to all men, and the power to impart it, as it must come from greater depth and scope of thought, is a measure of in­tellect. Therefore all books of the imagination endure, all which ascend to that truth that the writer sees nature beneath him, and uses it as his exponent. Every verse or sen­tence possessing this virtue will take care of its own immortality. The re­ligions of the world are the ejacula­tions of a few imaginative men.16

Romantics, then, were cutting loose from reality by way of the imagination. Man might not yet be a god, though Emerson uses the word to describe the work of the poet, but he was almost cer­tainly a demigod. Perhaps he did not yet create his own reality, but if he did, would he not have reached even greater imaginative heights? In the exaltation of mood, feeling, emotion, what vul­garity it would be to hold the imagination to mundane reality!

3. Darwinian Evolution

The third movement culminated in the triumph of Darwinian evo­lution. This marked the definitive break with an enduring reality and an almost exclusive focus upon change. The cynic might ob­serve that the circle of philosophy had been completed. From Hera­clitus in Ancient Greece to Charles Darwin in the England of the lat­ter part of the nineteenth century was a long time and a considerable distance, but reality had once again been located in the flux of change. The way had been pre­pared for Darwin in philosophy. G. W. F. Hegel had located reality in certain ideas at work in history, had made growth and development the center of attention, and had made of the dialectic the process by which historical change took place. Herbert Spencer, the Eng­lish philosopher, had elaborated a philosophy embracing the evolu­tion of societies. Auguste Comte, the French social planner, had re­duced the development of man to three stages. Karl Marx was al­ready busily inverting Hegel to make the class struggle which arises out of the control of the in­struments of production the mov­ing force in history, rather than ideas. It remained for Charles Darwin to give scientific sanction to the philosophy of change.

Actually, Darwin did much more. He brought man into the stream of evolution, denied the fix­ity of the species, and proposed particular theories that would ac­count for change, or so he hoped. He collected a great deal of mate­rial with which he buttressed his generalizations. Above all, his work served as a base for the pop­ularizations of evolution.

By that time, the attention of thinkers had been drawn almost entirely away from trying to dis­cover an enduring reality. They were no longer looking for the nature of things. They were no longer describing an enduring or­der but rather seeking for the or­der or sources of changes. The quest for natural laws, so far as it survived, was turned toward discovering the laws of growth and development. Thought had moved from eternity into time, and men began to locate “reality” in the future. They had cut loose from reality and embarked on the strange journey into the unknown and the unknowable—unknowable, at least, until they get there, though it is not at all clear how they would know when they had arrived.

Even before all this had oc­curred, however, some men were becoming increasingly enamored of the visions of the better world they thought they could create. The imagination could conceive of a better world. Abstract rational­ism could be used to give a “scien­tific” or “philosophical” gloss to their visions. They were suffi­ciently cut loose from reality to believe that they could make a better social world, and they “set about the betterment of man’s condition.”

The next article in this series will treat of “The Utopian Vision.”

Foot Notes

1 We acknowledge that men should be “equal under the law.” Civilized co­existence requires certain minimum rules such as mutual respect for life and property. Penalties are to be as­sessed impartially against any violator of these basic rules.

1 W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952), p. 753.

2 Quoted in Ibid., p. 758.

3 Eugene G. Bewkes, J. Calvin Keene, et al., The Western Heritage of Faith and Reason (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 574.

4 For an exposition of this develop­ment, see Etiene Gilson and Thomas Langan, Modern Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1963), pp. 428-35.

5 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, J. M. D. Meiklejohn, tr. (New York: Dutton, Everyman’s Library, 1934), p. 168. Italics mine.

6 Ibid., p. 480.

7 Ibid., p. 481.

8 Immanual Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Lewis W. Beck, tr. (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1959), p. 81.

9 See Gilson and Langan, op. cit., p. 417.

¹ºJohn H. Randall, Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954. rev. ed.), p. 389.

11 Eugen Weber, The Western Tradi­tion (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1959), p. 504.

12 Ibid., p. 506.

13 Ibid., p. 507.

14 Quoted in R. R. Palmer with Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2nd ed. rev., 19581, p. 392.

15 Quoted in Louis L. Snyder, The Age of Reason (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand, Anvil Book, 1955), pp. 150-51.

16 Ralph W. Emerson, “The Poet,” Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emer­son (New York : Greystone Press, n. d.), p. 137.


  • Clarence Carson (1926-2003) was a historian who taught at Eaton College, Grove City College, and Hillsdale College. His primary publication venue was the Foundation for Economic Education. Among his many works is the six-volume A Basic History of the United States.