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The following review is reprinted from The Nation & The Athenaeum, December 9, 1922
IT is a disappointing fact that France, after initiating modern philosophy with Descartes, and continuing brilliantly with Pascal and Malebranche, became content, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to imitate what had been initiated elsewehere. The whole philosophical development of France in the years before the Revolution was an outcome of Locke and Newton; the idealism which has prevailed in the universities in recent decades is an importation from Germany. It is true that the dependence on foreign sources is less absolute in the nineteenth than in the eighteenth century; neither Comte nor Bergson can be fitted into any foreign framework. It must be said, however, that, even when they are original, French philosophers tend to be what James called "tender-minded," and what a less kindly person would call "soft." During the nineteenth century some of the most difficult logical thinking ever achieved by mankind took place, but none of this was French. Most was German, a little was Italian, a good deal was English. The French have a reputation for being "logical," but it is a quite undeserved reputation. Since the suppression of the Jansenists they have contributed nothing to logic, while the Germans and English have revolutionized the subject. It is probable that the suppression of Jansenism (and, in a lesser degree, of Protestantism) had a great deal to do with this decay of the logical faculty. The Jesuits encouraged sentimentality, in thought as in act; when they acquired control of education they trained boys to arrive at opinions by feeling rather than thought, and this produced mental habits which survived in many who revolted against the Catholic orthodoxy. Moreover, the Jesuits invented propaganda (in the sense in which it was understood by Governments during the war); this made both their disciples and their opponents view opinions from a party point of view, and accept en bloc opinions which hung together politically, not logically. This, precisely, is what is meant when the French are said to be "logical"; and this, precisely, is what a logician would mean if he said they were "illogical." This combination of sentimentalism and party spirit has characterized French philosophy ever since the days of Madame de Maintenon, to whom, no doubt, it is largely due. It is true that Voltaire is an exception, but I do not think there is any other exception among the "philosophes," most of whom illustrate the intellectual damage done by a persecuting orthodoxy even to those who rebel against it.
Dr. Gunn is much more interested in the social and ethical side of philosophy than in the logical side; he conceives philosophy rather as a help to a good life and a good society than as the crown of the scientific pursuite of knowledge. This makes him sympathetic to the tendencies of modern French philosophy, and insensitive to its defects from a scientific point of view. There is very little in his book about the more technical sides of philosophy, even in those exceptional cases in which the French have done good work in this direction. This, however, will make his book all the more acceptable to the general reader. His work is careful and accurate, and full of enthusiasm for the movement he is describing—the movement away from materialism and determinism towards spiritualism and free will. Sometimes, though rarely, his style becomes trenchant, as in the description of the cult of Jeanne d'Arc :—
The clergy expressly encouraged this, with the definite object of enlisting sentiments of nationality and patriotism on the side of the Church. Ecclesiastical diplomacy at headquarters quickly realised the use which might be made of this patriotic figure whom, centuries before, the Church had thought fit to burn as a witch.... In 1908, after the break of Church and State, she was accorded the full status of a saint, and her statue, symbolic of patriotism militant, stands in most French churches as conspicuous often as that of the Virgin.... The cult of Jeanne d'Arc flourished particularly in 1914 on the sentiments of patriotism, militarism and religiosity then current.... She is evidently a worthy goddess whose worship is worth while, for we are assured that it was through her beneficent efforts that the German Army retired from Paris in 1914 and again in 1918.... Meanwhile, the celebrations of Napoleon's centenary (1921) give rise to the conjecture that he, too, will in time rank with Joan of Arc as a saint. His canonisation would achieve absolutely that union of patriotic and religious sentimentality to which the Church in France directs its activities.
Dr. Gunn adopts the somewhat unusual course of dealing with his material not by authors, but by subjects—science, freedom, progress, ethics, and religion. If philosophy were a co-operative and advancing body of knowledge, this would certainly be the right plan. But as it consists (especially in France) mainly of successive fairy tales, which are severally believed by each author because they appeal to his tastes, the unity of the author's temperament is usually more important than the authors' treatment of the same topic. For this reason it seems doubtful whether Dr. Gunn's plan is a good one. The views of one author on the above five topics are intimately connected, whereas the views of successive authors are not built one upon the other, as the views of men of science would be. Apart from this somewhat doubtful question, however, it would be difficult to find anything to criticize in Dr. Gunn's work, given his very humanistic interpretation of philosophy. The philosophers concerned are perhaps not as important as he thinks, but every historian has a right to a high estimate of his period. And he certainly supplies material by which every reader will be enabled to come to his own conclusions.
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