The Impudence of Modern Philosophers
The Path, December, 1891
In Herbert Spencer’s new book Justice, he defines that principle thus: “Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man,” and then goes on to say in his appendix that for more than thirty years he was the first to recognize this “equal freedom” as the summing up of justice in the abstract. But not till 1883 did this modern philosopher discover that Kant had made the same formula. He does not appear to know or recognize the French method of putting it in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, nor the attempt to insist upon it in the American Revolution, nor, indeed, in the thousands of declarations make long before the birth of Spencer.
We have nothing to say against Mr. Spencer’s motives, but a great deal against the impudence, perhaps of an unconscious kind, of the schools of modern philosophers of which he forms one. Laboriously for years they write books and construct systems of thought called new by themselves, but as old as any Egyptian pyramid. These systems and formulas they make up in the most refreshing ignorance of what the ancients said about the same things, for “surely,” they seem to be saying, “what could the ancients have knows of such deep matters?” The theory that no energy is lost was not for the first time known in the world when our moderns gave it out, nor is Mr. Spencer’s theory of evolution, nor even his statement of it, his invention or discovery. All these were known to the Ancients. They are found in the Bhagavad-Gita and in many another eastern philosophical book.
If these modern philosophers confined themselves to their studies and had no influence in the world and upon the minds of young men who make the new nation, we would not have a word to say. But since they influence many minds and have enormous weight in the thinking of our day, it seems well to point out that is savors of impudence on their part to ignore the development of philosophy in the East, where nearly all the mooted philosophical questions of the day were ages ago discussed and disposed of. If Herbert Spencer could be so blind as he confesses himself to be as to suppose that he was the first to recognize the abstract formula of justice, then of course we are justified in presuming that he is equally ignorant of what has been said and decided in the six great schools of India. If such minds as Spencer’s would acquaint themselves with all human thought upon any doctrine they may be considering, then they might save valuable time and maybe avoid confusion in their own minds and the minds of the vast numbers of men who read their books.
Our position, clearly stated by H.P.B. long ago, is that the present day has no philosophy and can have none that will not be a copy or a distortion of some truth or long-discarded notion once held by our superiors the Ancients, and that modern philosophers are only engaged in reproducing out of the astral light and out of their own past-lives’ recollections that which was known, published, declared, and accepted or rejected by the men of old time, some of whom are now here in the garb of philosophers turning over and over again the squirrels’-wheels they invented many lives ago. For “there is nothing new under the sun.”