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THE INSTABILITY OF KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEF
As is true of any other point of view that may be characteristic of any other period of history, so also the modern point of view is a matter of habit. It is common to the modern civilised peoples only in so far as these peoples have come through substantially the same historical experience and have thereby acquired substantially the same habits of thought and have fallen into somewhat the same prevalent frame of mind. This modern point of view, therefore, is limited both in time and space. It is characteristic of the modern historical era and of such peoples as lie within the range of that peculiar civilisation which marks off the modern world from what has gone before and from what still prevails outside of its range. In other words, it is a trait of modern Christendom, of Occidental civilisation as it has run within the past few centuries. This general statement is not vitiated by the fact that there has been some slight diffusion of these modern and Western ideas outside of this range in recent times.
By historical accident it happens that the modern point of view has reached its maturest formulation and prevails with the least faltering among the French and English-speaking peoples; so that these peoples may be said to constitute the center of diffu
sion for that system of ideas which is called the modern point of view. Outward from this broad center the same range of ideas prevail throughout Christendom, but they prevail with less singleness of conviction among the peoples who are culturally more remote from this center; increasingly so with each farther remove. These others have carried over a larger remainder of the habits of thought of an earlier age, and have carried them over in a better state of preservation. It may also be that these others, or some of them, have acquired habits of thought of a new order which do not altogether fit into that system of ideas that is commonly spoken of as the modern point of view. That such is the case need imply neither praise nor blame. It is only that, by common usage, these remainders of ancient habits of thought and these newer preconceptions that do not fit into the framework of West-European conventional thinking are not ordinarily rated as intrinsic to the modern point of view. They need not therefore be less to the purpose as a guide and criterion of human living; it is only that they are alien to those purposes which are considered to be of prime consequence in civilised life as it is guided and tested by the constituent principles of the modern point of view.
What is spoken of as a point of view is always a composite affair; some sort of a rounded and balanced system of principles and standards, which are taken for granted, at least provisionally, and which serve as a base of reference and legitimation in all questions of deliberate opinion. So when any given usage or any line of conduct or belief is seen and