William James had it right. The history of philosophy is the arena of an ongoing tug-of-war between a hard and a soft tendency of thinking. The hard-liners incline to be materialistic, receptive to surdity, and insistent on explanation by efficient causation. The soft-liners accept finalistic explanations and envision a rational order in nature’s arrangements.
There has, unsurdly, been balance here. Antiquity had its Platonists and its Atomists; nineteenth century physics had its positivists and its devotees to rational mechanics. But in twentieth century philosophy of science, the hard-liners had things pretty much to themselves, save for an occasional and usually much decried voice crying in the French wilderness. (Henri Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin come to mind.)
However, the pendulum of fashion swings back and forth. In particular, recent developments in cosmology have been running decidedly against the grain of the traditional hard-liners.
The time is ripe for a foray into “Idealist Alternatives to Materialist Philosophies of Science,” so, as I see it, this volume is a judicious instance of seizing upon “a tide in human affairs.” Beyond this, it affords a wealth of highly interesting, instructive, and philosophically thought-provoking reflection. Few who read these stimulating pages will continue to think that idealism is a lost cause in the philosophy of science.
However, most philosophers have not yet begun to take notice.
Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy
Chairman of the Center for the Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh