Series of the Development of Human Intelligence
[1.1]. . . Without any further preamble let us establish the series of the various stages observed in the development of human intelligence.
[2.1] The superiority of the first men over other animals was no more than that which resulted directly from their superior organisation. Their memory was not much better than that of the beaver or the elephant. This may be included in the class of observed facts, because it was clearly observed in the savage of Aveyron.
[3.1] The human race in the condition discovered by Captain Cook in the Magellan Straits: living in caves, not knowing how to construct dwelling-places, without leaders, not knowing how to make fire.
[4.1] The human race in the condition discovered by Captain Cook in the northern parts of the northwest coast of America: with constructed dwellings, the beginnings of political organisation (since they recognised leaders), and the beginnings of a language, which was still very limited since its numerals only went up to three.
[5.1] The human race in the condition discovered by Captain Cook and other navigators on the north-west coast of America towards the 50th degree of northern latitude: with a fairly complete language, completely subject to leaders, actively cannibalistic. This stage is even more evident in New Zealand.
[6.1] The inhabitants of the Friendly Islands and the islands of Société and Sandwich. Civilisation is already very advanced in these countries: the language spoken is not poor, and cannibalism is almost completely abolished. The inhabitants are divided into two classes: the Eares and the Toutous. There is a religious cult with an organised clergy which is respected by all classes in society.
[7.1] The Peruvians and Mexicans in the condition revealed by the Spaniards when they discovered and conquered their countries. At this time they formed two very large and quite distinct political societies. The arts and crafts and the fine arts had already made striking progress, as these peoples had discovered methods of mining metals, working them, and using them for decorating buildings.
[8.1] The Egyptians, whose progress in the arts and fine arts had been greater than that of the Peruvians, and who were superior to the latter in the moral sciences and the sciences of observation.
[8.2] The Egyptians took one of the most difficult steps which human intelligence has ever had to take in the long course of its development: they invented conventional written symbols.
[8.3] We may readily attribute to them the invention of writing. Whether they actually invented it or merely re-invented it makes little difference, for our object is to establish clearly the series of the development of the progress of the human mind, and with tentative ideas it would be impossible to attain this end.
[8.4] I regard the age of the Egyptians as a second point of departure for human intelligence, and it seems to me that a more detailed examination of its subsequent progress is necessary, an examination involving a division between the views of the men engaged in the sciences, who were working to discover causes and to co-ordinate their ideas on causes with those on effects, and the beliefs of the mass of the people which, ever since, have always been abstract beliefs . .
[8.5] Egypt's scientific community fulfilled the functions of the priesthood. It was the chief, the only political power in the country, and its power was absolute. The community had two doctrines: one which it taught to the people, and one which it reserved for itself and a small number of initiates to whom it was communicated.
[8.6] The doctrine taught to the people was idolatry, materialism, the belief that visible causes are first causes. They were taught to worship the Nile, the God Apis (the ox), the crocodile, the onion, as well as the sun, the moon, the various constellations, etc.
[8.7] The doctrine reserved for the scientists was of a much higher order, and was much more metaphysical. It regarded visible causes as no more than secondary causes, as nothing but the effects of higher causes, which were thought to be invisible.
[8.8] The Egyptian scientists very carefully collected all the observations made by their predecessors on the movement of the stars, the rising of the Nile, and various other aspects of physics. They worked with great fervour to add to this precious knowledge.
[8.9] No other historical age presents us with such a clear division between thinkers and believers. It is through a study of this people's history that one becomes convinced of the fact that the priestly power and the scientific capacity are essentially the same. By that I mean that the clergy of any religion must be the most educated body; that when it ceases to be the most educated body it successively loses respect and falls into debasement until it is finally destroyed and replaced by an association of the most learned men; and that this change occurs when there is an improvement in the general idea. We must not be too eager to develop this idea now: it will become perfectly clear when it is seen to be simply the result of an observation on the advancement of the human mind. For the moment let it suffice to say that it is with the Egyptians that this observation has its starting-point.
[9.1] In this second part of the series of the progress of the human mind we shall never have to consider more than one people or at least one political society at a time, since in every major period there has always been one political society which has gained a decisive ascendancy over all others, an ascendancy in both the sciences and in war. Hence, it is solely to that society that we have to attribute the human mind's progress during the age when if flourished.
[9.2] We began this second part of the series with a discussion of the Egyptians. We shall now go on to discuss the Greeks, then the Romans, the Saracens, and finally the modern peoples.
[9.3] The vital intellectual force which united the Greeks and made them the scientific vanguard of the human race for several centuries was first revealed in the person of Homer. Homer, the earliest Greek of whom we have any historical record, and whose own writings have been preserved, was the founder of polytheism, in the sense that he was its organiser . . .
[9.4] The whole of the Greek population adopted the belief in the existence of invisible causes. It was this view which served as the basis of the religion of polytheism, the religion shared by all Greeks.
[9.5] It was with the Greeks that the human mind first began to concern itself seriously with social organisation. It was they who laid down the principles of politics. They applied themselves to this science in both its practical and its theoretical aspects. They gave birth to great legislators such as Lycurgus, Draco, and Solon. It was not just a small number of people who were engaged in this science: it was the subject of ordinary conversation among several thousand citizens; principles and their application were often discussed in the public assemblies. . . .
[9.6] Religion was the general link of Greek society. The Temple of Delphi was common to all the Greek peoples and independent of each of them, for it had been built on land which was regarded as sacred, on which neighbouring peoples had no right, and which was respected by their neighbours in even the fiercest wars. The priests of Delphi took care, in their oracles, to uphold the union of the Greek peoples, and to inspire them to oppose the Persian assaults on their liberty . . .
[9.7] Under the Greeks the religious system and the political system shared exactly the same basis, or rather the religious system served as the basis of the political system, the latter being made in imitation of the former and copied from it. The Greek Olympus was in fact a republican assembly, and the national constitutions of all the Greek peoples, although different from each other, were also republican . . .
[9.8] A conception of general science discovered in one period is always put into effect in the following period. It was the Egyptian priests who invented polytheism, but it was the Greeks who were polytheists that is, who believed in the existence of several invisible causes and worshipped them. It was the same with theism: Socrates was its inventor, but it was the Romans who were theists, five hundred years after Socrates' death.
[9.9] Socrates was the greatest man who has ever existed. No man will ever equal Socrates, because this pre-eminent genius produced the greatest conception which the human mind is capable of creating . . . It consisted of two general and elementary ideas: First, a system must be a whole, organised in such a way that secondary principles may be deduced from a single general principle, and may themselves serve as the starting-point for the deduction of tertiary principles. In this way one would be able to move along a moral scale, divided into equal gradations, from the single general principle to the most particular ideas. The other idea entering into the composition of his conception was that man, in order to organise his scientific system, that is, to co-ordinate his ideas on the organisation of the universe and to establish a firm basis for his knowledge of the composition and movement of phenomena, must proceed alternately a priori and a posteriori in the co-ordination of his ideas. Because his intellectual powers are extremely limited his attention always tends to see things from the same point of view, and his only means of hastening its progress is to change direction. Thus, if after making an effort to descend from the idea of a single cause ruling the universe to the most particular effects, his attention is so tired that he can no longer discover anything new, and his abstract and concrete ideas are so mixed up that he can no longer sort them out, the best thing he can do is to change direction: he should adopt the opposite, a posteriori approach and rise from the consideration of particular facts to more general facts, making his way by the most direct route possible to the most general fact. In short, Socrates invented method, and none of his successors apart from Bacon has been able to equal the loftiness of this idea. None of his disciples had a mind of such vast scope, so his school split up some time after the death of its leader and founder.
[9.10] Plato and Aristotle were the two most distinguished members of the Socratic school, and they divided it into two quite distinct parts with different names and whose work proceeded in quite different directions. One was called the School of Academicians, the other was the School of Peripatetics. The names prioricians and posterioricians would have been preferable, since they indicate the doctrines which were taught by each of these philosophers.
[9.11] I am not claiming that Plato reasoned exclusively a priori, or that Aristotle reasoned exclusively a posteriori, but only that the former believed and taught that a priori considerations took precedence over a posteriori considerations, while the latter taught the opposite . . .
[10.1] . . . It was the Romans who organised theism and who founded public law, and who made the greatest progress in that science. These are the two contributions of this people to the development of general intelligence . . .
[10.2] These two advances were certainly important, for a large political society composed of peoples with different languages and customs, living in different climates, and with different agricultural products could not possibly be founded on polytheism, which is a religion with no unitary character . . .
[10.3] About a thousand years after the establishment of polytheism in Greece, the Romans, who had adopted it with some modifications, were plunged into the greatest political crisis recorded by history, on the occasion of the transition from the idea of several gods to that of a single god. This change in the general idea was the major cause of the terrible disorder into which the huge Roman Empire fell for several centuries, a state of disorder which has been attributed in the past to mere secondary causes . . .
[11.1] It was the Saracens, that is, the Arabs, who advanced the human mind through its tenth stage by inventing algebra and founding the sciences of observation.
[11.2] The Saracens had this in common with the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans: they assumed the role of vanguard in the development of human intelligence; and they lived in a country separated from its neighbours by natural barriers, the sea for a large part, and the desert for the rest. But in many respects they were different from the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, in fact from all other known peoples (excluding the Arabs): Since only a very small part of their country was suitable for farming, the population remained chiefly nomadic. There was no development, no improvement in general government. The people lived in separate tribes, independent of each other. Such a social organisation did not lend itself to despotism, but once it was exported into cultivated lands with large towns and an established seat of government it was bound to degenerate quickly into despotism. This is what happened to those Arabs who settled outside the boundaries of Arabia, when the Arabs became conquerors . . .
[12.1] Charlemagne was the founder of European society. It was he who firmly united the different European peoples by means of a religious link with Rome, and by securing that city's independence from all temporal power. Since Charlemagne Europe has remained the strongest society in material terms, but in terms of intelligence it has been in the first rank only since the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, and it has still to advance the human mind one general step. All the scientific progress made by this society has been partial progress, that is, it has only improved the particular sciences. Its works up to the present can thus be considered only as a preparation for the realisation of a general improvement in the system of ideas. An analysis of its works since the fifteenth century shows that the result has been the complete disorganisation of the scientific system organised two thousand years ago, and considerable progress towards the organisation of the scientific system founded by the Arabs under the caliphate of Al-Mamoun. But this result, l repeat, does not amount to a general advance: modern Europeans do not yet deserve to be ranked by the impartial historian, the man who does not seek to flatter his contemporaries, with the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Saracens. The first established the division between ideas of cause and effect, and organised the system of religious ideas; the second organised polytheism; the third organised theism; and the last replaced the idea of one animate cause which is theism, by the idea of a universe ruled by laws. Let us now look at what we have done. We have, I repeat, continued and improved the work of the Saracens; but we have not allowed the idea of several laws to develop into the idea of one single law, or at least we have not yet reorganised the scientific system and the system of application in accordance with the conception of a single law. As this operation has not yet been carried out it must belong to the future, which obliges us to establish a twelfth stage . . .
[13.1] The general system of our knowledge will be reorganised on the basis of the belief that the universe is ruled by a single immutable law. All the systems of application, such as the systems of religion, politics, morals, and civil law will be placed in harmony with the new system of knowledge. . .
Return to Seminar Topics .......... Top of page