The Dawn of Reason; Or, Mental Traits in the Lower Animals. James Weir, Jr

James Rowland Angell
1900 The American Journal of Theology  
MODERN science is nowhere confronted with more fascinating and yet baffling problems than those which lie along the borderland of psychology and biology. The nature and origin of instinct, its development and the limits of its function, the appearance of consciousness and the ratiocinative processes in connection with the evolution of organic forms -these and a score of kindred questions are all indigenous here. The solution of these problems promises to affect so many important human
more » ... especially those of an ethical and religious character, that any book dealing with the subject in intelligible language is certain to gain a hearing. Dr. Weir's book is, therefore, assured a public, for its untechnical descriptions of the author's observations on the phenomena of animal life and mind will appeal to a large circle of readers. To cope with these problems successfully, however, requires the training of an expert in both biology and psychology. Dr. Weir is clearly unversed in the best of modern psychology, and his knowledge of biology, which represents his specialty, has not prevented his making serious errors even in that direction. But the general reader does not so much need to be guarded against the occasional misstatements of fact, as against the general interpretative attitude of the author toward his facts. In this respect his position is distinctly antiquated and out of touch with contemporary standards for such work. For example, he repeatedly finds, in his study of the simpler animal organisms, evidence which he regards as demonstrating conclusively their possession of conscious intelligence, whereas in reality his facts prove nothing beyond the presence and activity of physiological mechanisms of adjustment. Similarly, he finds proof of the existence in certain animals of rational activities closely akin to human reason. His demonstration of this is based upon events susceptible of quite other and simpler interpretation. At every point he shows himself possessed of an amiable credulity, which is one of the last qualifications for an investigator in this field. The unquestionable tendency of the best modern work is to seek the explanation of animal activities formerly supposed to involve reasoning, in processes of an essentially accidental and random character, or in those originating from mere instinct. In the same way This content downloaded from 131.172.036.
doi:10.1086/477439 fatcat:rbquibtqdvfyzoemuiuob4os6y