Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 July 2009
Preliminaries and Cautionaries
The battle is to be fought in the region of thought, and the issue is belief or disbelief in the unseen world, and in its Guardian, the Creator-Lord and Deliverer of Man.W. E. Gladstone
Occultism is the metaphysic of dunces.Theodor W. Adorno
Whatever one may think of parapsychology, it is impossible to appreciate Sidgwick's worldview without recognizing his commitment to such investigations. Like Gladstone and so many others who feared that dogmatic materialism was on the rise and orthodox religion in serious peril – which in the 1860s and 1870s, especially, it seemed hard to deny – Sidgwick regarded these studies as the vital avenue by which to meet the challenges thrown down by the likes of T. H. Huxley, “Darwin's Bulldog.” Just as the Idealism of Green and Bradley was a reaction to the growing climate of unbelief, so too Sidgwick's parapsychology was a bit of philosophizing with strategic intent, a return to the concerns of Swedenborg to parallel the return to the concerns of Kant (though of course, one could also view it as carrying forward certain forms of Romanticism). It certainly proved to be a happy vehicle for the poetic imagination, as both subject and object.
As noted in Chapters 1 and 2, Sidgwick appears to have been fascinated by ghosts for practically his entire life, quite possibly as a result of being exposed to so many deaths in his early years.