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Concluding remarks

After poring over the available remnants of Marshall’s earliest studies, the reader should recognize the vigorous sprout of a philosophical system on which further interests were to be grafted. By any standard, the impact of this finding is far from negligible. Marshall’s later readings in philosophy, after he had turned his mind to other subjects, may have enhanced the power of this system and made it more conscious, even added new dimensions, but there is no indication that they swept it away. Admiration for Kant – ‘my guide, the only man I ever worshipped’ (Marshall Papers: 9/9) – does not imply, or even suggest, later acceptance of the synthetic a priori truths ruled out by Marshall in his conversation with Emerson, in the wake of the collapse of Euclidean geometry, the stronghold of such truths. Rather, it may have been due to his enthusiasm for Kant’s ‘Copernican revolution’, the discovery that scientific knowledge depends on the mind’s ability to force its inner order onto unorganized matter. Since ‘facts are treacherous’ and ‘lie unless cross-examined’, ‘a priori reasons must nearly always have a large part of the responsibility for any interpretation of facts’ (Marshall Papers: 5/8), a conclusion by no means in contrast with the findings of evolutionary psychology, but one that nobody had expressed more forcefully than Kant. Hegel’s philosophy of history provided a key to Marshall’s ideas on social evolution, first of all, because it stressed the relations between people and their environment and the interconnections between subject and object, often neglected by other philosophers, though not by Spencer, whom Marshall usually associates with the German philosopher. Hegel’s interpretation of ancient Greece1 and his historical dialectics between objective and subjective freedom also left a lasting impression on Marshall (Groenewegen 1990a), while Hegelian dialectics was absorbed as one of the ways – not the only one – in which change and evolution were brought about.2 Traces of other influences – Green, Carlyle, Comte, Goethe – may be pursued, but without knowledge of the above sketched background, it is difficult to grasp the extent of that influence.3