(a) The Meaning of "Metaphysics" — Several times we have raised issues which have been called metaphysical. It is time to form a clearer idea as to the meaning of "metaphysics," and to enquire whether metaphysics is a possible kind of study or only an impossible dream.
The word "metaphysics" is ambiguous. In the widest of all its possible senses it seems to mean the attempt to discover, by whatever method, the most general or comprehensive principles that are true of the experienced universe, or of everything in the experienced universe, or simply of "reality." A more usual and somewhat more restricted sense is the attempt to discover by logical analysis of experience the most general principles that are true of the universe as we experience it. This is what Kant called "immanent metaphysics," in contrast with the still more restricted "transcendent metaphysics." By "transcendent metaphysics" he meant the attempt to discover by reasoning the nature of the reality which was conceived to lie behind the world of our ordinary experience. In the following discussion we shall be considering metaphysical theories of various types, but we must always bear in mind Kant's distinction, and his contention that though "immanent metaphysics" was a possible study, "transcendent metaphysics" was logically impossible. There is no need, of course, to suppose that the distinction between the kinds of metaphysics is always easy to apply.
The starting-point of metaphysics in either sense is the desire to construct a comprehensively true description of reality. But "transcendent metaphysics" proceeds on the assumption that, since the experienced world is incoherent and unintelligible, we must suppose it to be in some sense merely an "appearance" of a hidden "reality." The method by which it is hoped to discover reality is rational analysis of the fundamental concepts or categories in terms of which we think about things. Though our perception of reality, and our thought about reality. are confused and self-contradictory, it is supposed that, if only we think hard enough, penetratingly enough, sincerely enough, about the nature of our experience, we may discover some hidden principles in the light of which the whole confusion will be resolved.
Two kinds of fundamental criticism are brought against metaphysics. One is derived from natural science, the other from the logical limitations of our thinking. We will consider them in turn.
(b) Scientific Positivism — The gradual realisation of the immense size, complexity, and subtlety of the physical universe has made it seem unlikely that man should be able to discover anything about the fundamental nature of reality. Man has existed for a very short time. Is it credible that the upstart intelligence of a minute organism should be capable of understanding the essence of everything? Human intelligence, as we have seen, evolved as a means of mastering practical problems, such as the struggle for food and safety. Was it likely that this humble instrument could accomplish a task that was profoundly alien to it?
This argument was confirmed by the fact that metaphysics seemed never to make any progress. For many centuries the philosophers had been at work, yet what was there to show for it? There was no agreement among them on metaphysical questions. Science, on the other hand, had moved on from strength to strength. Of course there was plenty of disagreement among scientists; but it was disagreement only along the ever-advancing front of scientific conquest. Behind lay a well-established régime which no one would dream of disputing.
Swayed by such arguments Auguste Comte and others formulated the doctrine of Positivism. All metaphysical problems must be foresworn as beyond the range of human intelligence. The only profitable intellectual task was to pursue the scientific exploration of the world.
(c) Logical Positivism — This sceptical disposition has been outdone by the Logical Positivists. According to them, metaphysics is not merely too difficult for the human intellect to tackle profitably; it is logically an impossible task. We have several times had occasion to notice this important argument. It is now time to pass our final judgment on it. Mr. A. J. Ayer, in his Language Truth and Logic, affirms that, since the metaphysician claims to know by intellectual processes facts that could not be known through sense-experience, and since "no statement which refers to a 'reality' transcending the limits of all possible sense-experience can possibly have any literal significance," all metaphysics must necessarily be nonsense. The fruitlessness of trying by means of logical argument to transcend the limits of all possible sense-experience follows, according to the Logical Positivists, from the nature of the significance of language. The metaphysician, we are told, produces sentences which "fail to conform to the conditions under which alone a sentence can be literally significant." A sentence can only be significant, it is said, if it is verifiable. The only way in which to verify a statement of fact (as distinct from a purely logical, and therefore tautological, statement) is by producing the relevant sense-experience. All statements of fact, if they are to have any meaning, must be verifiable at least in principle in sense-experience. Of course it must be admitted that many meaningful statements of fact cannot actually be verified in sense-experience, because we cannot put ourselves in the position to have the relevant sense-experience. Of this type is the statement that there are mountains on the other. side of the moon. This is not a meaningless statement, because at least we know what kind of experience would afford verification of it. On the other hand, in the case of metaphysical statements it is argued that no kind of conceivable sense-experience could possibly, even in theory, afford verification. Therefore all such experiences are meaningless. For instance, the statement that God is an eternal spirit cannot conceivably be verified by any kind of sense-experience, because sense-experience is essentially temporal. It comes into being and then vanishes. Verification of the statement that God is an eternal spirit would have to be given in a sense-experience that was itself eternal. But this is inconceivable to us. Similarly unverifiable and meaningless is the statement that reality, as opposed to mere appearance, is timeless. Other examples are the statements that reality is one substance, or two, or many, or unknowable.
The Logical Positivist's rejection of metaphysics may take another form. According to the theory, logical necessity (as we have already seen) is nothing more than tautology. Logical argument is mere elucidation of the content of a definition. It follows that the attempt to discover an underlying reality simply by deductive reasoning is futile. No doubt the definitions or concepts which metaphysics analyses are in the first instance derived from our experience of reality; and, taken at their face-value, they are approximately true of experienced reality. But we have no guarantee whatever that the analysed or deduced content of them is true also of a reality which we cannot experience.
(d) Criticism of Positivism — What is the real value of these arguments? Let us begin by distinguishing several kinds of "metaphysical" statements. Some metaphysical statements of the "immanent" kind really are theoretically verifiable in sense-experience in precisely the same manner as, for example, the statement that this book was written by a human being. The statement that there is in the universe "a power that makes for righteousness" is theoretically verifiable. If a large number of spectacular miracles were to occur, all of which obviously produced great good in the world, we should reasonably regard this as strong evidence that some superhuman power was interfering with the natural course of events so as to produce good results. Logical Positivists might claim that even such a crop of miracles would not verify the statement about a benevolent power, but merely the statement that such events had occurred. This is surely unsatisfactory. If a savage were to hear intelligible speech issuing from a radio loud-speaker, or from a gramophone, he would be justified in inferring that an intelligent being had determined the order of the sounds, in spite of the fact that he could not possibly conceive how the miracle happened or what kind of a being was responsible for it.
Some metaphysical statements, once more of the "immanent kind," though not verifiable in sense, are theoretically verifiable in other kinds of immediate experience. I have argued that moral statements are of this type.
Some metaphysical statements are meaningful but false, because they are demonstrably in conflict with experience. Of this type is the statement that reality is a featureless unity. Whatever reality is, it cannot exclude our ordinary experienced and featureful world.
Some metaphysical statements which are logically incoherent, and therefore in the narrowest sense meaningless, may yet have an important meaning in a broader sense. The statement that God is an eternal spirit or a supratemporal person is self-contradictory because the idea of personality involves the passage of time. In a sense, then, the statement is meaningless. But in another sense it is not meaningless, since we can distinguish between the meaning of "God is a supratemporal person" and "God is a form of physical energy." To this the Logical Positivist replies that these two forms of words are not really statements at all. They are made up of meaningful words, and so we can distinguish them; but neither of them as a whole is a meaningful statement. But is this true? We may agree that "God is a form of physical energy" is meaningless, simply because the generally-accepted definition of God logically excludes his being physical energy. But of "God is a supratemporal person" we may perhaps reasonably say that, though it has no literal meaning, it has a metaphorical meaning, which may be true or false. It amounts to saying "There is something, called God, the definition of which includes the essential characteristics of personality, but also includes an aspect which is not limited by time. We do not know how this can be; but we find in our experience certain facts (say miracles, or inner guidance) which strongly suggest a personal God, and other facts (say mystical intuitions) which strongly suggest that he is not limited by time. It would be more irrational to deny these facts than it is to affirm that God is a supratemporal person." I am not suggesting that this proposition about God is true, but merely that it is in an important sense meaningful. In general it seems unwise to exclude the possibility of metaphorical meaning.
Perhaps it is worth while pointing out that we sometimes make scientific statements of the same type. "An electron is at once a particle and a train of waves" is a self-contradictory statement, but it may have important metaphorical truth. If a mass of evidence suggests that an identifiable something, called an electron, has certain characteristics of a particle, and another mass of evidence suggests that it has certain characteristics of a wave-train, then a self-contradictory statement which expresses these conflicting facts is not only meaningful but more true than a coherent statement which leaves one or other aspect out of account.
The foregoing analysis suggests that metaphysical statements, to be meaningful, must be at least partially (and significantly) verifiable in some kind of immediate experience, though not necessarily in sense-experience; and that for literal, but not for metaphorical, meaning they must be logically self-consistent.
Let us now consider the Logical Positivist's other argument against metaphysics, namely, that deduction is merely the analysis of definitions, or concepts, and therefore cannot tell us anything new about reality, or anything about a reality behind experience. If "behind" experience means simply "not experienced, but of the same order as" experienced reality, then the statement denies the possibility of even immanent metaphysics. It is true only in the limited sense that logical analysis of the experienced cannot give us necessary truth about the unexperienced. However accurate a concept, however true to the facts of experience, and however accurate our deductive analysis from it, we know of no necessity in virtue of which unexperienced reality must conform to the implications of experienced reality. We cannot affirm with assurance that reality must be systematic, and that the unexperienced must cohere with the experienced. On the other hand, it may do so. And if the analysis of a concept does suggest that unexperienced reality, probably, has certain characteristics, we may reasonably believe that this is the case, until we come across positive evidence that it is not. Reality may, after all, not be systematic. Or our analysis may have been carried out upon insufficient data. But until evidence refutes it, we may reasonably trust it. The point is that each operation of reason, if it is to be condemned, must be condemned on its own merits, and not on the general principle that no analysis of experience can ever give us any meaningful information which could be true of unexperienced reality.
If, however, "behind" experience means "of an entirely different order from "experienced reality, then; it is true that deductive analysis of experienced reality can never give us information about reality "behind" experience. Transcendent metaphysics is impossible. But it is extremely important to realise that we cannot know beforehand where the more modest, immanent kind of metaphysics will lead. In the first place, experience itself is not a fixed thing. What we experience depends largely on our sensitivity and our power of intelligent discrimination. The child's experience, for instance, is different from the adult's, because the adult has learned to detect similarities and differences and other relations which the child overlooks. The advance is made by critical analysis and synthesis which to the child is inconceivable. What is for the adult "immanent" is for the child "transcendent." Similarly, a very much more developed culture than ours would outstrip ours as ours outstrips the child's. Much that in the superior culture was "immanent" would be for us "transcendent," and meaningless. This is an extreme example. The expansion of the frontiers of the " immanent " to embrace what seemed "transcendent" is really happening all the time, little by little, so long as culture does not stagnate.
I suggest, then, that the Logical Positivists have not really succeeded in eliminating metaphysics root and branch, even metaphysics of the "transcendent" kind. But they have certainly done very valuable work in showing the pitfalls and limitations of metaphysics. For they have at least led us to see that a metaphysical statement, to be meaningful, must be theoretically verifiable either in sense-experience or in some other kind of immediate experience. The only exception to this rule is the case of a metaphorical statement in which, though no single, logically coherent, literal meaning is given, yet two or more conflicting elements are theoretically verifiable in some kind of immediate experience.
Unfortunately, even if all metaphysical statements are not necessarily nonsense, we must admit that in practice it is extremely difficult to make any metaphysical statement that has more than a very slight amount of very incoherent meaning. Moreover, of those that have any meaning at all, the great majority must be less true than false. For ever since philosophy began, philosophers have been addicted to making metaphysical statements, and yet they have been unable to come to any agreement.
But metaphysics is not a wholly barren study. If it does nothing more, it at least gives salutary warning against the demonstrable mistakes of the great metaphysicians, and against the much cruder metaphysical statements which are very frequently made by people who do not even know that they are indulging in metaphysics. Logical Positivists might argue that it is enough to recognise the logical impossibility of metaphysics, without wading through floods of meaningless verbiage. But this argument is too facile. We must arm ourselves by examining some of the main types of metaphysical theories. In doing so we may perhaps gain something more than mere scepticism about metaphysics. We may end by saying, "Though none of these theories is a true account of reality, all probably contain some slight elements of distorted truth; and reality itself, whatever it is, is at least as rich and subtle as these theories."
I propose, therefore, to devote the rest of this chapter to tracing the main stream of metaphysical thought through Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Bergson, the Vitalists, the believers in "Emergence," and Whitehead.
(a) Descartes, a devout Christian, living in the early days of modern science, and himself a pioneer of scientific experiment and theory, was torn between faith and scientific curiosity. He determined to seek intellectual justification for the orthodox religious beliefs which were already being attacked on every side by the increasingly confident materialists. He supposed himself to be converting the infidel by reason. "I desire no one," he declared, "to believe anything I have said unless he is constrained to admit it by force and evidence of reason."
Seeking a touchstone by which to test all ideas, Descartes resolved never to accept anything for true which he did not "clearly know to be such." But he needed some principle by which to judge whether statements were true and certain. Such a principle he supposed himself to have discovered in the formula that only beliefs which we "clearly and distinctly conceive" are true. The test of truth was not correspondence with sense-experience but consistency of conception.
Bearing this principle in mind, Descartes scrutinised his whole experience and came to the conclusion that he could doubt almost everything, including sense-experience; but that one thing at least it was impossible to doubt, namely, his own existence as a thinking being; for, in the very act of doubting, he was thinking. "I think, therefore I am."
It seemed to Descartes that in formulating this proposition he had discovered a truth which was indubitable, and might be used as the foundation of all philosophy. But he was mistaken. He unconsciously assumed that thinking must be the act of something other than itself, namely a thinker. This assumption may be true, but it is certainly open to question. Strictly the starting-point of his argument should have been merely "Thinking is happening." From this it is not possible to infer "Therefore I am." Descartes, however, believed that at one stroke he had established the reality of a mental or spiritual substance whose whole essence and nature consisted only in thinking. It was a substance without place, independent of all material things, wholly distinct from the body, and more easily known than the body. Moreover, he believed, it would exist even if there were no body. This conviction of the self's immortality was, of course, ingrained in him from childhood by orthodox teaching, and it was natural for him to suppose that it. was implied in the very nature of a thinking being.
Descartes believed that he could pass logically from the reality of the self to the most remote metaphysical truths. Thus, because he was not merely a thinking but a desiring being, he was not wholly perfect, not wholly complete; since to desire is to desire something which is lacked. But if he was an imperfect being, how came it that he was able to conceive a perfect being, namely God? Surely, he argued, he must hold this notion from some nature which in reality was more perfect than himself. For it was impossible to have an idea which was not in the first instance derived from reality, however much it was distorted by the thinker. Arid the idea of perfection seemed to Descartes an absolute quality which could not be the result of distortion. "I should not have the idea of art infinite substance, seeing I am a finite being, unless it were given me by some substance in reality infinite." Descartes concluded that his idea of God as a perfect being proved that such a being existed.
The answer to this famous argument, as we have already seen, is that perfection is no such absolute quality but a mere abstraction from the imperfect objects of experience. A perfect circle is one in which no flaws can be detected. A perfect man is a monster in whom all virtues are unlimited and no vices occur.
Applying his principle of clear conception to his experience of the external world, Descartes thought that he conceived clearly what we call space. It was that which was indefinitely extended, and divisible into figures. Sensory qualities, however, he regarded as confused images, fictions of the mind. Not these qualities, but merely shape, might be allowed to matter.
But he notes a difficulty. Though only what can be clearly conceived can be true, it does not follow that whatever can be clearly conceived exists. In the case of God, the perfect being, "existence is comprised in the idea" of it; for if it lacked existence, this lack would constitute an imperfection. (Descartes failed to see that even if the idea of a perfect being includes the idea of existence, this does not prove that such a being exists.) Up to this point Descartes had satisfied himself that extended matter might exist (since it could be clearly conceived), but he had no proof that it did exist. But the belief in the existence of God enabled him to give an ingenious proof of the existence of matter. Obviously the senses may mislead. Dreams and illusions force us to admit this. Clearly conceived extension, including figure and number, seemed to Descartes indubitable; yet even figure and number may deceive, since they also may occur in illusion and dream. He had therefore to face the possibility that God had given him false intuitions, both of sense and of reason. But no; this, he argued, could not be. God, the perfect being, must be good, and therefore would not so grossly deceive. But, again, what if not God but a malignant demon had given these intuitions, purposely to deceive? Surely, Descartes protested, a perfect God would not permit any demon to perpetrate so great a deception as this.
Thus Descartes established the existence of a material world, and felt himself entitled to formulate his dualism of thought and extension, or mind and matter. His theory was, of course, a philosophical version of the vague dualism of common sense, and it has haunted philosophy ever since.
Having declared that mind and matter were two distinct substances, he was faced with the problem of explaining their relation. The most intimate of all extended objects, and the one through which alone he had intercourse with the rest of the physical world and with other thinking beings, was, of course, his own body. What, then, was the relation of the thinker or soul to his body? Anatomical research led Descartes to believe that the "seat of the soul" was the pineal gland, a small organ in the centre of the brain, recently, ascertained to be an atrophied third eye. He supposed that from this central position the soul somehow controlled the "animal spirit," which he conceived as an extremely subtle medium between mind and matter, permeating the whole body. This attempt to introduce a link between body and mind, far from solving the problem, merely doubles it, since it becomes necessary to explain the relation between the link and each of the two substances.
There was another aspect of the problem, already noticed in an early chapter. Descartes was a pioneer of the idea of physical mechanism. Material substances were supposed to interact with one another according to strict mechanical law. How, then, could the soul influence the body without interfering with the determined course of physical events? It was necessary to suppose that the soul in effect created or annihilated physical energy in order to interfere.
Descartes' failure to give a satisfactory account of the relation of the two substances, matter and mind, led many subsequent philosophers to reject dualism: They were then faced with three possibilities. Spinoza preserved the parity of mind and matter by denying them rank as substances and regarding them as two attributes of the one real substance. Idealist philosophers denied the reality of matter, and declared either that minds were substances (Leibniz) or that the only substance was the one Absolute Spirit (Hegel). Materialists regarded matter alone as substantial.
(b) Spinoza was a man of very different temper from Descartes. He had no desire to defend orthodoxy or to compromise with it. He was a Jew who had been excommunicated from the Synagogue on account of his beliefs. His work is inspired by a combination of intense intellectualism and intense religious feeling of a kind which was far from acceptable to the established religions. He came to be regarded as the arch-atheist; yet a later writer called him the "God-intoxicated" philosopher. It is important to realise that whatever Spinoza's intellectual errors, he did live according to his theories. Though his philosophy was at bottom in a sense. egoistic, his personal conduct was unostentatiously but sometimes heroically generous. For in practice he behaved as his philosophy dictated, namely, to embrace all men's needs within the scope of his egoism. In another respect also he lived his philosophy. He was true to the philosophic spirit. His whole life., was dominated by the peace of mind which he called "the intellectual love of God."
The motive of Spinoza's philosophical venture was the search for some permanent and perfect object of devotion. He longed to know "whether in fact there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness." What ordinarily passed for happiness depended on precarious objects, and was itself precarious. He determined to anchor his own happiness to something eternal and infinite.
The philosophy which resulted from this motive is one which is dominated by the idea of an eternal and perfect substance. It does less than justice to finite things, which he regarded as incompletely real. Even the best of them, he felt, were not worth desiring.
He rejected Descartes' theory that mind and matter are distinct substances. A substance, he said, is that "the conception of which does not need to be formed from the conception of any other thing." In his view there can only be one substance, namely, the whole universe, or what he calls "God or Nature." This one substance must have an infinite number of attributes. An attribute is " that which the understanding perceives as constituting the essence of a substance." Spinoza believed that all attributes must in theory be logically deducible from the nature of the one substance. (Of course he could not demonstrate that this was so.) Only two of the infinite attributes, according to Spinoza, are known to us, namely" thought and extension," or mind and matter. All particular minds and particular physical things are said to be "modes" of substance. A mode is "that which is, and is conceived by means of, something else." A particular mind is a mode of the thought-attribute of the one substance; a physical thing is a mode of the extension-attribute. No particular mind or physical thing is a self-complete reality. It is merely a particular manifestation or quality of the one substance.
All our thoughts, all our experiences, are experiences within the universal experience which is the thought-attribute of the one substance, "God or Nature." What a man knows of the physical universe is an excerpt from the perfect universal understanding. Moreover, a "mode" of extension (a physical object) and the idea of it are one and the same thing, expressed in two ways. Things and our experiences of them are not distinct entities. The physical universe is simply the material aspect of the perfect universal understanding; and this in turn is the thought-aspect of the physical universe.
This principle enabled Spinoza to explain the relation of body and mind. Rejecting Descartes' theory of the interaction of two substances, he accepts a kind of parallelism or double-aspect theory. Thought and extension has each its own system of necessary laws. In matter everything is determined by physical laws, in mind by mental laws. But since thought is merely the thought-aspect of matter, and matter the physical aspect of mind, there is an exact correspondence between the two.
Spinoza conceived the universal experience in a very intellectualistic manner. In his view it is all-comprehensive knowledge, but it is. without any purpose which can be regarded as the purpose of the universal mind itself. Purpose implies lack, and the universal mind is complete, perfect. Though it has no purpose of its own, it embraces all purposes, and both sides of all conflicts. We, with our conflicting desires, are all members in the infinite understanding which is God. Our thoughts, taken in isolation from the rest of the universal experience, are one and all incomplete, and therefore false; but taken in their proper place in the universal experience, or in God's thinking, they are factors in truth.
This view of the individual and his errors is very unsatisfactory. If a finite mind is really no more,than a strand of thought in the infinite mind, how comes it that it can be in error at all? How can our thoughts be for us other than they are for God? How do our experiences come to be used twice, so to speak: once truly in the universal understanding of God, and once erroneously in our own finite understanding? To be in error, the mind must have a finite individuality of its own, isolated from the thought of God. Mere qualities cannot make mistakes.
Nor can they have emotions and desires. According to Spinoza, our emotions are simply ideas of the " effort" of a particular physical body, the effort by which it maintains its separate existence. Every finite thing has an inherent tendency to preserve its unity and equilibrium in spite of the influences of other things. This is the source of our self-conscious self-regard. Indeed, it is the source of all our actions. We are essentially egoists. All finite minds have these separatistic emotions. All seek the petty, partial ends which appear desirable to their finite, blinkered nature. Good and bad are wholly relative to our finite nature. They are subjective. In the divine understanding they are regarded with complete detachment. Nevertheless, there is one reasonable goal of a man's endeavour, namely participation in the divine understanding, the acceptance of the universal view, in which all goods and evils are transcended. The goodness of this is subjective, of course, since it depends on the man's own lack of that perfection; but it is nevertheless the reasonable goal for him, since it constitutes the fulfilment or perfection of his imperfect nature. To some extent all of us can strive to transcend our limitations and enter into the full understanding which is God; who contemplates all existence truly and without emotion, though with the beatitude that belongs to perfection. For our finite minds salvation lies in learning to detach our interest from all petty ends and seek only the "intellectual love of God," which consists of tranquil acceptance of the universe as it really is. This intellectual love of God, to which we should all strive if we would attain secure and lasting happiness, is at once our love o( God and God's love of himself; and also his love of us, who are modes of himself. When a finite mind achieves this consummation, it simply enters into the perfect understanding, the experience in which "God or Nature" contemplates itself. In the intellectual love of God we do not love something other than ourselves, for we are not distinct from God.
Sin, in this view, is of the same order as error. It is the willing of a merely partial good at the expense of other goods, which equally deserve to be taken into account. It is enslavement to the passions natural to the separate, finite creature; and it is neglect of the perfect whole.
Since in Spinoza's view we are all essentially egoists, sin consists in seeking a minor or fleeting kind of self-fulfilment at the expense of a major or more enduring kind. The only fully satisfying life is that which is dominated by the intellectual love of God, and is not side-tracked by the passions. The "passions" include spontaneous pity and charity. We must do good acts not for pity but because they are rational. Pity is mere weakness; and weakness, no matter how amiable, is a vice. So is ignorance. Sin is devotion to a minor good in ignorance of a greater good. For in Spinoza's view; if we really know the good, we cannot but will it. This is unsatisfactory. By sin we mean essentially something more than this. We mean willing what is known to be evil. Spinoza's theory of sin is also open to a criticism of the same kind as that which we brought against his theory of error. How comes it that mere qualities of the one substance can have wills of their own, and sinful wills?
In the orthodox view sin is thought to involve freedom. In sinning we could do otherwise than we actually do. For Spinoza, however, all our acts are determined; since they are the outcome of the laws of matter and mind. But though he allows no possibility of arbitrary choice, he offers what he regards as the only kind of freedom that is worth having; not freedom to struggle against destiny, but the freedom which consists in knowing the truth and accepting it with peace of heart in the intellectual love of God.
The temper of our own age is out of tune with the temper of Spinoza. For most of us it is easier to see the faults than the merits of his philosophy. We readily condemn it, not only on account of its many inconsistencies, but also because it stresses the whole at the expense of the parts, and because it disparages the values of ordinary life, advocating an inhuman detachment. We incline to regard the hunger for an all-embracing or ultimate reality as merely a flight from immediate reality with all its urgent claims.
Undoubtedly Spinoza was so obsessed by wholeness and infinity that he entirely failed to provide a satisfactory status for particular things and minds. But to charge him with flight from reality seems ludicrously unjustified. The charge is refuted by his personal life. On one occasion when he was in a friend's house, his enemies incited a mob to clamour at the door for his life. Rather than embroil his friend by remaining in safety, he faced the crowd. By reasonable speech he persuaded them to disband. Indeed, Spinoza may be regarded as the outstanding example of the true philosophic temper which combines courageous but reasonable action with unshakable detachment and peace of mind.
Though. intellectually Spinoza's philosophy should perhaps be regarded as a splendid and immensely significant failure, the fact that it was a failure must be attributed, I believe, partly to the fact that he was pre-eminently conscious of two seemingly incompatible aspects of experience, both of which may be called religious. One is the intuitive and non-rational perception of the beauty or rightness of the experienced universe as a whole. The other is the intuitive and non-rational devotion toward the human enterprise within the universe. Intellectually he failed to reconcile these two experiences, but he lived in loyalty to both.
In our age we need, I believe, not less but more of the spirit of Spinoza. We are being submerged in a great wave of irrationalism, in a cult of unreason, of impulse, of animality, of savagery. All this originated in a wholesome reaction against the complacent intellectualism of an earlier age; but it has become extravagant, and is dragging us into barbarism.
(a) Essentials of Metaphysical Idealism — We have been considering theories in which mind and matter are given equal status, either as distinct substances or as attributes of a single substance. We must now turn to theories in which mind is taken to be the more significant concept for understanding reality.
In an earlier chapter we discussed Epistemological Idealism, or Idealism as a theory of knowledge. We now turn to Metaphysical Idealism, or Idealism as a theory of the fundamental nature of reality.
Metaphysical Idealism may be said to begin with Plato. As we have already seen in connection with ethics, Plato held that the universal "ideas" or forms to which particular things approximate were more " real" than the particular things themselves. According to him, manhood is more real than men. He did not, of course, conceive of the forms as merely subjective ideas in our minds. They were objective to us. All the same, in the Platonic theory the world of universal forms, which was the reality behind appearances, was evidently in some sense a spiritual reality. The supreme form was the form of the Good. Plato did not distinguish as sharply as we do between the mental and the non-mental; but his theory that the universal forms, or characters, or "ideas," or (as some would say) concepts, were more real than particular things was certainly the germ from which, centuries later, sprang modern Absolute Idealism.
In considering modern Idealism, we must notice two types of theory, namely, pluralistic and monistic. The first, revolting against Spinoza's monism, postulates an infinite number of individual mental substances, the finite minds. The other, deeply impressed by Spinoza's monism, asserts. that the whole universe is a single mind, and a single substance. Both agree that matter is merely an " appearance," with no existence apart from the minds (or mind) in which it is conceived.
(b) Leibniz was a courtier and a man of affairs who devoted only part of his energy to philosophy. He had a legal training, and as well as being a great philosopher he was a great mathematician. He invented the differential calculus. Like Descartes, he was anxious to show his agreement with orthodoxy, and for this reason was unwilling to acknowledge his debt to Spinoza.
Leibniz's philosophical aim was to preserve the individuality of human minds while giving a satisfactory account of their inter-relatedness. He also sought to do justice to the part played by purpose in the universe. His philosophy is often regarded as at once arid and fantastic, but to the philosophic mind it affords a very interesting and fertile study. It is a remarkable product of intellectual acuity conflicting with subservience to orthodoxy. And it contains the germs of many modern ideas.
Like Descartes and Spinoza, he worked with the concept of substance and attribute. But he defined a substance as that which persists through change. Attributes might change, but not the substance itself. According to his theory, the change of the attributes of a substance, or the development of a substance, is never caused by the influence of anything external to the substance. All its changes are consequences of the nature of the substance itself. This theory, that substances could not in any way affect one another, was a consequence of Leibniz's insistence on the reality of finite individuals. If an individual is completely real, it must in his view be completely independent of external influences. If intercourse of any kind whatever is allowed, the theory that an individual is a self-complete substance must be abandoned.
Leibniz insists that substances are active; but the activity of a substance, he says, affects only the future states of the substance itself. Each substance is a world to itself, and an ever-developing world.
Obviously this theory that individuals are completely isolated substances is very unplausible, since individuals seem to be in constant interaction. This difficulty Leibniz solved by a very ingenious device, namely, his theory of "pre-established harmony." His substances, it will be remembered, are all mental. He calls them "monads." They are infinite in number. No two of them are exactly alike. Each unique monad is a completely isolated and ever-changing world of experience; but although the changes within each monad happen solely by the necessity of its own nature, yet all changes, says Leibniz, happen as if they were due to the effects of other monads. Thus in a manner each monad "mirrors" the rest of the universe from its own particular point of view. This, then, is Leibniz's famous theory of "pre-established harmony." In the beginning God, the supreme and uncreated monad, so fashioned the infinite host of created monads that of their own nature they must evolve in this manner. He made them to be like a number of musicians who, though out of hearing of each other, play in perfect co-ordination because they all began playing their assigned parts together at a common signal and at the same tempo.
Though the monads are all mental, they are of many ranks, ranging from completely unconscious mental activity to clear intellection far beyond human power. Roughly there are three kinds of monads. Lowliest are the "bare monads," which, though mental beings, are unconscious. The notion of unconscious mentality is far from clear. Apparently it means that consciousness in these cases is too faint or too confused to be noticed. The "bare monads" are centres of mere appetite and aversion. They are without memory. -Next in rank are the "souls," which are conscious in the animal manner. They have memory, feeling, attention, but are neither rational nor moral. Finally come the "spirits," or human souls, which are more clearly conscious; and, moreover, are self-conscious, and also rational, and morally sensitive and responsible. All monads are eternal; but only spirits have true immortality, since they alone have continuity of experience beyond this life.
Since all substances are mental, material things are not substances. Matter is simply the "appearance" of substances of various kinds to one another. Not that the "appearance" is direct; for this would mean that substances influenced one another. It is merely an "as if" kind of appearance, resulting from the pre-established harmony. Further, matter is essentially, not extension, but resistance, hardness; or rather the apparition of resistance in the completely isolated life of human minds. The ultimate units of matter are not atoms (or electrons, etc.) but monads, lowly minds. Matter is the "appearance" of innumerable unextended centres of spiritual activity. It. is an "appearance" in human minds, and through pre-established harmony.
If minds alone are substances, what sort of thing is a human body? It is the "appearance" (to oneself and to others) of a vast group of monads of different ranks, mostly of the order of "bare monads." These are subordinated to several "souls," which are in turn subordinated to the "spirit" which is the self or "I" of the man. Every one of these monads, of course, fulfils its own destiny by internal necessity; but the changes of all are related by "pre-established harmony." In the lower monads, however, changes are sometimes to be accounted for by reference to changes in higher monads. That is, in some cases God made the lower such that they must spontaneously behave as they do because he wanted them to have a certain relation to the higher, through the system of pre-established harmony. Thus, although there is no interaction between the spirit of the man and the monads which appear as his body, in a sense the final cause or reason for what happens in the body monads is to be found in the spirit of the man.
In the experience of every monad there occur changes in clarity of perception. In the case of human spirits there is normally an advance in clarity from infancy to maturity. All monads strive for greater clarity; that is, toward greater "magnitude of positive reality," greater spiritual perfection. Goodness and reality of mental being are either identified or very closely related. "Pleasure" is how we feel when we attain greater perfection. Reason should lead us to seek complete and lasting felicity, but unfortunately by instinct we tend toward merely partial and fleeting fulfilments.
Leibniz's theory of pre-established harmony involves determinism; but as an orthodox Christian he clings to free will. All monads, he insists, act spontaneously, according to their own inherent nature. Their behaviour is contingent, not logically necessary. But the monads of lower order are coerced by the passions, by the insistence of immediate ends; while the spirits, with their greater clarity, can emancipate themselves from their passions for the sake of the ideal of spiritual perfection, or greatest possible "magnitude of positive reality." In Leibniz's theory every act of a monad follows necessarily from its preceding state. All its behaviour is necessarily implied in the nature that God originally gave it. Leibniz does his best to explain away this determinism, since it conflicts with religious orthodoxy. For orthodoxy, sin must be positive. It must not be mere ignorance, mere lack of knowledge. Merely seeing the good must not necessarily lead to choosing it. The monads must be in some sense free to do or not do what they know to be good. Leibniz therefore insists that, though all the acts of a monad are determined, and in theory predictable, yet also they are free. God made them such that they would freely act in determinate manners in accordance with pre-established harmony.
God's primordial aim in creating, Leibniz says, was to produce as great perfection as possible, to create "the best of all possible worlds." Evil springs not from (God's will but from eternal truths which are independent of his will. The best of all possible worlds must contain some evil. Though the perfection of a monad consists in its attainment of perfect clarity, and all spirits are destined finally to reach perfection, it is necessary for the perfection of the world that all should start as bare monads and pass upwards through aeons of striving: spirits alone among monads are ends in themselves. Other monads are for the sake of spirits, or for the sake of the perfection of the world. God's aim is single, but it has two complementary aspects, namely, the perfection of the world and the perfection of individual spirits, or the creation of the company of the blessed, which he calls "the City of God." These two aspects support each other through pre- established harmony.
The main criticism to be made against Leibniz is the opposite of the main criticism of Spinoza. Just as Spinoza sacrificed individuality to the unity of the whole, so Leibniz sacrificed the whole to individuality. The theory of pre-established harmony is a heroic effort to do justice to the unity of the whole without infringing the substantiality of individuals; but it is unsupported by any evidence. Moreover, the insistence on the plurality of self-complete substances leads straight to solipsism. For if the substances are wholly unaffected by one another, no one. of them has any adequate reason to postulate the existence of others.
But though Leibniz's theory may be regarded as a reductio ad absurdum, it is well worth study, not only as a brilliant intellectual achievement, but also because, like Spinoza's theory, it contains many ideas which have played an important part in the subsequent history of thought.
(c) Absolute Idealism — Having considered the outstanding example of Idealistic Pluralism, we must turn to Idealistic Monism, or Absolute Idealism, in which individual minds are regarded as mere excerpts from the one reality, which is the absolute spirit.
After Leibniz, leadership in philosophy passed for a while to Britain, and its main theme was not metaphysics but the theory of knowledge. We have already traced that movement through the thought of Locke and Berkeley to its culmination in Hume's phenomenalism. In this view, as we have seen, reality consists wholly of the stream of immediate experience. Any attempt to discover any ulterior, metaphysical reality is doomed to failure.
Hume's great critic, Kant, agreed that metaphysical knowledge, at least of the kind that he called transcendent, was impossible. Behind:the world of mere appearances, which Hume tended to regard as the sole reality, Kant, as we have seen, set an entirely unknowable reality or thing-in-itself. All the perceived and conceived characters of experience, in his view, are created by the mind in response to stimulation by the unknowable reality. Thus thoughts do not, as is generally supposed, conform to things; on the contrary things-known must conform to the inherent categories of the mind, to our innate principles of sensibility and understanding. This was Kant's famous "Copernican Revolution" in philosophy. Even time and space must be regarded as mere appearances, due to the limitations of our sensibility. Reality itself must not be thought to be either spatial or temporal. Similarly when we look inward, we find, according to Kant, not the soul but merely "internal phenomena." Whether behind these there is a particular individual spirit or the identical universal spirit we cannot know.
As we have seen, Kant pointed out that the mind was not (as Hume had said) a mere sequence of "impressions" and "ideas," each independent of the rest. Each element in experience was intrinsically related to all others. Everything was what it was in virtue of its relation to other things. This insistence on the unity of experience and the intrinsic relations of its parts was the starting-point of Absolute Idealism.
Though Kant was an idealist, in that he regarded thought as a more significant concept than matter, he was not simply a subjective idealist. In his works there are two tendencies — one subjectivist, the other objectivist. The world of appearances, though inherently logical, and therefore in Kant's view mental, in structure, is objective to the individual mind. In principle, and apart from private errors, the same world of appearances is common to all men. For the general structure of the world of appearances is created not by individual idiosyncrasies but by the fundamental capacities or categories common to all human minds. We are therefore not imprisoned from one another in distinct solipsistic universes.
In Hegel's philosophy the objectivist tendency in Kant is emphasised. A completely unknowable reality, he says, is a completely unnecessary fiction. In principle reality must be knowable. In fact, in principle reality is knowledge; not, of course, simply the knowledge of finite minds, but all-comprehensive knowledge. According to Kant, reality is featureless, because to assign it any features would be to deprive it of other features, and it must be infinite. But, according to Hegel, such a reality would be simply nothing at all. Reality, in his view, is a systematic, rational structure, continuous with the world as known in human experience.
And from the point of view of the individual experience reality is objective. It is what it is, no matter what the individual believes it to be. Nevertheless, in principle, thought and reality are identical. The individual human mind is an excerpt from the more comprehensive mind which is society, or society's knowledge; and this again is an excerpt from the mind. which is the universal spirit. The structure of the individual human mind is logical throughout. So is his mental development from birth to maturity. So is the social mind, and the development of society. Continuous with this again, and essentially logical, is the structure of the universe as a developing process, and also the structure of the eternal Absolute Spirit within which the temporal process is in some sense an eternal factor.
In our day it is difficult to accept Hegel's faith in the ultimate logicality of the universe. We have grown sceptical. We can discover no necessity in virtue of which the universe must be systematic through and through. Even if it is, we can no longer believe that it must therefore be essentially "idea." If the objective world is logical in structure, its logicality is its own, and we have no reason to call it mental.
According to Hegel, human self-consciousness is in an important respect a microcosm of the all-inclusive reality, the Absolute. For reality is not simply object or simply subject. It is at once knowing and known; just as, in human self-consciousness, the self is at once knowing and known. The Absolute consists at once of the total reality, which we know partially as the multifarious universe, and of the true knowing of all this together in the single universal self-consciousness.
One may "feel it in one's bones" that in some sense the Whole is, indeed, self-conscious; and yet one may fail to be impressed by the rational processes by which Hegel and his followers claim to demonstrate this conclusion. No wonder that such daring flights of reason have frightened so many cautious minds, and driven them into Positivism.
We have already seen that for Absolute Idealists only the Whole is fully real. Each particular fact is fully constituted by its intrinsic relations within the whole system; and so, taken by itself, it is a mere abstraction. We must certainly admit that our knowledge of any thing is constituted by our knowledge of its relations to other things. We cannot know the red of a rose save in contrast with other colours. But for Hegel, since knowledge and reality are identical, the rose itself is constituted by its relations to the rest of the universe, its relations of likeness and difference, (position, causation, and so on.
Between extreme Monists and extreme Pluralists there is a deep difference of temperament or taste. Perhaps no reconciliation is possible. But the mind that has no extravagant leaning in either direction can see the weakness of both extremes. In respect of the essentially monistic theory of internal relations it is clear that if each thing is wholly constituted by its relations to other things, if A is its relations to B, and B is its relations to A, there is nothing left to have the relations, nothing but the omnipresent and characterless Absolute, which in its characterlessness is reduced to sheer nonentity. On the other hand, if we insist on the complete independent reality of particular things, we incur all the difficulties of Leibniz. Somehow, even at the cost of failing to find a satisfactory theory, we must insist on the co-equal reality of parts and whole, and of terms and relations within the whole. We must be content to say "In a sense things are constituted by their relations within the whole; but in another sense the whole is constituted by its elements in relation."
For the Absolutists true wholes are always more "real" than their parts. They regard the concept of "organism" as all-important. The Absolute is organic. There is certainly a sense in which a living organism is more of a whole than a mere aggregate, like a heap of stones. We are tempted to say that it includes something more than the atoms that compose it, namely, the form or pattern which determines the arrangement of its atoms. Its form in immaturity, moreover, is to be understood only by reference to its mature form. It is a whole both in space and in time. Is the universe, the whole of being, organic in this sense? Perhaps it is, but we have little or no evidence on the subject. And the attempt to demonstrate by reason that it must necessarily be so is doomed to failure, since there is no necessity that the universe should be rational.
This extreme monism seems to be based on a confusion of "real" and "true." Doubtless you cannot say the whole truth about a particular thing without saying the whole truth about the whole universe; but the particular thing is no less real than the whole universe. Particular things just are, and so is the whole universe.
In the Hegelian system time (like space) is not fully real. The temporal view of reality is a partial, limited, human view of a reality which is not itself limited by time, but includes time within itself. Reality is not simply what exists at a fleeting instant. Nor is it merely the sum of all instants. Nor is it timeless, in the sense that time is not a factor in it at all. Nor is it something everlasting, changeless, static. In some manner it is more than temporal. It embraces all the stages of the whole process, yet somehow it embraces them as process, though eternally.
It is sometimes objected against the metaphysics of Absolute Idealism that, in denying the reality of time, it takes all the life and movement out of the universe, or that it gives us a "block universe" which is complete and static. In this respect it is contrasted with the metaphysics of Bergson, in which change is real. I cannot feel that this objection is justified. Any philosophy worthy of the name must reckon with both these conflicting aspects of our experience, both the reality of change and the eternal reality within which change is comprised. Bertrand Russell has said "There is some sense, easier to feel than to state, in which time is an unimportant and superficial character of reality." A philosophy which ignores this fact is as unsatisfactory as one which explains away time and change. Hegel does his best to do justice both to the temporal and the eternal. Of course he fails to give a coherent account of them. But who has succeeded?
Though in Hegel's theory time is not fully real, great stress is laid on the concept of development. Every particular fact is an expression of other facts, and to be understood it must be understood historically. Hegel believed that the process of human history, and, indeed, the process of the whole universe, was systematic through and through, and dominated by a formative principle. History may be regarded, in the temporal and only partially true view, as the process by which "God," or the growing system of universal experience, reaches full self-consciousness. As Hegel had no sense of the astronomical magnitudes of time and space, human history bulked much more largely in his philosophy than seems plausible to us. He regarded mankind as a growing organism whose career was the central theme of the universe. He believed that every stage in humanity's growth was the logical outcome of the previous stage, and that a purpose was unfolding itself from age to age. He had no conception of the prodigious confusion, fortuitousness, precariousness of historical development. He was confident that although reason might sometimes be difficult to discover in the course of events, it must be there. Not only so, but he undertook to deduce the whole universe in all its concreteness from the most abstract of all categories, the concept of mere "being."
This leads us once more to Hegel's famous "dialectical method," which we first noted in connection with his theory of history, and subsequently in connection with Economic Determinism. We must now consider it in relation to the metaphysics of Absolute Idealism. According to Idealism, it will be remembered, every idea is only partially true, and is said to involve its opposite. From the conflict of the two ideas ("thesis" and "antithesis") emerges a new idea (the "synthesis") which comprises harmoniously the truth of both the others. This synthesis in turn forms a new thesis which generates a new antithesis; and from the new conflict arises a still more comprehensive synthesis. And so on indefinitely.
This movement of thought Hegel believed to be the basic principle for understanding not only the connections of abstract ideas and the process of history, but also the nature of the universe as a whole. For, though the dialectic is essentially a principle of thinking, it is also, in his view, a principle which applies to the whole of reality; since reality itself is constituted of thought.
One very important application of the dialectical principle, according to Hegel, is the relation of the knower to the object known, or of the self to the not-self. The self has no being without its opposite, the not-self; and in his view the not-self has no being without the self as its knower. The two are opposed to each other, yet they involve each other. From this opposition of abstract self and abstract not-self arises the synthesis of the concrete act of knowledge which embraces both self and not-self. Indeed, the concrete act of knowledge is logically prior .to the two abstractions which are derived from it, namely, the self and the not-self. Similarly the timeless Absolute is logically prior to all the particular finite things which we experience in it.
The basic principle of the dialectic may be taken as a denial of a principle of formal logic, namely, that a thing cannot both be and not be. This principle, Hegel says, is true only of static things; not of developing things, which, because they are changing, are always! both being and not being.
Applying the dialectical method to the concept of "being," the simplest of all concepts, Hegel points out that a thing cannot merely be. Pure being is nothing. A thing must be something definite, determinate. This logically involves its not being other things. To be solid involves not being liquid. Thus a thing's being what it is is constituted by all that it is not. These contradictory ideas, "being" and "not-being," find their synthesis, as we have seen, in the idea which includes them both, namely "becoming." In ceasing to be what it was, a thing becomes something new. This is the first step of the process by which Hegel believes that he can deduce the whole concrete universe.
We need not consider the stages by which he attempted to pass from pure being to his detailed philosophy of nature. We can see now that it is impossible to deduce the physical world from any such abstraction. The physical world can be known only by observing it.
By the same dialectical method he claimed to deduce the philosophy of mind or spirit. We have already noticed Hegel's dialectical account of the evolution of society, and his political and moral philosophy. Here we are concerned only with criticism of Hegel's fundamental metaphysical principles. What, then, of the dialectic as a metaphysical principle? The main criticism is not that it is untrue, but that as a method of exploration it is barren. Even if reality is in fact such that an all-powerful intellect could deduce it in its full concreteness from some basic concept, neither Hegel nor any other human being can do so; for the good reason that we cannot conceive an adequate basic concept. Hegel's deduction from the concept of "being" is unconvincing from start to finish. Clearly in Hegel's hands the dialectical principle is doomed to failure, because it amounts merely to an attempt to deduce the concrete universe from certain abstract characteristics of human language.
(d) Other Types of Idealism — Hegel's philosophy is essentially intellectualistic. The nature of reality is to be discovered through study of the nature of thinking. We must now glance at a kind of idealism in which not thought but will is the key to the understanding of reality.. Hegel's younger contemporary and rival, Schopenhauer, reverted to Kant's distinction between the thing in itself and its appearances. He agreed with Kant that the reality behind appearances could not be known by reasoning, but he suggested that it was probably very like the reality that we know at first hand in ourselves. And in his view the inner essence that a man knows as "himself" is "will." His body is merely the objective side of his will. Thus the nutritive organs are objectified hunger. The brain is the objectification of the will to know. The root of knowledge itself is will, for we think because we will to know, and we will to know because we will to act. (Thus did Schopenhauer enunciate a principle which was to play a great part in subsequent philosophy.) Not only man, but all that exists, is in essence will, or striving. This is the inner nature of the huge turmoil of the physical world. Reality is Will. And the will that is reality is one. Multiplicity is merely an illusion of the human intelligence.
Will arises from want, from deficiency and suffering. When satisfaction comes, desire ceases. But there is no satisfaction for the infinite craving which is Reality. Life, therefore, and all existence is an evil. Pleasure is a mere phantom; for, when desire is satisfied, pleasure vanishes, and before it is satisfied, we are tormented. Salvation comes only when we crush out all desire. In resignation alone we triumph; and the supreme resignation is the extinction of all consciousness, the heaven of annihilation. Thus, in contrast with the calm beatitude, some would say complacency, of the Absolute Idealist, Schopenhauer offers only black pessimism.
Since the time of Schopenhauer Idealism has consisted mainly of a development of the thought of Hegel, who dominated European philosophy throughout most of the nineteenth century. Hegel bequeathed to his followers two ideas that he never properly reconciled, namely, the idea of the perfect, all-inclusive, static Absolute, in which change is illusory, and the idea of the importance of Development. On the whole, Hegel's English followers, particularly Bosanquet and Bradley, stressed the Absolute. In Italy, however, a new school arose, which abandoned the Absolute and stressed Development. For Croce and Gentile the only reality is not a timeless absolute spirit but an active, changing, self-creative spirit. I have not space to trace the development of these two themes of monistic Idealism.
(a) Mechanical Materialism — Having considered the two main types of Idealism, namely pluralistic and monistic, we must turn to Materialism. Two principles are generally regarded as essential to Materialism of every kind. The first is that matter, or what we experience as matter, is more fundamental than mind, or than anything in the nature of our experiencing. The second principle common to all kinds of Materialism is determinism. It is conceived that all events happen systematically and follow necessarily from the nature and mutual relations of the material units. Within the field of Materialism we must distinguish two kinds of theory. One, which may be called Mechanical Materialism, is whole-heartedly materialistic. The other, Dialectical Materialism, is much more temperate and much more subtle.
One of the main sources of Materialism is the work of Herbert Spencer, but his philosophy is not easy to classify. He regarded natural science as the only feasible method of studying reality; and thus he was a champion of Scientific Positivism. He believed that human behaviour and human ideals could in theory be fully described in terms of natural science, and that the complex is always fully describable in terms of the simple. In this sense he was a Mechanical Materialist. But he also tells us that, if we had to choose between translating mental phenomena into physical phenomena and translating physical into mental, the latter would be more acceptable; since our knowledge of matter is derived from "feelings." In this mood, in fact, he abandons materialism for idealism. Further, though a champion of mechanism, he is also a champion of evolution and of a hierarchy of levels of biological development from lifeless matter to man. And the principle by which he judges the level of an organism is the principle of integration. Those organisms are more developed in which the parts are more specialised and more dependent upon one another. In thus emphasising unity-in-difference, or "organicity," he is the pioneer of the biologically inspired philosophies. But in his combination of determinism with degrees of development in integrative behaviour he is a forerunner of Dialectical Materialism.
The crudest kind of Materialism is that according to which the universe consists of a vast collection of ultra-microscopic physical units endowed with force, and interacting in regular manners, such that in theory all events in the universe could be predicted from full knowledge of the nature of the units and their arrangement at any moment. Theoretically all that has to be done is to form inductive laws describing how the different kinds of units behave in relation to one another in very simple situations. From this knowledge all else should be deducible. Not only all physical events but also all mental events, are thought of as in some mysterious way consequences of the nature of the ultimate physical units. Consciousness is at most a strange and ineffectual "glow" produced by the material machinery of the body. One school, the extreme kind of Behaviourists, have even argued that there is no such thing as consciousness; there are only nerves, muscles, glands, and their physical behaviour.
Such is the crudest kind of Materialism, but with the advance of science the concept of matter has been transformed, so that nerves, muscles, glands have come to seem very tenuous. An atom is no longer a little grain endowed with force. It is analysable into a system of electrons, protons, and so on; and these are conceived sometimes as "particles of electricity," sometimes as "wave-trains." The concept of force has been abandoned. Even the concept of energy, the potentiality of doing work, has been discarded (so I understand) in favour of something more abstract and less anthropomorphic. Probing further and further in search of the ultimate physical reality, science has abolished more and more of the concrete, and is apparently left with nothing but waves of the probability that certain occurrences of unknowable quality will happen in definite spatial and temporal relations with other such occurrences. This is indeed a far cry from old-fashioned materialism.
Not only so, but also the old concept of discrete units or particles interacting has tended to give way to the concept of a field, within which, or in relation to the totality of which, events occur. They are what they are in relation to the rest of the field. And for some purposes the relevant field is the whole universe. Thus in physical science itself Pluralistic Materialism has developed a strong tendency toward monism.
Finally, the scientific Theory of Relativity has led some physicists to believe that the observing mind itself plays a creative part in determining what shall be observed. Such seemingly objective facts as the measurable size of an object and the simultaneity of events are found to vary with the relative motion of the observer. It is therefore argued that all events are events to or for observing minds. The existence of events, we are told, depends on their being observed. Thus has materialistic science delivered itself over to Subjective Idealism.
Many scientists reject the view that the facts of Relativity support subjectivism. They point out that even though size and simultaneity do depend on the relative physical motion of the observer, there is no evidence that they depend on his observing, or his mentality. A lifeless camera-plate would record the same kind of results. Many philosophers consider that the arguments on which this new subjectivism is based are confused and mistaken, and, moreover, that they have long ago been refuted. This is not the .place to reopen the whole question of Epistemological Realism, which we have already discussed and judged tentatively to be sound.
Modern physicists with a leaning toward Idealism have put forward an argument against the deterministic aspect of Mechanical Materialism, namely, the argument based on physical indeterminacy, which we have already noticed in discussing science. Rightly or wrongly, this argument also has tended to undermine the old faith in "matter."
But even if we reject the arguments for subjectivism, and for determinism, we must recognise that the mere advance of physical science has transformed Mechanical Materialism into something very different from what it was in the nineteenth century. It is no longer an affair of little hard atoms, like marbles. Though the essence of Materialism may be retained, a more appropriate name for it would be "Physicalism," as opposed to Idealism, or "Mentalism."
The real weakness of Mechanical Materialism or Physicalism lies, as we have seen, in the fact that concepts derived wholly from the study of physical nature are not in fact adequate to describe all kinds of events. We cannot in practice give an account of the Russian Revolution or of art or of intellectual activity solely in terms of physical concepts. In affirming that "in theory" we can do so, the Materialist is merely declaring a faith which he cannot prove, or even render intellectually plausible to anyone who has realised the difficulties. In practice each science studies a particular type of events, and employs special concepts derived from its special field of study. In some cases it is possible to analyse the basic concepts of one science into simpler terms derived from another. Thus in theory chemistry can be reduced to physics. In other cases only a partial reduction can be effected, for instance in physiology. In yet other cases the essential features of the special field cannot be reduced at all to any lower-level concepts; though the higher-level events may be found to vary with lower-level events. Emotion cannot be reduced to chemical concepts, but it does to some extent vary with chemical events in the body. In other cases, again, even this concomitance cannot be demonstrated, and the higher-level science must, for the present at least, remain completely autonomous. In this state of affairs the belief that in theory everything can be accounted for in terms of physical concepts is little more than a superstition.
Another and seemingly a very cogent argument against Mechanical Materialism we have already noticed in discussing the problem of mind and body. According. to the theory, thoughts are either-identical with, or wholly caused by, physical changes in the body. This means that the sequence of thoughts in a rational process is determined not by the logical implications of the object about which we are thinking but simply by physical changes in the brain. But if in thinking we really discover the truth about anything, the course of our thinking must be determined by the nature of the object thought about, not merely by bodily events. Otherwise all theorising is invalid, and in particular the theorising which produced the theory of Mechanical Materialism. Thus if Mechanical Materialism is true, all the arguments for it are worthless.
We noticed a possible, but not wholly satisfactory, answer to this argument. The nerve-tracks which determine the course of our thought, and our sense of rationality, it may be said, are themselves a "reflection" of the structure of the environment, which is itself on the whole rational. Thus, after all, thought is to be trusted, and the arguments for materialism are not necessarily worthless. But this is guess-work.
(b) Dialectical Materialism — We can now turn to the more subtle kind of Materialism, namely, that which was founded by Karl Marx. But I must begin by once more warning the reader that my knowledge of Marxian theory is not that of a specialist.
Karl Marx was influenced both by the materialistic tradition of science and, as we have seen, by the dialectical form of idealism originated by Hegel. He wisely escapes the charge that we have made against materialism of the mechanical sort, since he avoids the attempt to account for everything by means of concepts derived from physical science. Instead he postulates qualitatively distinct levels of reality, connected together in the dialectical manner. Though he retains the name "Materialism" to mark his opposition to Hegel's Idealism, his theory is not by any means materialistic in the original narrow sense. It is materialistic only in that it derives its explanatory concepts from the nature of the objective world which mind experiences, not from the nature of mind itself, or of experiencing; and it regards the nature of: the objective world as more like matter than like mind.
Dialectical Materialism is said to be a principle or formula by means of which we can discover intelligible order in the data of observation. Further, it is said to be scientific. It rejects all concepts that cannot be derived from scientific observation. Such concepts it labels "metaphysical."
Dialectical Materialism itself is in one sense at least a metaphysical doctrine, since it includes propositions about the essential nature of experienced reality in general, and the connection between different orders of observable reality. Using the distinction made. by Kant, we may perhaps say that Dialectical Materialism is a case, not indeed of transcendent metaphysics, but of immanent metaphysics. Though it makes no claim to reveal any hidden reality behind the world of ordinary experience, and is not in this sense metaphysical, it does claim that, for the understanding of reality as we experience it, the dialectical process is the master key.
The kind of understanding which this master key can provide is said by Marxians to be not metaphysical but scientific, because it affords not a means for merely contemplating reality but a means for practically controlling reality. The purpose of human knowledge, we are told, is not mere knowledge but action, not to know the world but to change it. Knowledge is always relative to human needs to act. Disinterested thought is a fiction. Sheer curiosity is, of course, one motive of action, but it is a minor motive, and is not the driving force of any of the sustained and co-operative efforts of human intellect. Moreover, objective truth for contemplation is a fiction. Knowledge is "true" in so far as it leads to successful action.
In this respect the Marxian theory is identical with Pragmatism. As we have already discussed and rejected Pragmatism we need not spend more time on this aspect of Marxism. We may merely repeat that if bourgeois truth is true only for bourgeois action, then proletarian truth is true only for proletarian action. This tendency, not merely to recognise that some degree of bias is inevitable, but to deny any ultimate distinction between true and false, and actually to glory in bias, is extremely dangerous. It encourages some Marxian enthusiasts to dismiss as mere bourgeois propaganda any theory which they regard as unfavourable to Marxism, or which they simply fail to understand. The glorification of bias is bound to lead to an abandonment of intellectual honesty, and finally to the destruction of civilisation by barbarism.
But there is much more in Marxism than this pragmatical strain. The theory does in practice admit an objective distinction between "true" and "false." The dialectical method is regarded as a means for discovering objective truth about the world; though, of course, the kind of truth that it discovers is said to be simply truth useful for action.
Dialectical Materialism may be regarded as a theory of the relation of the sciences to each other, or rather of the fields of objective reality studied by the sciences. While each science is entitled to its own special concepts, it also has its special position in the hierarchy of sciences. Sciences of higher rank cannot be simply reduced to, or explained in terms of, sciences of lower rank, as they must be if Mechanical Materialism is true. The relation between the ranks is said to be of a regular and dialectical type. According to the theory, whenever the internal strains in matter reach a certain measurable degree of intensity there appears a qualitatively new kind of behaviour, in which all the internal contradictions of the former kind are solved in a new "synthesis." The new kind of behaviour cannot be described by the scientific laws formulated for the study of the simpler kind of behaviour, but must be studied on its own merits, for the formation of a science of higher rank. Thus the sciences can be arranged in a hierarchy, extending from physics, through biology and psychology to sociology, the science dealing with the most complex kinds of behaviour of which matter is capable, so far as we know.
It is important, but none too easy, to distinguish between the hierarchical principle adopted in Dialectical Materialism and that adopted in the biologically-inspired theory of Emergence, which Marxians scornfully reject. In the theory of Emergence, as we have seen, the laws of one level cannot, even in theory, be explained in terms of the laws of a lower level. Real novelty emerges at each higher level. Marxians also insist that in their theory, as opposed to that of Mechanical Materialism, real novelty occurs at each level. Yet they sometimes charge the champions of Emergence with introducing a "mystical" principle, owing to an inveterate bias toward the obscurantism which is necessary for the defence of the capitalist class.
All this is really very perplexing. It looks as though Marxians were trying both to have their cake and eat it. They seem to claim that their theory is at once "non-mechanical" (in the sense that it does not accept the laws of physics as the ultimate explanation of everything) and yet also that it is materialistic (in the sense that any principles which it does accept must be regarded as inherent in the nature of "matter"). But if matter is after all not purely physical, if the biological and the mental causal concepts are not reducible to the physical, what is the difference between Dialectical Materialism and Emergence? On the other hand, if they are reducible, what is the difference between Dialectical Materialism and Mechanical Materialism?
But to continue, the dialectical principle does not apply only to the relation between distinct sciences, but also within the field of anyone science. It is said to explain the sudden qualitative changes, or "changes of phase," that occur when a quantitative change reaches a certain critical point. For instance, when ice is heated, there comes a moment when the ordered ranks of its molecules break down, and the crystalline ice becomes liquid water. Professor Levy has pointed out that such catastrophic and qualitative changes are well known in science, as the culmination of more gradual processes. Such changes the Marxian would describe as dialectical.
Marx's lieutenant, Engels, formulated three laws of Dialectical Change, which, in spite of their difficult language, may be taken to express the essentials of the process. (1) "The transition of quantity into quality" expresses the fact, already noted, that any process of increase culminates in a critical point at which a new quality emerges, and new laws are exemplified. (2) "The interpenetration of opposites" expresses the coexistence and conflict of thesis and antithesis in any dialectical situation. As an example, Professor Levy mentions the condition of science in capitalist society. Capitalism itself generated the vast activity of modern science. But whereas capitalism tends toward high prices and therefore scarcity, science tends to function for plenty, and must in time undermine the very system that created it. (3) "The negation of the negation" expresses the final synthesis in which the negation described by the second law is transcended in a new order. Thus, in the case of science, the negation of science and capitalism will not itself be negated until a new social order emerges in which science can fulfil its power of affording social plenty.
The dialectical process is said to be a case of necessity. It is notlogically necessary, since the synthesis is not deducible from the manifest character of the thesis and antithesis. The synthesis contains real novelty. None the less, the process is said to be necessary in the scientific sense, since it is regular and predictable. There must therefore be a hidden internal necessity. Causation is not to be thought of as merely "invariable sequence," as it was by Hume, but as necessary though not demonstrably necessary. By observation we can form inductive laws to describe and predict in what lower-level conditions the higher-level behaviour will occur. For instance, we can formulate exact inductive laws to predict when water will boil, ice thaw, and (we are told) when social revolution will occur. Also, we can formulate higher-level inductive laws to describe the manner in which the higher-level behaviour itself will occur. In this purely descriptive sense, at least, the behaviour is deterministic. But also, if I understand it, it is deterministic in the sense that this observable regularity is regarded as an expression of an underlying necessity. If this is a correct interpretation, Dialectical Materialism is obviously not merely a scientific but a metaphysical theory.
But though deterministic, the theory does not simply deny human freedom. Marx insists that men make their own history, Of their own intrinsic nature they choose one course rather than another. Throughout history the wills of individuals are determining factors of all human activity. The laws of psychology and sociology are inductive, descriptive. They tell us how human beings do observably behave. They discover no inner necessity in virtue of which human beings must so behave. But human nature and the individual will are observed to be regular; and human behaviour is found to be, within limits, predictable. In the mass, men do desire before all other things food, comfort, and security. Their primary motives are economic. The particular acts of particular individuals are not always predictable, because of the subtlety of the psychological influences concerned. But, as we have seen, in dealing with large social happenings individual idiosyncrasies cancel out, and may be neglected.
Marxians often explain that the only true freedom is that which consists in knowing the laws of social change and working to accelerate their operation. This is reminiscent of the contention of some mediaeval philosophers that the only true freedom is freedom to will the will of God. For the Marxist, true freedom to-day consists in (a) realising that the massed economic desires of the workers, combined with the inevitable breakdown of capitalism, must lead to social revolution; and (b) in voluntarily working as a revolutionary. We are not here concerned with the social theory but with the theory of freedom. And so far as freedom is concerned, I fail to see that a man's will is any more free in swimming with the current than in swimming against it.
I will close this subsection by summarising the main criticisms that, in my view, must be made against Dialectical Materialism as a metaphysical theory.
So far as I can understand it, the theory regards "matter" as an underlying substance which "has" physical and mental qualities. Marxists would deny this charge, but not, so far as I can see, with justice. We have already seen that the substance-attribute way of thinking is misleading, though not wholly false.
Though the theory insists that matter may have both physical and mental qualities, it apparently regards the physical qualities as in some sense more substantial (or essential to matter) than the physical qualities; since it makes much of the late evolution of consciousness. To this it might be replied that perhaps the more essential qualities of matter only reveal themselves (to scientific observation) at a late stage of evolution.
In general, the relation between higher and lower levels remains obscure. It is by no means clear in what sense the connection is necessary, and in what sense genuine novelty appears at each higher level. Nor is it clear whether the causal necessity (on which the theory insists) operates solely on the physical plane or also and independently on the mental plane. If I understand the theory, the mental is not reducible to the physical. But if this interpretation is correct, I fail to see why the priority of the physical should be emphasised.
In spite of these criticisms, however, it is obvious that Dialectical Materialism is in our day one of the main growing points of thought. Perhaps in the future, when a decent society has been established and social passions do not confuse all intellectual issues, Dialectical Materialists will outgrow their habit of imputing mere class-bias to those who criticise their beliefs. Perhaps at the same time they will be content to know that their doctrine is an immensely fertile principle, without insisting that it is gospel truth.
(a) The Pioneer of Evolutionism — Absolute Idealism, though it passes beyond formal logic, is in temper intellectualistic. Mechanical Materialism deals chiefly in concepts derived from physics. Dialectical Materialism is inspired partly by physics but mainly by sociology and economics. We must now turn to a type of philosophy in which the source of inspiration is biological and psychological.
Though Darwin was the pioneer of Evolutionism as a biological theory, Herbert Spencer, as we have seen, was the pioneer of philosophical Evolutionism. But whereas many later philosophers have inclined to regard evolution as involving some definitely non-mechanical principle, Spencer accounts for it as a deterministic expression of natural law. His famous definition of evolution runs as follows: "An integration of matter, and a consequent dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, to definite, coherent heterogeneity of structure and function, through successive differentiations and integrations." Interpreting this ponderous formula, we may say that, in his view, evolution consists of (a) specialisation of parts and differentiation of their characters, and (b) increasing interdependence of parts, in fact system, unity in difference. "Life," he tells us, "is the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations." But "life in its essence," he says, cannot be conceived in physico-chemical terms.
Spencer thought that evolution, as he defined it, must necessarily occur. He believed that a chaos of simple units must inevitably become a differentiated system. He insisted on "the instability of the homogeneous." This principle is far from being true. Indeed, in modern science its opposite, the principle of increasing "entropy" or "randomness" and decreasing system or organicity is accepted as a universal physical principle.
The fact that evolution has occurred, yet cannot be shown to be necessary, combined with the appearance of seeming novelty at higher evolutionary levels, has led some philosophers to abandon the view that in principle a purely scientific account of evolution can be given. We must now turn to the extreme expression of this view.
(b) The Life Force Theory — Bergson's philosophy is based on a criticism of the mechanistic account of biological evolution and of human behaviour. If evolution is a product simply of minute chance variations and natural selection, as Darwin suggested, how could complete organs, such as eyes, which have no value till they are more or less complete, ever evolve? Bergson argues that gradualism cannot have been the main principle of evolution. There must have been sudden large variations that were generally favourable to survival. Such large variations are known to occur and are called "mutations."
Something positive, Bergson thinks, is needed to explain the continued advance of life. Behind evolution there must be some "élan vital" or Life Force, making ever new experiments.
In criticism we must note at once certain important points. Eyes, we are now told, have evolved by stages each of which afforded some slight advantage to the organism. One early stage consisted of a sense organ under the skin with a vaguely transparent "blister" of fluid immediately over it. As to mutations, they are more often harmful than beneficial. Indeed, most of them, it seems, are positively lethal. Selection would account for the survival of the beneficial ones.
On the other hand, we must admit that some positive cause is required to explain progressive variation. It is pointed out that the mean around which variations vary in each generation does not advance from one generation to another. If two persons above the average stature have children, the statures of the children vary (in ordinary conditions) not round the parental heights but round the average height for the stock that produced the parents. To explain an evolutionary increase of stature we should have to show how the average stature (round which variations varied) increased from generation to generation. Natural selection prunes the evolutionary tree; but some positive force must provide the sprouting. This is a point in Bergson's favour.
Bergson further argues that evolution cannot be accounted for simply by the gradual adaptation of the organism to the environment. If it could, he says, evolution would have stopped long ago, when all the species were exactly adapted to their environments. To this argument the answer is that perfect adaptation never occurs in an advancing species, because the environment itself is constantly changing. When the environment ceases to change, stagnation does often ensue. Thousands of species have never evolved beyond a primitive level.
Bergson claims that certain psychological facts are incompatible with the theory that living things are mere pieces of mechanism. He cites the "vicarious functioning" of brain tracts; but, as we have already seen, this argument is of doubtful value. He also claims that the facts of abnormal psychology occur without any corresponding brain changes. This certainly cannot be proved. He further claims that subconscious mental activity is inconceivable if consciousness is associated with brain changes. But why? Some brain tracts .may sometimes function in dissociation from others.
Bergson's conclusion is that the brain is merely the instrument of consciousness, or the point at which consciousness enters into and avails itself of matter. He suggests that consciousness itself, for its own purpose, evolved the brain. And consciousness itself is the Life Force, which is responsible both for the evolution of the race and for the growing of the individual. This would seem to imply that we should be conscious of the process by which we grow up; but we are not.
In Bergson's view consciousness is not the passing activity of an enduring self or "ego." The self is the flux of consciousness. We change unceasingly, and even the static is nothing but change of a special kind. The whole universe is change. The universe, he says, is a stream of change, or "becoming," or evolving. There is no Absolute Reality which is the eternal source of change. There is just the continuous flux, without beginning, and without end.
Like Marx, Bergson condemns intellectual metaphysics; but, unlike Marx, he claims that there is another kind of metaphysics, not of intellect but of "intuition." By means of "intuition," which is said to be instinct conscious of itself, we realise in our own changing consciousness the reality which is also the reality of the universe. For we are the "becoming" or "duration" or "durée" which reality is.
Bergson distinguishes experienced duration from the intellectual abstraction which we call "time," and use for scientific purposes. This abstract "time," or "mathematical time," is a system of temporal relations between events. If real time, or "duration," were to be speeded up, the system of relations would not reveal the fact, since they would remain the same. Clocks, like everything else, would go quicker. In distinction from mere "scientific time," duration itself is the continuous progress of the past which "gnaws into the future," and is lived through in our consciousness.
Just as intellect dissects the living duration into the abstract instants and dates of scientific time, so also it dissects our concrete spatial experience into distinct material objects. Matter is said to be the falsifying view of reality, created by intellect. The shapes of things do not belong to reality itself. They are the pattern which intellect projects upon reality as an aid to action. Intellect "carves out" these solid and distinct objects, constructs them, as one constructs a formula for action.
In the same way, Bergson says, intellect gives a falsifying account of motion. It analyses motion into a series of static states, like the instantaneous views that make up a cinematograph film. It misses entirely the reality of motion, which only intuition can grasp as it really is.
He admits, however, that matter is not wholly the creature of intellect. For there is something which is other than the intuited flow of life, and something with which intellect is specially concerned. What precisely this "other" is he never clearly tells us. Sometimes he speaks of it as a flow in the opposite direction from life. It is the falling and extinguished remains of life's rocket. Or if life is the rising jet of a fountain, matter is the falling drops, some of which collide with the upthrust of the jet.
The peculiar nature of intellect, Bergson argues, throws light on the free-will controversy. The special function of intellect is to abstract. Any single act of volition is an abstraction formed by intellect. What is real is not isolated acts but the indivisible flow of life. Each act, regarded in isolation, inevitably appears as determined by causes beyond itself. But the personality as a whole is freely creative in every moment. Free will is creative action. This view, says Bergson, is supported by the fact that in practice we never really believe in determinism. We confidently feel ourselves free.
Bergson's work has played a great and salutary part in the formation of modern thought. It was a symptom of the revolt against mechanism, and against intellectualism of the doctrinaire kind. It helped men to realise that the scope of intellect, even of the ideally perfected intellect, had grave limitations, and that intellectual analysis might miss the essence of the object analysed.
But, as we have seen, some of Bergson's arguments are far from convincing; and his theories are unsatisfactory. In particular they are open to the charge that they defeat themselves. They claim to prove that, intellect is in principle a false guide, save in practical matters; but since they themselves are based on intellectual processes, their own conclusions must be invalid. The sweeping condemnation of intellect and praise of intuition, though a healthy reaction from crude intellectualism, is itself crude. As we have seen, intellect and intuition involve one another. Intellect itself moves by intuitive leaps, and intuition is often the outcome of preparatory intellectual work.
We have already considered and dismissed the theory that intuition is "instinct conscious of itself," and that it affords a more penetrating knowledge than intellect. When instinct is "conscious of itself" it is not so much a conscious knowing as a conscious doing. Its knowing is a very limited awareness of the particular stimuli which evoke it, and a generally quite imprecise awareness of the actual response. In what other sense does the angry man know the situation that makes him angry, or know the activity of anger itself? What reason is there to suppose that the instinctive bird or insect knows in any more effective way? It simply behaves "by blind instinct."
Another difficulty in Bergson's philosophy is the theory that reality is featureless. If all the forms that we know in the material world are purely subjective, how is it that we are compelled to perceive things as having certain characters and not others? Why is the reality of a cat cat-like and not tree-like? Must we not admit that however illusory our perception, some differences must actually belong to reality itself as the causes of the differences in our perception?
(c) Vitalism and Emergence — Many philosophers who are unable to accept the extravagant anti-intellectualism of Bergson have nevertheless been greatly influenced by the biological temper which he so persuasively advocated. Here it is impossible to do more than note the general trend of this great stream of philosophical thought, ignoring its many meanderings and the wealth of ideas that have flourished along its banks.
The controlling principles of philosophies of this type would seem to be three, and all are derived from biology. They are: the concept of evolution, the concept of teleology, and the concept of organism.
Evolution is conceived as a cosmical process, tending, either by necessity or more often as an undecided free adventure, toward something like a "far-off divine event" in which the potentiality in the universe for consciousness will be fulfilled by a process continuous with biological evolution. For instance, in the philosophy of Samuel Alexander, the universe is said to have a "nisus toward deity," a tendency or urge or bias to achieve the fully awakened cosmical consciousness. In this view space and time, or rather space-time, is regarded as the fundamental reality, which generates the manifold characters of the universe. This is a very different conception from that of Absolute Idealism, in which reality is "above" space and time.
Teleology, in the philosophies of organism, is contrasted with mechanism. According to the Vitalists, since evolution cannot be explained in terms of mere natural selection, it is necessary to postulate a purposive Life Force, a metaphysical substance, controlling the whole movement of evolution; or a number of particular "entelechies" or purposive substances controlling the growth of individual organisms. By some such means, they argue, it is ensured that on the whole biological variations shall have a bias favourable to progressive evolution.
This theory, which C. D. Broad has called "Substantial Vitalism," must be contrasted with what he has called "Emergent Vitalism." According to Lloyd Morgan, it is a mistake to conceive such distinct teleological substances, but we must recognise that, when physical units are organised in a certain degree of complexity, they manifest a new mode of behaviour, which is different from mechanical behaviour, and must be called "teleological," in that it is determined partly by a goal, or end to be attained. The new kind of behaviour is said to "emerge" in the complex situation, In judging the theory Broad gives a very useful analysis of the idea of teleology. The structure or behaviour of anything is said to be "teleological" if it cannot, even in theory, be fully described without introducing an end. The thing must be fashioned as if, or must behave as if, it had been purposefully designed to attain that end. The structure or plan of a man-made machine is obviously teleological in this sense, though its behaviour can be described fully in terms of mechanism. This is a case of "external teleology," which is contrasted with the "internal teleology" of a living organism. Organisms seem like machines that make themselves. In the case of a living organism the champion of mechanism may reasonably claim that behaviour is in theory reducible to mechanism (i.e. the physical functioning of mechanical parts); but it is difficult for him to explain by means of pure mechanism the form of structure, or plan, of the organism, in virtue of which its parts may be thought of as functioning mechanically so as to attain the ends of survival and reproduction. According to the Emergence theory, then, teleology "emerges" out of mechanism. Similarly, at a higher level of organisation conscious purposiveness is said to emerge out of unconscious teleology. So to speak, it is "teleological behaviour become conscious of itself," and therefore capable of more flexible and accurate adaptation to the environment.
In terms of this concept of teleology these philosophers describe the evolution of species and the instinctive behaviour of individual organisms. And sometimes they suppose that teleology, thus defined, is in some sense a potentiality of the universe as a whole in its evolution toward a state of perfected organicity and consciousness.
A final decision about Emergent Vitalism cannot be reasonably made until much more biological evidence has been accumulated. It is still possible that a complete account not only of behaviour but of the evolution of species may be given in terms of mechanism. But we must recognise that no such account of evolution has yet been given.
It remains true, however, that so far as size, shape, and movement are concerned the concept of mechanism is in theory capable of explaining evolution and behaviour. On the other hand, as we have already seen, a concept which itself contains nothing but size, shape, and movement cannot, logically, account for anything else. It cannot account for secondary qualities. Nor can it account for consciousness. The most it can do is to describe the mechanical situations in which these are observed to occur, or emerge.
It is worth noting, by the way, that the theory of Emergent Vitalism does not necessarily deny determinism, though its advocates often do in fact deny it. There is no reason why the emergent teleological factor should not turn out to be (if we had more precise knowledge of it) perfectly regular and predictable. Its actual emergence, though not logically derivable from the lower-level, mechanical laws, might occur precisely in certain mechanical situations and not in others; and therefore it would be determinate. And when once it had emerged, its operation might be perfectly systematic.
It must not be supposed that the emergent factor, so to speak, "descends from the blue" like a divine messenger. Rather we must suppose that it is always a latent capacity in the mechanical units, but a capacity which cannot manifest itself save when they occur in certain complex relations with one another.
(d) Whitehead's Philosophy — The third of the controlling principles which appears in philosophies of a biological temper is the concept of "organism," which first came into prominence in the work of the Absolute Idealists, and was developed in a very different manner by Herbert Spencer.
An organism is a system in which the character of each part is determined by its relation to the rest of the system. A system can be either more or less organic in comparison with other systems. The character of a part can be either more thoroughly or less thoroughly determined by its relations to the rest of the system. The ideal limit in one direction is the "system" in which the parts are wholly unaffected by one another, like Leibniz's monads. In the other direction is the ideal limit in which the parts are wholly determined by their relations, as in the Hegelian Absolute. Both these extremes are impossible abstractions. If they are to be avoided it is necessary to allow that the parts may be in some respects unaffected by their relationship, and in others affected intrinsically by it. A biological organism is plainly organic in this sense. In philosophies that make great use of the concept of organism it is sometimes contended that the whole universe, either is or is tending to become organic.
The philosophy of A. N. Whitehead is perhaps the most thorough-going and the most striking philosophy of organism. Unfortunately, Whitehead's work, though rich in suggestive ideas which open up vistas of novel and significant thought, is often very obscure. I do not pretend to be able to judge how far the obscurity is due to actual confusion of thought and how far to the inability of the ordinary mind to share the insight which has gone to the making of this remarkable philosophy. My own experience in reading Whitehead has been rather like that of an explorer groping his way through dense jungle. Now and then he emerges upon some bare mountain-top, to be rewarded by a panorama that embraces seemingly a whole virgin continent, the home, perhaps, of a future civilisation.
Not that Whitehead's work is novel in any revolutionary manner. He himself deprecates the modern tendency to break away from the great stream of philosophical speculation, He insists that philosophy must speculate, and must take note of past speculations. His own work, he suggests, is but "a transformation of some main doctrines of Absolute Idealism on to a realistic basis." (Might not this be said also of Dialectical Materialism?)
Whitehead's starting-point is a criticism of the analytic method of modern science. As a method bf practical scientific enquiry it is, of course, invaluable; but it led, almost unconsciously, to a false metaphysics in which certain factors in the concrete world were abstracted from their setting and regarded as the "reality," of which all the rest was subjective "appearance." This error Whitehead calls the fallacy of "illicit abstraction." It led to Descartes' dualism, which Whitehead describes as the "bifurcation" of nature into material and mental characters, and the attempt to explain everything in terms of the material. Those who felt that this kind of explanation was all wrong were themselves guilty of "bifurcation," since on their side they attempted to explain everything either in terms of the other illicit abstraction, namely the mental, or in terms of the interaction of the two distinct abstractions, matter and mind.
Bifurcation also led, according to Whitehead, to a false separation of substance and quality, culminating in theories of an unknowable reality and its appearances. In yet another respect it led to error, namely, in the sharp distinction between the "thing" and its "environment," a failure to recognise that the two are not substantially distinct, but intimately intermingled. According to Whitehead, it is always a mistake to abstract a thing from its environment and to think of this abstraction as concrete. He calls this error the fallacy of "misplaced concreteness." Rejecting this analytic kind of philosophy, Whitehead offers a system based on the conviction that everything is intrinsically related to everything else, or is constituted by its relations to everything else. The result is a far-reaching monism, but a monism that differs from Absolute Idealism in at least three important respects. In the first place, reality is not a static, timeless reality. It is actually going on. It is essentially process, though it has, as we shall see, an eternal aspect. Secondly, reality is not featureless, as it was for some Idealists. It really has (though often not simply in the manner that we suppose) the features that we perceive it as having. Thirdly, according to Whitehead, reality is to be conceived not in terms of thought but of "feeling." (Some Idealists would agree with this.) Feeling, however, is not, in Whitehead's view, purely mental or subjective". It has also an objective aspect which is essentially what we mean by "material."
Every particular "thing" or "event" in the universe, whether an electron or a man or an explosion or an epoch of civilisation or the career of a star, is in some sense constituted by its relations to the test of the universe. These relations are not merely of the logical type, as in Hegel's system. They are relations of feeling. Everything feels, or perceives, or takes account of, everything else.
Only in highly organised things, such as men, is this feeling a conscious feeling. Elsewhere it is subconscious. In passing we must note that "subconscious feeling" is a very slippery phrase. The word "consciousness" itself is ambiguous. It may mean any sort of awareness, or it may mean something more, perhaps "awareness plus awareness-of-that-awareness." Then "subconscious feeling" is simply awareness, without awareness-of -the-awareness.
Every particular thing, then, is sensitive to other things in the sense that it grasps aspects of other things, and is itself constituted by what it grasps of other things. This relationship Whitehead calls "prehension." Every event is a "prehensive occasion" embodying the relations of that event to the rest of the universe.
This sensitivity toward the rest of the universe is not, however, a thing's whole being. It is not only a passive receiving but also an active giving. Its whole being is constituted by its reception of the rest of the universe in its particular place and time, and its contribution to the rest of the universe throughout all space and time. As we have already seen, Whitehead denies that a thing is "simply located" in a particular place and time. It is the sum-total of what we call its "effects" throughout space and time, plus its reception of the "effects" of the rest of the universe in its simply-located focal point (or rather its focal region) in space and time.
The words "thing" and "event" are, of course, misleading. We must think of the universe as a seamless (but not featureless) unity, which for our own interest we can analyse into discrete things. Similarly a cube may theoretically be analysed into an infinite number of lesser cubes, some of them concentric with others, some overlapping, some distinct from one another. A better image, perhaps, is the multitude of spreading circles made by raindrops on a pond. But, to complete the image, the circles must be infinite in number, and every abstract point must both radiate and receive influences.
And what of the characters in respect of which things differ and are alike?, Whitehead distinguishes between particulars and universals, but he does not hypostatise either of these abstractions; and he does not use the words "particular" and "universal" An "event" is any particular happening (long or short) in the spatio-temporal world. But apart from the abstract spatio-temporal characters which constitute an event, it has also the qualities which we either perceive or intellectually know it to have. These universal qualities he calls, rather oddly, "eternal objects." The word "object" indicates that they are objective, that they are not mere subjective "ideas" in our minds, or God's mind. The word "eternal" indicates that, like the Platonic "forms," they are in a sense not restricted by time and space, since they may occur anywhere and anywhen. But unlike the Platonic forms, they are not fully real independently of their particular occasions. They have only the kind of reality which a possibility has. Together, in their infinite variety, they constitute the infinite realm of possibility. Though they are mere abstractions, they are said to have "ingression" into, or be "ingredient" in, the flux of events. That is, certain "eternal objects" characterise certain events.
An event is characterised by certain "eternal objects" and not others. If it were characterised by all, it would have no character at all. "Every actual occasion is a limitation imposed on possibility." The actual world, then, must be given definite form in virtue of some principle of limitation. This principle of limitation Whitehead calls God. But God, regarded in this aspect, is a very strange God, who is not a concrete being, but an abstraction. Regarded thus, he has no reality save as a principle characterising the universe. In this aspect, he is not actual, but is "the ground for concrete actuality." He is "the principle of concretion," His existence is said to be "the ultimate irrationality." No reason can be given for his nature, or for the actualisation of just those possibilities that are actualised and not others. But, as we shall presently see, God has also another aspect.
We have seen that every actual thing or event is said to be a "prehensive occasion," constituted by its relations to other events. To this conception we must now add the doctrine of "negative prehension." A thing's positive character is what it is partly in virtue of all the characters that it is not. A cat is a cat partly in virtue of not being winged, finned, handed, and so on. The cat, therefore, negatively prehends all the characters which are excluded from it. Similarly all "living" things, in being alive and not lifeless, negatively prehend the "non-living" character of lifeless matter.
The difference between "alive" and "lifeless" is for Whitehead only a difference of degree, not an absolute difference. All actual things are organisms. Biology is the study of the larger organisms, physics the study of the smaller. The whole universe is a living process, not in the sense that it is a single living organism, but as entirely composed of an infinity of interpenetrating living organisms of all degrees of complexity. And an organism, as we have seen, is essentially an "occasion of experience."
But the experience which constitutes a thing is not simply passive. It is active; and active in two ways, if I understand Whitehead rightly. Not only is a thing active in that it contributes to the nature of all other things, but also in that it has its own "subjective aim," its striving to fulfil its potentiality. In virtue of this "subjective aim" it incorporates certain possible prehensions into itself and rejects others. More precisely, it accepts everything; but in virtue of its "subjective aim," some relations playa more important part in its make-up than others.
God also is said to have a "subjective aim." For God is not simply an abstraction. He is not merely the primordial "principle of concretion" in virtue of which the universe actually occurs. He has not only a "primordial" but also a "consequent" nature. He is not only the beginning but the end; or, better, not only the ground or root but the flower of all existence. For "he shares with every new creation its actual world." Thus he has. after all, actuality. "Each temporal occasion embodies God"; and God is "a multiplicity of actual components in process of creation." Not only so, but God is one. For the fulfilment of God's "consequent nature" is a single consciousness, and "the realisation of the actual world in the unity of his nature." Between God and the world there is a reciprocal relation. Each is necessary to the other’s being. By reason of this reciprocal relation, "the love in the world passes into the love in heaven, and floods back into the world. In this sense. God is the great companion — the fellow-sufferer who understands."
It is all too likely that the foregoing brief account of Whitehead's philosophy is far more inadequate and misleading even than I know it to be. But I could not complete this book without some account of the most brilliant. most comprehensive, most significant. though also most difficult. metaphysical system of our time.
It is impossible here to offer anything but the briefest criticism. The whole system is founded on the doctrine of intrinsic relations, the doctrine that particular things are constituted by their relations with other things. As we have seen. the objection to this doctrine is that relations presuppose terms. If we analyse the terms away into more relations nothing whatever is left. To this objection Whitehead would reply that he has insisted on the actuality of the particular "occasions" in space and time which support the relations. In this view both relations and terms are abstractions, and neither must be hypostatised and used as an all-sufficient explanatory concept.
Apart from the general criticism that it is sometimes impossible to tell whether Whitehead is being very profound or very vague, we must note also that sometimes, for instance in his theory of God, the trend of his argument seems to be determined less by logical necessity than by the desire to complete his system by relating it, in however strange a manner, with religious orthodoxy.
However this may be, the sympathetic reader will discover in his works a degree of metaphysical imagination and insight which far more than compensates for any shortcomings.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54