« AnteriorContinuar »
ON MATERIALISM AND IMMATERIALISM.
It is one part of science, and not the least important, though the lowest and most elementary, to become duly acquainted with the nature and extent of our ignorance upon whatever subject we propose to investigate ;* and it is probably for want of a proper attention to this branch of study that we meet with so many crude and confident theories upon questions that the utmost wit or wisdom of man is utterly incapable of elucidating. The rude uninstructed peasant, or ignorant pretender, believes that he understands every thing before him; the experienced philosopher knows that he understands nothing. It was so formerly in Greece, and will be so in every age and country: while the sophists of Athens asserted their pretensions to universal knowledge, Socrates, in opposition to them, was 'daily affirming that the only thing he knew to a certainty was his own ignorance. The shallow Indian sage, as soon as he had made the important discovery that the world was supported by an elephant, and the elephant by a tortoise, felt the most perfect complacency in the solution he was now prepared to give to the question, by what means is the world supported in empty space? And it is justly observed by Mr. Barrow, that the chief reason why the Chinese are so far behind Europeans in the fine arts and higher branches of science, as painting, for example, and geometry, is the consummate vanity they possess, which induces them to look with contempt upon the real knowledge of every other nation.
The subjects we have thus far chiefly discussed, though others branching out from them have been glanced at as well, have related to the principle and properties of matter, both under an unorganized and under an organic modification: and although I have endeavoured to do my utmost to put you in possession of the clearest and most valuable facts which are known upon these subjects, I am much afraid it is to little more than to this first and initial branch of science that any instructions I have given have been
"Our knowledge being so narrow, it will perhaps give us some light into the present state of our minds if we look a little into the dark side, and take a view of our ignorance, which, being infinitely greater than our knowledge, may serve much to the quieting of disputes and improvement of useful knowledge; if, discovering how far we have clear and distinct ideas, we confine our thoughts within the contemplation of those things that are within the reach of our understanding; and launch not out into that abyss of darkness where we have not eyes to see, nor faculties to perceive any thing; out of a presumption that nothing is beyond our comprehension. But to be satisfied of the folly of such a conceit we need not go far." Locke, Hum. Underst. IV. iii. § 22.
able to conduct you; for I feel, and have felt deeply as we have proceeded, that they have rather had a tendency to teach us how ignorant we are than how wise; how little is really known than how much has been actually discovered. And if this be the case with respect to our course of study thus far pursued, I much suspect that what is to follow has but little chance of giving a higher character to our attainments; for the subject it proposes to touch upon, the doctrine of psychology, or the nature and properties of the mind, is the most abstruse and intractable of all subjects that relate to human entity, or the great theatre on which human entity plays its important part; and, perhaps, so far as relates to the mere discoveries of man himself, remains, excepting in a few points, much the same in the present day as it did two or three thousand years ago.
This subject forms a prominent section of that extensive branch of science which is generally known by the name of METAPHYSICS, and which, in modern times, has been unjustifiably separated by many philosophers from the division of PHYSICS or natural philosophy; and made a distinct division in itself. As a part of physics, or natural philosophy, it was uniformly arranged by the Greeks; as such it occurs in the works of Aristotle, as such it was regarded by Lord Bacon, as such we meet with it in Mr. Locke's correct and comprehensive classification of science, and as such it has been generally treated of by the Scottish professors of our own day. And I may add that it is very much in consequence of so unnatural a divorce, that the science of metaphysics, has too often licentiously allied itself to imagination, and brought forth a monstrous and chimerical progeny.
The term, though a Greek compound, is not to be found among the Greek writers. The first traces of it occur to us in the Physics of Aristotle, the last fourteen books of which are entitled in the printed editions, Tay μTa Ta Durina; "Of things relating to Physics;" but even this title is generally supposed to have been applied, not by Aristotle himself, but by one of his commentators, probably Andronicus, on the transfer of the manuscripts of Aristotle to Rome, upon the subjugation of Asia by Sylla, in which city this invaluable treasure, as we had occasion to observe not long ago, had been deposited as a part of the plunder of the library of Apellicon of Teia.*
In taking a general survey of the subject immediately before us, there are three questions that have chiefly occupied the attention of the world; the essence of the mind or soul; its durability; and the means by which it maintains a relation with the sensible or external world. Let us devote the present lecture to a consideration of the first of these.
Is the essence of the human soul material or immaterial? The question, at first sight, appears to be highly important, and to involve nothing less than a belief or disbelief, not indeed in its divine origin, but in its divine similitude and immortality. Yet I may venture to affirm, that there is no question which has been productive of so little satisfaction, or has laid a foundation for wider and wilder errors, within the whole range of metaphysics. And for this plain and obvious reason, that we have no distinct idea of the terms, and no settled premises to build upon.† Corruptibility and incorruptibility, intelligent and unintelligent, organized and inorganic, are terms that convey distinct meanings to the mind, and impart
* Ser. I. Lect. XI.
† See Locke on Hum. Unders, ch. xxiii. book ii.
modes of being that are within the scope of our comprehension; but materiality and immateriality are equally beyond our reach. Of the essence of matter we know nothing; and altogether as little of many of its more active qualities; insomuch that amidst all the discoveries of the day, it still remains a controvertible position whether light, heat, magnetism, and electricity, are material substances, material properties, or things superadded to matter and of a higher rank. If they be matter, gravity and ponderability are not essential properties of matter, though commonly so regarded. And if they be things superadded to matter, they are necessarily immaterial; and we cannot open our eyes without beholding innumerable instances of material and immaterial bodies co-existing and acting in harmonious unison through the entire frame of nature. But if we know nothing of the essence, and but little of the qualities, of matter; of that common substrate which is diffused around us in every direction, and constitutes the whole of the visible world, what can we know of what is immaterial? of the full meaning of a term that, in its strictest sense, comprehends all the rest of the immense fabric of actual and possible being, and includes in its vast circumference every essence and mode of essence of every other being, as well below as above the order of matter, and even that of the Deity himself?*
Shall we take the quality of extension as the line of separation between what is material and what is immaterial? This, indeed, is the general and favourite distinction brought forward in the present day, but it is a distinction founded on mere conjecture, and which will by no means stand the test of inquiry. Is space extended? every one admits it to be so. But is space material? is it body of any kind? Des Cartes, indeed, contended that it is body, and a material body, for he denied a vacuum, and asserted space to be a part of matter itself: but it is probable that there is not a single espouser of this opinion in the present day. If then extension belong equally to matter and to space, it cannot be contemplated as the peculiar and exclusive property of the former and if we allow it to immaterial space, there is no reason why we should not allow it to immaterial spirit. If extension appertain not to the mind, or thinking principle, the latter can have NO PLACE of existence, it can exist NO WHERE,-for WHERE, or PLACE, is an idea that cannot be separated from the idea of extension: and hence the metaphysical immaterialists of modern times freely admit that the mind has NO PLACE of existence, that it does exist NO WHERE; while at the same time they are compelled to allow that the immaterial Creator or universal spirit exists EVERY WHERE, substantially as well as virtually
Let me not, however, be misunderstood upon this abstruse and difficult subject. That the mind has a DISTINCT NATURE, and is a DISTINCT REALITY from the body; that it is gifted with immortality, endowed with reasoning faculties, and capacified for a state of separate existence after the death of the corporeal frame to which it is attached, are in my opinion propositions most clearly deducible from revelation, and, in one or two points, adumbrated by a few shadowy glimpses of nature. And that it may be a substance strictly IMMATERIAL and ESSENTIALLY DIFFERENT from matter, is both possible and probable; and will hereafter, perhaps, when faith is turned into vision, and conjecture into fact, be found to be the true and genuine doctrine upon the subject; but till this glorious era arrives, or fill, antecedently to it, it be proved, which it does not hitherto scem to'
*Stud. of Med. Vol. IV. p. 37. 2d edit.
have been, that matter, itself of divine origin, gifted even at present, under certain modifications, with instinct and sensation, and destined to become immortal hereafter, is physically incapable, under some still more refined and exalted and spiritualized modification, of exhibiting the attributes of the soul; of being, under such a constitution, endowed with immortality from the first, and capacified for existing separately from the external and grosser forms of the body-and that it is beyond the power of its own Creator to render it intelligent, or to give it even brutal perception,-the argument must be loose and inconclusive; it may plunge us, as it has plunged thousands before us, into errors, but can never conduct us to demonstration it may lead us, on the one hand, to the proud Brahminical, or Platonic belief, that the essence of the soul is the very essence of the Deity, hereby rendered capable of division, and consequently a part of the Deity himself; or, on the other, to the gloomy regions of modern materialism, and to the cheerless doctrine that it dies and dissolves in one common grave with the body.*
There seems a strange propensity among mankind, and it may be traced from very early period of the world, to look upon matter with contempt.. The source of this has never, that I know of, been pointed out; but it will, probably, be found to have originated in the old philosophical doctrine we had formerly occasion to advert to, that "nothing can spring from or be decomposed into nothing ;" and consequently that MATTER must have had a necessary and independent existence from all eternity; and have been an immutable PRINCIPLE OF EVIL running coeval with the immutable PRINCIPLE OF GOOD; who, in working upon it, had to contend with all its essential defects, and has made the best of it in his power. But the moment we admit that matter is a creature of the Deity himself; that he has produced it, in his essential benevolence, out of nothing, as an express medium of life and happiness; that, in its origin, he pronounced it, under every modification, to be VERY GOOD; that the human body, though composed of it, was at that time perfect and incorruptible, and will hereafter recover the same attributes of perfection and incorruptibility when it shall again rise up fresh from the grave,-contempt and despisal must give way to reverence and gratitude. Nor less so when, with an eye of devotional or even scientific feeling, we look abroad into the natural world under the present state of things; and behold in what an infinite multiplicity of shapes, and forms, and textures, and modifications, this same degraded substrate of matter is rendered the basis of beauty and energy, and vitality and enjoyment; equally striking in the little and the great; in the blade of grass we trample under foot, and in the glorious sun that rouses it from its wintersleep, and re-quickens it into verdure and fragrancy; from the peopled earth to the peopled heavens; to the spheres on spheres, and systems on systems, that above, below, and all around us, fulfil their harmoniouscourses, and from age to age
In mystic dance, not without song, resound
Had the real order of nature been attended to, instead of the loose sug
See Locke, on the Hum. Unders. book iv. ch. iii. § 6. as also the author's Stud. of Med. Vol. iv. p. 37. 2d Edit. 1825.
t In the words of Democritus, Μηδεν εκ του μη οντος γινεσθαι, μηδε εις το μη ον φθείρεσθαίο Dion. Laert. lib. ix. p. 44.
gestions of fancy, we should have heard but little of this controversy; for it would have made us too modest to engage in it: it would have shown us completely our own ignorance, and the folly of persevering in so fruitless. a chase. Let us then, in as few words as possible, and in order to excite this modesty, attempt that which has been too seldom attempted heretofore, and see how far the subject is unfolded to us in the book of the visible creation.
It has already appeared to us, that matter in its simplest and rudest state is universally possessed of certain active properties, as those of gravitation and repulsion, which in consequence of their universality, have been denominated essential:* but it has also appeared to us that there is an insuperable difficulty in determining whether these properties belong to common matter intrinsically, or are endowments resulting from the presence and operation of some foreign body, the ethereal medium of Sir Isaac Newton, and which, if it exist at all, is probably a something different from matter, or if material, different from common, visible, and tangible matter.
It has appeared to us next, that common matter, in peculiar states of modification, is also possessed of peculiar properties, independently of the general or essential properties which belong to the entire mass. Thus iron and iron ore give proofs of the possession of that substance or quality which we call magnetic; glass, amber, and the muscular fibres of animals, give equal proofs of that substance or quality which we denominate electrice or voltaic; and all bodies in a state of activity, of that substance or quality which is intended by the term caloric. But what is magnetism? What is voltaism? What is caloric? There is not a philosopher in the world who can answer these questions: we know almost as little of them as of gravitation, and can only trace them by their results. We can, indeed, collect and concentrate them, invisible and intangible as they are to our senses; and we have hence some reason for believing them to be distinct substances rather than mere qualities; and consequently denominate them auras. But are these auras material or immaterial? Examined by the common properties of matter, as weight, solidity, impenetrability, they appear to be the latter; for they are all equally destitute of these properties, so far as our experiments have extended; and hence they are either immaterial substances, or material substances void of the general qualities that belong to matter in its grosser forms.
Let us ascend to the next step in this wonderful and mysterious scale. It appeared from the remarks offered in a former lecture, that independently of that general influence and power of attraction which every particle of matter exerts over every other particle, there are some bodies which exert a peculiar power over other bodies, which separate them from their strongest and most stubborn connexions, and as completely run away with them as the fox runs away with the young chicken. And we here behold another power introduced, and of a still higher order; a power, too, of the most complex variety, and which in different substances exhibits every possible diversity of strength.
Let us take a single example of this curious phænomenon, and let us draw it from facts that are known to almost every one. 'The water of the sea, and of various landsprings, as that of Epsom for example, is loaded with a certain portion of sulphuric acid, or oil of vitriol; thus impreg
* Ser. I. Lect. IV. † Ser. I. Lect. V.
Ser. I. Lect. V.