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but rather by its own energy it asserts for itself a certain
position and volume, from which only a greater power can
drive it. These simple facts serve to show that the chief
qualities of bodies, which we may sum up under the term
materiality, are products of the interactions of the elements,
and not properties of the elements themselves.

The chief reason which remains for the corpuscular con-
ception is that which originally produced it. This is not its
scientific value, but its picturability. The atom as a dynamic
element, or a centre of force, is as unpicturable as a soul.
The imagination, therefore, is relieved if allowed to give it


an extremely small but fixed form and volume. It seems
easy, then, to tell what it is and where it is ; while the
dynamic conception is comparatively hard to realize; and
withal the dynamic view seems so to dematerialize matter
as to be scarcely distinguishable from idealism. These con-
siderations more than anything else have kept the corpus-
cular conception from universal rejection. The general
tendency of physics is towards the dynamic conception of
the atom in so far as the atom is retained as real, but
in sluggish minds the old view maintains a more or less
undisturbed existence. The tendency towards dynamism
is partly due to the general unwillingness to explain the
same by the same, which is the case with the corpuscular
theory, and partly due to the fact that the latter theory is
involved in the gravest metaphysical difficulties. If the
atom be real it must be an agent, and its properties must
depend upon its agency. It must also be a unit. But in a
previous chapter we have seen that the extended cannot
be a unit. An extended body is possible only as the parts
cohere, and this, again, is possible only as they are con-
nected by a system of attractive forces. In such a case the
atom appears as a system of attracting and repelling points,
each of which is the centre of forces distinct from those of
all the rest ; and thus we should be led directly to the con-
ception of centres of force. Possibly we might retain the
indivisibility of the atom in such a case, but only by mak-
ing the attractions greater than any possible dividing force.
But even this very questionable notion would not save the
unity of the atom. It would have a unitedness rather than
a unity. Only that is a unit whose states are states of the
entire being. Any conception of states which are states of
parts only and not of the whole, as when atoms are con-
ceived as having opposite forces at opposite ends, cancels
the unity and with it the reality.


So long, then, as a passive and extended solidity is viewed
as an attribute of the elements their unity cannot be main-
tained. Hence we conclude that the corpuscular conception,
even in its modern form, must be abandoned both as un-
necessary and as hostile to the unity, and thus to the reality
of the atom itself. Either we must regard the atom as a
convenient, practical fiction, or else we must view it as a true
agent, which, by its activity, founds without having the
properties of phenomenal matter.

But we are certainly not out of the woods, even with this
result, so long as we allow that the atoms are really in space.
In that case the atom becomes merely a punctual agent,
having location without extension; and this notion, when
closely looked into, grows more and more bizarre. But if
we carry the atoms into the non-spatial realm as a set of
unpicturable agents, they lose all representative value for
the imagination, all logical value for the understanding in
its explanation of phenomena, and finally metaphysics pro-
ceeds to dissolve them away into forms of an energy not
their own, thus cancelling them altogether as ontological
facts. These are specimen difficulties in the notion of mat-
ter as having more than phenomenal reality.


This general uncertainty of physical teaching concerning
the nature of matter appears equally in the doctrine re-
specting its forces. Here, too, the metaphysics of physics
is hopelessly confused, owing to the superficialities of sense-
thought uncorrected by critical reflection. The notion of
force arises from the need of importing causality into the
problem, and as the atoms are easily fancied to be the only
things concerned, the force is distributed among them as its
subjects. This is done in a way which causes no practical


mischief, but which leaves things metaphysically at very
loose ends. The current notions and phrases about force
are supposed to be justified by the formal necessity of
affirming causation. It is worth while to consider, if we
are to speak of atoms at all, how we must conceive of them
and their forces.

In discussing being we pointed out that force, as com-
monly conceived as inhering in things, is purely an abstrac-
tion from certain forms of activity ; we have now to at-
tempt some nearer determination. The common conception
is that separate forces reside in the thing, and that the
thing is the home or seat of the forces. But this view rests
on the notion of pure being and on a hypostasis of force.
The result is an impossible dualism, in which the being does
not explain the force, and yet the force is nothing apart
from the being. To this absurdity we are led by mistaking
the distinctions of language for metaphysical facts. Scarce-
ly better is the definition of force as the unknown cause of
phenomena. This makes force at once a thing, for only
things can be causes ; and it also dispenses with everything
but force, for the sole aim of speculation is to find the
causes of phenomena. But this view at once proceeds to
stultify itself by next providing something else, which, in
some mysterious way, possesses or supports or uses the
force. The fact, however, is that the elements are so re-
lated to one another that, when certain conditions are ful-
filled, they manifest peculiar activities, which activities, how-
ever, are always the activities of the things themselves,
and not of some inherent forces. Of course, they could not
act as they do if they were not what they are ; but the
power to do what they do is developed in the moment of
the action.

We must here refer to our general conception of the
system as composed of a set of things which mutually


change as the plan of the system requires, so that each
thing is what it is, and does what it does, because all the
rest are what they are, and do what they do. In such a
case, the being of everything changes from moment to mo-
ment, and its possibilities vary with it ; indeed, its possi-
bilities and its actualities are strictly identical. We do
not conceive being, then, as having inherent forces, but
as passing from one form of manifestation to another as
its circumstances vary. "We should say, then, that a new
activity does not spring from an inherent power coiled
up within it, but from a power acquired in the moment
of manifestation. We may illustrate this by the intensity
of attraction between two elements. At each new dis-
tance they attract with new intensities. These were not
something in the thing, nor something put into the thing ;
they are developed at every point. Any given intensity
represents the energy of action which the general relation
between the two calls for at any given point. In the
same manner, the different forces of things, as well as the
different intensities of the same force, are acquired at the
time of action, and represent only the forms of action which
the nature of the system calls for in their special relations.
But, since these activities fall into certain classes, we ab-
stract a specific cause, which is not merely the thing, but
some cause in the thing. This is a confusion of cause with
ground. The cause of an act is the agent itself. The
ground of the act is that peculiarity of nature which, under
the fitting conditions, makes it the cause of that act, and
not of some other.

We may say, then, that a thing is perpetually acquir-
ing new forces and losing others, according as its rela-
tions change. The conditions of some of these manifesta-
tions may always be fulfilled, as in the case of gravitation.
The conditions of some others may be fulfilled only here


and there, and now and then. Such are the chemical, mag-
netic, and electric manifestations. Coexistence in the in-
finite seems enough to secure the first manifestation ; the
conditions of the others are far more complex. When we
know the order of their appearance, we have their law
to a certain extent. When, in addition, we know the law
of their variation, which, in physical forces, is some func-
tion of the space between the interacting bodies, then we
have a formula which can be used for mathematical de-
duction. It is this fact which constitutes the fruitfulness
of the law of gravitation compared with the law of affinity
or of cohesion. The former law admits of exact mathemat-
ical expression, and its conditions are simple ; in particular,
the mass admits of being treated as a unit located in a point.
The problem of three bodies fails to give a hint of the
unmanageable complexity of astronomical problems which
would result if this were not the case. But the law and the
circumstances being simple, and admitting of mathematical
statement, they admit of deductive calculation. In the case
of affinity, the circumstances are not so simple, and the law
admits of no mathematical formulation, and here we are
practically restricted to observation.

Our conclusion, then, is that force as used in the physical
sciences is not to be regarded as a something resident in
the atoms, but rather as an abstraction from the various
forms of atomic activity, and the laws of force are only the
formulas which express the conditions of these forms of
activity, and sometimes the rate of their variation. This,
of course, on the supposition that the atoms may be viewed
as ontologically real, and that we are to speak of them as
having forces. The alternative view is to drop the language
of causality altogether except in an inductive sense and
confine ourselves to studying the laws of physical changes.

Physical metaphysics finds a still graver difficulty in the


relation of the atoms and their forces to space. To sense
thought, of course, it seems sufficient to say that the atoms
are in space, but we have seen that this is a very dark say-
ing when metaphysically understood. Sense thought finds
it equally a matter of course that the forces should vary
with the distance. But more or less of empty space does
not seem, upon reflection, to contain the least ground for
the variation of force. The idea attributes a kind of resist-
ance to space which must be overcome before the object
can be reached. And since, on the most realistic view, space
does nothing, the existence of a thing in this or that point
in space is no ground for change in the thing itself. Space-
position, therefore, on any theory, must be viewed not as a
cause, but an effect ; it is the result of the interactions of
things whereby they prescribe to one another the position
they shall have in real or apparent space. But this place-
determining power is a purely metaphysical one ; it is not
determined by position, but determines position. Its own
determining ground must be sought for in the idea, or na-
ture, of the whole, which is the ultimate source of all law
and order. We cannot take any other view without eith-
er reasoning in a circle or making space an active thing.
Hence it follows, as we have seen in discussing the nature
of the infinite, that the whole cannot be construed as the
result of its parts, but the parts can be understood only
from the side of the whole. The parts are not independent
seats of independent forces which by combination generate
an apparent whole ; but the parts have their existence and
their properties, or forces, only as demanded by the mean-
ing or nature of the whole. But though space itself can
never be regarded as the real ground of force-variation, it
may be treated as its measure in calculation, because the
shanging space - relations are accurate exponents of the
changing metaphysical relations. Hence we can deal with


the former with as much certainty as if they were the

Nevertheless, the fancy is entertained by many that emp-
ty space itself is a sufficient reason for force-variation. Our
physical experience teaches us that we can act directly only
on things within reach ; and even then we must not be at
arm's-length. This most vulgar fact seems to be at the bot-
tom of our notion that force must vary with space. This
fact is further aided by an alleged explanation drawn from
the geometrical nature of space itself, and the result is a
claim that all central forces must necessarily vary as the
inverse square of the distance. The explanation and the
claim are totally baseless. They are founded on the notion
that force is something streaming out from the element as
a kind of aura flowing from a centre. If this view were
allowed there would be a certain explanation both of the
diminution of force with the space and of the law of the
inverse square ; for as the surface of a sphere varies as the
square of the radius, it follows that with twice the radius
the surface would be four times as great. Hence the out-
flowing aura would be distributed over a fourfold surface,
and hence, again, it would only be one-fourth as intense on
the unit of surface. But we are freed from this notion,
which is plainly only a product of the imagination. Noth-
ing streams out from being, and force is only an abstrac-
tion from a thing's activity, and never a thing itself. But
the imagination always wants a bridge on which to cross,
and hence it forms the notion of a passing and repassing
thing, and thus exchanges the notion of force acting at a
distance for the old view of action by impact.

If, however, the passing force be a real something, we must
know where it comes from, and how the atom can forever
generate this reality so as to fill space with it. If the force
be only an influence, then we have simply a figure of speech


as the cause of effects ; but if the force were allowed to be a
real something, which passes from thing to thing and pro-
duces effects, our difficulties would be greater than ever. An
outgoing ether would not explain attraction, and if it did it
ought to be as attractive on the farther as on the nearer side
of the body to be moved. No body cuts off the influence
of gravitation by interposition, and hence the force which,
reaching the earth from the sun, attracts it towards the sun,
forthwith emerges on the other side, and ought to attract it
from the sun. There seems also to be no reason why the
force should attract in the line of its own motion rather
than in any other. This theory does not conceive force as
a tense cord, but as a moving something ; and hence when
it reaches a body and causes motion that motion might be
in any direction. Some have sought to escape these whim-
sical difficulties by the additional fancy that a resting sphere
of force is encamped around every atom; but this view
disposes entirely of the attempt to deduce the law of force-
variation from the nature of space, as that rests on the as-
sumption of movement from a centre. This attempt is fur-
ther forbidden by the fact that, if space be the real ground
of variation, there can be only one law of variation, as space
is always and everywhere the same. And if only one law,
then there can be only one, or no, force in the system. For
if there were both attraction and repulsion, and they were
balanced at one point, they would be balanced at all points,
and would cancel each other. If, on the other hand, one
were stronger than the other at one point, it would be so at
all points, and would banish the other.

In speaking of space as a ground of force-variation we
denied that it can be such ground. But may it not make
all action at a distance impossible ? If related to force at
all, it seems better able to bar its action than anything else.
This has long been a vexed question, almost a black beast,


in physical speculation ; and certainly on the received theory
which locates individual atoms in a real and empty space,
it is a rather tough problem. If we conceive a multitude
of individual atoms separated from one another by an ab-
solute void, it is utterly impossible to bridge over the abyss
between them by anything but a pre-established harmony ;
and this would only simulate action at a distance. The void
would imply and express the absence of all essential relation.
Xewton, therefore, in his letter to Bentley, insisted that no
one with a moderate reflective power could imagine that the
gravitation of the elements is due to any action of the atoms
themselves. And, indeed, it does seem incredible that the
infinitesimal atom is really filling space with its influence
to the farthest atom of ether or star-dust, and yet without
any knowledge of itself, or its fellows, or the spaces across
which it acts, and yet adjusting itself absolutely, instantane-
ously, and incessantly to each minutest change of distance,
in not only one but all the atoms of the system. Accord-
ingly, there has always been with physicists an anxiety to
fill up the void with something through which action should
be transmitted, and the result has been the generation of a
more or less numerous family of ethers. This anxiety, how-
ever, rests upon the notion that action is more intelligible
when between contiguous things than when between things
separate in space. But we have seen, in discussing inter-
action, that contiguity in space does not remove the diffi-
culty of interaction, as this lies in the opposition of the no-
tions of independence and community ; so that not action at
a distance, but action at all between two things assumed to be
independent, is what reason finds so difficult. The attempt to
dispense with action at a distance must really deny all at-
tractive and repulsive forces to the elements, and either appeal
at once to a co-ordinating and moving force in matter which is
not of matter, or it must reduce all material action to impact.


The latter alternative has often been chosen by physicists.
"When the dynamic view of matter was first proposed, the
general objection to it was that it was a return to the scho-
lastic doctrine of occult qualities. The present conception,
which endows matter with moving forces, was for a long
time resisted on this ground, and the demand was made that
all material phenomena be explained by the laws of motion
and impact. The same unrest with the mysterious impli-
cations of gravity often reappears in attempts to explain
gravitation by the impact of some assumed ether atoms. To
begin with, these attempts are all utter failures. The phe-
nomena of cohesion and affinity utterly defy any attempt to
explain them as the results of impact; while the implica-
tions of the impact theory are without a shadow of warrant.
But, in the next place, impact is far from being so simple as
this theory assumes. On the ordinary theory, there is no
contact whatever of the elements, and they are held apart
by repulsive forces of such a kind that only an infinite force
could bring the elements in contact. On this theory, then,
impact itself assumes action at a distance. And, in general,
if force acts at all between the atoms, it must act at a dis-
tance. An attractive force which did not act at a distance
could never make itself known as attraction ; and a repul-
sive force which did not act at a distance would not be
repulsion at all.

To see this, conceive two solid cubes endowed with re-
pulsion which, however, cannot act at a distance. If these
cubes occupied the same space, their repulsions could not
result in motion, no matter how intense they might be, be-
cause they would be balanced in every direction. If now
they be pressed together, there is not the slightest reason
why they should not telescope each other. In the first
place, such bodies would meet only in the geometrical plane
which separates them, and all the resistance to interpene-


tration must lie in that plane. But the plane itself is noth-
ing but an imaginary surface without resistance ; and hence
the resistance must come from the parts on either side of
the plane. If, however, we should allow that each body
lias a certain part of itself in the plane, then those parts
which are in the plane would strictly coincide, and, as co-
inciding, there would be no reason why the repulsion be-
tween these parts should take one direction rather than
another ; and it would practically be cancelled, so that the
true repulsion would still lie between those parts on either
side of the plane and external to each other. But as by
hypothesis these parts cannot repel because at a distance,
there is nothing to hinder the two bodies from sliding to-
gether under pressure. This result would be reached even
if we should allow the atoms to be solid and in absolute
contact. We should still have to posit action at a distance.
But, as we have frequently seen, there is no reason for sup-
posing that atoms are solid ; they are rather the immaterial
ground of phenomenal solidity. So, then, we seem shut up
to affirm action at a distance.

But here a new difficulty emerges. If we allow the gen-
eral possibility of action at a distance, we seem likewise
shut up to the paradoxical admission that there is no long-
er any reason for believing that a thing is in one place
rather than in another. How do we know that the things
which, by resisting our effort and coercing our sensations,
create in us the perception of a world about us are not real-
ly located beyond the bounds of our solar system ? Crude
common - sense, of course, would reply that it is directly
cognizant of the very being and location of things ; but ev-
ery one competent to speculate at all knows better. He
knows that we cognize things only through their activities
upon us, and that if these activities were maintained, our
world-vision would remain unaltered, no matter what hap-


pened to the things. But since action may take place at a
distance, why may not the things which act upon us be lo-
cated at any point whatever in space? And since, in the
popular theory at least, the void is no bar to action, why
may not things be in some extra-siderial region, and only
manifest themselves in our neighborhood ?

If it be said that existence in space means only that a
thing acts at a certain point, common-sense is disturbed, for
it thinks it means more than this by existence in space, and
in addition the difficulty is not removed ; for if a thing ex-
ists in space at all, then, on the hypothesis of action at a dis-
tance, the fact of action at a point does not prove that a thing
is there. Moreover, the atom acts at many points ; is it in all
of them ? By our unfortunate admission of action at a dis-
tance, we have deprived ourselves of every valid test of the
true whereabouts of things. We may fancy that in resist-
ance we have such a test, but this, too, is untenable. Both
attraction and resistance may point to a certain centre, but
this is far from proving that the agent is really there ; for
since action may take place at a distance, it is quite possi-
ble to view the point as the radiating centre of atomic man-
ifestation only. The claim that the atom must be at the
crossing of the lines of attraction and repulsion depends on
an assumption which is not self-evident. This assumption
is that an atom can cause another to move only on the line
which joins them ; but, on the hypothesis of action at a dis-
tance, it is especially hard to see why the movement might
not take place on any other line whatever. Of course, at-
traction means a drawing-to ; but etymology will not help
us in this matter. If, then, action at a distance be allowed,
it is theoretically possible to claim that, for all we know,
the real agents of the system are removed from it by the
whole diameter of space. But this is so revolting a para-
dox that it would hardly seem more irrational to claim that


things may act in some other time than the present. Be-
sides, on this admission, the bottom would fall out of the
atomic theory itself. The great reason for admitting sep-

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