Borden Parker Bowne.

Metaphysics online

. (page 21 of 34)
Online LibraryBorden Parker BowneMetaphysics → online text (page 21 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and we have absolutely no data of experience by which to
represent such a notion. We have indeed located the forces
in the spatial elements, but they are not in them so as to
be objects of any possible intuition. How does affinity or
gravity look? Does a necessity have shape? or is a dy-
namic law something which might be thrown on a screen,
if the light were strong enough? If by mechanism we
understand the spatial system, its ideas are clear, but it is
limited to phenomena and explains nothing. If we extend
mechanism to include the dynamics of the system, we are
no longer dealing with clear ideas, but rather with the ab-
stract categories of cause and ground, and are dealing with
these in such a way as to make impossible any concrete con-
ception of our meaning, and indeed in such a way as to con-
tradict the categories themselves.

The second point to be borne in mind is that if we would
make our mechanism adequate we must make it as complex
as the facts themselves. This point becomes self-evident as
soon as we get a logical grasp of the problem. In all re-
ferring of effects to causes, in a mechanical scheme, we are
bound to determine the thought of the causes by the effects.
The causes we infer or postulate must be the causes of just
the effects in question, no more, no less, and no other. That
is, we carry the effects in principle into the causes, and in
such a way that whoever should think the causes exhaust-
ively would find that they contain, or imply and necessitate,
the effects. If the causes do not imply the effects, the effects
are not provided for. If they do imply them, then the ef-
fects are explained by being smuggled into the data of the
explanation. This, as we have seen in the Theory of Thought
<md Knowledge, is the deadlock into which every mechani-


cal explanation inevitably falls when it assumes to be onto-
logical and final.

The blindness of popular thought at this point is due to
the fallacy of the universal. We construct our mechanism
with very simple factors space, time, matter, motion, and
force. These show no complexity, and at the same time
they seem to be all-embracing. What is there, at least in
the outer world, which does not come under some of these
categories ? and as mechanics is the science of these factors,
what is there which mechanics does not explain ? But this
is an illusive simplicity. These categories apply to the con-
crete facts without implying any of them. The concrete
fact is not space, time, and motion in general, but an indef-
inite multitude of particular forms, groupings, and move-
ments in particular temporal relations. Neither is the con-
crete fact matter and force. These are only class terms of
which the reality in this scheme is a great multitude of par-
ticular elements, each of complex nature and engaged in a
highly complex interaction with every other. The elements
must be such as to involve to the minutest detail all they
will ever do. If we ask what the " such " is which the ele-
ments must be in order to do the work, the answer must be
that no inspection of the elements as existing in space will
ever reveal it. It is an unpicturable, dynamic such. And
the such itself is manifold. It is not such, but an indefinite
number of suches, involving not merely the general dynamic
relations of the elements, but all the myriad structural and
organic laws which run through the world of things. How
this can be, indeed, passes all picturing and even all under-
standing ; but nevertheless we know that it is so by hypoth-
esis, and we know that it must be so in the same satisfac-
tory way by hypothesis.

Space, time, matter, motion, and force may indeed be said
to be the elementary factors out of which nature is built ;


but they are the component factors in the same sense in
which the letters of the alphabet are the components of lit-
erature. Take away the letters and literature would disap-
pear, as lacking the instruments of expression. And yet
there is a great deal more in literature than the alphabet,
or even than the dictionary. The collocations of letters
into words, the information of words with meanings and
their grouping into discourse, must also be taken into ac-
count. In like manner in the mechanical system we must
consider not merely the simple abstract ideas of space, time,
matter, motion, and force, but we must take account also
of the concrete forms, relations, laws, and products which
exist or emerge in the process. But by this time the mech-
anism has become as complex as the facts themselves. As
an explanation of the facts, it is a tautology. If the facts
needed explanation before we built the mechanism, they
need it equally after the building, for the mechanism only
repeats the facts.

Thus logic shows the tautologous character of all me-
chanical explanation of a metaphysical type. Mechanism
can make no new departures; it can only unfold its own
implications. Our previous study has also shown the un-
tenability of the metaphysics on which this mechanical
theory rests. Nature in the sense of a system of matter
and force, moving and acting in space and time, and form-
ing a substantial mechanism, is only a phantom of sense
thinking which arises from hypostasizing the phenomena of
objective experience. With this result the notion of mech-
anism begins to be wavering and uncertain. In any case
the notion of self-running material machinery must be emp-
tied out of it, and mechanism must be restricted to a phe-
nomenal plane and significance. The term, too, is some-
what misleading because of the company it has kept, and
because of its physical, if not materialistic, connotation.


Mechanism has a perfectly clear meaning only for the com-
position or decomposition of motions and masses. When
it goes beyond this to abstract mechanics it is infected with
the uncertainties of the metaphysics of dynamics, and even
then it has no clear meaning except as applied to bodies
separated in space and to quantities which can be summed
up in time. From this point on all is dark. When we
come to organization we may posit subtle tendencies, or
mysterious affinities, or latent organizing powers ; but of
all these no mechanical representation whatever is possible.
We shall do well, therefore, to reserve the term mechanism
for the spatial and temporal composition or decomposition
of motions, masses, and quantities, and to replace it in other
applications by the more general and abstract term law.
This will include mechanism in its proper field, and will also
embrace the larger field of life and man to which mechan-
ism does not manifestly apply.

Nature as the Order of Law

If we should ask for a definition of the natural, the first
answer would almost certainly limit it to the physical field.
But a little reflection would soon show the narrowness of
this view. Mental and social movements, as well as phys-
ical changes, arise naturally. Life, mind, society, all human
activity and progress, show an order of uniformity ; and all
changes in accordance with that order are called natural.
The result of these considerations is to make the natural
coextensive with law, and thus finally nature comes to be
identified with the order of law. This is that second con-
ception of nature which, we have said, is implied in popular

Of course, in uncritical thought this nature is metaphys-
ically conceived. Nature is not merely an order of phe-



nomena, but a cause or system of causes. There is here
a failure to distinguish the phenomenal and the causal, and
also a confusion of the formal necessity of affirming causal-
ity with a particular conception of its form and location.
The untenability of this metaphysics needs no further expo-

But in this conception of nature as the order of law there
is an important truth which we must disengage from its
crude metaphysics. It is this truth which constitutes the
significance of the mechanical theory of nature, and the
gist of what we call scientific method. But this truth
must be sought in logic and epistemology and not in sense
metaphysics. We proceed to the exposition.

Logic shows that experience arises only as the categories
of thought are applied to the raw material of the sensi-
bility; and that a mastery of experience is possible only
as phenomena are subject to fixed laws. The mind, then,
in its effort to rationalize, comprehend, and control experi-
ence, must reflect upon the categories of its procedure and
must look for the laws of phenomena. Undigested experi-
ence gives us phenomena in very rude and crude masses,
and the mind attains to any mastery of this experience
only as it subordinates these masses to law, and especially
as it analyzes them into their simplest elements, and dis-
covers the elementary laws which govern their coexistence
and combination. When this is done we get a practical
mastery of experience and some proximate insight also.
We see how things and events hang together in an order
of law, how one state of things grows out of another state
of things and produces a new state of things. With this
knowledge we get a basis for practical expectation and a
means of controlling phenomena to some extent.

This mode of procedure, we have said, is the gist of sci-
entific method ; and the great bulk of our valuable knowl-


edge of the world and man is obtained in this way. And
the study of things by this method can be carried on on a
purely inductive basis. Its postulate is an order of law,
and its aim is to connect things and events with one an-
other in this order. It does not pretend to deduce the order,
nor to tell how it is possible or is produced. It accepts the
order as a fact, and seeks to find how things and events hang
together within the order.

Now such an order, though no metaphysical necessity, is
a necessary postulate of human thought, and some knowl-
edge of this order is necessary in order to live at all. Study
in any field proceeds on this basis. The very notion of sys-
tem implies it. The study of life, of mind, of society, of
history, assumes that there are elementary laws by which
the whole is to be understood. Our efforts at education, at
mutual influence, at self-government, all rest on the notion
of fixed laws through which alone our aims can be realized.
It is plain, therefore, that, whatever our metaphysics, the
laws which obtain among phenomena are a most important
object of study. For all speculators alike, practical wisdom
must centre here.

If, now, there were any advantage in it, we might call
this order of law mechanism. This has been done, and the
universality of mechanism has been proclaimed. We might,
without utter linguistic impropriety, speak of the mental
mechanism, the social mechanism, the mechanism of feel-
ings or ideas, etc. These phrases may be allowed upon oc-
casion, but the associated connotations of the terms are
such as to make them misleading except for the initiated.
We had better, therefore, speak of the realm of law rather
than of the realm of mechanism.

But the notion of nature in popular thought is so rooted
in metaphysics that special effort is needed to make the
phenomenality of nature even intelligible. When we speak


of events coming about in an order of law, it is easy to
conclude that the law explains them as being their effi-
cient cause. But logic has taught us to distinguish between
inductive and productive causality. The former expresses
only phenomenal conditions, and has nothing to do with
efficiency. The question, how things are brought about, is
itself ambiguous. It may mean, How are phenomena con-
nected in an order of discoverable law ? and it may mean,
What are the causes which produce them? The former
question belongs to inductive science, and may be answered
on a purely experiential basis. The latter question runs
into metaphysics, and must be tested by metaphysical can-
ons. The two questions are never sufficiently distinguished
by popular scientific thought, which oscillates confusedly
between them.

The non-existence of any ontological mechanism is already
an article of metaphysical faith with us. Our previous
study has convinced us of the phenomenal! ty of all that
appears in space or that exists in space relations. It has
also shown that impersonal being in general can be viewed
only as an unwarranted hypostasis of phenomena. Nature
as an order of law, then, has only phenomenal existence ;
and the explanations within the order have only phenome-
nal application. They have no causality in them, and they
do not penetrate to the seat of power.

And these explanations remain on the surface in any
case. They commonly consist in linking event with event
in an order of law, but there is rarely any insight into the
antecedent which shows the consequent to be a necessary
implication. Events follow, indeed, in a certain order, but,
for all we can see, any other order whatever is just as
possible. We learn the order by observation ; and after we
have learned it, when the antecedents are given, we predict
the consequents, simply as an opaque expectation. It is


only in the abstractions of pure kinematics and pure dynam-
ics that we can trace the antecedent into the consequent,
or exhibit the consequent as the resultant of the antece-
dents. But as soon as we come to concrete reality this
insight fails entirely. "We jolt and bump along from one
event to another with not the slightest reason for expecting
one event rather than any other, except the fact that the
expected event is the kind which hitherto has happened in
our experience. We expect wheat from wheat and barley
from barley ; and we know the practical conditions of rais-
ing wheat and barley ; but we know absolutely nothing of
the causality at work, and we are totally unable to connect
the successive steps of the process by any causal or deduc-
tive bond in the phenomena themselves.

When we come to life, mind, and society, scientific
method itself begins to lose its objectivity and sinks tow-
ards a relative validity. In the inorganic realm compo-
sition is the great category ; and here explanation takes
on the form of analysis and synthesis. The whole is un-
derstood through its parts. But this is impossible with
organic and intellectual wholes. Here the parts exist only
through the whole, and, instead of being the factors out of
which the whole is built, they are simply particular aspects
of the whole which are separated by abstraction for the
sake of logical convenience. This is especially the case in
psychology. The faculties are not the factors out of which
the mind is built up. The sensations are not atoms of feel-
ing out of which mental molecules and masses are con-
structed. These mechanical analogies are misleading and
illusory. Our analysis of the mind gives not components
but aspects, distinctions rather than divisions. And the
mind is not to be understood through these aspects, but,
conversely, they are to be understood through the mind.
In this realm our analysis and synthesis are relative to


ourselves, and represent logical devices rather than the

This field of experienced law is the field of inductive
science. Its practical importance cannot be overestimat-
ed, but its theoretical significance is easily misunderstood.
Crude thought turns it into ontology, finds in it the order
of efficient causation, and makes everything hard and fast
by importing the notion of necessity into it. For us this is
an "overcome stand-point." The only definition of nature
which criticism can allow is, the sum-total and system of
phenomena which are subject to law. The definition of

(physical nature is, the sum-total of spatial phenomena and
their laws. This nature is throughout effect, and contains
no causation and no necessity in it. To use the scholastic
jphrase, it is natura naturata. Nature as cause may be sim-
ply a name for the cause of natural phenomena. In that
case the name has no connotation and simply denotes a
problem. But when nature as cause is posited as some blind
^ agent Qr^ffents, it represents only bad metaphysics. This

/ is natura naturans, and is simply an idol of the sense tribe
or ot tne metaphysical den.

But we find, however, that laws obtain among phenom-
ena, and that by a study of them we can get a very consid-
erable practical mastery over phenomena. These give us
no theoretical insight into the causal ground and connec-
tions of things. They remain on the surface, and are to be
studied purely for their practical significance, or for what
they may help us to. Any scientific or other generalization
is to be welcomed which will give us a more convenient
expression of the natural order, or a greater mastery of it,
but no metaphysical insight is to be found in this field.


Natwre as Continuous

The habit of looking upon nature as a system of neces-
sary causality easily leads to the conception that all phe-
nomena are to be explained within the system itself. There
must be no interferences or irruptions from without, under
penalty of the speculator's displeasure. This conviction
expresses itself in the law of continuity.

This law is another principle of superficial reflection
which contains some truth and some error, but still more
confusion. It is, indeed, rooted in a genuine rational de-
mand, but the meaning is far from clear. Continuity of
some kind there must be, but what it is and where it is
remain a problem.

The law of continuity is one which has had great promi-
nence in the history of speculation. This law was first
formulated by Leibnitz, and was at first confined to mo-
tion only. Afterwards it was extended to every depart-
ment of thought and experience. The evolutionists in par-
ticular have made it one of their first principles and the
most fundamental law of progress. In this wide sense the
law has no fixed and scarcely any assignable meaning. As
used by some speculators, it seems to exclude all antitheses
whatever ; and Spencer's attempt to deduce all heterogene-
ity from the homogeneous may be viewed as an attempt to
give the law this universal significance. The Leibnitzians,
also, were fond of making the increments of variation in-
finitesimal in all directions, so that all widely separated
groups are joined by missing links or are produced by in-
finitesimal variations. On the basis of this conception,
Leibnitz ventured to affirm something like the development
of species, and the indistinguishability of all realms at their
points of junction. He also ruled out all absolute oppo-


sitions like rest and motion, and all incommensurable reali-
ties as space and time. On the same ground he denied all
beginning in time and all bounds in space. Rest is insensi-
ble motion. Space and time are ideas ; and creation means
only dependence. This doctrine of continuity in general
has had great favor with flighty and impatient speculators
from its first announcement, because it is at once so effec-
tive and so cheap. If missing links are sought for and fail
to be found, it is easy to say that the law of continuity
proves that they must have existed even if they cannot be
found. The distinction between the organic and the in-
organic is easily removed by the same method. In psychol-
ogy, also, the empiricist has no difficulty in showing that
sensation is the only fact, because to allow anything differ-
ent would be to break continuity. But while one speculator
deduces life from the lifeless by the principle of continuity,
another denies the possibility on the same ground. Conti-
nuity, he urges, demands that life shall come from life, and
forbids any other view. Materialism likewise is affirmed
and denied in the name of continuity. Unfortunately these
speculators have never bethought themselves to give a gen-
eral demonstration of this law, nor even to define the vari-
ous senses in which it is used. Sometimes it is simply a
denial of creation and the supernatural; sometimes it means
that nature never makes a leap ; sometimes it means that
all phenomena are but phases of a common process, and
that from any fact whatever in the system we can pass to
any other, however different, by simple modifications of this
process. In short, it means anything which happens to be
desirable. These flighty imaginings can be escaped only
as we apply the law to some concrete matter and fix its
significance and value for that matter.

"What is it, then, in the case of nature which is continu-
ous? Is it natural things in their existence, or natural


causality, or nature as phenomenon ? The suspicion begins
to dawn upon us that nature is not continuous in any of
these senses, and that the continuity of nature is to be
found in the continuous validity of the system of law and
in the continuity of the thought of which nature is the
flowing expression.

That nature is continuous in its existence is a metaphys-
ical proposition. It might mean that nature itself is a con-
tinuous substantial somewhat, or that the material elements
are continuous in their existence, and suffer no increase or
diminution of their number. Both propositions are already
condemned. The necessary dependence of the finite on the
fundamental reality reduces it to contingent existence, and
leaves us entirely unable to say how, or when, or in what
order finite things shall begin, or how long they shall con-
tinue, or when, or in what order, they shall cease to be. A
metaphysical doctrine with so many riders as this can never
be put forward as a first principle. In addition, metaphys-
ics reduces all impersonal existence to a flowing form of
the activity of the fundamental reality. The only meta-
physical continuity in the case is the continuity of the in-
finite being in which nature has its root.

But natural causality is continuous. To question this
would be fatal to all science. But here again we have con-
fusion. Some causality must be continuous, without doubt;
the cessation of all causality would be the vanishing of nat-
ure. If natural causality means the causality which sup-
ports nature, it is continuous, not indeed as a necessity, but
as a matter of fact. How long it shall remain continuous,
however, is unknown to all but the uncritical dogmatist,
and he simply mistakes the monotony of his thinking for
a law of existence. If by natural causality we mean the
causality of nature, considered as an impersonal agent or
system of agents, we have to say that there is no such thing.


Again, what the uncritical speculator really needs here
is not a metaphysical doctrine about natural causality, but
rather an inductive postulate of the continuity of natural
law. As long as the order of law holds we may hope to
construe experience. If this order should fail us, all hope of
dealing with experience would vanish. But no metaphysical
principle whatever can assure us of this continuity. There
is nothing in the conception of impersonal causality to as-
sure us that it is shut up to a uniform manifestation. The
continuity of law, therefore, is a pure postulate which must
either be referred to an abiding purpose in the cosmic in-
telligence, or else be accepted out of hand as an opaque

The continuity of nature as phenomenon means the same
thing, the continuity of phenomenal laws. In the strictest
sense a moving world has no continuity in itself, but only
for the observing or producing mind. Apart from this
mind, nature, supposing it to exist at all, would be a mi-
rage of vanishing phantoms, each and all perishing in the
attempt to be born. But granting the observer and the
phenomenal world, the only continuity possible would be
the continuous succession of phenomena according to the
same laws. The new phenomena as events would be other
than the old, however similar they might be, as a new day
is another day notwithstanding its logical equivalence to
old days. But all the phenomena, new and old alike, would
be comprehended in the same scheme of law and relation ;
and this fact constitutes the unity and continuity of the
system. From the phenomenal stand-point nature has no
other continuity.

Possibly we may still think that there is a deeper con-
tinuity, in that the antecedents condition and explain the
consequents. Causal break and irruption are thus excluded,
and we find our way from antecedent to consequent with-


out logical jolt or jar. But here again the thought is am-

Online LibraryBorden Parker BowneMetaphysics → online text (page 21 of 34)