« Prev § I.—Chapter III. Doctrine of Final Causes. Next »

§ I.—CHAPTER III.

DOCTRINE OF FINAL CAUSES.

THE conclusion of the preceding chapter already clearly pointed to what we mean by the doctrine of Final Causes. The idea of causation we found to resolve itself into that of the operation of a rational will or mind in nature; and this operation, looked at deductively from a theological point of view, is neither more nor less than the doctrine before us. But while thus implicitly given in our previous argument, this doctrine, in its distinctive form, deserves from us a further and more attentive consideration. It deserves this especially, on account of the obscurity and misrepresentations in which it has been involved.

There is no doctrine which has been more misunderstood. The scientific applications of it have been confounded with its genuine theological import, and abuses resulting from the former perversely passed over to the discredit of the latter. What it really signifies, what is the comprehensive meaning in which the doctrine must be held, if it is to be held at all; has been often as little understood by its supporters as by its opponents.

41

The notion of Final Causes, for example, is frequently represented as if limited to organic or physiological phenomena. In a purely scientific relation, viewed as a method of scientific discovery, it may be rightly so limited; although, even in this respect, it seems only an absurd perversion of the doctrine, and not the doctrine itself, which can be truly held as an invalid guide of inquiry in any department of nature. It is only the confusion of its genuine meaning with an impertinent and barren curiosity,—the very opposite of its inquiring and reverent gaze,—which can render it abusively applicable to any order of phenomena.2020   This is the simple explanation of Lord Bacon’s frequently-quoted disparagement of Final Causes. It was not the doctrine itself, in any true sense of it, but only the scholastic abuse of it, that he condemned. But certainly, whatever view may be held on this point, there cannot remain any doubt in the minds of those who really understand the doctrine, that, in its higher theological meaning and relation, it is equally applicable to all orders of phenomena, organic and inorganic. It is true that, even in this higher relation, the doctrine has been especially applied to the organic products of creation, so that the argument from Design or Final Causes is probably interpreted by many, if not most minds, with exclusive reference to these products,—the wonderful structures of the vegetable and animal kingdom. But this has simply arisen from the fact, that design is capable of being more conspicuously traced in these structures, than in the more general and comprehensive phenomena presented to us by the inorganic kingdom. Assuredly it will not for a moment bear to be affirmed that 42the principle of design, rightly apprehended in the fundamental form in which alone it concerns the theistic argument, has any real application to the one class of phenomena which it has not to the other. It may have, in the one case, a more manifest application, and one, therefore, more effective for purposes of popular argumentation; but, beyond all question, there are no logical grounds on which the principle can sustain itself in the one case and not in the other. These grounds are equally valid or invalid in both cases. Supposing we admit them, design, the operation of Mind, is everywhere recognised in nature. Supposing we reject them, every such conception as that of “design,” or “final cause,” “end” or “purpose,” disappears from nature.2121   The different modifications of the doctrine of Final Causes form a very interesting subject, were we reviewing the doctrine historically, instead of expounding the right view of it. The double relation of the doctrine has of course attracted attention, yet without any definite effort, so far as we are aware, to bring into clear harmony the more general doctrine, and the special form in which it has been applied in physiology. Boyle and Stewart both point to the respective theological and scientific uses of the doctrine, but they do not expound the relation of the latter to the former, which is all-important both for the interests of theology, and the validity of the equally disputed scientific principle. Nor do they concern themselves with the consideration of the more general and the more special form in which, even in a purely theological point of view, the doctrine admits of being apprehended and applied. Any obscurity that may seem to rest on these respective bearings of the doctrine is, we trust, sufficiently cleared up in the course of our discussion, and especially in a subsequent chapter, where the peculiar significance of the action of design in organic phenomena receives attention.

Let us then look still more closely at these grounds, that we may be thoroughly satisfied of their validity. Why is it that we apprehend everywhere in phenomena of order the operation of a rational will or mind? Simply because we cannot help doing so; because the laws of our rational 43being compel us to do so. These will not permit us to rest short of Mind as an ultimate explanation of such phenomena. The theistic position, therefore, is based on an inherent rational necessity. We do not know where it could be so strongly based. We do not know, indeed, where else it could be based.

But this strong foundation is not conceded to us without controversy. How plainly the right and dignity thus claimed for Mind are repudiated by a certain school of thinkers, we have already seen; and the special arguments by which our position has been assailed by the same able writer with whom we have already engaged, and who so eminently, in the present day, represents the school in England, certainly deserve examination. These arguments no doubt originate in a fundamental opposition of philosophical principle, to which the discussion must always at length be driven back, and to which we might, therefore, confine ourselves; this opposition being neither more nor less than the old one of Spiritualism and Empiricism, Platonism and Epicureanism. Yet it may serve in some respects to strengthen our ground and elucidate the truth, to examine the more special reasoning of Mr Mill.

It is wholly denied by this writer that the tendency to find Mind everywhere in nature rests on an ineradicable necessity of reason. This is simply “the instinctive philosophy of the human mind in its earliest stage, before it has become familiar with any other invariable sequences than those between its own volitions and its voluntary acts.”2222   Logic, vol. i. p. 365; second edition. . . . “Sequences 44entirely physical and material, as soon as they had become sufficiently familiar to the human mind, came to be thought perfectly natural, and were regarded not only as needing no explanation, but as being capable of affording it to others, and even of serving as the ultimate explanation of things in general.”2323   Logic, vol. i. p. 366. And, as illustrations of this, are instanced the early Greek philosophers, some of whom held that Moisture, and others that Air, was the universal cause. These are brought forward as examples to show that mankind, so far from regarding the action of matter upon matter as inconceivable, have even rested satisfied with some material element as a final principle of explanation. Others—and he mentions Leibnitz and the Cartesians—are also stated to have been so little of our way of thinking, that they found the “action of mind upon matter to be itself the grand inconceivability,” to get over which they were forced to invent their respective theories of Pre-established Harmony and Occasional Causes. On the case of the Cartesians he dwells particularly according—to whose system, he says, “God is the only efficient cause, not quâ mind, or quâ endowed with volition, but quâ omnipotent.”2424   Ibid., p. 369.

The best way of approaching the strength of our argument will be through these supposed illustrations of the adverse position. In the two latter instances, the real point at issue is certainly to some extent mistaken. The ground of discussion is at least so shifted as to draw off attention from that point. In speaking, for example, of the action of matter upon matter, and again of that 45 of mind upon matter, the special idea suggested is clearly as to the mode of action in the one case and the other, as if the real point were the conceivableness of this mode in the respective cases. But this is not in any sense the true question. The Theist does not profess to comprehend or explain the difficulty thus suggested. The mode of action of mind upon matter, or indeed the mode of connection between matter and matter, is acknowledged to be wholly inscrutable. The point in dispute is simply the fact of action or efficiency at all. In the one case—that is to say, when we apprehend Mind as the cause of phenomena—we are satisfied with this apprehension, not because we understand how Mind is the cause—or, in other words, how it acts upon matter—but simply because we know, in our own experience, that it does so act. We rest in Mind as a source and explanation of action generally, just because it is to us all this, and we know of nothing else that is this.

It is true that Leibnitz and the Cartesians did not regard the human mind in this light. Denying, as they did, finite efficiency, they could not, of course, rest in it as an explanation of action, any more than they could hold one physical element or event to be an explanation of another. Within the sphere of finite existence they did not recognise any efficiency; and hence the theory of Pre-established Harmony on the one hand, and that of Occasional Causes on the other, to account for the connection between finite spirit and matter. But so far was either Leibnitz or the Cartesians from denying the fact of efficiency as applied to the Divine Being, that it was just this fact they called in to solve the absurd 46 difficulty in which they had involved themselves. They could not conceive the action of finite mind upon matter. The fact was not enough for them; but they must understand it logically; and, being unable so to understand it, they arbitrarily called in the Divine efficiency to explain it. In the case of the Cartesians this is clearly admitted by Mr Mill; and it is undeniable in both cases, whatever may be said to the contrary.2525   See (Logic, vol. i. p. 368) Mr Mill’s strange attempt to prove that Leibnitz denied the ultimate adequacy of the Divine efficiency to account for things in general. Nothing could be farther from the true thought of Leibnitz. He merely says that he cannot conceive this efficiency working save in certain ways. The fact of the Divine efficiency is not in question, but only the mode of its working. The following are the words of Leibnitz, quoted and emphasized by Mr Mill: “Si Dieu donnait cette loi, par exemple, à un corps libre, de tourner à l’entour d’un certain centre, il faudrait ou qu’il y joignît d’autres corps qui par leur impulsion l’obligeassent de rester toujours dans son orbite circulaire, ou qu’il mit un ange à ses trousses, ou enfin il faudrait qu’il y concourât extraordinairement; car naturellement il s’ecartera par la tangente.” LEIBNITZ’S Works, iii. 446: Ed. Dutens.

It does not seem, therefore, that the views of these philosophers, in their true and comprehensive sense, avail much for Mr Mill’s position. It is, indeed, admitted that they did not recognise the fact of limited efficiency in the human mind, from which we rise argumentatively to the fact of the Divine efficiency, and that in their respective philosophies, accordingly, they did not leave any rational basis for Theism. We willingly abandon them as consistent theistic thinkers. Yet they were so far from resting short of the theistic conclusion—the conclusion of a Supreme Mind efficiently connected with things in general—that their respective theories rest expressly on the supposition of Divine efficiency. Mr Mill’s refinement as to the Divine efficiency being apprehended, 47not quâ mind or quâ volition, but quâ omnipotence—even if we were disposed to grant it—does not in the least militate against our view, according to which, as will be immediately more fully explained, it is only as resting in Mind that power has any meaning, or can have any. So far, therefore, from denying the theistic position—or, in other words, the fact of a Supreme Rational Will as the only explanation of things—it was in truth the peculiar error of Leibnitz and the Cartesians, that they pushed this position to such excess as to overbear the no less valid fact of the finite rational will, through which alone, according to our whole apprehension, the higher fact can be consistently reached.

A little examination will equally avail to obviate the force of the more pertinent illustration, drawn from the case of the early Greek philosophers, and even to show how its more correct understanding may be turned in favour of our position. These philosophers, says Mr Mill, found in some single physical element a sufficient explanation of things. If they could rest satisfied with such an explanation, this is a proof that there is no inherent mental necessity which compels us to place Mind at the head of things as their ultimate cause. But admitting that Thales2626   Thales—whose case is out of all question the most in point, he having, in virtue of his supposed views, been accused of Atheism—is yet expressly stated by Cicero to have only held that the νοῦς or Divine Intelligence created all things from water; a statement which at least ought to have so much weight as to convince us how little can be drawn from the fragmentary memorials of ancient Grecian philosophy to determine authoritatively the question before us. and Anaximenes acknowledged in the physical elements—the one of 48Water, and the other of Air—not only a primordial principle or prima materia, but an ultimate cause or final explanation of things, it may be shown beyond dispute that they only held such an opinion in virtue of their having recognised in Water or Air respectively a peculiar formative energy. To borrow Mr Mill’s own mode of explanation, with a fairer application than he makes of it, it was not quâ matter (this or that material form), but quâ the vital Energy or Soul2727   That this was really the opinion of Anaximenes in regard to Air is admitted by Lewes, in his rapid and clever review of the Ancient Philosophers in the first volume of his Biog. History of Philosophy, p. 34; and the admission on his part, as being so truly a thinker after Mr Mill’s own heart, is significant. Nay, so truly did Anaximenes recognise his original principle on the side of activity or productive energy, that he made it identical with the soul—the “something which moved him he knew not how.” While Mr Lewes represents the doctrine of Thales as being of a lower character, he yet admits, in his case as well, the apprehension of a vital force, as prominent in the supposed primordial element, as indeed it is impossible in our view to conceive otherwise. He says in a note, p. 34: “When Anaximenes speaks of Air, as when Thales speaks of Water, we must not understand these elements as they appear in this or that determinate form on earth, but as Water and Air pregnant with vital energy.” with which they were supposed endowed, that these elements were apprehended to be the fountain of existence. The idea of Originant force was what they mainly associated with the ἀρχὴ which they sought, whatever may be the merely material character which its name now suggests to us.

Now, in this recognition of the ancient Grecian philosophy, we have really, it is important to observe, the essential germ of our doctrine. Even if it be indisputable that the clear conception of the Ultimate Cause as intelligent were a later product of the same philosophy, it can be shown that in the acknowledgment (under whatever special form) 49of Force as the original spring of existence, there is already enfolded the great truth, of Mind forming the only final explanation of things. The grounds on which we rest this assertion will be immediately apparent. Rightly regarded, therefore, these early Grecian speculations, so far from being opposed to our position, furnish a powerful testimony to its strength. For what were they, one and all of them, but attempts to rise to the origin of things, and to apprehend them in the light of some single Living power or principle? To endeavour to represent them as evidences of the mind’s capacity to rest short of such a living supernatural Cause, is profoundly to mistake, not only them, but the whole course and meaning of human speculation.2828   It is even to mistake the fundamental law of human development expounded by Positivism, according to which man’s earliest speculations are always of a theological character.

The position, indeed, on which we rest—viz., the irrepressible necessity of the human mind thus to ascend to the origin of things, and to apprehend this origin as a Power above nature—is a position that so directly carries with it its own evidence, that, like all self-evident truths, it is difficult to deal with it argumentatively. All Religion and all Philosophy testify to it. They express, the one, the deep feeling of the common consciousness, the other the modified but no less genuine feeling of the reflective consciousness, that there is a Higher Source from which flow all the visible changes that occur around us. So far from this being the mere dictate of that instinctive philosophy of the human mind which disappears with the advance of science, it is the utterance of an ineradicable rational necessity, which never changes, however 50it may change its mode of expression. In one case the Ultimate Source or Power may be so rudely apprehended, and in another so refined and unified, that the two results may seem not to represent the same conviction; but it is the same rational necessity that speaks in both. It is the same truth, however in certain cases obscured and even distorted, that forces itself upon us. Men cannot rest in any lower truth: they are driven unceasingly upwards, till they rest in some ultimate and comprehending Power. They cannot be satisfied with any mere endless series of changes, which does not originate in such a Power, however various may otherwise be their notions of it. Every ascent along the chain of mere natural facts, leaves the mind still in search of an Origin beyond nature. Here alone it searches no more, but rests in peace. “We pass from effect to cause, from sequence to sequence, and from that to a higher cause, in search of something on which the mind can rest; but if we can do nothing but repeat this process, there is no use in it. We move our limbs, but make no advance. Our question is not answered, but evaded. The mind cannot acquiesce in the destiny thus presented to it, of being referred from event to event, from object to object, along an interminable vista of causation and time. Now this mode of stating the reply—to say that the mind cannot thus be satisfied—appears to be equivalent to saying that the mind is conscious of a principle in virtue of which such a view as this must be rejected; the mind takes refuge in the assumption of a First Cause from an employment inconsistent with its own nature.”2929   Dr WHEWELL’S Indications of the Creator, p. 199.

51

But this irresistible tendency to believe in some Power above nature is not in itself, it may be said, commensurate with the position we have laid down—viz., that Mind is the only finally valid explanation of order. It gives us merely the vague idea of some First Cause. Now of course we do assert that the conception of Intelligence is plainly present in that most universal form of the faith in a First Cause to which we have appealed, and on which, in the last case, our position rests. We are content to accept this faith, in all its variety of explicit meaning, for what it is in itself simply and incontrovertibly,—viz., a testimony to some Higher Power. But what we do assert is, that this faith in the vaguest form implicitly contains the idea of Mind. For the lower fact has only existence in and through the higher. Mind is to us the only analagon of power or force. Our self-consciousness—according to the whole scope of our previous argument—supplies us with our only type of efficiency. Apart from, and independently of, Mind, there is no reason to think that the conception of force could have ever arisen within us. However, then, the generic element Intelligence may, in certain cases, be concealed behind mere Power, we only require to analyse and carry out the true meaning of the latter in order to find the former. Power may perhaps be held apart from Mind; but as it only comes through the latter, it certainly, as a fact, everywhere involves it, and has a constant tendency to return into it. It is true, there are states of society in which, either from gross ignorance or an overdriven speculative rage—which is no less, in the most real 52sense, ignorance—the higher and more comprehensive significance is lost sight of, or does not distinctively emerge; but it is equally true that such states are abnormal and temporary, and that the narrower and more special idea can nowhere be long or consistently held without expanding into the other. Power can only permanently assert itself as the acknowledged attribute of Mind.

To those who have not thoroughly reflected on the subject, this may not seem an obvious conclusion; but there is nothing appears to us at once more true, and more important to be kept in view. Let it but be granted that we obtain the idea of force solely from the conscious operation of our own minds—and it does not seem, according to all we formerly said, and even according to the express basis of materialism, that this admits of any dispute,—and let it further be admitted that it is this idea of power or force in which alone we can ultimately rest in our impelled ascent to the Source of things,—it seems impossible that we can help recognising this Source as Intelligent, when it is only through the conscious fact and operation of our own intelligence that we have the idea with which it is identical. Power being only known to us at all as the expression of Mind, the Ultimate Power necessarily becomes to us an Ultimate Mind. Let it be, that the dim unexamined promptings of consciousness may permit us to rest for a little, and may even permit races, in whom intelligence, save as a blind force, is scarcely developed, to rest for ages, in the mere vague conception of Power in the external universe, this conception can never fail, in the clearer working of consciousness, to be transferred 53 into its full symbol—Mind.3030   “Let us ask how the primordial force of pantheism is legitimately transformed into an attribute of an intelligence? Let a designer stand for an intelligence who is possessed of power, and who intentionally adapts means to an end. Design, therefore, will stand for intentional adaptation; and from the contemplation of man, we are enabled to make the above definitions without transcending the realm of experience. When we have made man objective, we can affirm, ‘man can design;’ and when we contemplate the product of man’s design, we find it expressed in the terms, ‘adaptation of means to an end,’ where neither of the terms are psychological, but such are used legitimately in physical science. And when, on the other hand, we find in nature the adaptation of means to an end, we infer design and a designer, because the only circumstances within our experience in which we can trace the origination of adaptation, are those in which human mind is implicated. And thus what was at first an omnipresent and immortal substance, and afterwards an omnipresent and immortal power, becomes transformed into an omnipresent and immortal intelligence” We give this quotation from a recent work, marked by eminent ability (The Theory of Human Progression, p. 481-2), not as coinciding with its representation of the mode in which force becomes transformed into an attribute of Intelligence (Mind), in so far as that representation is exclusive; although we recognise the influence of the process to which the writer ascribes the origin of the idea of Intelligence, in educating and clearing up this phase of the theistic conception, as indeed our whole illustrative evidence is based on such a recognition. In this, however, we disagree with the representation of the writer before us,—that we recognise Mind as already implicitly given in Force—the higher, as already contained in the lower phase of the theistic conception and on the very grounds on which he finds design in nature,—viz., that the only circumstances within our experience, in which we can trace force or origination of any kind, are those in which Mind is implicated—because Mind, in short, is to us the only analagon of force. Not only does adaptation, as a fact, give Mind, but Force (Cause), already in our view, however obscurely, gives it. The study of design in Creation does not, as we hold, add Intelligence for the first time to our original causal belief. For this belief already in its vaguest form only takes its rise in the conscious operation of Mind. The manifestations of design are, however, of the utmost value in quickening and educating the idea of Mind or Intelligence. We can no more, in fact, help making Mind objective, and apprehending it as the only ultimate cause or explanation of things, than we can help recognising existence under the forms of our mental constitution at all. The one result is simply the carrying out of the other.

54

This is the final view of our position; and so clearly is it felt to be so, that it will be found that the opposite school of thinkers have retreated thither in an attitude of denial. This is felt to be the last and essential point on either side, and appears to us to be clearly indicated as such in that remarkable passage of Mr Mill which we quoted in the outset. Let it be admitted that Mind is the only efficient cause of things with which we are or can be acquainted: does this entitle us to place it at the head of nature? Because Mind is to us the only conceivable origin, does this justify us in making it the origin of things in general? Have we any right, in short, to apply the limited modes of our rational conceptivity to the universe? This appears to be a fair statement of the ultimate question. Mr Mill, indeed, might repudiate this statement. His eagerness to argue the question of efficient causes on the lower ground of their rejection not being incompatible with the “laws of our mental conceptivity,” would seem to imply his willingness to abide by what might be proved to be the true character of these laws. But we think it plain beyond dispute, that the true source of his views lies in that deeper scepticism which treats the human soul as a mere product of nature, whose essential modes of conception do not necessarily mirror, in any true sense, the universe. And this position, which is more implied than asserted in his work, is openly and explicitly assumed by other writers of the same school. Human ideas are denied any correspondent relation to the Divine Existence. The attempt to bring the universe within the forms of man’s reason, is represented as being 55equivalent to the old sophistic canon of “man the measure of things.” “At all times,” writes Mr Lewes, “man has made God in his own image; he has idealised and intensified his own nature, and worshipped that. This he has ever done; this, perhaps, he ever will do. But we who, in serene philosophy, smile condescendingly on the ill-taught barbarian, whom we find attributing his motives, his passions, his infirmities, to the Creator of all—we who shudder at the idea of such anthropomorphism, how comes it that we also have fallen into the trap, and, having withdrawn from God the investiture of Passion, persist in substituting for it an abstraction named Reason? Is not God conceived to be pure Reason—omnipotent Intelligence? and as Intelligence is Lord and Master of this Universe, so what Intelligence recognises as perfect or imperfect, must be perfect or imperfect.”3131   COMTE’S Philosophy of the Sciences. By G. H. LEWES, pp. 89, 90.

This last assertion of materialistic infidelity deserves particular attention, for it embraces the whole sum of the question between it and a theistic Philosophy. It presents, we feel assured, the only consistent argument by which this Philosophy can be assailed. And it is full of pregnant meanfor the great issue at stake in Natural Theology, that it should become manifest that the validity of its conclusions can only be consistently disputed on grounds which can be shown to involve the negation of all Philosophy and all Theology, and which spring from a mode of thought essentially hostile to those highest expressions of truth which we so deeply venerate in Christianity.

56

Let us see more particularly what this assertion involves. When it is alleged that the facts of the universe are not necessarily correspondent to the modes of human reason, what is implied? Undoubtedly this, that however man may observe and classify the facts of nature, these facts can never become to him truth, for it is only the light of interpretation with which his reason invests them, that makes them to him TRUTH. This, however, is called by our Positive Philosophers “anthropomorphism,” and the boundless Life of the universe is represented as unwarrantably confined within the forms of man’s interpretation. It is surely enough to say, in answer to such a view, that it is not possible to conceive how man could have ever known truth save under the conditions of his reason; and to allege, therefore, this necessary condition of his having any knowledge in proof of the weakness and incompetency of that knowledge, is simply a desperation of scepticism so ridiculous that we might well be pardoned for not attempting any reply to it. Whether or not there be any other truth in regard to the universe than that which the forms of his reason compel him to accept as such, must be to man an utterly idle question. There can be no other truth to him than that which he is thus compelled to accept. To state the matter still more pertinently, let it be admitted to be a fair hypothesis that there may be efficient causes in the universe entirely different from that of which alone he has, or can have, any idea, it yet remains a fact, that the universe is to him only conceivable as the production of Mind—Intelligent Power. It is a fact, according to our whole theory, that this 57conception is one inextinguishable in human nature. And the refusal of the Positivist, therefore, to accept the verdict of human nature on the subject, simply amounts to an assertion of utter scepticism—a denial of any truth being possible to man.

Indeed, if the demands of our rational consciousness be repelled in this, one of its deepest expressions, it seems a clear inference, that not only truth in the highest sense is rendered impossible, but that even the foundations of Science are assailed. For if we refuse to accept the rational interpretation of nature in its full extent, we can have no right to accept it to any extent. If it be an inherent necessity of our mental constitution—which we have so fully shown it to be—that we recognise Mind in nature as its source, and we refuse that recognition, we thereby impugn the veracity of the human consciousness altogether, and leave no foot-hold fbr truth of any kind, according to the well-known maxim, which in such an application can admit of no dispute, “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.” The final position assumed by Positivism might well, therefore, be left to its own refutation; for a position of such a character is self-destructive. Positivism is, in fact, essentially, whatever philosophical pretensions it may arrogate to itself, nothing else than a species of philosophical suicide.

The condition of all true science, as of all philosophy, lies in a totally different view of the relation of the human mind to the universe. They essentially presuppose, as the ground of their veracity, an original harmony between Mind and nature, 58so that the former finds its own laws in the latter, and rightly relies on the reality of what it there finds. Man is thus conceived to stand to the whole world of material existence in the light of Interpreter. He is the prophet of the otherwise dumb oracle,—the voice of the otherwise silent symbol. He looks abroad with a clear confidence, that what he everywhere reads in the light of his own consciousness is the very truth and meaning which is there, and which he therefore ought to receive. Let this confidence be destroyed, and there remains for him no truth or genuine science that we can imagine.

It is important to observe the exact character of the relation thus maintained to exist between Mind and nature. The correct perception of it dissipates at once all ingenious and plausible misrepresentations with which it may be attacked. It is a relation of correspondence or harmony as already stated, so that Mind apprehends nature in a faithful mirror, and finds a reality answering to its intuitions; but it is not asserted to be a commensurate relation in the sense of the old dictum, “Man the measure of things.” There is a most important distinction between the two views, amounting to all the difference between a sound and reverent philosophy, and that higher and more vaulting speculation which overleaps itself in the attempt to construct the universe from the mere abstract forms of human thought. In the latter case, alone, is man made the “measure of things,” when he aspires not merely to apprehend truth, and to stand face to face with it, but to comprehend and contain all truth within the limits of his mental conceptivity. In 59 the one case man only aspires to the knowledge of God, without which he were the most miserable of all beings—that inexplicable contradiction which he has been sometimes painted; in the other he aspires to be as God—an attitude in which he appears just as ridiculously and falsely exalted, as, in the other, he is wretchedly and falsely degraded.

We approach here that significant opposition in the modes of thought we are considering, at which we have already hinted, and which is highly worthy of our notice in conclusion. The question before us, resolved into this its most general shape, comes undoubtedly to be one regarding the whole position and dignity of man in the universe. According to the old religious view, on which Christianity, as well indeed as all Religion and all Philosophy, rests, man is considered to be not merely a creature, making his appearance in the course of nature, but a creature, while in nature, at the same time in a true sense above it—specially allied to its Divine Source. The perfect expression of this only truly religious and philosophic view is given in the imperishable language of Scripture—“God made man in His own image.” The same truth is classically expressed in the memorial words—“In nature there is nothing great but man; in man there is nothing great but mind.”

According to this view, man, while in the very fact of his present existence a product of nature, is yet endowed with capacities which exalt him far above it, and place him in a perfectly peculiar relation to the universe. He is indeed Matter, but yet Spirit. There is a Divine element of conscious reason in him, which asserts its superiority over 60the whole sphere of nature, and validly finds its own laws in all. In one aspect of his being, indeed, he is purely natural—a mere element, and a very frail one, in the world-progress; but, in another aspect, he is truly supernatural, and even the whole universe is his inferior and subject. According to the fine thought of Pascal, “Man is but a reed, the feeblest thing in nature; but he is a reed that thinks (un roseau pensant). It needs not that the universe arm itself to crush him. An exhalation, a drop of water, suffices to destroy him. But were the universe to crush him, man is yet nobler than the universe, for he knows that he dies; and the universe, even in prevailing against him, knows not its power.”3232   Pensées. Faugere’s edit. Tome ii. p. 84.

Man is yet nobler than the universe.” Here, where clearly centre the most significant depths of Christian doctrine, lies also the essential doctrine of Theism. The Infidelity which rejects it, therefore, is really, probed to its bottom, an infidelity not only in God, but in man. Reason is with it only the plaything of time—the growth of nature. With the Theist it is the first-born of Eternity—the very “image of God.” The soul is infinitely higher than all nature, and validly, therefore, brings all nature within its sphere, and finds its own reflection everywhere in it. Matter is only glorified in the light of Spirit. Nature is only beautiful—only, in fact, intelligible—in the mirror of EVERLIVING MIND.

We receive but what we give,

And in our life alone does Nature live.

61
« Prev § I.—Chapter III. Doctrine of Final Causes. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |