TRANSUBSTANTIO MUNDI PER INCARNATIONEM
ORATORY OF ST. MARY AND ST. MICHAEL
Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2011
PUBLICATION OF THE SOCIETY OF THE CATHOLIC COMMONWEALTH, NO. II.Price Ten Cents
 SCIENCE AND THE "SCIENTIFIC" SCEPTICISM OF OUR TIME
Associate, S. C. C.
I. THE SCEPTICAL ARGUMENT
The connection of "science" and scepticism is an old story in the history of human thought. Thus the sophists of the ancient Greek world used scientifically established facts such as the material nature of the sun and moon, and the physiological conditions underlying sensation, to discredit philosophy and religion. The Averroists of the 13th century used the results of medicine and astronomy, together with the newly discovered Aristotelian physics, in a similar manner. It is not surprising, therefore, that the application of mathematical method and experimental technique to nature, which took place on an unprecedented scale at the time of the renaissance, has been used as the basis for sceptical argument throughout the period of modern philosophy. There is great difficulty in keeping several things in mind at once. Hence it seems natural to argue from the success of one technique to the [1/2] failure of another, from the existence of a certain quantitative, measurable aspect of material things to the nonexistence of all other aspects. Science has discovered "exact" uniformities in nature. By its accredited methods it has discovered nothing of an "immaterial" nature. Hence nothing of an "immaterial" nature exists! So runs the traditional argument.
At the present time, this argument is enormously reinforced by the tremendous success of applied science in improving public health, in raising "the standard of living" through mass production of necessary articles and luxuries, and in completely revolutionizing the immediate human environment by such inventions as the automobile, the radio, and the airplane. This seems to crown the "scientific" point of view with the sanction of pragmatic success. Science, which concerns itself with material things, ignoring all that cannot be subjected to "exact" measurement, produces these concrete results, evident to everyone. Disciplines like philosophy, on the other hand, which attempt to penetrate to more fundamental structures, produce only a medley of contradictory theories. Hence in the modern world we find philosophy and theology increasingly regarded as fruitless, empty subjects, and abandoned in favor of the sciences, which deal with verifiable facts, and produce results which all can see.
One meets this attitude not only in common-sense conversation, but on the lecture platform in the University. Under the name of pragmatism, it has achieved a coherent, general formulation, and official recognition as a "philosophy". This philosophy is now exerting a widespread influence not only upon "philosophers" but upon historians, students of the social sciences, political theorists, and finally upon the concrete flow of events. So widespread has this attitude become, that many people [2/3] fall into it "naturally" without being clearly aware of the fact. Hence a critical examination of this position is not without contemporary importance, especially so far as it involves misconceptions of science as well as philosophy. Do such misconceptions really exist in "pragmatism"? Let us examine the matter! First of all, what is pragmatism?
The nerve of the pragmatic position, as is evident from its reflection in present-day common sense, is its conception of verification. A theory to be true must be verified by direct observation. This explains the success of "science", which always checks its hypotheses either in the laboratory, or in some form of exactly measured apprehension. A pointer-reading is taken; a line is observed in a spectroscope. All such observations are sensory in character. The senses thus offer us the only channel through which reliable information concerning the external world may reach us. A theory which may be verified in this way is meaningful, whether it turns out to be true or false.
A theory, on the other hand, which would make no sensory difference is really meaningless for scientific purposes, though it may have a certain subjective value for the individual making it up. Many such theories are possible, and it is an arbitrary matter which we happen to adopt, and which we happen to reject. We cannot consider them as either true or false, but rather as only useful or harmful, and probably not even this, for such judgments of value are notoriously "subjective", and vary from person to person. Scientific theories, on the other hand, may be checked by exact methods of observation and measurement. By such procedures every trace of subjective distortion is removed. When finally established, such knowledge ceases to be the private theory of any [3/4] single investigator, and becomes "common property", capable of exact verification by any scientist, whatever his spatial location or personal point of view may happen to be. As science advances, such subjective distortion gradually disappears, and is replaced by authentic information in all fields.
Of course, scientific hypotheses must be stated in terms of entities, such as electrons, stars, particles, vibrations etc., which must be defined in some manner. Such definitions, however, are not observed as scientific "facts". The same "facts", indeed, may be stated in terms of other entities differently defined. This is really an arbitrary matter. We may choose one set of definitions or another set. As long as we succeed in conveying the measured facts, the language used is of no scientific importance. Between two languages, each of which states the facts, the scientist will simply choose that which is simpler and more convenient. Definitions cannot be verified. They are only a subjective necessity, being neither true nor false, but either useful or cumbersome in conveying the facts. This is all that need be said of definition from one scientific point of view, which is interested in measurement, and the comparison of measurements, rather than in what it is that is measured.
But, as has long been known, the convenient formulation of certain facts does not exhaust the task of science. The logical deduction of consequences also plays an important role. Like definition, such rational or logical inference has traditionally been supposed to involve a non-scientific or philosophical factor in science. But such a view is unnecessary! The mathematical elaboration of fact proceeds, it is true, with a necessity not pertaining to the actual facts, which may always be otherwise. But the recognition of logical necessity need not lead us into a [4/5] transcendental, mathematical mysticism. A mathematical or logical conclusion merely states what is already contained in the premises. It yields us nothing really "new". The elaborate, symbolic manipulations of science do not pull mysterious rabbits out of a hat. They only find other, and possibly more convenient ways of stating the very same facts.
Thus we are led to a singularly concise and coherent view of scientific method. First, and above all, science is based on fact, observed through the senses with the aid of such instruments as the microscope and the telescope. This is the bedrock of science. Such observations are carefully measured and tested by different observers. No one can anticipate or "deduce" the results of such observations before they occur. These results are not "necessary", but simply given. They may then be stated in terms of convenient definitions, and elaborated by mathematical deduction, which simply states the very same facts in more convenient ways. As soon as the facts in anyone "field" have been established, certain relations or correlations between them are found to emerge. These "laws" enable the scientist to predict future results with accuracy, and lead to that command over nature which is the aim of knowledge.
When scientific method is extended to every area of experience, especially to man himself, we may expect a genuine scientific philosophy, based on verified facts. This will make possible a reliable, tested control of all behaviour, and a new epoch of human history, in which man will dominate not only nature but himself. From what is already scientifically known of nature, we may now anticipate the following seven results of such an extension and unification of science. These seven theses form the [5/6] basic beliefs which now constitute the philosophy of pragmatism, or what we have termed the scientific attitude.
(1) All facts are sense data.
(2) No sense data can be deduced or anticipated before they are observed, except on the basis of previous observation. There is no necessary fact.
(3) "Necessity" is either a consequence of stating the very same facts in a different form (mathematical deduction), or a psychological fact based on the "force" of habit.
(4) All facts are "material", in the sense that they are spatially determined, and follow one another in time. No non-material entities come within the range of scientific observation.
(5) Philosophy or metaphysics, in distinction from science, which attempts to "go beyond" the observed facts of science, is either nonsense (what cannot be checked by sensory observation), or the expression of subjective desire (what we should like things to be).
(6) Ethics traditionally means the rational control of human conduct. When all prejudice and superstition is removed from the concept "rational", ethics must then mean the control of conduct by predictions based on tested, scientific observation. Such control will be directed to achieving a truly scientific order of society on this planet.
(7) Religion, so far as it is based on the notion of a purely immaterial (unobservable) being, and transcendent spiritual (unobservable) world, must be eliminated as an outworn superstition stemming from the Dark Ages. So far as it represents an aspiration for a rational order [6/7] of human society, it will become identical with the alms of science.
These seven theses make up a most plausible and seemingly coherent body of doctrine that seems peculiarly modern, especially when illustrated by examples taken from recent, scientific results and discoveries. As a matter of fact, it is a very ancient system of belief, having been maintained by the great sophist, Protagoras, at the beginning of philosophical thought in the West, by the empirical philosophers of the late Middle Ages, and, precisely in its most modern form, 200 years ago, by the sceptic, Hume.
This philosopher dreamed of just such an extension of science, particularly to the field of human nature, as is here envisaged, and anticipated a "Newton of human nature" who should succeed in establishing the factual laws governing human conduct, and thus achieve a complete unification of science. Needless to say, this Newton has not yet appeared, in spite of continuous attempts during the two preceding centuries to apply Scientific Method to the study of man. But no important system of empirical, human "laws" has yet resulted. It is indeed difficult to find a single important "law" of this sort, concerning which psychological investigators agree. Instead of having achieved more control over human behavior, "scientific thought" has actually led only to increasing social chaos, and wars that threaten to end the whole of civilization, including science itself.
But in spite of this two-century record of failure, pragmatism continues to visualize itself as a modern conception, never yet given a chance, and waiting only for serious application to introduce a secular millennium. By [7/8] this means, it constantly wins new adherents. Under the names of pragmatism, positivism, naturalism, and the philosophy of science it is ceaselessly taught on the lecture platforms of our greatest universities, expounded and explained in numerous philosophical textbooks and popular versions of science, and advocated by unabashed propagandists in popular magazines and reviews. No wonder that it has taken possession of the imagination of our American "intelligentsia" as the "modern" point of view.
We shall now turn to a brief examination of these theses, as summarized, first pointing out a few respects in which they require modification, and then suggesting, as a result of such criticism, what would seem to be a less dogmatic and limited philosophical position.
II. A BRIEF CRITICISM OF SCIENTIFIC SCEPTICISM
Let us take up the points enumerated one by one.
(1) With reference to the first we must be content to notice a simple but most fundamental distinction, that between: 1, what is sensed; and 2, our sensing of it. My seeing of a distant star is not to be identified with the star itself. Provided this distinction is borne in mind, the first thesis of scientific scepticism loses its sceptical import. We may very well admit that all reliable knowledge of the external world comes through the avenue of the senses, and yet not admit that the knowledge gained by this means is itself sensory. The train arrives by means of the track. But the train is not the track. Thus, my sensation of the star may come and go as I open or shut my eyes. But the star, which I observe by this means, has a [8/9] permanent form or structure which enables me to identify it as the object of different sensations, and to distinguish it from other objects, such as planets, comets, animals, etc.
(2) We may, therefore, reply to the second thesis that even though the sense data may be isolated "units", without any necessary connection between them, it will not follow that what is observed by means of such data is thus disconnected or structureless. In fact, science itself indicates quite the contrary. Thus, if it is a star which I observe, I may conclude that this object must have certain properties, such as motion, mass, density, rate of radiation, etc., which belong to the whole structure, and follow from it. Science, at any one stage of its development, may know only certain phases of such a structure with any exactitude. It does not conclude, however, from its own ignorance that the complete structure is not there, but tries to penetrate further into its nature, and the causes responsible for the uniformities it observes.
As examples of such structures, discovered in the course of scientific investigation and already partially understood, we may mention the periodic table of the elements, the solar system, the chemical structure of certain molecules, and the pattern of certain diseases such as yellow fever. In each of these cases, the scientist knows enough to argue from a few observations to the whole structure, from the symptoms to a disease, and then, after the diagnosis, to argue from his knowledge of the whole pattern to certain necessary conclusions (as from the nature of the disease as a whole to certain consequences). To gain such exact structural knowledge and to establish it, so far as possible, independently of the vicissitudes of particular, sensory observation is, indeed, the aim of all science.
 (3) Hence we must now add a most important supplement to the third thesis. We may admit that "analytic" necessity is one type of necessity which may play an important role in certain disciplines. Nevertheless it is not the only type of necessity, and certainly not the most important for science. It is true that sense data may stream in upon us in the most haphazard way. I may now hear a noise, see a color, and then feel a pain which has no apparent connection with what preceded it. But sensations do not occur by themselves. They are always of something. The noise is perhaps a clap of thunder, the color a flash of lightning, the pain a toothache.
Once I have gained some understanding of what it is I am sensing, I am no longer confronted by random association. If it is a toothache, then certain consequences will follow. It must have its seat in a tooth. It must belong to one of several types. If I know enough about dentistry, I may be able to determine its nature more precisely, and thus to draw further conclusions concerning its various properties, and the appropriate mode of treatment. None of these conclusions are drawn at random. They follow from the nature of that which I am sensing.
The same is true of all science. It may be largely an accidental matter as to just what sensory observations a scientist may happen to be making at a particular time. But if he is really observing, he is observing a structure of some kind. So far as he knows the nature of this structure, and science is impossible without some such knowledge, he is able to draw necessary conclusions. If it is a star he is observing, it must possess certain properties, whether observable or not. If it is a germ of a certain type, it must act in certain ways. If it is an element, it must fall into a certain position in the periodic [10/11] table, and so on. Such inferences are neither accidental associations based on habit, nor are they mere tautologies.
For example, to take a well known case, a scientist observed certain irregularities in the orbit of a certain planet belonging to the solar system. From his knowledge of the nature of this system and its pattern of behavior, he deduced that these irregularities must be caused by another, hitherto unobserved planet, moving in a certain way at a certain distance from the sun. Astronomers then turned their telescope to this position, and thus "discovered" the planet Neptune. But the planet was really discovered by the necessary deductions of the mathematician, which completed a structure already partially known. These deductions were in no sense arbitrary, but rather necessary consequences, following from the nature of the system, and its internal, quantitative structure. Furthermore, they yielded a "new" conclusion, not "contained in" the premises, for the planet Neptune had never been observed before.
Hence, to the purely psychological necessity of habit, and the analytic necessity of tautology, we must add a third type, the necessity dictated by form or structure. Just as a skilled geometer can complete or solve an equation, finding further aspects of a mathematical structure, only part of which may be "given" or known, so the scientist is constantly attempting to complete the tables, patterns, and systems he has partially discovered in this or that area of reality, adding to his knowledge both by direct observation, and that deductive completion of the form to which he is led by what he already has learned of the nature of the thing.
(4) We may now reply to the fourth thesis by asserting that the various objects we observe are material [11/12] in the sense that they change, and hence give rise to sensations which follow one another. But, in addition to the matter out of which a thing changes, there is the form or structure according to which it changes, the stable pattern of what we call a star, a molecule, a disease, or any other identifiable object. Each material thing is a thing of a certain sort. The aim of science is to apprehend these structures as clearly and exactly as possible. These structures belong to changing, material things, but they are not themselves material since: 1, they do not change; and 2, they may be understood apart from the matter they characterize.
Thus: 1, the particular "case" of a disease goes through various phases and changes, but throughout the whole process, it always remains a certain type of disease; and 2, the doctor may know the nature or structure of this disease without being sick himself, or even having observed any other concrete case. Such patterns or structures constitute the most important "facts" which it is the aim of science to discover. They are not made out of wood, or iron, or flesh, or any other matter. They do not change, though, without them, change would be impossible. They are non-material facts.
(5) The answer to this thesis is that philosophy does not attempt to "go beyond" the observed facts, which consist of material things, changing out of a certain matter according to a certain pattern or form. It does "go beyond" the particular range of facts observed by any particular science, since it studies the most general and fundamental "facts" characterizing the various types of scientific objects. Thus, all such objects are changing. Hence no particular science directs itself to the structure of change itself, the nature of the changing thing as such, the matter out of which it comes, and the form to which [12/13] it changes. Yet who is prepared to deny the universal "fact" of change? This fact is "checked" by any observation whatsoever.
There are other structures of a similarly fundamental character which do not fall within the province of any special science, as, for example, the nature of science itself, which we have been considering. The attempt to clarify such comprehensive structures more exactly is beset by many difficulties, but, during the history of philosophy, important insights have been achieved, which, once they are understood, may be "checked" by any rational person who will take the trouble to look carefully at the facts, just as the scientific observation of some less comprehensive structure may be "checked".
There is, of course, a speculative phase of science. Unless scientists dared to construct hypotheses which went beyond the known facts, the sciences would not progress. The same is equally true of philosophy. There have been periods in the history of this subject, indeed, when men have failed to achieve or recapture those basic, verifiable insights which lie at the root of the subject, and have proceeded to speculate, or devise great hypothetical systems, without any adequate basis in observed reality. The nineteenth century was such a period. Most of the imposing encyclopedias and systems of philosophy constructed at this time, have failed to withstand criticism, and have had to be cast aside. This is, in fact, one of the chief causes for the recent re-emergence of pragmatic philosophy and "scientific" scepticism, which deny the possibility of achieving reliable, philosophic truth. But this is like taking the position that physics must be abandoned, because it is now known that the great Newtonian system, which governed that science throughout the last century, is inadequate in many respects. The history of [13/14] science is littered with abandoned hypotheses. But we do not regard this as an indication of basic failure, but rather as a sign of life.
There is no reason for not adopting the same attitude toward philosophy. The criticism which has revealed the inadequacy of the idealistic systems of the nineteenth century, now leaves us in a more favorable position to recover the basic insights achieved by classic philosophy, and to extend and deepen them. Those who push their scepticism to the point of denying the possibility of achieving reliable knowledge concerning such basic structures as change, matter, form, and cause, which constitute the primary objects of philosophical study, must then finally become sceptical of science as well; for these structures determine the objects of each of the special sciences. Where, indeed, is there any object, directly observable by us, which does not change? The attempt to determine more exactly the nature of the broader structure of reality is, therefore, neither nonsensical nor abnormal, but an enterprise on which the final success of science itself ultimately depends.
(6) This brings us to the sixth thesis, concerning the question of ethics. We may definitely agree that the final aim of science, as of all understanding, is "the establishment of a truly scientific order of society on this planet", but we must deny that the point of view, or the "results" of any single science, or group of sciences, is capable of guiding us adequately to this goal. For example, much more than prediction is necessary. We may know that if we do A, B will follow; that if we do C, D will follow; but this may not help us decide between B and D. As we know from tragic experience, men disagree in their judgments of value. We may possess a detailed and efficient technique for building a bridge, and [14/15] yet not know where we want the bridge, or whether or not we want a bridge at all.
The world is now confronted with a vast array of applied science and technique which is being utilized for purely destructive purposes. Questions concerning the use of science cannot be settled by science alone. This is because such questions involve matters lying outside the scope of any particular science or group of sciences. What seems to be the most trivial and insignificant expression of "preference" is really an expression of an attitude toward the nature of the whole world. We prefer D to C because it is a means to E. But E, in turn, is preferred because it leads to F, and so on, until we come to that which is viewed by us as the ultimate end of all aspiration. This is involved in every judgment of utility or preference, even though we may be unaware of the fact. But the way in which we define the ultimate end is inseparably connected with the way in which we understand, not merely this or that area of reality, but the structure of the world as a whole, and our position in it.
The obvious need of men and nations today is more clear and reliable light on questions of value. No single science, nor all the sciences added together, can give us such light. We need the results of all the sciences, it is true. But to set down these results in a huge encyclopedia, or to state them in some single language, is not enough. Such neutral information would still fail to inform us how, or in what order it should be used, and for what purpose. These results from every quarter, must be studied philosophically, that is, with a view toward the general structure or order in which they fall. Only by discerning such comprehensive structure, may we become clearer as to the nature of the world in which we live, [15/16] our own extremely complex nature, and the nature of that "good" toward which we are striving.
Such knowledge is difficult to gain, and perhaps even more difficult to maintain from one generation to another. But knowledge of this sort has been gained by philosophy in the past. It can be recovered and extended. It can be taught. Indeed there is no more important task confronting men in those parts of the world where it is still possible to pursue philosophical study, for it is only by means of such knowledge, that the value judgments by which we guide our lives both individually and socially may be placed on a trustworthy, and therefore "truly scientific" foundation.
(7) In approaching religion, we reach the most important negation of "scientific" scepticism. First of all, we must note that the issue is a philosophical one, lying beyond the scope of "science" proper, since it concerns the structure of the world as a whole, and its ultimate source and end. Ever since the beginning of rational reflection, so far as we know, there have been philosophers who, on the basis of the empirical evidence actually confronting them, have been led to the conclusion that an immaterial (or changeless) being must exist, though not directly observed by us. These include Plato, Aristotle, the great mediaeval philosophers, and, in modern times, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Locke, Berkeley, Spinoza, and many others. Also, since the time of Protagoras, there have been others, both in mediaeval and modern times, who have denied this. Still others, like Hume, seem to have remained in doubt.
As we look over the world today, we note that where this sceptical philosophy has gained the most ground, other ends have had to be substituted; for man [16/17] cannot exist without trying to co-ordinate his activities with reference to some end. In Germany, for example, the building up of a powerful state, capable of supplying all the material needs of a certain race, has been set up as the supreme object of endeavor for 70 million people, and all else consistently and implacably sacrificed for this end. Elsewhere, the ideal of an efficiently organized world society, in which all men can live comfortably, has appealed to many as an improvement on religion. Both these philosophical positions identify the final end with something human, on the one hand, the material perfection of a certain race or state, on the other, the material perfection of human society in general.
Unless we are prepared to follow propaganda blindly and without reflection, we must turn to the facts, so far as they are accessible to us, and attempt to "check" these views by actual observation. In doing so, we shall try to sharpen the issues, as a scientist, attempting to judge between various hypotheses, tries to focus certain salient points of disagreement which may be subjected to test. We shall doubtless be led, then, to ask certain questions of the following kind.
Does the available empirical evidence actually indicate the non-existence of any such "perfect" being as that which constitutes the object of religious worship? Does all the vast array of things and processes surrounding us really culminate in man? What of human nature itself? Does this point to anything further for its completion? Or is it, so to speak, self-enclosed? Are the goals substituted by fascism and communism really satisfactory as final goals, that is, would all the aspirations and tendencies of human nature, together with all the stupendous pattern of physical, chemical, and biological structures on which they depend, be fully satisfied or [17/18] completed with the achievement of such goals? Is man himself, and the life we know on this planet, really the final end of the whole cosmic order?
These are philosophical questions. That is, they are too broad to be answered decisively by the results of any group of special sciences. But neither are they wholly speculative. They can be rationally decided only by an examination of the basic structure of man himself, and the world he inhabits, in other words, by the elaboration of philosophy. There is no other way. Let us then, in conclusion, suggest a few steps, which, in the past, have proved fruitful for those who have attempted this arduous pursuit. It may be possible to shed some flickering light on a few very relevant facts. In matters of such moment, even a dim and wavering light may be of decisive importance.
III. AN INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY
We have tried to show in the preceding pages that the widely accepted sceptical argument of our time is based upon certain misapprehensions, both concerning the nature of science, and the nature of philosophy. The real answer to scepticism, however, lies in showing that it is inconsistent with the facts themselves. Accordingly, we shall now attempt to provide such an answer, by indicating: 1, that there are certain philosophical facts, neither the object of special scientific investigation, nor the result of mathematical deduction, which are nevertheless certain, as well as accessible to all men; 2, that these facts fall into an order, apprehended at least dimly by all; and 3, that this order requires something further for its "completion".
 (1) The "fact" of self-existence.
Let us begin by addressing a question to the reader. Do you exist? If so, then we may ask further whether you are certain of this fact? If not, there is, of course, no use in proceeding with the argument. How, indeed, is it possible to argue with something non-existent? We must wait until this matter is definitely decided. If, perhaps, we gain the answer, at last, that you are certain of your existence, we may then make the following important comments.
First, here is a certain fact that is discovered by none of the particular techniques of science. No telescope nor microscope is needed to establish it. Indeed, it is not achieved through any scientific induction from experience. If this were the case, it would start as a mere probability, based on a few observations, and would become more and more probable. But you do not become more convinced of your own existence as you grow older! Your existence never has the status of an hypothesis which you somehow set up before a possibly non-existent self, and then attempt to establish by empirical verification.
You do not know your own existence by any of the special methods of verification belonging to the sciences. But neither is it established by deduction. Certainly you do not set up some postulate, and thence deduce your existence. This would at best yield only a possible existence. But you actually exist here and now.
The fact of your own existence is neither an "empirical" fact, established by induction, nor a conclusion from further premises. The "premise" required for this knowledge is simply your actual existence itself. Hence we must conclude that it is neither an inductive, scientific fact, nor a logical fact, but a philosophical fact, [19/20] established by direct apprehension of existence as it is. Yet, in spite of this certainty of my existence, I may be very hazy as to the exact nature of this existence.
Nevertheless, it is not difficult to discover a number of further facts involved in my existence, dimly but nonetheless certainly known. For example, I am certain that I have a body, which moves and interacts with other bodies, though I may know but little of its exact nature. I am certain also that I feel things through my senses, and that I also know, or think certain things. The nature of sense and knowledge may be extremely hazy to me. Nevertheless I am certain that they do proceed in me, as they actually do proceed, whatever they may be. I am also certain that I am in the world, proceeding and changing with others, for I am certainly not alone.
Indeed, I cannot become actually certain of the philosophic fact of my existence, without becoming aware of the whole structure of the universe of which I am a part, though it may be at an extremely vague and inarticulate level of awareness. This is because all philosophic facts are connected together in one single "world", so that I cannot become certain of one phase of that structure, no matter how insignificant, without becoming also certain of all the rest. This certainly constitutes the ever-present framework within which all further scientific investigation, and deductive elaboration of hypotheses take place. How, indeed, can a non-existent scientist investigate a non-existent world? His special investigations presuppose at the very least some degree of philosophical apprehension.
The scientist knows with certainty, for example, that he is dealing not with reality as such, but with a certain kind of reality, which is physical, biological, or human [20/21] in character. Hence he already knows something about the objects of his study, how they are distinguished from other objects studied by other sciences, and how in general they fit into the structure of the world as a whole. The attempt to further deepen and clarify the apprehension of this structure, which underlies all other apprehensions, is the task of philosophy. What am I, and what is the nature of the world order in which I exist?
(2) The Empirical Order of Existence. Myself and the World.
When, after having carried out such a course of reflection I regard myself, in the effort to achieve a clearer understanding of my nature, I discover that I am a being capable of knowing. Do I not know my own existence with an intense certainty, and the existence of the rest of the real world with a less intense certainty, fading off from this point like the illumination of a tiny candle out of doors in the night, whose radiance gradually fades off into the deepest shadow? This knowing itself, while I can think about it, is, nevertheless, very hard to focus.
As I examine it further, I find that it differs in certain important respects from the candle, or even the light of the candle, for it lacks color, sound, shape, and resistance. Indeed, I cannot "touch" it or "feel" it at all, except by thought. When I pay further attention to it, I discover that it has the following remarkable qualities. First, it is unrestricted in scope. Through my eyes I can see only colors, not sounds. Through my ears I can hear only sounds, not colors. But I can think of both colors and sounds, and, indeed, any other object whatsoever, including thought itself, which I cannot perceive by any of my senses. Secondly, I find that what I sense is always some particular, individual thing in my environment, [21/22] such as this pencil on my desk. But my understanding is not so restricted. I can reflect upon the nature of the pencil in general, the structure belonging to all pencils in common. These purely formal structures are never sensed. Yet I find it quite natural to reflect upon such "abstract" universals as, for example, "the hexagonal shape of the pencil".
Right now, in fact, I seem to be reflecting upon just such a universal structure, the nature of knowing as such, irrespective of its particular exemplification in me, or in any other concrete, rational animal. I am thus led to the conclusion that thinking is not a material object, such as a chair, or a rose, or a river. It has no material stuff, out of which it is made, like wood, or protoplasm, or water, for such stuff never exists in abstraction from its particular position, and exemplification. My thought, however, is not so limited. I can think of anything, including pure forms, such as "the nature of a pencil", or "humanity", apart from any concrete embodiment. In order to know, it is true that I must assimilate something of the particular thing. But it is the form or structure I assimilate, not the matter. Thus the geologist, when he comes to know about rocks, does not become petrified. Knowing is, therefore, marked off from the other processes, proceeding in and around me, as something immaterial or formal in character.
Nevertheless, I find upon further reflection, that I cannot advance my knowledge without some sensory starting point. The knowledge of the geologist, once achieved, is indeed purely formal. It is altogether abstract from particular rocks, and may be written down in books, which have nothing rock-like about them. But to gain this knowledge, the scientist had to move about over the surface of the earth, and subject himself to all sorts [22/23] of sensory contacts with particular fossils, formations, and physiographic structures. Even now, in my own thinking, I discover that I cannot think of "the universal triangle", for example, without imagining some particular figure. Thought is itself an immaterial identification with the immaterial form, but it is conditioned by sense and imagination. Without sense, there would be no science.
When I examine the senses, through which I am affected in various ways by the external world, I find that these, in turn, are conditioned by other changes. Without the vital processes of nutrition and growth, my body would be incapable of life, and a corpse is incapable of feeling or sensation. Furthermore, as we know, life cannot proceed without a physical body, organized physically and chemically in a certain way, though interacting, at the same time, as a body with other bodies.
All these factors belong to the nature of man. The first condition of a man is a physical body, organized in such a way as to be capable of life. The next condition is an actual living body, performing the functions of nutrition, and growth, and capable of sensation. The third condition is such a living body actually sensing or feeling, and capable of thought. When this (thought) actually occurs, we no longer have those conditions which make man possible, but an actual man; for reason of his specific or determining character. We may thus define man as essentially a rational being, conditioned by sensation, life, and a physical body.
But my human existence is not only conditioned by the particular sensory and vital functioning of my own body. Sensation requires stimulation by some external object. The vital functions cannot be carried on without other plant and animal life. My body cannot exist [23/24] without the support of the physical environment, ultimately extending to the solar system and the galaxy. All this together makes up one single vast and complex structure which is involved in my individual existence. We must here be content with pointing out only a few very prominent features of this structure.
In the first place, I observe in extended nature the very same levels which are conditions of my own being. There is, however, a most important difference between these levels as they exist in me, and as they exist in nature. What is in me only the condition for something further, is in nature a final, determinate kind of being. Thus, sensation occurs in nature, but it does not occur as the condition for thought. It characterizes a certain type of independently existing creature, which I call animal. Apart from the animal kingdom, there are other living creatures which nourish themselves, grow, and reproduce, but these vital processes condition no further processes in the creatures themselves. Instead, they finally determine another type of independently existing creature, which I call plant. Finally, there are the ordinary bodies of the physical environment, which are simply bodies, and nothing more. Thus, the order of nature, while it includes processes of physical motion, vital growth, sensation, and reason, does not make up one, single, gigantic man, or thinking being. Instead of this, it is made up by at least four levels of distinct and independent things; bodies (such as rocks, rivers, mountains and solar systems), plants, animals, and finally, men. Nevertheless, each level, as a whole, is conditioned by lower levels. Human life depends on its living and non-living environment, in a multitude of intricate structures, which modern sciences, such as economic geography, bacteriology, and agricultural chemistry have by no means as yet [24/25] exhaustively described and analyzed. Animals require plants, and all living things require the physical environment in order to carry on their peculiar functions. The macroscopic bodies making up this environment are dependent on processes belonging to an even lower sub-atomic level of being, which modern physics is now for the first time beginning to explore.
This evidence is supported by further incontrovertible knowledge concerning the genetic history of the world. There was a time when man, the highest type of being, did not exist. It is also known that there was a time when the higher animals did not exist. Hence the conclusion is almost universally accepted that the universe has "evolved" in time from some simple, undifferentiated matter, first into bodies, then into plants, then into animals, and finally into man. Since the higher is conditioned by the lower, it is impossible to conceive of the genetic history of the world, in any other manner. We may dispute as to the evolutionary order in this or that particular realm, or as to the exact mode of evolution. But the general fact of evolution is hardly disputable at the present day. Nevertheless the bare fact does not answer the question, "why?".
How can we account for the intricately interdependent order which has evolved? What is ultimately responsible for this single system? What is the ultimate source of this "evolution"?
(3) The Causal Completion of the Empirical Order. In order to consider such questions we must first turn to certain familiar instances of change or evolution where it is possible to discern its general structure. If we can gain some understanding of this, we may then be [25/26] able to shed some light on the evolution of the world-order which we know to be a fact. Each changing thing, of which we are aware, begins with a vague or indefinite matter, and then assumes a relatively definite order, or form. Thus the brick now cool, but capable of being heated, is brought to this distinguishable state by the sun. The billiard ball is moved to a different position. The rough wood is made into a chair. The acorn grows into an oak, the child into a man. In each case, something vague or potential is brought to some definite form. These changes do not just happen of themselves. As we say, they "have a cause or reason why", distinct from the change itself.
In many cases, the cause is at least vaguely known. Thus the brick does not heat itself, but is heated by the sun, which is already hot. The billiard ball is moved by another ball, already in motion. The chair is made by the carpenter. In the case of the acorn, and the child, the cause is less well known, but certain things at least are clear, for instance, that the cause is intrinsic to the growing process. One can make the chair greater or smaller, as one pleases, and change its form at will. Similarly one can make a ball move faster, or slower, or in different directions by the application of external force. But no external power can make the acorn grow into anything but an oak. One can stunt its growth; one can interfere in various ways; one can, of course, destroy it altogether, but that which determines the form of a living thing, and organizes it, dwells within the living thing. Such a process is externally conditioned, but internally caused. Non-living processes, on the other hand, are both externally conditioned and externally caused.
Thus we know enough, at least, about the causes of living things to distinguish them from the causes of [26/27] inorganic things. Even when we know nothing of the cause of an occurrence, we always are certain that there is a cause. Medicine, for example, may not know what is the cause of a certain disease. But, in common with the whole of science, it is aware of the philosophical truth that all changes and motions must have a cause. Guided from the start by this knowledge, it seeks for some clue. Perhaps certain tests show that germs of some sort are present. Various types are then eliminated until, at last, the particular cause is discovered. No change is without some cause which is distinguishable from the change itself.
Now, let us apply this structural principle to the world which, as we know, has changed or evolved from a more primitive state to an intricately interdependent form or pattern. What is the cause of this change? May we not follow certain philosophers in holding that it simply evolved of itself?
Let us think of the analogous evolution of a disease in the human organism. This organism is first in a "healthy" condition. Then certain symptoms are noted. Temperature rises; the face is flushed. Then more serious conditions supervene. Breathing is interrupted; the heart is affected, etc. Finally perhaps death ensues. One part of the work of science is to gain as exact a knowledge as possible of the genetic evolution, or the "case-history", as it is called. But this is only the beginning. It is not the most important part of the work of the science. Once the facts have been assembled, the nature or form of the process must be identified. It must be distinguished from other superficially similar processes, and classified, perhaps with a vast number of similar cases, as, for example, pneumonia.
 But this is not all. The cause must also be identified, or no reliable mode of treatment can be established. Even though the various conditions involved in the development of the disease are clearly known, this is not enough. Such knowledge must be completed by a knowledge of the cause. The scientist knows that there must be a cause, even though he may not know its precise nature. Hence medical research goes on, until such causal knowledge is gained. Only then, does he really understand the nature of the disease. Only then, can he proceed to work out sound methods of treatment.
The same is true of every other instance of evolution or change. Science knows that there must be a cause. Changes do not occur of themselves. Something more than the material conditions is required. Certain structures may render the organism susceptible to disease. But this vague susceptibility does not explain the fact of the disease itself. Some agent, capable of acting on the conditions, and actualizing them, must be at work. To suppose otherwise is to suppose what is really contradictory and hence impossible, for change by itself is from non-A to A, from cold, for example, to hot, and non-A (cold) is not A (hot). Hence to assert that non-A changes to A of itself without any cause, is to assert that something is of itself both non-A (cold) and A (hot), a contradiction. Any change must, therefore, have some cause. This philosophical certainty underlies all scientific procedure. How can we avoid arriving at the same conclusion in the case of evolution as a whole?
We know that the change has taken place. Astronomy, geology, paleontology, and anthropology have succeeded, at least in part, in describing the case-history of the world. We know that certain stages have followed certain conditions which were susceptible to the ensuing [28/29] transformations. Did inorganic matter then transform itself into life? Did simple organic forms then transform themselves into higher forms? Did the whole enormously complex and interdependent structure of the universe simply evolve of itself, without any cause?
To make such an assumption is to run counter to the direct empirical evidence afforded by the advance of the sciences. In many instances, as in certain diseases, causes have been definitely identified. In no case, has science been forced to abandon the quest, and to accept a fact as inexplicable. To do so, would be equivalent to the abandoning of science. Many changes are as yet unexplained. But in these areas, science is still proceeding with the attempt to describe case-histories, classify conditions, and finally to identify causes. To deny the existence of any cause would not only mean shutting one's eyes to the empirical fact of scientific achievement in all fields, but, as we have pointed out, shutting one's eyes also to the very structure of change itself, as it is apprehended by philosophic insight. To assume that the material condition realizes itself, that wood, for example, ignites itself without any cause, is to assert that the same thing is both non-A (not burning), and A (burning), a downright contradiction, not even intelligible. It is to abandon reason.
If, then, we are to hold to reason and the empirical facts, we must suppose that there is a cause responsible for world evolution, even though the nature of this cause is not exactly known. In doing so, we are in no sense acting in opposition to the actual procedure of science, but precisely in accordance therewith, since the scientist constantly recognizes the existence of causes whose [29/30] nature is almost wholly unknown. He has to argue indirectly from the effect to the cause, following certain clues left by the cause in that which it has effected. It is natural that in the case before us, we should turn to man, the highest, evolved being, for clues of this sort, concerning the nature of the ultimate responsible cause for evolution itself. The study of man's nature does reveal a most important clue.
It points unmistakably to a final "good" which is perfect or unchanging. All the works and achievements of man are characterized by a most significant restlessness. As Dostoievsky remarked (in The House of the Dead), man is a creature "who can get used to anything", but, in spite of this, he is never satisfied. No finite work of art, no human science or philosophy, no level of human moral achievement, in short, no changing, finite thing of any sort is capable of slaking the thirst that constantly leads men to take up anew the struggle of human history. All men seek the good, and this good is no finite thing, but something beyond all finiteness and imperfection. This is a most significant clue to the nature of the universal cause, for man, as science so abundantly confirms, is bound up in the most intimate way with the various biological and physical levels of his natural environment. Man is as much a "part" of nature as any species of animal, plant, or rock. A fact about him is, therefore, also a fact about them. We are thus led to conclude that the universal cause is to be identified with that perfect good which provides the moving spring for human history.
This conclusion is borne out by a further train of reflection. Why, we may ask, need we assume a perfect [30/31] being as the ultimate cause? The scientist rests satisfied with a cause which may be limited, provided it is found adequate to explain the given phenomenon which he is considering. Hence, why need we suppose anything more than an extremely powerful being, more actual than man, and hence capable of accounting for evolution as it has proceeded thus far, but not necessarily fully, or finally, or absolutely perfect? In other words, why God? Why will not something like a marvelous angel do, or the demiurge of Plato's philosophy? But to be imperfect is to be changing, and to be changing is to have an origin. What is the origin of the demiurge: what is the first cause of all? We cannot seriously ask this question, without realizing that this process cannot rationally end without the supposition of a being who is unchanging, or eternal, and without origin, a se, in the language of scholastic philosophy. Only such a being can finally account for the infinite restlessness of human desire, and for the orderly pattern of the evolving universe of which man is only the most developed natural portion.
The nature of such an unchanging, immaterial being is naturally inaccessible to us in many respects. Nevertheless, as we have indicated, it is possible to see that such a cause must exist, simply through rational reflection upon the empirical facts before us. The sceptical conclusions of scientific materialism are not borne out by a careful examination of the facts. The forms or patterns apprehended by science are themselves immaterial, and have to be accounted for by other forms or patterns capable of realizing them in their material conditions. The [31/32] general structure of the world as a whole is incomplete. It demands empirically for its empirical completion, the existence of a purely immaterial or unconditioned being, as its final source.
If, in the brief compass of this paper, we have managed to suggest something of the real force of this factual argument, which has been supplemented in great detail by the observations of the greatest philosophers of our western tradition, from Plato and Aristotle, to modern times, our purpose will have been achieved.
Century Press, Boston, Mass.