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Prelude to A Sketch of A Philosophy.


Dr. John G. MacVicar, 1870

In the actual state of Science the phenomena of Nature and the Laboratory have been classified to a great extent and referred to Laws. But these laws are very numerous; and this makes the acquisition of Science very laborious. Most of them also rest solely on an inductive or empirical basis, they have been reached merely by observation, they give no account of themselves to Reason; and this places them in a very unsatisfactory position in an intellectual point of view. It obliges the man of Science to content himself with intellectual despair as the only kind of intellectual repose which the actual state of Science allows him.

Is no further reduction of these laws possible? And if they may be reduced in numbers, may not the ultimate laws or law approve itself as a dictate of Reason?

It cannot be denied that such a state of Science were in the highest degree desirable. We are commonly told to despair of it. But why should we? If the law of intellectual progress be admitted generally, why should it be rejected here, and the misadventures of the past be made the rule for the future? Of all theories in connexion with Nature assuredly one of the most respectable is that Nature is a Creation. Now if it be, there is no doubt that in the mind of the Creator Nature is not a multiplicity of things as it is in the actual Science of our day; there is no doubt, that Nature is one grand Reality; and therefore possible the whole action of Nature may be expressed by one all-embracing law. Moreover if it be the creation of an Intelligence, and this is implied in its being a creation, there must also be a sufficient reason for everything in it. And why should we despair of finding out the reasons of things so far at least as our intelligence demands in order to its own well-being? It is surely more legitimate to ascribe our still existing failures in finding reasons for certain things to our still existing ignorance of that which we may possibly know hereafter, than to any radical fault in our intellect. Now such a fault would exist if all men tended to ask that which cannot possibly be answered, and the best men laboured to ascertain that which can never be known.

It is now many years since the Author endeavoured to shew that there is one general mode of action which when modified according to circumstances gives all those varied modes of action which are usually regarded as laws of Nature. But he did not then see the reason of that law; and his views, thus incomplete, though printed and placed in a few libraries for preservation, and no doubt accessible to the curious, were not pressed upon the public and are scarcely at all known. They have indeed sometimes been noticed by the flying criticism of the day, but most frequently by writers so ignorant of what they were criticizing that it was painful to see a proper name in connexion with such nonsense.* The author has therefore on this occasion taken care that contributors to the "Gay Science" shall at least have looked into his work deeper than the title-page in order to find the name of an author to whom they may shew their superiority on the subject which he handles --- a subject to which he has devoted the leisure of a life-time --- so fruitlessly in a social point of view --- if this be all that awaits him.

But now along with an all-embracing law he is able to see the reason of it. And having thus been enabled to complete the train of though in relation to it, and having found

* As quite an exception to this, there must be entered here the name of the Contemporary Review. That work, as in reference to the subjects generally which it handles, speaks (July 1866) with great intelligence as to the authors views and altogether in a manner which he has found to be very gratifying and encouraging. There may have been other also, a philosophy which is of value to himself he naturally desires to present it to others. He has good evidence that there are a few, though at the present moment they may be but a few, who are deeply dissatisfied with the shallowness of that which is only popularly admired as Science, and who are thirsting for a view of Nature which shall both in its application be more adequate to explain phenomena, and in itself more profound and soul-satisfying. It is for these in the meantime that he publishes his results; for others hereafter.


The cosmical or all-embracing law referred to has been named from that operation of it which is most important to us, that by which our organization is redintegrated and our energy maintained from hour to hour, namely, Assimilation. And the reason of it appears on our considering the consequences of that view of Nature which has been already alluded to, namely that Nature is the creation of an All-sufficient Creator --- a view which may certainly be characterized as the most natural as well as the most respectable, since it comes most spontaneously to every one and has been most generally held by the most reflective minds of all ages.

From this relation it results that nothing which is quite new in creation is possible; for in the Creator himself all fullness dwells from all eternity. Whatever is not self-contradictory or self-destructive is already anticipated and has already a place in the Divine Mind, either as knowing or as being. In the Divine Mind there is already the archetype of every thing that is possible. Moreover it is incredible that an Almighty Creator should award existence to anything which should not be an expression of His will, anything which should not be responsive to Him and a manifestation of Him. In a word the creation cannot be but a mirror which shall reflect, or a luminary which shall radiate, or a treasury which shall dispense the wealth and the glory of the Infinite. Hence in its Being and its action every created thing, and all creation as one thing, must be assimilated and assimilative. In fine Assimilation must be the watchword and the law of the creation.

Hence also we are enabled at once to see that the creation must be, as it is found to be, a Cosmos; for it is the rescript of a perfect Intelligence in whom the love of order cannot but be supreme.

Cosmical Law then at the fountainhead is One only.

But the various breaks in knowledge commonly called branches of Science, which our intellectual weakness and the shortness of life necessitate, render it convenient to have a number of laws to refer to rather than one only. For if one only it might often seem unrelated to the phenomena to be explained and demand many words to connect it with them. Let us therefore here resolve our all-embracing law into three and these in two sets. And let us express them in terms which are applicable to material Nature to which alone the following pages are devoted. The two sets take their rise in the twofold fact that the finite assimilates itself on the one hand to the Infinite, and on the other hand to itself.

I. From the assimilation of the finite to the Infinite we obtain The law of diffusion or expansion on the one hand and The Law of Individuation or condensation on the other, and as their harmonized product in the material economy The Law of the Perfect in Form (symmetry culminating in Sphericity).

II. From the assimilation of finite objects each to itself and all to each other, we obtain The Law of the permanence of the properties of matter and The Law of Types or Species on the one hand, and the phenomena of affinity and transformation and The Law of Generic Resemblance on the other. And as their harmonized product we obtain The Law of the conservation of Energy. Of all of these, continual illustration will occur as we proceed and they need not be dwelt upon here.


What now as to Being or Reality which is the postulate of all thought and which our cosmical law of assimilation requires us to ascribe to the creation if we ascribe it to the Creator? Are there between sixty and seventy different kinds even of material substance alone, and in this small planet of ours alone, not to speak of spiritual Beings which are greatly out of favor in the present day, or of aether, the claims of which to the award of existence are in a better way now than they were during the last century? In a word is created substance of many kinds which differ from each other in their very grounds? Or when viewed ultimately and in its ground is there but one kind of created substance only? Our cosmical law suggests that as the Creator Himself is only one in substance so also will the creation be to which he awards existence. And here let it not be immediately inferred that the extreme simplicity of this deduction, made as it is in the face of all the variety and multiplicity of individualized objects that there are in the Universe, will necessarily involve us in difficulties. Different Beings whether classes or individuals are known to us not by any difference in their substance but only by differences in their attributes. And since Being or Substance and Power or Potentiality differ from each other only in conception, only as the statical differs from the dynamical, it is reasonable, nay in the circumstances it is alone legitimate to suppose that it is not in virtue of some absolute difference in substance (for none appears) but only from differences in the quantity or intensity of substance or power in the individual that different individuals display such different potentialities or endowments as they do display, and come to be justly classified as they are into various orders of Beings. What the best classification of these various orders may be, we who are confined to a small planet with a small orbit in the heavens are not in a good position to determine. But there are three which present themselves on all hands as very distinctly marked and which viewed in the aggregate are The Spiritual, The Aetherial, and The Material.


Which of these three orders of Being are we to take as the type, as that in constituting which finite Being culminates and justifies its own existence though finite and therefore necessarily imperfect? This question is not more distinctly answered by the voice of intelligence which is the highest of all than it is by our cosmical law. For in as much as the Author of all is Himself a spiritual Being that law leads us to expect that the type of created Being shall be spirit also. Nor can Being in any object be so attenuated or so far removed from Him who filleth all in all, but it must surely still retain an aura of the spiritual nature.

This inference as to the typical character of Spirit in the Cosmos may be otherwise put thus. An individualized Being is a Spirit when by the preservation of a true unity in his Being notwithstanding its quantity, the intensity or energy of Being which he possesses is such as to impart to him self-directive power instead of the power of resting merely when he rests or of driving merely as he is driven, that is, when it is such as to impart to him the vis voluntatis instead of the vis inertiae, and along with this, perception and memory and desire and aversion, instead of a blind receptivity of special impressions only and mere atavism with attraction and repulsion. Since then the Creator is infinite in (the energy or intensity of) his Being and is truly One, creation in obeying the law of assimilation is to be expected to be either wholly a spirit-world from the first, or if otherwise, to tend continually in that direction.

As to the mental powers and capacities of spirits by which they are so fully differentiated from all other orders of finite Being whether material or aetherial it has been shewn in the first part of this work that, with the exception of that autokinetic action which is the characteristic of spirit, they are all phenomena of Assimilation, now to the Creator giving Reason, now to self giving Consciousness, now to the world giving Perception and Memory --- the very term "idea" which has been consecrated from a remote antiquity as most proper to the phenomena of the spiritual world meaning "an assimilation".

We have conceived the existence of an universe consisting solely of spiritual Beings. Now such a conception carries with it an answer to the question in Theodicy why a Being who is absolutely perfect in Himself should award existence, as we see that He has done, to that which being finite cannot but be imperfect; for spiritual Beings are the proper subject of enjoyment; and assuredly enjoyment is such an excellence that it is a warrant for existence; and an increase of enjoyment if it be possible is a warrant for creation. But however absolute the fullness of the Infinite, and however perfect His own enjoyment or ever-blessedness, still such is the nature of enjoyment that while One only exists One only can enjoy. By a creation on the other hand of sentient creatures whose well being shall imply enjoyment, these creatures being placed in circumstances favorable to their well being, enjoyment may be multiplied without end.


Theodicy and our Theory therefore equally suggest a creation which shall consist wholly of spiritual, psychical or sentient Beings. But such an universe , it appears not obscurely, could not exist under universal assimilation as the cosmical law. For among the attributes of the Infinite there is not only Unity, there is also immensity. His Being and power are everywhere present. Under the influence of the divine Immensity then finite Being under the law of assimilation must tend to be diffused and to be found in space to the utmost degree possible. It must tend to be everywhere present. Now this it can be, since it is finite, only by being partitioned into the smallest unities of which it is capable. Moreover in being so partitioned it may also obey the law of assimilation in respect of the Unity of the Creator, for each element may itself be an unity.

It is further to be remarked that these diffused elements being all attenuated to the last degree that is possible to finite substance must all be identical with each other, except in the relative position in space which each occupies. And in this respect as well as in the quantity or intensity of Being in the individual the aetherial world which we are now considering must differ completely from the world of Spirits. With regard to the latter nothing appears to present the individuals which constitute it from possessing different quantities or powers. Nothing appears to prevent the spiritual world from being a Hierarchy. But the individuals or elements in the world of aether must be everywhere identical.

As to their self-assimilative action it must be next to nothing. But, for the same reason, it is important to remark, that the medium as a whole must be eminently suited for assimilating itself to other Beings and things that are placed in it. It must therefore be eminently suited for representing and for reporting these Beings and things to each other with perfect truth. It must also for the same reason be most fully dependent on the Creator and suited for manifesting Him as He is. And are not these anticipation fully verified by the phenomena of that medium which is the medium of vision, of light and colours, the realm of all visible beauty and glory?

Nor should we stop here were we to enter upon the subject in detail. In that case we might show that while the aether aims at assimilating itself by its universal diffusion to the Immensity of the Creator, it aims also by its mode of action at assimilating itself to His Eternity; for eternity is not as we are somnolently apt to suppose a beginningless and endless thread of time extended in a line. Eternity is all time wound up in one; it is an abiding simultaneousness, and its first finite manifestation is a maximum velocity. And thus instead of the existing physical explanations, all of which have hitherto been complete failures, we obtain at least a metaphysical explanation, of the simultaneousness of universal attraction and the extreme velocity of light &c.


But enough and more than enough it will be said of the Spiritual world and the Universal aether, both of which are often regarded as of questionable existence. What of the Material world it will be asked --- that world which to the men of science of our day is every thing. To this we reply that in our philosophy the material world far from being the whole universe as is popularly maintained is merely an incident in it, a very beautiful as well as a very vast creation no doubt, but still only of the nature of a beautiful cloud-work or precipitate in the universal aether.

Assuming the aetherial to which we suppose the Creator to have awarded existence to be proceeding towards the spiritual in a non-miraculous way, it appears that the material element must present itself in the first instance, instead of the spiritual. This the inexorable conditions of geometry appear to demand. Nor let it be hastily inferred that in affirming this we are affirming limits to almighty power. For the first forthputting of almighty power must consist in lighting up itself with perfect intelligence, and geometry is merely intelligence conceiving the relations of finite portions of something when occupying finite portions of space. But hence, in the redemption of Being from its most diffused and attenuated and wholly apathetic state to a state in which sensibility may be restored, it appears that the aetherial elements in the first instance must aggregate and unify into an order of individualities or elements in each of which the quantity or intensity of Being is still too small to have recovered and to be able to manifest autokinetic power or spiritual endowment of any kind. For the evidence of this Chaps III and IV of Book I of the work now in the Readers hand may be consulted. We are indeed to expect in the individuals of this new order of Beings, (in as much as there is more substance in each,) more individuality and higher powers than there are in the aetherial element. Instead of being capable of assimilating itself to other Beings and things merely as to motion and rest, which is all that the aetherial element can do, we are to expect that this new element shall be able to assimilate itself to itself in these respect also, that is, to rest as it rests and to drive as it is driven. We are also to expect in it phenomena which shall be reminiscences and anticipations of spiritual endowments such as are preception and memory, desire and aversion, we are to expect in it, for instance, a receptivity of the action of other things upon it, redintegration of former states, attraction and repulsion. Now these anticipations are realized in the material element.


Thus as soon as the Infinite comes into relation with the finite, as soon as immensity and eternity manifest themselves in terms of space and time it looks as if by the intrusion of the material element, a barrier were to be thrown up which would prevent access to the realm of spirits beyond, and put a stop to their creation in a non-miraculous way. But it soon appears that there is no danger of this. The material element makes its apparition in nature in virtue of the unifying or synthetic action that is implied in the cosmical law of Assimilation. But that action cannot and does not terminate here. Nor can we legitimately assign a limit to it until synthetic action in the cosmos has proved itself coordinate in intensity with analytic action. We must look for effect of a synthetic action as perfect as those of the analytic action as perfect as those of the analytic action. And since the analytic action partitions completely Being or substance ultimately into the smallest individualities of which Being as such admits (the aetherial elements), we must look in the cosmos for a synthetic action which shall unify completely again these minima into new individualities ultimately of the greatest power, which the individualism of the adjacent individuals permits.

What response then let us ask do we actually find in Nature to such a conclusion? To this it is to be answered that we undoubtedly find the synthetic action of Nature subsequently to the genesis of the Material out of the Aetherial element going on with unabated energy; and we are warranted by the contemplation of Nature no less than by our theory to look for effects of synthetic action as perfect as those of analytic action. Now nowhere within the compass of the purely material sphere do we find the production of perfect unities. Such is the self-conservative power of the material elements that when they unite they unite by juxta- position only, and nothing results but a molecular structure, a structure which can be taken to pieces again. And we are not authorized either by mechanics, dynamics, chemistry or any other branch of science to ascribe to any merely molecular aggregate, whatever its mass or structure, phenomena of quite another order than those which are truly mechanical or chemical. Assuredly we are not authorized to ascribe to it though and feeling.

ut the course of molecular synthesis into its meaning. Thus having prepared for itself in the mineral kingdom a ground to stand upon Synthesis marches onwards through the vegetable to the animal kingdom, which by universal consent culminates in our planet in Man. Now any animal and specially man considered as a molecular structure merely, may be justly described as a myo-neuro-cerebral apparatus with its accessories to give nourishment, support, protection &c. Moreover in this organic apparatus which unhappily no shorter name than which has been given can characterize as an unity (which it is), and in which molecular synthesis in our planet culminates we also see analysis culminating. The muscular system which is its peripheral part is the triumph of synthesis or structure. The brain which is its central part is the triumph of analysis or volume, under the condition that the result shall still be concrete. The brain consists of elements the atomic weight of none of which exceeds a low number, and they are kept far apart by means of hydrogen. And as might be expected in these circumstances it is so tender that of all the products of material nature it is the first to decompose after it has ceased to live.

And now what as to use? That of the muscular system is obvious. It is to move a system of fulcra and levers and so to effect motion. But what as to the brain? With a view to discover this we may remark in the first place that it is the centre of the entire animated system, every particular muscle and the whole periphery being connected with it, and the action of all led into it by innumerable conducting threads of the same nature as itself. We may safely infer therefore that the brain must be a focus of action of great force, and that force primarily in so far as its environments are concerned, centripetal. In the second place we may remark that compared with what it might have been (but for analysis culminating in it) the brain is very voluminous, and its value obviously depends in great measure on its volume. Now this fact taken in connexion with its highly analyzed and readily disintegrating structure seems at first sight strange. But it ceases to be so when we call to mind that in the very degree that it ceases to be a dense mass of heavy molecular matter while yet it is a molecular structure it comes to be a volume of individualized aether. The brain commonly so considered with its fibers and ganglions is according to our view merely a support or skeleton to a large unified volume of a hyaline , invisible, imponderable substance, which however secure it may be of escaping detection by the eye or the balance is yet there, and is such that according to our philosophy it may be expected to fulfill a most important function in nature.

Here in fact we have a repetition on a great scale, and by the use of the material element as the instrument, of that aggregation of aetherial elements in the celestial spaces, from the centripetal action of which we infer (Chap. III) their perfect synthesis or unification by confluence in a definite small number, and the consequent giving to Nature of a new order of Being, namely, the material element. In this repetition then of the same structure on a much grander scale in the brain, what are we to expect but the perfect synthesis or unification by confluence of aetherial elements again in vast numbers in that organ into a new order of Being transcending the Material? But if so what we obtain can be nothing else but a psychian or spiritual Being, according as the synthetic force of the myo-neuro-cerebral organ which is its mother and nurse, is less or greater --- an organ which may obviously be of on less value to its inhabitant, when its efferent or centrifugal action has commenced, for it must serve as an apparatus to it for communicating with its environments, and for placing itself in a relationship of well-being and of well-doing in the world.

Grant this coordination of the synthetic with the analytic force in nature, and our conception of a Cosmos is complete. The power-loom provided by the Creator for weaving the beautiful web of Nature is perfect. The material system which threatened at first to put a stop to the multiplication of spiritual Beings altogether is converted into an apparatus most productive of sentient Beings in all varieties that are capable of enjoying their existence until the soul of man is reached --- the soul of man which is not only alive to enjoyment like every sentient nature, but which can also compass self-originated or Gold-like action. And thus the all-important truth of the immortality of the feeling and thinking principle in man is no longer left as a tenet needing to be held by faith in opposition to the indications of modern science. It is on the contrary placed in the position of that truth towards which all science culminates.


Since the Cosmos is finite and the condition of its existence (the cosmical law of assimilation) calls upon it to imitate, even to the impossible undertaking of emulating, the infinite a seeming conflict in many respects must be unavoidable. Thus the Infinite is at once absolute Unity and absolute Immensity. Now of this the finite conception is that of two opposite extremes neither of which can be reached, one extreme all development and expansion, the other all contraction and concentration. Hence Nature is all in motion in opposite directions, and often seems to conflict with herself. That this is a seeming only might however be inferred from the fact that all these movements originate in one and the same idea, obey one and the same law (assimilation) and aim at one and the same end. Accordingly it forms one of the integral parts of the Philosophy of the inimitable Leibnitz that they never frustrate or extinguish each other, and that the same amount of energy is always conserved in the cosmos --- a principle which is now generally admitted, and of which one hears much as a discovery of our own day.

But the incompetence of that which is finite to assimilate itself to that which is at once absolute Unity and absolute Immensity is not the only ground of seeming conflict in Nature. The Author of all is also at once Immutable and Everliving. And hence phenomena in the creation when assimilating itself to the Creator in this respect, which are in their seeming at least still more difficult to resolve. Hence the stability for ages of the crystal on the one hand, and the changefulness from hour to hour of the sentient creature on the other, and that not merely as matter of fact, but as the conditions of its well-being; for normal changefulness accomplishing itself without effort in a sentient nature affects the sensibility of that creature as enjoyment. But such changefulness is the abolition or the destruction of stability. It is therefore opposed to mechanical excellence. Is then the conflict between the truly vital and the excellently mechanical both real and insuperable? If so then perennial enjoyment can only be secured in the spirit world into which the merely mechanical does not enter at all.

But let us not on that account disparage the mechanical, the material. Can there possibly be enjoyment, at least such enjoyment as is Known to us, without the knowledge of its opposite correlative, without the conception at least if not the experience of suffering? It would seem that there cannot. But if so, then the material world instead of merely coming in the way of the spiritual world as a barrier (the point of view in which it presented itself to us at first) implying as it does a discipline in suffering, may even be necessary to that in virtue of which alone spirit possesses value. Doubtless the conflict here also is only seeming. And so in all cases if they really be part of the economy of Creation, and not products of finite wills. Doubtless in reality and in His own thought the supreme Intelligence of the Great Creator sees harmony only. And possibly the same joy may be n reserve for us also when Science shall have been perfected.

But here as a ground for setting aside our entire philosophy it may be said that these objecdtive conflicts be they all seeming only or be they all real, are no discouragements to speculative philosophy, compared with those subjective conflicts which take their rise in Reason itself, since Reason when venturing on such cosmological ideas as enter largely in such philosophy does not scruple to affirm with equal confidence conclusions which are directly contradictory of each other. This is a very serious consideration. But it has received what to us is a satisfactory solution in our Ist Part (On Mind, its Powers and Capacities). These contradictory conclusions, it has there been shewn, instead of being antinomies of Reason (though the admirable Kant regarded them as such) are only antilogies of consciousness, that is, phenomena of perceptivity not pure and simple, but modified (and generally maltreated) by the presence along with it in the same mind of a personal activity which in itself has no law but that of liberty, and which therefore is always bent on denying, because it finds that all belief binds, and therefore limits the exercise of liberty.

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