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Spiritualism in the Evolution of Philosophy  by Ernest Thompson

 

Chapter II
MODERN PHILOSOPHY
Bacon (1561-1626)
THE GREAT RECONSTRUCTION OF PHILOSOPHY

The Dark Ages followed the closing of the schools of Athens. For a thousand years philosophy made no reel advance. Then came the Renaissance. This revival of culture in Europe had its roots in the beginnings of the development of commerce. Manufacture produced a surplus of goods, trade expanded, and the interchange of ideas developed. The fifteenth century saw the production of the first books and the birth of Leonardo da Vinci and Copernicus; manuscripts of the Greek philosophers were discovered and published. Under the patronage of wealthy merchant princes, Florence became a great centre of culture. Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Columbus discovered America. In 1509, Henry VIII became King of England. The Renaissance was the transition from the Mediaeval Order to the Modern Order. The Reformation occurred almost simultaneously, discrediting scholastic theology. In 1520, Luther burned the “Papal Bull” at Wittenberg. In 1564, Shakespeare was born. It was the beginning of a great new age in which Elizabethan England emerged as the greatest of modern nations and produced the first greet modern philosopher - Francis Bacon (1561-1626). The Renaissance moved from Florence to London.

Philosophy of Utility

Francis Bacon gave a new purpose and direction to the search for truth, which marked the end of scholasticism. His contention was that knowledge, if unapplied, was useless. This philosophy was an indication of the beginning of the industrial age, when manufacture demanded educated workers in its processes, and not merely labour or handicraft skill. Scientific knowledge, developed from observation and experiment, was the new greet demand of society. This rising philosophy of which Bacon was its greatest representative. “Shall we not discern as well the riches of nature’s warehouse as the beauty of her shop? Is truth barren? Shall we not thereby be able to produce worthy effects, and to endow the life of man with infinite commodities?” The Essays was his finest literary work. These writings were definitely secular and rationalistic, and whilst he has sometimes been accused of atheism, he nevertheless believed in a universal mind. “A little philosophy inclineth a man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” - Of Atheism.

Included Psychic Phenomena

In the Essays his politics nevertheless reflected the still dominant feudalism. The people were far from achieving a democracy and he distrusted the masses. “The lowest of all flatteries is the flattery of the common people.” He preferred the aristocracy as the ruling class, and above all the Socratic ideal of a philosopher king. His great plan however was the reconstruction of philosophy; a great undertaking without precedent, except in the case of Aristotle. Its theme was practice rather than theory. “I am labouring to lay the foundation, not of any sect or doctrine, but of utility and power.” Magna Insturatio (The Greet Reconstruction of Philosophy) in his ‘Plan of the Work’ he commences with the idea that “Nature cannot be commanded except by being obeyed.” thus pointing out the importance of the scientific investigation of natural law. So he commenced with a survey of the science of his day. Let us “seat the sciences each in his proper place.” Advancement of learning. All available


 

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knowledge was to be the basis of his philosophy. Everything had to be included, and it was a tribute to his greatness that dreams, predictions, telepathic communications and even physical phenomena were considered, “for it is not known in what cases, and how far, effects, attributed to superstition, participate of natural causes.”

A Synthesis of Science

At the conclusion of his survey of science he pointed out how science was not enough. Science requires philosophy to co-ordinate its facts - a synthesis of science is required. “For as no perfect view of a country can be taken from the flat, so it is impossible to discover the remote and deep parts of any science by standing on the level of the same science, or without ascending to a higher.” Only philosophy can, in the end, give understanding, happiness and peace to life. Philosophy opposed Materialism, and the desire for wealth and possessions. He quoted Virgil in support of this contention: “Happy the man who has learned the cause of things, and has put under his feet all fears and inexorable fate, and the noisy strife of the hell of greed.” “Philosophy” wrote Bacon “directs us first to seek the goods of the mind, and the rest will either be supplied, or not much wanted.” Philosophy gives direction to life, and is to science what statesmanship is to politics. Knowledge is power. His philosophy aimed at the socialisation of science for the conquest of nature and the development of man’s powers. For this objective, man needed a new method of research and thought a new Organon - greater even than Aristotle’s.

The New Organon

The Novum Organum (1620) was Bacon’s most important work. Like the great Greek philosophers, he realised the supreme importance of the science of correct thinking. This work was a treatise upon the conduct of the understanding in systems of enquiry. “The human understanding is no dry light, but receives an infusion from the will and affections, whence proceed sciences which may be called ‘sciences as one would.’... For what a man had rather were true, he more readily believes.” This brilliant attack on Idealism marks him clearly as the first of the modern realists. He adds, “in general let every student of nature take this as a rule - that whatever his mind seizes, and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction, is to be held in suspicion.” Plato, for instance had described the world as he had fashioned it, but he had revealed Plato rather than the world. Bacon’s advice was “if a man will begin with certainties he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin in doubts, he shall end in certainties... The true method of experience first lights the candle,” (hypothesis) “and then by means of the candle shows the way... commencing as it does with experience, duly ordered and digested, not bungling nor erratic, and from it deducing axioms, and from established axioms again new experiments.” In short we must use the inductive method (from the particular to the general); we must go to nature, not to ideas and theories.

World Economy and World Peace

Finally, in The New Atlantis (his last work) he pictured society in which science had at last its proper place - in control of nature. In the society of the future, government would be replaced with the mere administration of the fruits of the earth. “The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire to the effecting of all things possible.” He foresaw waterpower for industry, surgical experiments on animals to save human suffering, genetics, air transport and submarines. He also predicted foreign trade without war a world economy and a world peace. This was not


 

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idealistic speculation but a prophecy based on the evolution of the economics and politics of his day, and blind is the person who cannot now foresee a fulfilment of Bacon’s prediction in the coming century, in view of the present rapid transition to world economy, and having regard, in spite of our struggles and troubles, to the numerous organisations and institutions which are now binding the men and women of all nations together into a Greet World Brotherhood. “The world has been at war for fifty years. I am confident that by the century’s end it will have worked out a system ensuring lasting peace.” Gen. Smuts, 1948.

SPINOZA (1632-1677)
ETERNAL PROGRESS IS ETERNAL PLEASURE

Spinoza’s great contribution to philosophy was created around the basic idea that God and nature are one. This was a very daring and bold philosophy, not only for the times in which he lived, and in a country (Holland) dominated by a virile orthodoxy, but also as a member of a Jewish community which had taken refuge, in exile, in Amsterdam and were consequently indebted to the Dutch Christians for their protection. In fact the Jewish group was eventually forced to excommunicate him to protect their position. In his treatise on Religion and the State, Spinoza has made a critical analysis of the Bible and pointed out that “all scripture was written primarily for an entire people and secondarily for the whole human race; consequently its contents must necessarily be adapted, as far as possible, to the understanding of the masses... Its object is not to convince the reason, but to attract and lay hold of the imagination... The masses think that the power and providence of God are most clearly displayed by events that are extraordinary, and contrary to the conception which they have formed of nature... They suppose, indeed, that God is inactive as long as nature works in her accustomed order; and vice versa, that the power of nature, and natural causes, are idle so long as God is acting; thus they imagine two powers distinct from one another, the power of God and the power of nature... God is merely in concession to the understanding of the people and their imperfect knowledge; that in reality God acts... by the necessity of his nature, and his decrees... are eternal truths.” His attitude to Jesus was as follows. “The eternal wisdom of God... has shown itself forth in all things but chiefly in the mind of man, and most of all in Jesus Christ.”

Creative or Vital Principle

In Spinoza’s second book, The Improvement of the Intellect, he points out the importance of philosophy. “The love towards a thing eternal and infinite alone feeds the mind with a pleasure secure from all pain... The greatest good is the knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole of nature. The more the mind knows, the better it understands its forces or strength, the better it will be able to direct itself and lay down the rules for itself; and the more it understands the order of nature, the more easily it will be able to liberate itself from useless things; this is the whole method.” Knowledge is both power and freedom. In Nature and God he postulates an underlying reality in the universe which he termed substance. This he identified with nature and God. Nature had a twofold aspect; an active and vital process (motion) and the contents of nature (matter). Substance assumes various materials modes - mineral, plant, animal, human, etc., but, in itself, is not phenomenal, but synonymous with the creative or vital principle - God. “I hold that God is the immanent and not the extraneous cause of all things. I say, all is in God, all lives and moves in God.” In other words the universal laws of nature and the eternal decrees of God (His will) are one and the same thing.


 

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Good and Evil

His philosophy was one of determinism, ruling out the Idea that the Universe was governed by an external dictator, which idea had merely been the projection of human ideas and purposes into an objective universe. We project upon the universe the idea of its division into good and evil, beautiful and ugly, whereas such qualities are relative to human conceptions and conditions. God is above our good and evil. “Whenever, then, anything in nature seems to us ridiculous, absurd or evil, it is because we have but a partial knowledge of things, and are in the main ignorant of the order and coherence of nature as a whole, and because we want everything to be arranged according to the dictates of our own reason; a although, in fact, what our reason pronounces bad is not bad as regards the order and laws of universal nature, but only as regards the laws of our own nature taken separately... As for the terms good and bad, they indicate nothing positive considered in themselves... For one and the same thing can at the same time be good, bad, and indifferent. For example, music is good to the melancholy, bad to the mourners, and indifferent to the dead... I would warn you that I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well ordered, or confused.”

Mind Needs a Vehicle

Spinoza’s conception of the mind of God was “All the mentality that is scattered over space and time, the diffused consciousness that animates the world.” God, the universal process and eternal reality of nature and existence, can in this sense be regarded as having a mind and a body. Mind and matter cannot however exist separately but are one indivisible process. The brain is neither the cause nor the effect of thought but merely the outward material manifestation of one process of which mind is the inner spiritual reality. In incarnate man, mind cannot normally manifest without a material brain, nor can a discarnate mind manifest without an ethereal brain. Mind needs a substantial objective vehicle of thought. Thoughts are things. Throughout the universe we find this internal and external duality body and mind, matter and motion.

“Certain of the Jews seem to have perceived this, though confusedly, for they said that God and his intellect, and the things conceived by his intellect, were one and the same thing.” His Idea of the unity, and interrelationship of mind and body is important to healers.

“Nothing can happen to the body which is not perceived by the mind.” Even the embryo is created by the indwelling mind of the fertilised cell. All organs and processes are controlled by the subconscious region in the mind. Spinoza excluded free will. The struggle for existence determines the instincts, instincts create desire, and desire is the origin of thought and action. “The mind is determined in willing this, or that, by a cause which is determined, in it turn, by another cause, and this by another, and so on to infinity... Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volition’s and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire.”

Ethics

Spinoza’s ethics have been regarded as the supreme achievement of modern thought. The objective of all conduct he claimed was the achievement of happiness, which he defined simply as the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Pleasure, in turn, was “Man’s transition from a lesser state of perfection to a higher state.” Eternal progress is therefore synonymous with eternal pleasure. “Joy consists in this, that one’s power is increased... Plain


 

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is man’s transition from a greater state of perfection to a lower state. I say transition; for pleasure is not perfection itself.” To achieve these transitions one must have virtue, and virtue is the power to do things. “By virtue and power I mean the same thing.” His philosophy however was not cold and passionless. He realised how dead reason was without passion, just as passion without reason was blind.

“All appetites are passions only so far as they arise from inadequate ideas; they are virtues... When generated by adequate ideas.”

Determinism

To summarise, there is no virtue but intelligence. We are only free when we know. His determinism did not provide an obstacle to a good and progressive life, but an incentive to higher morality; teaching us not to despise or ridicule anyone. Men are “not guilty.”

If punishments are socially necessary they should be administered without hate. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” - Jesus. Determinism is but another expression for natural law, cause and effect, and makes us realise more clearly that all things are determined by the eternal decrees of God. We accept the laws of nature more willingly, and realise the necessity of living in harmony with them, and not in opposition to them. What appears to a person as a misfortune now is justified in the eternal scheme of things, and “whether he comes into his own now, or in a thousand years, he sits content.” No other modern philosopher has influenced philosophy so greatly as Spinoza.

 

KANT
IS KNOWLEDGE INDEPENDENT OF EXPERIENCE?

The bold realism of Spinoza and Bacon was soon to be challenged by the Idealists. In the seventeenth century a great controversy arose over the question, “How does knowledge arise?” In his famous essay on human understanding, the English philosopher, John Locke, made history by turning reason in upon itself. He was the first to examine seriously the mind with a view to ascertaining how far it could be trusted to interpret correctly its environment. He discovered that all knowledge comes from experience through the senses. “There is nothing in the mind except what was first in the senses.” This was challenged by the Irish Bishop Berkeley who pointed out that this analysis of Locke’s merely proved that matter does not exist except as a form of mind! Matter was thus eliminated from the universe. David Hume, the Scottish sceptic, counter-attacked by pointing out that there is no such thing an mind. Mind is not a substance, and has never been perceived. Mind is merely an abstract name for an organisation of perceptions and memories. The philosophers had thus disposed of both matter and mind and there was nothing left. Philosophy discovered itself in the midst of its own ruins! A humorist remarked at the time “No matter, never mind.”

Idealism versus Materialism

Reason was gradually developing a virile materialism, a growing atheism and a revolt against the Church. Someone had to save religion from reason. It was left to Emmanuel Kant, the German philosopher (1724-1804) to champion this cause.

He openly challenged the English School of Materialists and set out to prove in the Critique of Pare Reason that knowledge is not all derived from the senses. Pure reason was indeed


 

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independent of sense experience, and arose from the inherent nature and structure of the mind. Knowledge can come to us a priory - before experience. This book is one of the most outstanding contributions to philosophy and commenced a great conflict among the philosophers. In it Kant made a most detailed analysis of the origin and evolution of thought, and the structure of the mind. The main issue he expressed as follows: “Experience is by no means the only field to which our understand can be confined. Experience tells us what is, but not that it must be necessarily what it is, and not otherwise. It therefore never gives us any really general truths; and our reason, which is particularly anxious for that class of knowledge, is roused by it rather than satisfied. General truths, which at the same time bear the character of an inward necessity, must be independent of experience - clear and certain in themselves.”

A Priori Truth

This boldly asserted that such knowledge must be true no matter what subsequent experience may prove; being true a prior - before experience. Kant thus laid down the foundations of German Idealism. Experience, he contended, merely gave us separate and isolated sensations and events; but truth came from the mind, which was an active organ and not a passive automatic receptacle for experience and sensation. Mind is not a term for a group of mental states, but an organ which co-ordinates sensations into ideas. Kant termed his study of the laws of thought and structure of the mind - “Transcendental Philosophy.” This revealed two stages in the processes of thought: (1) Co-ordination of sensations (or the awareness of stimuli;); (2) Co-ordination of perceptions. The latter process was the grouping or organisation of sensations around a given object. The separate sensations of the form, colour, smell, sound of an animal, for instance, are co-ordinated into a perception, and it is thus that sensation passes into knowledge. Is this process automatic? No, it is directed by the mind, which creates ideas and allocates the various sensations, in space and time, to the various perceptions. But is this perception identical with the object perceived? Does appearance conform with reality?

Appearance and Reality

Kant made a great contribution to thought when he made the distinction between appearance and reality the phenomenon and “the thing in itself.” What develops in the consciousness as a perception from sensation may be different from the object itself. The object itself can never be experienced, for it would have to be changed in its passage, through sense and thought. “It remains completely unknown to us what objects may be by themselves, and apart from the receptivity by our senses. We know nothing but our manner of perceiving them; that manner, being peculiar to us, and not necessarily shared by every being, though no doubt, by every human being.” Critique. Kant did not however deny the existence of things, of mater, like the English Idealist Berkeley, or the Mentalists and Christian Scientists of today, but insisted that things were in themselves unknowable. What knowledge we have accumulated regarding our world is based on appearances, which includes an inter-mixture of ideas created by mind, therefore we cannot know what an object is really like beyond our mental conception of it. “The understanding can never go beyond the limits of sensibility.”

Basis of Religion

This new attitude towards reason, and its independence of experience, was also assumed by Kant in relation to morality in the Critique of Practical Reason. Good actions were not


 

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measured by good results but by the conscience, an inner sense of duty, which was a law not founded on personal experience. The conscience dictates a priori for all behaviour. “Morality is not properly the doctrine how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.” This implied complete freedom of will power - the power of the mind to determine experience and the individuals way of life. As this idea lay at the roots of religion, religion should also be based on the practical reason of the moral sense, and not on the logic of theoretical reasoning or moral codes. Revelations should be judged according to their moral values and not creeds. Religion is useful only in developing the morality of men. Kant’s appeal was essentially a return to the teachings of Jesus and for the abandonment of creed and ritual. “Christ has brought the kingdom of God nearer to earth; but he has been misunderstood; and in place of God’s Kingdom, the kingdom of the priest has been established among us.” The idealism of this great Konisberg sage stimulated many new systems of thought in the German school of philosophy, and indeed influenced the whole of nineteenth century thought.

 

HEGEL (1779-1831)
THE DYNAMIC OF HUMAN PROGRESS

G W F Hegel (1770-1831) has been regarded as Germany’s greatest philosopher. So great was his fame that Germany used to celebrate his birthday with a public holiday. He was largely influenced by Greek thought and opposed Kant’s subjective idealism with that of objective realism. He flatly denied that things were “unknowable” as Kant had stated. The intelligible reality of things is just what we know best, he contended, and what is unknown will be made known. “The universe is penetrable to thought.” Truth did not exist in the idealistic world of Plato, but in the self-realising forms of Aristotle. He greatly developed the Greek dialectic and his fame rested chiefly in his great conception of the “Unity of Opposites” or the “identity of Contraries.” To grasp this idea we must first realise that all things rare related to one another. Nothing can be considered in isolation. Everything is related to every other thing. Human life is related to plant life and this to the mineral kingdom. Birds are related to human beings in their ability to defend man’s crops against insects. But the most universal relation in natural phenomena, Hegel pointed out, was that of opposition. All development arises from the struggle of opposites. Every idea expressed naturally leads to its opposite, eg, poor and rich, love and hatred, wisdom and ignorance, new and old, past and present, spirit and body, matter and motion, etc.

Unity of Opposites

Hegel’s idea was that every pair of opposites, such as those given above, form a unity within which development takes place, leading to a higher or more complex unity. This dialectical movement is the basic idea behind the whole of his philosophy. It is a modern development of the ‘Golden Mean’ of Aristotle who wrote that the “knowledge of opposites is one.” In all truths therefore there are opposing aspects in organic unity. The whole history of evolution is a continuous series of struggles. The new arises and is opposed, by the old, and after the conflict there is a merging of the two in a new and higher creation. Feudalism opposed absolute monarchy. The barons won, but in the new regime the king was retained. The industrial class came to power in Britain under Cromwell. The rule of the barons was superseded by the Commonwealth Parliament. Charles I was beheaded, but the House of Lord was retained and the throne afterwards restored. In the present struggle between Religion and Science we are witnessing the triumph of science, but out of the conflict is arising a new


 

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religion based on scientific knowledge - Spiritualism. The Dialectical Method

Spiritualism however, in turn, has also a contradiction to resolve, because the social products of science are opposed to the survival of the inherent psychic faculties of man. Science has produced an industrial environment, which tends to nullify or extinguish the extra-sensory perceptions associated with mediumship. Consequently mediumship is noticeably receding in the human species. In this new struggle of contradictions, it is highly probable that Spiritualism will overcome the destructive effects of our industrial environment of noise, speed and concentration, by inventing a scientific mode of communication with spirits. When Spiritualism successfully and completely establishes itself upon a sound scientific basis of communication, it will become the dominating spiritual force in the world, because science (its basis) has already achieved an international status. Hegel’s dialectical movement can also be applied to the development of ideas. First there is thesis, then antithesis and finally synthesis. By revealing that all things contain their own contradictions and opposites, Hegel has discovered for us one of the fundamental secrets of nature, for this is the great dynamic of all natural development and evolution. He explained the dialectical method of interpretation more fully and definitely than any previous philosopher, and as we study his writings we acquire a key knowledge of natural phenomena which simplifies what would otherwise appear as complex and mysterious. Each higher stage in the grand cavalcade of evolution divides inevitably into its own productive but opposing contradictions, which constitute the driving forces which raise all things to loftier levels of organisation, complexity, beauty and refinement. There is a constant oscillation of events from unity to opposition and from opposition to unity. This applies to the whole universe.

The “Absolute Ideal”

Hegel’s dialectics have revolutionised our philosophical approach to truth by simplifying the interrogation of nature. He has made us realise that the fundamental task of philosophy is to discover first the opposites contained in a unity or the unity embracing given opposites, in order to reveal the dynamic movement of development, change and progress which is taking place in any given situation. We also see more clearly how science units knowledge; and philosophy, as Bacon pointed out, brings a unity of the sciences. We appreciate the unifying influence of ethics in diverse conduct, and how politics unite opposing groups into the “state.” Finally, religion points to brotherhood among different people, harmony among nations, and most important of all, unity with the Supreme. God is obviously the totality of all relationships, movements and progress. God is the whole in which all things move and have their being. Hegel pointed out how man is part of the Absolute. In man, the Absolute develops to self-consciousness, and becomes the “Absolute Ideal.” In other words, Man’s reason brings the realisation that he is part of the Absolute, which enables him to rise above individual limitations and become conscious of the hidden harmony underlying all diversities and strife. “Reason is the substance of the Universe... the design of the world is absolutely rational,” wrote Hegel in his Philosophy of History

Progress from Conflict

We see more clearly that conflict and even strife are merely stages along the road of progress. Evil must be opposed. Good can only be reached by struggle. The lives of the saints were full of strife, and death was often the penalty for service to humanity. Jesus sacrificed his earthly


 

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life to serve his fellow men. His character was refined by sufferings, and no one can deny that his passion on the cross has had a profound influence upon the progress and civilisation of man. “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion,” said Hegel. Pain attends the conquest of evil, but happiness is the net result. Happiness however should not become the objective of life, but achievement. “The history of the world,” wrote Hegel, “is not the theatre of happiness; periods of happiness are blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony.” Hegel meant by this that contentment and self-satisfaction are unworthy of a progressive individual, and that history and advancement are only made when opposing contradictions are being resolved. Thus man is able to create the new from the old, as an instrument of God, in His ever unfolding and evolving universe. “Never did philosophy assume such a lofty tone.” - Paulsen.

 

SPENCER (1820-1903)
A PHILOSOPHICAL SYNTHESIS OF ALL KNOWLEDGE

The nineteenth century was pregnant with fundamental changes for human society. The industrial revolution was in full swing. Vast cities were springing up around the great factories. Mighty railroads and large ocean going liners were being built. It was the epoch of Faraday’s electromagnetism, Dalton’s atomic theory and Darwin’s evolution. Science was taking control of the world. But the sciences needed co-ordination so that they could be directed towards the benefit of mankind. This was the role of philosophy, and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) undertook the task. His Synthetic Philosophy earned for him the honour of becoming the most famous English philosopher of his century. It was natural that a philosophical synthesis of science should arise from the “Workshop of the World.” Spencer’s philosophy, ripened by age and experience, (he did not write until he was forty), was logical and lucid. He possessed such a clear, realistic and definite style that the whole world became interested in philosophy.

Concept of Evolution

First Principles, his most famous work, was published in 1862 and took the same place in philosophy, in the minds of his generation, that Darwin’s Origin of Species had taken in science. These two great works became the centre of a mighty battle, which suddenly blazed into action against orthodox beliefs and creeds. In the centre of the fray was Prof. T H Huxley - generalissimo of the new forces. First Principles attempted to unify knowledge and state generalisations of natural law such as the indestructibility of matter, the continuity of motion, the conservation of energy and the transformability and equivalence of forces. His concept of evolution however startled the intellects of Europe. “Evolution is an integration of matter and a concomitant dissipation of motion, during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation.”

Diversity in Unity

Spencer had in mind the integration of stars and planets from gaseous nebulae; the play of the elements upon the rocks and the formation of soil; the transformation of soil into plants, and the changes that convert the proteins and carbohydrates of plants and animals into human tissues and organs. In the mental sphere there was a development of sense experience into knowledge and of science into philosophy.


 

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In the social field we note the integration of families into tribes, tribes into nations and finally, the ‘federation of the world.’ In the process the dissipation of motion is manifested in the restricted freedom of the individual within the state; the incoherent homogeneity of individualism passes into the coherent heterogeneity of communal life. The activities and motions of the individual are transformed from a state of isolation to that of co-operation. Evolution from nebulae to planets, primitive life to human society, also develops diversity in unity. A nebula is simple in structure but our planet contains myriads of complex structures, whilst modern social life becomes increasingly rich in industrial, political and cultural variety. Sciences breed other sciences, philosophy develops hundreds of new conceptions, and religion takes a thousand forms to meet the needs of an increasingly complex humanity. Integration, the unity of parts into wholes, and heterogeneity, the differentiation of parts into increasing varieties, are the key conceptions of Spencer’s idea of evolution.

Terrible Message of Materialism

He further explained how the processes of evolution arise from the operation of mechanical forces, but he contended that these forces, due to resistance, would ultimately expend themselves. Planets will follow smaller orbits as the sun cools. Life, in turn, will suffer from lack of light and heat and our sources of food will diminish. The human race will gradually disappear. As the uneven forces achieve equilibrium of a dead heat, dissolution will be the dreadful epilogue of evolution. The earth will become a tragedy of decay as energy becomes more and more dissipated. So the mighty drama of Spencer’s First Principles no future for the human race. The idea of a benevolent creator was therefore completely inconsistent with such a pointless and purposeless creation. This was the Modern Materialism that enraged the whole of Christian Orthodoxy. The Church fought back. It restated its beliefs in a spiritual future for man. No proof! was the practical reply. Religion must, if it wishes to survive, provide proof of its spiritual principles. Rationalism was demanded everywhere.

A Stimulus to Progress

The second and third volumes of Spencer’s Synthetic Philosophy bore the title ‘Principles of Biology’. One of his principles was: ‘Life is the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations.’ Another very interesting idea was the opposition between intellectual development and fertility. “Where exceptional fertility exists, there is sluggishness of mind, and where there has been, during education, excessive expenditure in mental action, there frequently follows a complete or partial infertility. Hence the particular kind of further evolution which man is hereafter to undergo is one which more than any other, may be expected to cause a decline in his power of reproduction.” Philosophers are noted for avoiding children. He also thought that increase of population beyond the limits of food supplies had been a stimulus to progress. “From the beginning this pressure population has been the proximate cause of progress. It produced the original diffusion of the race. It compelled men to abandon predatory habits and take to agriculture. It led to the clearing of the earth’s surface. It forced men into the social state... and developed the social sentiments. It has stimulated to progressive improvements in production, and to increased skill and intelligence.”

The struggle for existence had eliminated inferior species, only the fittest survived. In psychology he outlined the evolution of mind and pointed out that problems solved by inherited instinct were simple and related to the established routine of life, whilst those which demanded the reasoning faculty were new and complex. Basically, however, instinct and


 

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reason were the same; reason merely being the struggle of many instincts in the art of thinking.

Society is an Organism

Throughout his great masterpiece Spencer was constantly concerned with social problems. In The Principles of Sociology he sought to explain the laws of the development of society, the causal sequences, with a view to establishing sociology as a science. Society was an organism. It procured nourishment and circulated it. Different sections performed special functions. Its consciousness was reflected in its democratic institutions and government. “A social organism is like an individual organism in these essential traits: that it grows; that while growing it becomes more complex; that while becoming more complex, its parts acquire increasing mutual dependence; that its life is immense in length compared with the lives of its component units; that in both cases there is increasing integration accompanied by increasing heterogeneity.”

There was growth from the small shop to the combine, with an accompanying division of labour and trades. He concluded his Synthetic Philosophy with The Principles of Ethics in which he endeavoured to establish a scientific basis for ethics. “The supposed supernatural sanctions of right conduct do not, if rejected, leave a blank. There exist natural sanctions no less pre-emptory, and covering a much wider field.”

For instance, “acceptance of the doctrine of organic evolution determines certain ethical conceptions.” A moral code which could not stand the test of natural selection and the struggle for existence was useless. Surely “the highest conduct is that which conduces to the greatest length, breadth, and completeness of life.”

Morality also harmonised with his main principle of evolution, for was it not unity in diversity? The highest types were those who achieved a unity of many virtues, qualities, and powers. He surveyed, analysed, and explained nature and society as no other man had ever done. He truly co-ordinated all knowledge in a grand philosophical synthesis.

BERGSON (1859-1941)
THE PHILOSOPHY OF CREATIVE EVOLUTION

It was natural, after the revolution in philosophy caused by the appearance of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), and Spencer’s First Principles (1862), that there should be a counter­revolution against the onslaught of the new Materialism. Spencer had interpreted the world in terms of force and given a picture of a mechanical universe of matter. This view-point dominated philosophy for the remainder of the century. Meanwhile reaction developed and ripened in the twentieth century. A brilliant attack against 19th century Materialism was made by the French philosophy Henri Bergson (1859-1941) in 1907, when he published his Creative Evolution. His championship of a spiritual view of the world was welcomed everywhere, and he at once became the most popular figure in the world of philosophy. His famous fellow countryman, Pasteur, a biological chemist and physicist had not only discovered how to cure diseases by the use of vaccines but had, through his experiments, discredited the belief in the generation of life by non-living matter. Here was a new basis on which to construct an anti-materialist philosophy.


 

Ernest Thompson MSNU

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Free Will

Man, according to Bergson, is a centre of creative evolution. He is not entirely a pawn in the game between environment and heredity. As he adds new experiences and knowledge to the storehouse of his memory, the variety and range of possible responses in any given situation increases, and therefore his scope of choice is enlarged. As he thinks, he rehearses his responses before he produces the act. His consciousness is therefore proportionate to his capacity for choosing. “Consciousness seems proportionate to the living being’s power or choice. It lights up the zone of potentialities that surrounds the act. It fills the interval between what is done and what might be done.” - Creative Evolution. We not only know what we are doing, but have free will in choosing what we will do. This was a blow to Determinism. “The primary function of memory is to evoke all those past perceptions which are analogous to the present perception, to recall to us what preceded, and what followed them, and so to suggest to us that decision which is the most useful. But this is not all. By allowing us to grasp, in a single intuition, multiple moments of duration, it frees us from the movement of the flow of things, that is to say, from the rhythm of necessity. The more of these moments memory can contract into one, the firmer is the hold which it gives to us on matter; so that the memory of a living being appears indeed to measure, above all, its powers of action upon things.” - Matter and Memory.

Consciousness

Determinism infers the unimpeded flow of cause and effect, but when a person tries to make a decision the easy inevitable flow of the mechanics of determinism are not apparent. Instead there manifests the burden and obstructions caused by the struggle between the gravitation of instinct and the opposing forces of reason. Consciousness was therefore not the mechanical functioning of brain cells and nerves. These were merely the telephone lines to the intelligence within. The thinking organism could not be the brain as the Materialists had claimed, and so the idea of a separate though interrelated mind became one of Bergson’s philosophical concepts.

Consciousness was not only related to the brain however. Did it not extend throughout the body via the nervous system? There was consciousness all over the body.

“Theoretically therefore everything living might be conscious. In principle, consciousness is co-extensive with life.” - Mind Energy. The study of consciousness became the basis of Bergson’s philosophy. He realised, that the study of consciousness would give a new interpretation of the world. This also led him to the unconscious regions of the mind which revealed to him still greater possibilities. “To explore the most sacred depths of the unconscious, to labour in the sub-soil of consciousness; that will be the principal task of psychology in the century which is opening. I do not doubt that wonderful discoveries await it there.”

An Evolving God

Philosophy had found a new basis - psychology, the newest science of all; the foundations of which were being laid by Freud. It was in direct contrast to the physics of Spencer. Instead of the dissipation of energy, psychology presented the view of a constantly increasing accumulation of vital powers, “the continual elaboration of the absolutely new.”

From a different point of view, biology had revealed that where tissues had been regenerated,


 

Spiritualism in the Evolution of Philosophy

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functions re-appeared. Something immaterial must be the creative force behind such phenomena. How did the embryo create and develop all the organs of the body? And so Bergson postulated a creative power, an élan vital, as the directing intelligence in all nature. There was a constant “procreant urge of the world.” There was also direction and design behind all phenomena, so Bergson associated this creative force with God, and being evolutionary in character, he concluded that God too must be evolutionary. “God, thus defined, has nothing of the ready-made; He is unceasing life, action, freedom. Creation, so conceived, is not a mystery; we experience it in ourselves when we act freely.”

His great concept of Duration arose from this philosophy. All things, mind and matter, life and consciousness, creation and evolution were all forms of Duration. Instead of the old uni­linear series of evolutionary stages, Creative evolution was pluri-dimensional. Eternal duration was the true nature of the eternally evolving God.

Our struggles towards progress were due to the presence of an evolving life force within us. A force which could even overcome its enemy matter and elude mortality. This idea led Bergson to a study of immortality and psychical research. He considered that the evidence for telepathy was overwhelming. He examined the mediumship of Eusapia Paladino and reported in favour of her sincerity, and in 1913 accepted the Presidency of the Society for Psychical Research.

Spiritual Realism

Bergson’s spiritualistic and metaphysical reply to Spencer’s materialism was a modern parallel to the reaction of Kantian idealism to Bacon’s realism. The history of modern philosophy reveals two great waves of materialism and atheism arising from the explosions of science. First Bacon with his Novum Organon in 1620, and the Spencer with his First Principles in 1862. The reaction to Bacon culminated in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 and to Spencer in Bergson’s Creative Evolution in 1907. There is however a difference between the idealism of Kant and the realism of Bergson for the latter was based on scientific research.

In the long struggle between materialist realism and spiritualistic idealism there was finally produced a unity of opposites in Bergson’s spiritual realism. The study of science had at last produced a spiritualistic philosophy in which we first note the influence of psychology (science of the mind) and secondly of psychical research (science of the survival of the mind.)

Psychical research also became the basis of the new philosophy and religion of Spiritualism, in which the unity of science and religion became a reality for the first time in the history of the evolution of man’s mind. Since the beginning of thought, science and religion had remained in opposition to each other. Spiritualism has achieved the unity of these historic opposites, and in consequence is rapidly becoming the dominating spiritual force in the world. In our following lecturettes we will therefore study the philosophy of this new religion.

Chapter 3 The Harmonial Philosophy