WORKS OF REGINALD O. KAPP

REVIEWS

by     H. H. PRICE

British Journal of the Philosophy of Science I, May 1956, pp 257-60


Facts and Faith: The Dual Nature of Reality.

As their title suggests, these lectures are partly concerned with the conflict between science and religion. But their main theme is better indicated by the sub-title ' The Dual Nature of Reality '. The author's aim is to present the case for a dualistic philosophy of nature and against a monistic one. This issue, he argues, is of enormous importance for the philosophy of science, but is less important for theology than is commonly thought. 'I doubt indeed whether monism is bad religion. B ut I am sure that it is bad science' (p. 14).

Possibly his use of the word 'monism' may cause discomfort to some of his readers. The monistic theories which are most familiar to students of philosophy are idealistic ones, such as the philosophy of Hegel or of Bradley. Professor Kapp is of course well aware of this. But he himself means by 'monism' materialistic monism, and he says so explicitly on page 9. The reader must not be misled by the word 'dualism' either. The dualism which Professor Kapp advocates is not the classical dualism of Descartes. He rejects Descartes's mechanistic biology. His own dualism, if we must assign a label to it, is a form of vitalism, in which conscious mind is only one among several kinds of 'diathetes’ or non-material controlling agencies (διαθεται from the Greek verb διατιθεναι 'to arrange').

Thus the diathete which controls the growth and other vegetative processes of an oak tree is not a conscious mind. 'Dualism is the belief that the whole of reality is composed of two parts, one named matter and the other diathetes. Some events are held to happen because those two component parts act on each other '(p. 9).

Professor Kapp holds that a diathete is a non-spatial entity. It has no location and a fortiori no shape nor size. We have to say of it that it exists and yet is nowhere. He seems to think that this will be regarded as a serious objection to his thesis. I do not quite see why. There is no a priori reason why everything which exists must be somewhere. Moreover, it would seem that some of the entities spoken of in modern microphysics are not located in the plain unambiguous sense in which macroscopic objects such as brickbats are located. And Professor Kapp himself insists that even though a diathete is nowhere, what it does is somewhere. Thus Mr Jones's mind is a dlathete, and the effects which it causes are located in Mr Jones's cerebral cortex, even though it itself has no location. Again, God may be regarded the supreme diathete. Religious people are accustomed to say that God is everywhere ('omnipresent'). But as Professor Kapp points out, this can be taken, to mean that He acts everywhere, that every event in physical space is subject to His control.

How are we to decide between these two philosophies of Nature, materialistic monism on the one hand, and vitalistic dualism on the other? We might try to do so by considering the properties of mind. 'The reality of tliought and feeling, of all subjective experience, is used as a proof that the objective world, as revealed by a study of matter, does not encompass the whole of reality' (p. 16.) Professor Kapp admits that there is some force in this argument, but thinks that it may lead to an incomplete picture of reality. It may lead us to suppose, with Descartes, that the only diathetes are minds. 'The distinction between conscious behaviour and vegetative processes is treated as basic, and the distinction between the organic and the inorganic world as superficial.' But this is a mistake. 'The true dividing line… separates all living from all lifeless substance' (pp. 16-17).

Nor must we suppose that the action of diathetes is only detectable when we reflect upon specially valuable objects, such as Shakespeare's plays or Beethoven's symphonies; nor again that it is only detectable when we consider very unusual phenomena, such as extra-sensory perception. On the contrary, 'the most relevant facts . . . are the very familiar ones. They are so familiar to us all that we tend to overlook their significance' (p. 18). The crucial point is that some events display order and other events do not. If matter has no properties but those which are listed in textbooks of physics (and monists maintain that it has no others) monism has no means of explaining this empirically discoverable difference between the ordered and the non-ordered. We can only account for this difference by supposing that some physical events are affected by non-material agencies, diathetes, while other physical events are not. That is Professor Kapp's contention.

Evidently he must maintain that in what he calls 'the rough untouched world of lifeless things' there is no order. He does not, of course, have to hold that order is found only in living creatures. A building, a machine, the row of pebbles along the side of a garden path, a bird's nest, an anthill all these do display order in his sense of the term. But such material objects, though lifeless, are not 'rough and untouched'. The order they display is an effect of what living organisms have done to various pieces of non-living matter, and is therefore an indirect effect of the operation of diathetes. What Professor Kapp must maintain, and does in fact maintain, is that no order is discoverable in those parts of the material universe which are neither themselves living organisms nor affected by the activities of living organisms. He rightly anticipates that this very radical contention will shock some of his readers. Ever since the Psalmist exclaimed 'The heavens declare the glory of God' religious people have liked to think that the physical universe is ordered through and through. Tough-minded materialistic persons have liked to think so too, though from different motives. They have wanted a deterministic world. And so they have held, like their religious opponents, that there is what Professor Kapp calls 'a cosmic statute book', though they have rejected the argument that if there are such cosmic statutes, there must be a Sovereign of the Universe who wrote them.

In Lecture II, 'Is there a cosmic.statute book?’, Professor Kapp argues that in actual fact there are no such statutes at all, or at any rate that the progress of physics, from Newton's time onwards, has reduced the cosmic statute book to a very slim. volume indeed. Eddington has shown that the law of gravitation, the laws of mechanics, and the laws of the magnetic field can all be summed up in one principle, the Principle of Least Action, and that this could equally well be called the Principle of Greatest Probability. Professor Kapp quotes Eddington's statement 'The law of nature is that the actual state of the world is that which is statistically most probable' and makes the following comment on it : 'This is the state in which the traffic in our streets would be if there were no rule of the road ; it is the state in which all things find themselves when everything is allowed and nothing prohibited '(pp. 31-3 2).

If the physicists tell us that this is what the physical world is like, no doubt the ordinary man will have to take their word for it. And yet he will be inclined to protest that in the macroscopic physical world (the only world which he can observe) there is plenty of order all the same. At any rate there are discoverable regularities in it. If not, how could induction generalisations be made and relied upon for anticipating the future, or more generally for inferring from the observed to what is not at present observed? Indeed, how could men, or animals either, manage to learn anything from experience at all? Physicists will no doubt point out to us that inductive generalisations about the macroscopic physical world can only tell us, at the best, that given die occurrence of A the occurrence of B is exceedingly likely, not that it is absolutely certain. But this will not worry tlie ordinary man at all. He will be quite content to believe that water nearly always flows downhill and almost invariably boils at 212o Fahrenheit at sea level. If there is good ground for such generalisations as these (and surely there is), he will say that there is order in macroscopic lifeless things.

He does not ask for rigid determinism, but only for dependable and empirically discoverable regularities, and these he has. So far as I can see, the progress of physics has done nothing to show that these macroscopic regularities do not exist. What it has done is to explain this macroscopic order by showing that it can be inferred from statistical propositions about very large aggregates of microphysical events which are individually unpredictable. And this is a very remarkable achievement. But after all, one does not abolish empirical facts by giving an explanation of them.

When we reflect upon our experience of the macroscopic world, the distinction which first strikes our minds is, surely, not the one which Professor Kapp emphasises, between the orderly and the orderless or random, but rather the difference between two contrasted types of order or regularity, the teleological type of order and the non-teleological type of order. It is indeed difficult to understand how a monistic theory can account for this difference, or how the teleological type of order could exist at all, given the two assumptions (I) that the universe is wholly material, (2) that matter has only those properties which are attributed to it in textbooks of physics. In these lectures, however. Professor Kapp does not have much to say about the concept of teleology. He sometimes gives the impression of holding that all order is ipso facto teleological; and this would seem to be a. very questionable assumption. Perhaps the difficulty here is partly one of terminology, and some other word than 'order' might have been used for characterising that which is absent from the 'rough untouched world of lifeless things' and present in organisms and their products.

There are a number of other interesting points in these lectures which the present reviewer is not competent to discuss: for example, in the section on 'Order and the Second Law of Thermodynamics' in Lecture III (pp. 41- 45) where it is suggested that this law provides 'an objective criterion of order' and a measure of the intensity of the 'diathesis' to which a given material system is subjected. But perhaps enough has been said to arouse the curiosity of the reader. Anyone who is interested in the philosophy of nature should read this little book. Professor Kapp lias stated an unfashionable thesis in a very forcible and downright manner. His arguments for it are neither metaphysical nor theological, but scientific. He claims to show that materialistic monism is 'bad science'. If his contention is to be rejected, his arguments ought to be examined and answered.

H. H. PRICE
Professor of Logic, Oxford 1935-59

Acknowledgement
Papers by Prof R.O. Kapp and any subsequent discussions and rejoinders are reproduced from the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science with the kind permission of the Oxford University Press.
Website home page: http://bjps.oxfordjournals.org/

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