SOME writers succeed in saying new things entirely in well-established language. Others seem to pride themselves on the
number of new words they can invent. We had hoped to
emulate the former. But, alas, we have not been wholly
successful. In spite of the best intentions we are forced to
introduce a few new technical terms into philosophy. Among
these single, double and incomplete determinateness have
occurred already. Now we need a word which will enable
us to describe everything which is not the result of shaking
down. We have sought in vain for such a word in the technical language of philosophy. So we must take upon ourselves
the responsibility of providing one.
It is a great responsibility as every electrical engineer should
know. Faraday did not select such words as "anion",
"cation", "dielectric" lightly. They were the outcome of a
lengthy correspondence with the Master of Trinity in which
various less suitable alternatives were rejected. The great
pioneers of the past have set the tradition for painstaking attention to nomenclature still followed in our day by the
International Electro-technical Commission and the many
national committees co-ordinated to it, all of which act as
guardians of a sound and standardized electrical nomenclature.
We have no right to give less care and anxious thought to the
choice of the words we use in philosophy than we do to the
choice of the words we use in electrical engineering.
Maybe care and anxious thought are not enough. They
certainly would not be enough in most branches of learning.
Expert knowledge is also necessary, and so it can be argued
with justification that no amateur ought to add to the technical
language of philosophy. However, the time has long passed
when philosophy was left exclusively to properly qualified
specialists. For better or worse, philosophy may be compared to the sort of fight which appealed to the pugnacious
Irishman: that in which everyone may join in. When the
subject is philosophy, books and papers are written in large
numbers by amateurs. Biologists contribute most. But statesmen, lawyers, civil servants, theologians are also quite prolific,
while now and then, on rare occasions, a physicist will have
his say. None of these are told to mind their own business
unless it be the physicists. These do seem to incur the resentment of the others at times and, we believe, more often when
they are right than when they are wrong. We may be mistaken, but we have gained the impression that the other
amateurs do not think that a physicist ought to make generalized statements about the nature of Matter.
Now it chances that the amateurs have made certain branches
of philosophical study peculiarly their own and have pronounced on these more insistently and more dogmatically
than any trained philosopher. Thus it is the amateurs who are
chiefly responsible for the views that reality must necessarily
be material reality, that vitalism is untenable and that it is in
the nature of Matter unaided to do all the strange things
postulated by materialism. We need, therefore, not be surprised to find that philosophy does not possess all the technical
terms needed for the adequate discussion of our problem.
This lack has, we think, been a great handicap to clear thinking
in the past. The only technical language available has been
developed largely for discussion of the nature of Mind. When
applied to a problem which demands first and foremost a
proper understanding of the nature of Matter this language
has proved inadequate.
For these reasons our introduction of the words single,
double and incomplete determinateness can be fully justified.
The nearest words hitherto possessed by philosophy have been
determinism and free will, words quite relevant to any discussion of the distinction between Mind and Matter but quite
useless for a discussion of the distinction between material
and non-material reality. To use the words "free will" is to
take it for granted that the things spoken of have some sort
of a will. The only point in question is whether this will is
free or not. So these words divert attention from the problem
whether reality is necessarily material reality and direct it to
totally different problems concerning the way in which the
In vol. 2, page 5, of his Geschichte des Materialismus, E. A.
Lange said that only one argument is ever used against
materialism, namely that consciousness cannot be explained
in terms of material movements. There is some truth in this
jibe. It is, at least, correct that "materialism versus vitalism"
is commonly treated as synonymous with "determinism versus
free will", and that people take it for granted that anything
which is not Matter can only be one thing, namely Mind: a
dim Mind perhaps, a groping and imperfect Mind, not such
a powerful Mind as is possessed by the modern scientist but,
nevertheless, some sort of a Mind. It is clear that we need
terms which will make it possible to discuss the nature of
reality, the nature of Matter, the nature of vegetative processes
without these constant excursions into the domain of
psychology. Proper technical terms are like anchors which
hold attention to the subject under discussion. Their absence
from that domain of philosophy which the amateurs have made
their own has allowed attention to drift aimlessly from one
irrelevancy to another.
The inappropriate use of the only available terms has, again,
led to the unwarranted assumption that things must be either
determined by the laws of physics and chemistry up to the
last infinitely small detail or so completely indeterminate that
anything may happen, in which case, in the words of a book
reviewer in Nature of January 8th, 1938, "large scale planning
would be futile."
This astonishing view has come to permeate contemporary
thought to a remarkable degree. We have frequently met
reference to "the determinists and the indeterminists." It is
always taken for granted that the only alternative to a Principle
of Complete Determinateness mast be a Principle of Complete
Indeterminateness. We have not found it suggested either
frequently or forcibly that the true choice is between a Principle
of Complete Determinateness and a Principle of Incomplete
Determinateness, nor that any gap in the complete determinateness of the Material Universe may be filled partly or wholly
by non-material influences, or that vitalism can make do with
but a very narrow gap.
In his book Belief and Action Viscount Samuel shows, as a
statesman should, a sound instinct for the drift of current
thought. He discusses among other things Heisenberg's
Principle of Indeterminacy and concludes quite correctly that
this principle does not prove "the indeterminists" to be right.
Heisenberg's principle, as we have pointed out in Chapter V,
still leaves it possible to believe that the unaided action of
Matter on Matter fully determines all events, even the most
minute. Viscount Samuel welcomes this conclusion. Were
it not so, he argues, men will not "strive to improve their
conditions or better their lives. They will have little ground
for thinking that, at the end of all their striving, things will
be any different from what they would have been without
it." Why a gap in the physical determinateness of events so
narrow that it cannot be measured by the most accurate
apparatus should have such devastating moral consequences
is not explained. Viscount Samuel has evidently not thought
in terms of a narrow gap such as could be penetrated by non-material influences alone, but in terms of a wide-open door
such as would leave all physical events quite unpredictable.
We met a similar view in conversation with a biologist
who has published a widely read contribution to the dispute
between materialists and vitalists. "Every biologist is at heart
a materialist," he told us. "For if he believed that anything
might happen, he would consider it impossible to make predictions. He would be forced to abandon scientific method."
Strangely inconsequential reasoning this, but all too common.
To our friend vitalism was the doctrine that anything might
happen. He confused belief in non-material influences with
belief in unrestricted, completely unrestricted, free will. He
thought that things which are determined by non-material
influences must be indeterminate!
This conversation made us realize how necessary it is to
have a technical language which will anchor thought to the
obvious fact that, according to vitalism, only those things can
happen which Life permits. We can think of no better anchor
than "double determinateness". Familiarity with this expression would have enabled our friend to understand that
vitalism is the doctrine of additional control, of increased
restrictions. He would then have realized that it is the biologist's job to discover what these increased restrictions are. He
would not have said that vitalism would force biologists to
abandon scientific method. He would have said instead that
vitalism obliges biologists to apply scientific method in a field
of study where physicists are unable to cope with all the facts.
Thus it will be seen that the words "determinism" and
"free will" are responsible for much confusion. The Great
Philosophy of Unreason depends for its existence largely on
a misleading vocabulary.
We have one more remark to make about technical terms
in general. Some words have wings. They may take us on
noble flights of fancy or on less noble flights of rhetoric.
Words describing the sublime things to be found in nature
have this quality. So do such words as freedom, beauty,
progress, science. The use of such words in poetry conveys
things which transcend logic and touch the depths of our
emotions. Their copious use in philosophy has enabled many
a materialist to pass himself off as some sort of an idealist.
While he asserts that all events are due to the unaided action
of Matter on Matter he also speaks of religious possibilities",
of "beauty, truth and goodness", of the "emergence of
higher things", of "man's sublime aspirations", of the "forces
of nature which lead to perfection", of "the energy which
orders our destiny". Thus does he present a Material Universe
closed to all non-material influences in a brightly coloured
cloud formed by winged words fluttering in a rosy mist of
evasive reasoning. He hopes thereby to please both the
bishops and the biologists. And reviewers say: "This is no
crude materialism. The conflict between science and religion
has now been settled."
We do not propose to settle the conflict in this way. We
shall always go to the trouble to avoid the use of words
which may take wing and confuse us with their fluttering.
The anchor is to provide the suitable metaphor for any technical terms we may use and not the butterfly or even the eagle.
We hope and believe that any new technical term which we
introduce into philosophy will be thoroughly earthbound.
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