SCIENCE     versus     MATERIALISM

by     Reginald O. Kapp

SECTION II - DOUBLE DETERMINATENESS

Chapter XIV - ON TECHNICAL TERMS


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 Mind works.

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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