NOW, after this short digression, for a technical term wherewith to describe everything which is not the result of shaking
down. The word "order" may suggest itself at first. But this
word, often used by philosophers in other connections, does
not meet our present requirement, if only because things
which are merely the result of shaking down may sometimes
have order. This is true of a crystal, for instance, as we have
explained in a previous chapter.
Architects and engineers control the disposition of Matter
and ensure that it shall be arranged as required in the things
they construct. They do not allow it merely to shake down.
So we should expect to find a suitable term in their language.
And we do. "Specification" fits our meaning exactly. When
one says that a thing is not merely the result of shaking down
one means that it is constructed to a specification. One cannot
mean anything else. And, conversely, when one denies that
a thing is constructed to a specification one can only mean that
it has been allowed to shake down.
Things may have a specified size, or shape, or arrangement,
or number; their position may be specified, or their duration,
or their sequence in space or in time. In fact the requirements
of a specification may cover anything which can be measured,
counted, observed, or recorded. Of any such thing we can
ask: "Is this to be attributed to a specification or is it the sort
of thing which results when the monkey of chance allows
Matter to shake down?"
Hence the word has a manifold application. At the moment
we are applying it only to the Problem of Repeated Form.
But we believe that this word could help philosophers to
formulate many other problems more precisely than they can
do at present. Often, indeed, when we have been listening
to philosophical discussions on a variety of subjects we have
thought that "specification" was the one word for which the
disputants seemed to be groping. It would have provided just
that anchor needed to save the argument from drifting aimlessly.
However, the word is a little (though we believe, not very
far) removed from the habits of thought of philosophers. It
may, therefore, not be immediately apparent why this word
deserves to be elevated from its present humble position in
the language of architects and engineers into the language of
philosophy. A comparison of occasions when the word cannot
and when it can be applied will help to convey its deeper
A boulder on a hill in Essex arouses the interest of some
geologists. They ask themselves why it is there. After investigation they conclude that it was carried to its present resting
place from Norway during the last Ice Age. Its journey followed the direction of a field of force analysable into a vertical
and a horizontal component. So we can legitimately say that
the boulder just fell. It is true that it fell down an inclined
plane of very gentle slope and took years in the falling, but,
nevertheless, it just fell. Its position is the result of shaking
down. Having discovered what physical forces acted on the
boulder and brought it from country to country, the geologists
are satisfied. No other reason need or can be given for its
presence in Essex.
There is a Cross on the Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. If
an inquiring sightseer were to ask why it is there, should we
give him a similar reason? We could do so, of course. We
could describe the manufacturer's works from which the
materials came, their means of transport, the route followed,
the hoisting tackle used to raise the Cross to its present position. We could further explain to the sightseer that, like the
boulder in Essex, the Cross had throughout its journey followed the direction of a field of force and that the whole
process of its transport had conformed strictly to the laws of
physics. We could tell him that, when an object follows the
direction of a field of force and obeys the Principle of Conservation of Energy, it can legitimately be said to fall. So we
could sum up our answer by saying that the Cross fell on to
the Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. Our statement would be
true. We could justify it by science and, in doing so, we
should merely follow the line of argument which a geologist
finds perfectly complete and satisfactory when he seeks an
explanation for the presence of a boulder in Essex.
But the sightseer would not be satisfied with this answer.
He would think that he was being made fun of. He would
not deny the accuracy of the answer. He would deny its
relevance to his question. He would point out that he had
not asked how the Cross had got there but why it was there.
For the boulder both questions amount to the same thing.
For the Cross they do not.
The proper answer in its simplest terms is that a Cross was
called for in Sir Christopher Wren's specification. This
answer can, of course, be amplified. Religious, traditional, and
aesthetic reasons can be given. But these do not concern us
here. The second type of answer would form as satisfactory
an explanation for the presence of a Cross on the Dome of
St. Paul's Cathedral as the first does for the presence of a
boulder on a hill in Essex whatever considerations may have
motivated Sir Christopher Wren. The existence of the Cross
in its present conspicuous position is due to the mere fact that
a Cross has been specified. We need go no further
than the general similarity of architects' specifications to
explain why there are many crosses on many cathedrals. Here
the word "specification" solves the Problem of Repeated
Had engineering instead of architecture provided our
illustration, we should have reached a similar result. Per-
haps the world contains, or soon will contain more Ford
cars than sparrows. And the reason why the cars are all
similar is that they have all been constructed to the same
The specification ensures uniformity even though circumstances may be far from uniform. The materials used in a
Ford factory may come from a variety of sources and be submitted to a variety of treatments. Yet such differences have
no appreciable effect on the cars emerging from the factory.
Similarly, the materials forming the Cross on the Dome of
St. Paul's Cathedral may have come from this or that manufacturer's works; they may have come by this or that route;
this or that means of transport may have been employed.
Such details are immaterial. Sir Christopher Wren specified
a Cross, so a Cross there is. When there is a specification, it is
We are reminded of the various histories which may be
experienced by various sparrows, of the various sources from
which their food may have come. We remember that for
sparrows, too, such details are immaterial. It is natural, therefore, to ask whether the sparrows are all similar for the same
reason as the Ford cars. Is there a specification for a sparrow
which is dominant in the behaviour of its constituent atoms?
This is a particular question raised by the word specification.
But let us dwell for a brief moment on the deeper and more
general aspects of the word.
Specified or unspecified? It is a big question. Philosophically
it is important because for every material arrangement which
is unspecified only one reason can be given. But for any
material arrangement which is specified, two reasons can be
given. And these are so distinct that they belong to different
universes of discourse. Physicists live in one of these universes. They discourse in terms of fields of force, conservation
of energy, quantum jumps, statistical averages. Physicists, in
so far as they speak as physicists, have no place in the second
universe. Architects and engineers enter it frequently. They
do so whenever they consider not what is or has been, but
what shall be. The things which they want the future to bring
forth are the things which they mention in their specifications.
And we all enter this second universe of discourse a hundred
times a day. "We enter it whenever we do a thing in a specified
way or at a specified time. It is one of the tasks of philosophy
to discover whether these two universes can be reconciled
and, if so, how.
Specified or unspecified? We believe that this is the same
question which philosophers have asked for over a score of
centuries in the words "order or chaos." We believe that by
"order" they always meant specified order, not merely such
regularity and symmetry as may occasionally result when the
monkey of chance allows things to settle down anyhow. We
believe that the Platonists meant only such order as is imposed
by a Demiurge to meet his specific requirements, that the
theologian of later times meant only such order as may be
imposed by the Specification of the Divine Architect. But if
the distinction between order and chaos did originally mean
the distinction between specified and unspecified the words
are, nevertheless, not serviceable to-day for the simple reason
that they have been so much abused. "Order" is too often
used to describe any regularity, symmetry or even spacing
whether it be specified or not. And "chaos " is too often used
to describe anything displeasing whether it be specified or
not. At many periods of musical history, for instance, critics
have described the work of their contemporaries as chaotic.
Yet it was obviously specified. The score is there to prove it.
For a musical score is but the specification for the sequence of
notes to be performed. The real objection to the words "order
and chaos" is that the choice between them is often subjective. But a decision as to whether a thing is specified or unspecified can be based on the objective testimony of material facts.
Specified or unspecified? The question is important in our
particular investigation, because it is not in the nature of
Matter to produce specifications nor to follow them unaided.
The monkey of chance does not work to a specification. If
he did, we should not call him the monkey of chance. Anything which is unspecified has shaken down where this metaphorical monkey has scattered it, whether the result is a
detectable regularity or not. Anything which is specified has
also fallen. But it has not just fallen. Something with powers
which we know Matter does not possess has caused it to fall
into the place required of it by the specification.
To say that a thing is specified is, therefore, to say that it is
partly determined by non-material influences. This is why
the word "specification" provides the one and only true
criterion by which to decide between vitalism and materialism.
The word provides just that anchor which is needed to hold
the discussion to the questions which are relevant. Mention
of the word should suffice to expose the irrelevance of all
those questions which our biologist-philosophers are wont to
ask and answer with such complacency. It is beside the point
to prove that living substance conforms to the laws of physics
and chemistry, that its behaviour is predictable, that it depends
on its environment. For all this must be true of everything
which meets specified requirements. Nothing in the building
of St. Paul's Cathedral contravened the laws of physics and
chemistry. Nothing which meets specified requirements can
be unpredictable. It can be predicted from a knowledge of
the specification. Nothing which meets specified requirements
is independent of its environment. St. Paul's Cathedral would
be more affected by an earthquake than the end moraine of a
glacier. But for everything which is specified there are two
reasons belonging to different universes of discourse, and one
of these universes is not that of physics.
Hence we must discipline our thought to this fundamental
question: "Specified or unspecified?" There are three possible
alternative views. Firstly, that nothing is specified. (This is
the only view which a materialist can hold who appreciates
the consequences of believing in specifications.) Secondly,
that everything is specified. (This view is held by most theologians and some philosophers, by all those who attribute a
specified order to the whole Universe. Strangely enough it is
also implied in the writings of many amateur philosophers
who, nevertheless, attribute every event to the unaided action
of Matter on Matter.) Lastly, that some things are specified
and some not.
This is the view which we have to defend. For we claim
that things in the organic world are specified and that things
in the inorganic world never are.
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