WE have had something to say about those criteria which we
cannot accept as in any way applicable to the dispute between
vitalists and materialists. We must now come to that which is,
in our opinion, the only true criterion.
We have already said that we believe living substance always
to conform to the laws of physics and chemistry. We also
believe that it is controlled by non-material influences which
obey laws of their own. We hold, therefore, that living
substance is subject to a double set of restrictions, that its
behaviour is more determinate than that of lifeless substance.
Our criterion is double determinateness. We assert that any
evidence which proves the organic world to be subject to laws
from which the inorganic -world is free is evidence for vitalism.
Is this criterion obvious or paradoxical? We should have
thought it obvious did we not remind ourselves that the great
Huxley coupled Matter and Causation, Spirit and Spontaneity,
and that many others have done the same. So we fear that it
will be necessary for us to elaborate our meaning a little. We
think we can do so best with the help of an analogy. A game
of chess will serve.
Let the chessmen moving from square to square during the
course of the game correspond to small particles of substance
moving from place to place in a living organism and let the
rules of the game correspond to the laws of physics and
chemistry. These rules demand that a Rook shall move only
in straight horizontal or vertical lines, a Bishop diagonally and
a King in any direction, but by only one square at a time. The
rules prescribe to which squares a Knight may jump, that
Pawns must march forward only but must take on the slant,
they prescribe when castling may be performed and when a
Pawn may be exchanged for a Queen. The rules of chess
define the restrictions always imposed on the behaviour of the
pieces in the same way as the laws of physics and chemistry
define the restrictions imposed everywhere and at all times on
the behaviour of particles of Matter.
Is the course of a game of chess determined by the rules?
Partly. But only partly. It is also determined by the players.
So a game of chess is doubly determinate. The players are
influences separate from the chessmen. They are, therefore,
analogous to the non-material influences which vitalism
Some card games are different; patience, for instance. The
course of events is fully determined by the sequence of cards
in the pack and the rules of the game. Here what happens is
singly determinate. Materialists say that vital processes are
analogous to these card games. Vitalists say that they are
analogous to games of chess. We have to decide on the
evidence available which is right.
Analogies are never perfect and the one we have chosen is
no exception. But we may usefully pursue it a httle further.
For this analogy may help to explain why we have rejected
the three criteria which biologist-philosophers seem to adopt.
Consider first the late J. S. Haldane's criterion: dependence
on environment. In the chess-analogy the environment of any
piece is made up by all the other pieces on the board. The
behaviour of each is dependent on this environment, for a good
player takes careful note of the position of each chessman, even
the humblest pawn, before deciding on a move. No one would
say that the dependence of the moves on the configuration of
all the pieces proved that the course of the game was due only
to the unaided action of the pieces on each other. So why
say that dependence on environment proves that no non-material influence such as Life can be there to act in accordance
with the circumstances surrounding the individual?
Our analogy can serve equally well to illuminate the flaw
in the second criterion: obedience to the laws of physics and
chemistry. Does the fact that the course of a game of chess is
controlled by influences separate from the chessmen imply
that the rules are ever broken? No. They are not unless
someone cheats. In exactly the same way vitalism does not
imply in the least that the laws of physics and chemistry are
ever broken, but only that, in addition, certain laws of biology
These laws are analogous to those principles of chess which
good players do well to follow. Text-books on chess deal with
some of the more obvious ones. They say that it is bad to have
a "double Pawn". They explain that the best opening move
is Pawn to King 4 and tell us what successive moves are advisable if the opening move is made by the Queen's Pawn
instead. Whole books have been written on gambits and others
could be devoted to the one subject of end play.
The less obvious principles of good play have not been
formulated in text-books. They often defy translation into
words. But they exist for all that. Each great chess-player
has his own mode of procedure just as each animal has its own.
mode of behaviour. It is true that biological laws are followed
with greater consistency than the principles of good play in
chess. They have become more stereotyped. But so we should
expect if we consider how many times the same situations have
arisen in the organic world and for how many millions of
Lastly, there is the criterion of causality. The fact that the
course of a game of chess is controlled by influences separate
from the chessmen does not preclude a predictable connection
between cause and effect. If a player's Queen is threatened the
effect is almost sure to be a move to protect her. If a Pawn is
on the seventh square the next move is likely to be to the eighth
square. In a first-class game it is often possible to predict
several moves ahead. Games between champions are rarely
played out because the ultimate result becomes evident to the
players well before the final checkmate has been reached.
" But the course of a game of chess is not absolutely predictable," it may be objected. This is true. We can only
predict with reasonable certainty when the situation is oft
repeated and familiar. But in biology it is exactly the same.
The laboratories in which Drosophila flies are bred are full
Our evidence for vitalism will be, therefore, that in the
organic world the course of events is more restricted than it is
in the inorganic world, that more numerous and more stringent
requirements have to be met; in. two words, that everything
is doubly determinate. It will lead the reader to appreciate the
nature of this evidence by easy stages if we begin with a little
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