by     Reginald O. Kapp



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 significance.

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 Form.

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 specification.

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 dominant.

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.

Top of Page

 Title Page      Contents      Chapter 14       Chapter 16             Index