« PreviousContinue »
In France scarcely any work of merit has recently appeared in defence of materialism, if positivism be not counted as materialism. The communistic conspirator, A. Blanqui, wrote a curious little book entitled 'L'Eternite'par les astres, hypoteseastronomique' (1872), which showed very considerable literary talent, and which was very ingeniously reasoned out from the assumption that matter is infinite both in extension and duration. He displayed in it his characteristic disregard of the nature of the consequences of his principles. Thus he contended that, since there must be all possible combinations of worlds if matter be absolutely infinite, there must be many worlds like the present—stars with, for example, duplicates in them of France, Paris, the Commune, and Blanqui, and even of all these at every stage of their existence. He neither proved, however, that matter is doubly infinite, nor that we have such a comprehension of absolute as to be able to deduce from it definite inferences.
M. Lefevre, in his 'La Philosophic' (1879), has written the history of philosophy from a materialistic point, and given a general exposition of the system of materialism.
In England, Mr Herbert Spencer, Professors Huxley and Tyndall, and a few other writers of distinguished philosophical or scientific talents, have done far more to diffuse materialism than any of those who are willing to avow themselves materialists. Never was materialism more fortunate than when it secured to itself the sympathy and support of minds so vigorous and so richly gifted. It is quite incorrect, however, to say that in this country the foremost scientific men have, as a body, gone over to the materialistic camp or to the side of scepticism. This assertion was lately made by Mr Froude; and it called forth from Professor Tait the following unanswerable reply: "When we ask of any competent authority, who were the 'advanced,' the 'best,' and the 'ablest' scientific thinkers of the immediate past (in Britain), we cannot but receive for answer such names as Brewster, Faraday, Forbes, Graham, Rowan Hamilton, Herschel, and Talbot. This must be the case unless we use the word science in a perverted sense. Which of these great men gave up the idea that nature evidences a designing mind? But perhaps Mr Froude refers to the advanced thinkers still happily alive among us. The names of the foremost among them are not far to seek. But, unfortunately for his assertion, it is quite certain that Andrews, Joule, Clerk-Maxwell, Balfour Stewart, Stokes, William Thomson, and suchlike, have each and all of them, when the opportunity presented itself, spoken in a sense altogether different from that implied in Mr Froude's article. Surely there are no truly scientific thinkers in Britain farther advanced than these." See 'International Review' for November 1878, Art. "Does Humanity require a New Revelation?"
Among those who have combated materialism with ability in publications written in English, the following may be mentioned: Sir L. S. Beale, Professor Bowen, Dr Carpenter, President Chadbourne, Professor Cocker, Rev. Joseph Cook, Principal Dawson, Dr Hickok, Dr Hodge, Professor Le Conte, Professor Leebody, President M'Cosh, Dr Macvicar, Dr Martineau, Professor Clerk - Maxwell, Professor Mivart, President Porter, Professors Balfour Stewart and Tait, and Dr Hutchison Stirling.
Note XVI., page 163.
Materialism And Force.
Professors Balfour Stewart and Tait, in the preface to the fifth edition of the ingenious and suggestive work entitled 'The Unseen Universe,' say : "As professors of natural philosophy we have one sad remark to make. The great majority of our critics have exhibited almost absolute ignorance as to the proper use of the term Force, which has had one, and only one, definite scientific sense since the publication of the 'Principia.' As such men are usually among the exceptionally well educated, ignorance of this important question must be all but universal." The observation is probably only too true. And perhaps professors of natural philosophy have themselves contributed largely to the mental confusion which prevails on the subject. The definitions and descriptions of force given by writers on physics are conflicting enough to explain and excuse almost any amount of ignorance and error regarding it. Faraday tells us that "matter is force;" Grove that "force is an affection of matter;" and Dubois-Reymond that "force is nothing else than an abortion of the irresistible tendency to personification." Professor Moleschott declares that "force is essential to matter;" Professor Spiller affirms that "no material constituent of body is originally endowed with force;" and Dr Winslow maintains that "matter is a mere vehicle which possesses and holds force as a bladder holds water or a sack meal." Professor Balfour Stewart uses the word force as meaning "that which changes the state of a body, whether that state be one of rest or of motion;" but Professor Barker means by it "motion itself;" and Dr Bastian understands by it "a mode of motion." If all professors of natural philosophy would use the word Force, and, I may add, the word Energy, in the same definite, intelligible, and self-consistent way as Professors Stewart and Tait, Clerk-Maxwell and Sir William Thomson, a vast amount of mental confusion would speedily pass away. In this reference, a perusal of Chap. III. of 'The Unseen Universe' cannot be too strongly recommended.
Both the scientific and the religious consequences of error as to the signification and relationship of energy and force may be very serious. To affirm of force what is true of energy is as great a mistake as to confound the birth-rate of a country with its population. In consequence of this error, Mr Herbert Spencer has transformed or transmogrified the grand law of the Conservation of Energy—the law that, "in any system of bodies whatever, to which no energy is communicated by external bodies, and which parts with no energy to external bodies, the sum of the various potential and kinetic energies remains for ever unaltered"—into a so-called law of the Persistence of Force—the dogma that "the quantity of force remains always the same" — which physical science wholly disowns. "The sole recorded case," observe Professors Stewart and Tait, "of true persistency or indestructibility of force which we recollect having ever met with, occurs in connection with Baron Munchausen's remarkable descent from the moon. It is, no doubt, a very striking case; but it is apparently unique, and it was not subjected to scientific scrutiny."
It is much to be regretted that professional critics and popular writers should have so generally gone to Mr Herbert Spencer's chapter on "The Persistence of Force" for enlightenment as to the subject of which it treats, although probably in no other eight consecutive pages in the English language are there so many physical and metaphysical errors combined. Many of these persons, not having had their senses educated by appropriate scientific instruction to discern between good and evil in such matters, have been under the delusion that in perusing the chapter indicated they were refreshing themselves with water drawn from the fountain of pure truth, when they were really intoxicating themselves with "the wine of the Borgias." The dreadful consequences which have sometimes resulted from this mistake may be seen exemplified in the case of " Physicus."
A number of Mr Spencer's errors regarding force are well refuted by Professor Birks in his 'Modern Physical Fatalism,' pp. 159-196.
On the nature and relationship of matter and force the three following works are important: Harms,' Philosophische Einleitung in die Encyklopaedie der Physik;' Huber, 'Die Forschung nach der Materieand Dauriac, 'Des Notions de matiere et de force dans les sciences de la nature.'