The two Kinds of Naturalism
Nature, Terms, Attempt, Consciousness, Phenomena, Causes
But let us return to the two kinds of naturalism we have already described. Much as they differ from one another in reality, they are very readily confused and mixed up with one another. And the chief peculiarity of what masquerades as naturalism among our educated or half-educated classes to-day lies in the fact that it is a mingling of the two kinds. Unwittingly, people combine the moods of the one with the reasons and methods of the other; and having done so they appear to themselves particularly consistent and harmonious in their thought, and are happy that they have been able thus to satisfy at once the needs of the intellect and those of the heart.
On the one hand they stretch the mathematical-mechanical view as far as possible from below upwards, and even attempt to explain the activities of life and consciousness as the results of complex reflex mechanisms. And on the other hand they bring down will soul and instincts into the lowest stages of existence, and become quite animistic. They wish to be nothing if not “exact,” and yet they reckon Goethe and Bruno among the greatest apostles of their faith, and set their verses and sayings as a credo and motto over their own opinions. In this way there arises a “world conception” so indiarubber-like and Protean that it is as difficult as it is unsatisfactory to attempt to come to an understanding with it. If we attempt to get hold of it by the fringe of poetry and idealism it has assumed, it promptly retires into its “exact” half. And if we try to limit ourselves to this, in order to find a basis for discussion, it spreads out before us all the splendours of a great nature pantheism, including even the ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful. One thing only it neglects, and that is, to show where its two very different halves meet, and what inner bond unites them. Thus if we are to discuss it at all, we must first of all pick out and arrange all the foreign and mutually contradictory constituents it has incorporated, then deal with Pantheism and Animism, and with the problem of the possibility of “the true, the good, the beautiful” on the naturalistic-empiric basis, and finally there would remain a readily-grasped residue of naturalism of the second form, to come to some understanding with which is both necessary and instructive.
In the following pages we shall confine ourselves entirely to this type, and we shall not laboriously disentangle it from the bewildering medley of ideas foreign to it, or attempt to make it consistent; we shall neglect these, and have regard solely to its clear fundamental principles and aims. Thus regarded, its horizons are perfectly well-defined. It is startling in its absolute poverty of ideal content, warmth, and charm, but impressive and grand in the perseverance and tenacity with which it adheres to one main point of view throughout. In reality, it is aggressive to nothing, but cold and indifferent to everything, and for this very reason is more dangerous than all the excited protests and verdicts of the enthusiastic type of naturalism, which it is impossible to attack, because of its lack of definite principles, and which, in the pathetic stress it lays on worshipping nature, lives only by what it has previously borrowed from the religious conceptions of the world.
Aim and Method of Naturalism
The aim and method of the strict type of naturalism may be easily defined. In its details it will become more distinct as we proceed with our analysis. Taking it as a whole, we may say that it is an endeavour on a large scale after consistent simplification and gradual reduction to lower and lower terms. Since it aims at explaining and understanding everything according to the axiom principia non temere esse multiplicanda , explaining, that is, with the fewest, simplest, and most obvious principles possible, it is incumbent upon it to attempt to refer all phenomena to a single, uniform mode of occurrence, which admits of nothing outside of or beyond itself, and which regulates itself according to its own system of fundamentally similar causal sequences. It is further incumbent upon it to trace back this universal mode of occurrence to the simplest and clearest form possible, and its uniformities to the fewest and most intelligible laws, that is, ultimately, to laws which can be determined by calculation and summed up in formulæ. This tracing back is equivalent to an elimination of all incommensurable causes, of all “final causes,” that is, of ultimate causes and “purposes” which, in an unaccountable manner, work into the network of proximate causes and control them, and by thus interrupting their connectedness, make it difficult to come to a clear understanding of the “Why?” of things. And this elimination is again a “reduction to simpler terms,” for it replaces the “teleological” consideration of purposes, by a purely scientific consideration of causes, which inquires only into the actual conditions antecedent to certain sequences.
But Being and Becoming include two great realms: that of “Nature” and that of “Mind,” i.e. consciousness and the processes of consciousness. And two apparently fundamentally different branches of knowledge relate to these: the natural sciences, and the mental sciences. If a unified and “natural” explanation is really possible, the beginning and end of all this “reducing to simpler terms” must be to bridge over the gulf between these; but this, in the sense of naturalism, necessarily means that the mental sciences must in some way be reduced to terms of natural science, and that the phenomena, processes, sequences, and laws of consciousness must likewise be made “commensurable” with and be linked on to the apparently simpler and clearer knowledge of “Nature,” and, if possible, be subordinated to its phenomena and laws, if not indeed derived from them. As it is impossible to regard consciousness itself as corporeal, or as a process of movement, naturalism must at least attempt to show that the phenomena of consciousness are attendant and consequent on corporeal phenomena, and that, though they themselves never become corporeal, they are strictly regulated by the laws of the corporeal and physical, and can be calculated upon and studied in the same way.
But even the domain of the natural itself, as we know it, is by no means simple and capable of a unified interpretation. Nature, especially in the realm of organic life, the animal and plant world, appears to be filled with marvels of purposefulness, with riddles of development and differentiation, in short with all the mysteries of life. Here most of all it is necessary to “reduce” the “teleological view” to terms of the purely causal, and to prove that all the results, even the evolution of the forms of life, up to their highest expressions and in the minutest details of their marvellous adaptations, came “of themselves,” that is to say, are quite intelligible as the results of clearly traceable causes. It is necessary to reduce the physiological and developmental, and all the other processes of life, to terms of physical and chemical processes, and thus to reduce the living to the not living, and to derive the organic from the forces and substances of inanimate nature.
The process of reduction does not stop even here. For physical and chemical processes are only really understood when they can be resolved into the simplest processes of movement in general, when all qualitative changes can be traced hack to purely quantitative phenomena, when, finally, in the mechanics of the great masses, as well as of the infinitely small atoms, everything becomes capable of expression in mathematical terms.
But naturalism of this kind is by no means pure natural science; it consciously and deliberately oversteps in speculation the bounds of what is strictly scientific. In this respect it bears some resemblance to the nature-philosophy associated with what we called the first type of naturalism. But its very poverty enables it to have a strictly defined programme. It knows exactly what it wants, and thus it is possible to argue with it. The religious conception of the world must come to an understanding with it, for it is quite obvious that the more indifferent this naturalism is to everything outside of itself, and the less aggressive it pretends to be, the more does the picture of the world which it attempts to draw exert a cramping influence on religion. Where the two come into contact we shall endeavour to make clear in the following pages.
|Written By Dr. Rudolf Otto|
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