1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Naturalism
NATURALISM. " Nature" is a term of very uncertain extent, and the "natural" has accordingly several antitheses, often more or less conflicting, and only to be learnt from the context in which they occur. Thus, though Man and the World are often opposed as respectively subject and object, yet the word nature is applied to both: hence Naturalism is used in both a subjective and an objective sense. In the subjective sense the natural, as the original or essential, is opposed to what is acquired, artificial, conventional or accidental. On this opposition the casuistry and paradoxes of the Sophists largely turned; it determined also, at least negatively, the conduct of the Cynics in their contempt for the customary duties and decencies; and it led the Stoics to seek positive rules of life in "conformity to nature." This deference for the "natural" generally, and distrust of traditional systems of thought and even of traditional institutions, has played a large part in modern philosophy, especially British philosophy. It was perhaps the inevitable outcome of the reaction, which began with the Renaissance, against the medieval domination of mere authority. "L'homme qui médite est un animal dépravé," said Rousseau; and again, "Tout est bien sortant des mains de l'auteur des choses, tout dégénère entre les mains de l'homme."
In psychology and epistemology, "no one," as Green has said, "is more emphatic than Locke in opposing what is real to what we ` make for ourselves ' - the work of nature to the work of the mind. Simple ideas or sensations we certainly do not ` make for ourselves.' They therefore, and matter supposed to cause them, are, according to Locke, real. But relations are neither simple ideas nor their material archetypes. They therefore, as Locke explicitly holds, fall under the head of the work of the mind, which is opposed to the real." This opposition again led Hume, in the first place, to distinguish between natural and philosophical relations - the former determined simply by association, the latter by an abitrary union of two ideas, which we may think proper to compare - and then, in the next, to reduce identity and causality, the two chief "philosophical relations," to fictions resulting from "natural relations," that is to say, from associations of similarity and contiguity. Subjective naturalism thus tended to become, and in the end became, what is more commonly called Sensationalism or Associationism, thereby approximating towards that objective naturalism which reduces the external world to a mechanism describable in terms of matter and motion - a result already foreshadowed when Hartley connected ideas and their association with brain vibrations and vibratiuncles. In ethics, also, the striving to get back to the natural entailed a similar downward trend. From the Cambridge Platonists, from Locke and Clarke, we hear much of rational principles of conduct, comparable in respect of intelligibility with the truths of mathematics; but already we find that in Shaftesbury the centre of ethical interest is transferred from the Reason, conceived as apprehending either abstract moral distinctions or laws of divine legislation, to the "natural affections" that prompt to social duty; and when we reach Bentham, with pleasure and pain as "sovereign masters," and the Mills, with love of virtue explained by the laws of association, all seems to be non-rational. There is much resemblance, as well as some historical connexion, between the naturalism of moralists such as Shaftesbury and Hutcheson and the Common-Sense metaphysics of Reid and his school. Hence Kant, distinguishing between a "naturalistic" and "scientific" or critical method in metaphysics, styles Reid and his followers "naturalists of pure reason," satirically comparing them to people who think they can settle the size and distance of the moon by direct eyesight better than by the roundabout calculations of mathematics.
So far we have seen the natural approximating to the nonrational. But when used in a subjective sense in opposition to the supernatural, it means the rational as opposed to what is above reason, or even contrary to reason. It is in this sense that the term Naturalism most frequently occurs; and it was so applied specially to the doctrines of the English Deists and the German Illuminati of the 17th and 18th centuries: those of them who held that human reason alone was capable of attaining to the knowledge of God were called theological naturalists or rationalists, while those who denied the possibility of revelation altogether were called philosophical naturalists or naturalists simply. In these controversies the term Naturalist was also sometimes used in an objective sense for those who identified God and Nature, but they were more frequently styled Spinozists, Pantheists or even Atheists. But it is at once obvious that dispute as to what is natural and what supernatural is vain and hopeless till the meanings of reason and nature are clearly defined. "The only distinct meaning of the word" [natural], said Butler, "is stated, fixed or settled; since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent agent to render it so, i.e. to effect it continually, or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once. And from hence it must follow that persons' notion of what is natural will be enlarged in proportion to their greater knowledge.. .. Nor is there any absurdity in supposing that there may be beings in the universe, whose capacities. .. may be so extensive, as that the whole Christian dispensation may to them appear natural, i.e. analogous or conformable to God's dealings with other parts of His creation; as natural as the visible known course of things appears to us."
The antithesis of natural to spiritual (or ideal) has mainly determined the use of the term Naturalism in the present day. But current naturalism is not to be called materialism, though these terms are often used synonymously, as by Hegel, Ueberweg and other historians of philosophy; nor yet pantheism, if by that is meant the immanence of all things in one God. We know only material phenomena, it is said; matter is an abstract conception simply, not a substantial reality. It is therefore meaningless to describe mind as its effect. Moreover, mind also is but an abstract conception; and here again all our knowledge is confined to the phenomenal. To identify the two classes of phenomena is, however, impossible, and indeed absurd; nevertheless we find a constant concomitance of psychosis and neurosis; and the more sensationalist and associationist our psychology, the easier it becomes to correlate the psychical and the physical as but "two aspects" of one and the same fact. It is therefore simplest and sufficient to assume an underlying, albeit unknown, unity connecting the two. A monism - so far neutral, neither materialistic nor spiritualistic - is thus a characteristic of the prevailing naturalism. But when the question arises, how best to systematize experience as a whole, it is contended that we must begin from the physical side. Here we have precise conceptions, quantitative exactness and thoroughgoing continuity; every thought that has ever stirred the hearts of men, not less than every breeze that has ever rippled the face of the deep, has meant a perfectly definite redistribution of matter and motion. To the mechanical principles of this redistribution an ultimate analysis brings us down; and - beginning from these - the nebular hypothesis and the theory of natural selection will enable us to explain all subsequent synthesis. Life and mind now clearly take a secondary place; the cosmical mechanism determines them, while they are powerless to modify it. The spiritual becomes the "epiphenomenal," a merely incidental phosphorescence, so to say, that regularly accompanies physical processes of a certain type and complexity. (See also Psychology.) This absolute naturalism, as we may call it, the union, that is, of psychological and cosmological naturalism, is in fact a species of Fatalism, as Kant indeed entitled it. It is the logical outcome of a sensationalist psychology, and of the epistemology which this entails. As long as association of ideas (or sensory residua) is held to explain judgment and conscience, so long may naturalism stand.
- Quoted by Eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe (1899), s.v. Naturalismus."
- T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics (1883), § 20.
- Cf. Sidgwick, History of Ethics (1886), p. 181.
- Cf. W. R. Sorley, The Ethics of Naturalism (1885), pp. 16 sqq.
- Cf. W. R. Scott, Francis Hutcheson; his Life, Teaching and Position in Philosophy (Two), pp. 121, 265 seq.
- See Rationalism; Kant, Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft, Hartenstein's edition, vi. 253; and Lechler, Ge- schichte des Englischen Deismus (1841), pp. 454 sqq.
- Analogy, part i. chap. i. end. Cf. also J. S. Mill, Logic, book iii. chap. xxv. § 2, and Essays on Religion.
- In aesthetics we find Naturalism used in a cognate sense: the Flemish painters, such writers as Flaubert or Zola, for example, being called naturalistic or realistic, in contrast to the Italian painters or writers like George Sand or the Brontes.
- Cf. Spencer, First Principles (1867), p. 398.
- 2 Cf. Prolegomena, § 60.