Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/64

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MATERIALISM


42


MATERIALISM


dation. The staleniont that iiDthing comes from nothing, he supportetl by tleclaring that otherwise everj-thing might come from everything. This argu- ment is very pertinent, since if there were nothing, nothing could come into existence, i. e. if tliere were no cause. .\n ahnighty cause can of itself through its power supply a substitute for matter, which we cannot create but can only transform. Epicurus further asserted that bodies alone exist; only the void is in- corporeal. He distinguished, however, between com- pound bodies and simple- bodies or atoms, which are alisolutely michangealile. Since space is infinite, the atoms must likewise be infinitely numerous. This last deduction is not warranted, since, even in infinite space, the bodies might be limited in number — in fact, they must be, as otherwise they would entirely fill space and therefore render movement impossible. And yet Epictirus ascribes motion to the atoms, i. e. constant motion downwards. Since many of them deviate from their original direction, collisions result anil various combinations arc formed. The difference between one liody and another is due solely to different modes of atomic combination; the atoms themselves have no ([uality, and differ only in size, shape, and weight. These materialistic speculations contradict directly the universally recognized laws of nature. Inertia is an essential quality of matter, which cannot set itself in motion, cannot of itself fix the direction of its motion, least of all change the direction of the motion once imparted to it. Tlie existence of all these capabilities in matter is assumed by Epicurus: the atoms fall downwards, before there is either " up " or " down " ; they have w-eight, although there is as yet no earth to lend them heaviness by its attraction. From the random clash of the atoms could result only confusion and not order, least of all that far-reaching design which is manifested in the arrangement of the world, especially in organic structures and mental activities. However, the soul and its origin present no difficulty to the Materialist. According to him the soul is a kind of vapour scattered throughout the whole body and mixed with a little heat. The bodies surrounding us give off continually certain minute par- ticles which penetrate to our souls through our sense- organs and excite mental images. With the dissolu- tion of the body, the corporeal soul is also dissolved. This view betrays a complete misapprehension of the immaterial nature of psychical states as opposed to those of the body — to say nothing of the childish notion of sense-perception, which modern physiology can regard only with an indulgent smile.

Epicurean Materialism received poetic expression and further development in the didactic poem of the Roman Lucretius. This bitter opponent of the gods, like the modem representatives of Materialism, places it in outspoken opposition to religion. His cosmology is that of Epicurus; but Lucretius goes much further, inasmuch as he really seeks to give an explanation of the order in the world, which Epicurus referred un- hesitatingly to mere chance. Lucretius asserts that it is just one of the infinitely numerous possibilities in the arrangement of the atoms; the present order was as possible as any other. He takes particular pains to disprove the immortality of the soul, seeking thus to dispel the fear of death, which is the cause of so much care and crime. The soul (anima) and the mind (animus) consist of the smallest, roimdest, and mo.st mobile atoms. That " feeling is an excitement of the atoms", he lays (10^%^ as a firmly established principle. He says: " When the flavour of the wine vanishes, or the odour of the ointment pas.ses away in the air, we notice no diminution of weight. Even so with the body when the soul has disappeared." He overlooks the fact that the flavour and odour are not necessarily lost, even though we cannot measure them. That they do not perish is now certain, and, we must therefore conclude, still less does the spiritual


soul cease to exist. However, the soul Is no mere - odour of a body, but a being with real activity; conse- ([uently, it must itself be real, and likewise distinct from the body, since thought and volition are incor- poreal activities, and not movement which, according toLucretiusat least, is the only function of the atoms.

Christianity reared a mighty dam against Material- ism, and it was only with the return to antiquity in the so-called restoration of the sciences that the Human- ists again made it a powerful factor. Giordano Bruno, the Pantheist, was also a Materialist: " Matter is not without its forms, but contains them all; and since it carries what is wrapped up in itself^ it is in truth all nature and the mother of all the living." But the classical age of Materialism began with the eighteenth century, when de la Mettrie (1709-51) wrote his " His- toire naturelle de I'ame" and "L'homme machine". He holds that all that feels must be material: "The soul is formed, it grows and decreases with the organs of the body, wherefore it must also share in the latter's death" — a palpable fallacy, since even if the body is only the soul's instrument, the soul must be afTected by the varying conditions of the body. In the case of this Materialist we find the moral consequences of the system revealed without disguise. In his two works, " La Volupt^" and "L'art de jouer",he glorifies licen- tiousness. The most famous work of this period is the "Systeme de la nature" of Baron Holbach (1723-89). According to this work there existsnothingbut nature, and all beings, which are supposed to be beyond na- ture, are creatures of the imagination. Man is a con- stituent part of nature; his moral endowment is sim- ply a modification of his physical constitution, de- rived from his peculiar organization. Even Voltaire found himself compelled to offer a determined opposi- tion to these extravagant attacks on everything spirit- ual.

In Germany Materialism was vigorously assailed, especially by Leibniz (q. v.). As, however, this philos- opher sought to replace it with his doctrine of monads, an out-and-out spiritualistic system, he did not give a real refutation. On the other hand, Kant was sup- posed to have broken definitively the power of Materi- alism by the so-called idealistic argument, which runs: Matter is revealed to us only in consciousness; it can- not therefore be the cause or the principle of con- sciousness. This argument proves absolutely nothing against Materialism, unless we admit that our con- sciousness creates matter, i. e. that matter has no existence independent of consciousness. If conscious- ness or the sou] creates matter, the latter cannot im- part existence to the soul or to any psychical activity. Materialism would indeed be thus utterly annihilated : there would be no matter. But, if matter is real, it may possess all kinds of acti\'itics, even psychical, as the Materialists aver. As long as the impossibility of this is not demonstrated. Materialism is not refuted. Idealism or Phenomenalism, which entirely denies the existence of matter, is more absurd than Materialism. There is, however, some truth in the Kantian reason- ing. Consciousness or the psychical is far better known to us than the material; what matter really is, no science has yet made clear. The intellectual or the psychical, on the other hand, is presented immediately to our consciousness; we experience our thoughts, volitions, and feelings; in their full clearness they stand before the eye of the mind. From the Kantian standpoint a refutation of Materialism is out of the question. To overcome it we must show that the soul is an entity, independent of and essentially distinct from the body, an immaterial substance; only as such can it be immortal and survive the dissolution of the body. For Kant, however, substance is a purely sub- jective form of the understanding, by means of which we arrange our experiences. The independence of the soul would thus not he objective; it would be simply an idea conceived by us. Immortality would also be