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P. MALEBRANCHE'S OPINION
SEEING ALL THINGS IN GOD.
1. THE acute and ingenious author of the Recherche de la Vérité, among a great many very fine thoughts, judicious reasonings, and uncommon reflections, has in that treatise started the notion of "seeing all things in God," as the best way to explain the nature and manner of the ideas in our understanding. The desire I had to have my unaffected ignorance removed has made it necessary for me to see whether this hypothesis, when examined, and the parts of it put together, can be thought to cure our ignorance, or is intelligible and satisfactory to one who would not deceive himself, take words for things, and think he knows what he knows not.
2. This I observe at the entrance, that P. Malebranche having enumerated, and in the following chapters showed the difficulties of the other ways, whereby he thinks human understanding may be at
* Recherche de la Vérité, 1. 3. p. 2. c. 1.
tempted to be explained, and how insufficient they are to give a satisfactory account of the ideas we have, erects this of "seeing all things in God" upon their ruin, as the true, because it is impossible to find a better. Which argument, so far being only "argumentum ad ignorantiam," loses all its force as soon as we consider the weakness of our minds, and the narrowness of our capacities, and have but humility enough to allow, that there may be many things which we cannot fully comprehend, and that God is not bound in all he does to subject his ways of operation to the scrutiny of our thoughts, and confine himself to do nothing but what we must comprehend. And it will very little help to cure my ignorance, that this is the best of four or five hypotheses proposed, which are all defective, if this too has in it what is inconsistent with itself, or unintelligible to me.
3. The P. Malebranche's Recherche de la Vérité, 1. 3. p. 2. c. 1, tells us, that whatever the mind perceives "must be actually present and intimately united to it." That the things that the mind perceives are its own sensations, imaginations, or notions, which, being in the soul the modifications of it, need no ideas to represent them. But all things exterior to the soul we cannot perceive but by the intervention of ideas, supposing that the things themselves cannot be intimately united to the soul. But because spiritual things may possibly be united to the soul, therefore he thinks it probable that they can discover themselves immediately without ideas; though of this he doubts, because he believes not there is any substance purely intelligible but that of God; and that though spirits can possibly unite themselves to our minds, yet at present we cannot entirely know them. But he speaks here principally of material things, which he says certainly cannot unite themselves to our souls in such a manner as is necessary that it should perceive them; because, being extended, the soul not being so, there is no proportion between them.
4. This is the sum of his doctrine contained in the first chapter of the second part of the third book, as
far as I can comprehend it; wherein, I confess, there are many expressions, which carrying with them, to my mind, no clear ideas, are like to remove but little of my ignorance by their sounds. v. g. "What it is to be intimately united to the soul;" what it is for two souls or spirits to be intimately united for intimate union being an idea taken from bodies, when the parts of one get within the surface of the other, and touch their inward parts; what is the idea of intimate union, I must have, between two beings that have neither of them any extension or surface? And if it be not so explained as to give me a clear idea of that union, it will make me understand very little more of the nature of the ideas in my mind, when it is said I see them in God, who being " intimately united to the soul" exhibits them to it; than when it is only said they are by the appointment of God produced in the mind by certain motions of our bodies, to which our minds are united. Which, however imperfect a way of explaining this matter, will still be as good as any other that does not by clear ideas remove my ignorance of the manner of my perception.
5. But he says that " certainly material things cannot unite themselves to our souls." Our bodies are united to our souls: yes; "but," says he, "not after a manner which is necessary that the soul may perceive them." Explain this manner of union, and show wherein the difference consists betwixt the union necessary and not necessary to perception, and then I shall confess this difficulty removed.
The reason that he gives why "material things cannot be united to our souls after a manner" that is necessary to the soul's perceiving them, is this; viz. That" material things being extended, and the soul not, there is no proportion between them." This, if it shows any thing, shows only that a soul and a body cannot be united, because one has surface to be united by, and the other none. But it shows not why soul, united to a body as ours is, cannot, by that body, have the idea of a triangle excited in it, as well as by being united to God (between whom and the soul there is as little proportion, as between any creature immaterial
or material and the soul) see in God the idea of a triangle that is in him, since we cannot conceive a triangle, whether seen in matter, or in God, to be without extension.
6. He says, "There is no substance purely intelligible but that of God." Here again I must confess myself in the dark, having no notion at all of the "substance of God;" nor being able to conceive how his is more intelligible than any other substance.
7. One thing more there is, which, I confess, stumbles me in the very foundation of this hypothesis, which stands thus: we cannot " perceive" any thing but what is "intimately united to the soul." The reason why some things (viz. material) cannot be " intimately united to the soul" is, because "there is no proportion between the soul and them." If this be a good reason, it follows, that the greater the proportion there is between the soul and any other being, the better and more intimately they can be united. Now then I ask, whether there be a greater proportion between God, an infinite being, and the soul, or between finite created spirits and the soul? And yet the author says, that he believes that there is no substance purely intelligible but that of God," and that "we cannot entirely know created spirits at present.' Make this out upon your principles of " intimate union" and "proportion," and then they will be of some use to the clearing of your hypothesis, otherwise "intimate union" and "proportion" are only sounds serving to amuse, not instruct us.
8. In the close of this chapter he enumerates the several ways whereby he thinks we come by ideas, and compares them severally with his own way. Which how much more intelligible it is than either of those, the following chapters will show; to which I shall proceed, when I have observed that it seems a bold determination, when he says, that it must be one of these ways, and we can see objects no other. Which assertion must be built on this good opinion of our capacities, that God cannot make the creatures operate, but in ways conceivable to us. That we cannot discourse and reason about them farther than we conceive, is a great
truth and it would be well if we would not, but would ingenuously own the shortness of our sight where we do not see. To say there can be no other, because we conceive no other, does not, I confess, much instruct. And if I should say, that it is possible God has made our souls so, and so united them to our bodies, that, upon certain motions made in our bodies by external objects, the soul should have such or such perceptions or ideas, though in a way inconceivable to us; this perhaps would appear as true and as instructive a proposition as what is so positively laid down.
9. Though the peripatetic doctrine* of the species does not at all satisfy me, yet I think it were not hard to show, that it is as easy to account for the difficulties he charges on it, as for those his own hypothesis is laden with. But it being not my business to defend what I do not understand, nor to prefer the learned gibberish of the schools, to what is yet unintelligible to me in P. M. I shall only take notice of so much of his objections, as concerns what I guess to be the truth. Though I do not think any material species, carrying the resemblance of things by a continual flux from the body we perceive, bring the perception of them to our senses; yet I think the perception we have of bodies at a distance from ours, may be accounted for, as far as we are capable of understanding it, by the motion of particles of matter coming from them and striking on our organs. In feeling and tasting there is immediate contact. Sound is not unintelligibly explained by a vibrating motion communicated to the medium; and the effluvia of odorous bodies will, without any great difficulties, account for smells. And therefore P. M. makes his objections only against visible species, as the most difficult to be explained by material causes, as indeed they are. But he that shall allow extreme smallness in the particles of light, and exceeding swiftness in their motion; and the great porosity that must be granted in bodies, if we compare gold, which wants them not, with air, the medium wherein the rays of light come
Recherche de la Vérité, 1. 3. pt. 2. c. 2.