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

/> [principles are not to be heedlessly multiplied], 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 formulae. 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.