Constructive Criticism

Those whose protests we have hitherto been considering have not added to

their criticism of the mechanical theory any positive contribution of

their own, or at least they give nothing more than very slight hints

pointing towards a psychical theory. But there are others who have sought

to overcome the mechanical theory by gaining a deeper grasp of the nature

of "force" in general. Their attempts have been of various kinds, but

usually tend in one direction, which can perhaps be most precisely and

briefly indicated through Lloyd Morgan's views, as summed up, for

instance, in his essay on "Vitalism."(94) In the beginning of biological

text-books, we usually find (he says) a chapter on the nature of "force,"

but it is "like grace before meat"--without influence on quality or

digestion. Yet this problem must be cleared up before we can arrive at any

understanding of the whole subject. In all attempts at "reducing to

simpler terms," it must be borne in mind that "force" reveals its nature

in ever higher stages, of which every one is new. Even cohesion cannot be

reduced to terms of gravitation, nor the chemical affinities and molecular

forces to something more primitive. They are already something "outside

the recognised order of nature." In a still higher form force is expressed

in the processes of crystallisation. At the formation of the first crystal

there came into action a directing force of the same kind as the will of

the sculptor at the making of the Venus of Melos. This new element, which

intervenes every time, Lloyd Morgan regards, with Herbert Spencer

("Principles of Biology"), as "due to that ultimate reality which

underlies this manifestation, as it underlies all other manifestations."

There can be no "understanding" in the sense of "getting behind things":

even the actions of "brute matter" cannot be "understood." The play of

chance not only does not explain the living; it does not even explain the

not-living. But life in particular can neither be brought into the cell

from without, nor be explained as simply "emerging from the co-operation

of the components of the protoplasm," and it is "in its essence not to be

conceived in physico-chemical terms," but represents "new modes of

activity in the noumenal cause," which, just because it is noumenal, is

beyond our grasp. For only phenomena are "accessible to thought."

Among the biologists who concern themselves with deeper considerations,

Oscar Hertwig,(95) the Director of the Anatomical Institute at Berlin, has

expressed ideas similar to those we have been discussing, little as this

may seem to be the case at first sight. He desires to oust the ordinary

mechanism, so to speak, by replacing it by a mechanism of a higher order,

and in making the attempt he examines and deepens the traditional ideas of

causality and "force," and defines the right and wrong of the

quantitative-mathematical interpretation of nature in general, and of

mechanics in particular. He follows confessedly in Lotze's path, not so

much in regard to that thinker's insistence upon the association of the

causal and the teleological modes of interpretation, as in modifying the

idea of causality. O. Hertwig puts forward his own theories with special

reference to those of W. Roux, the founder of the new "Science of the

Future"--the mechanical, and therefore only scientific theory of

development, which no longer only describes, but understands and causally

explains phenomena ("Archiv fuer Entwicklungsmechanik"). There are two

kinds of mechanism (Hertwig says): that in the higher philosophical sense,

and that in the purely physical sense. The former declares that all

phenomena are connected by a guiding thread of causal connection and can

be causally explained. As such, its application to the domain of vital

phenomena is justifiable and self-evident. But it is not justifiable if

cause be simply made identical with and limited to "force," if the causal

connection be only admitted in the technical sense of the transference and

transformation of energy, and if, over and above, it is supposed to give

an "explanation," in the sense of an insight into things themselves. Even

mechanics is (as Kirchoff maintained) a "descriptive" science. Hertwig

agrees with Schopenhauer and Lotze in regarding every primitive natural

"force" as unique, not reducible to simpler terms, but qualitatively

distinct,--a "qualitas occulta," capable not of physical but only of

metaphysical explanation. And thus his conclusions imply rejection of

mechanism in the cruder sense. As such, it has only a very limited sphere

of action in the realm of the living. The history of mechanical

interpretations is a history of their collapse. The attempt to derive the

organic from the inorganic has often been made. But no such attempts have

held the field for long. We can now say with some reason that "the gulf

between the two kingdoms of nature has become deeper just in proportion as

our physical and chemical, our morphological and physiological knowledge

of the organism has deepened." Mach's expression "mechanical mythology,"

is quoted, and then a fine passage on the insufficiency of the

mathematical view of things in general concludes thus: "Mathematics is

only a method of thought, an excellent tool of the human mind, but it is

very far from being the case that all thought and knowledge moves in this

one direction, and that the content of our minds can ever find exhaustive

expression through it alone."

In his "Theory of Dominants,"(96) Reinke, the botanist of Kiel, has

attempted to formulate his opposition to the physico-chemical conception

of life into a vitalistic theory of his own. Among biologists who confess

themselves supporters of the mechanical theory, there are some who

expressly reject explanations in terms of chemical and physical

principles, and emphasise, more energetically than others, that these can

only give rise to vital phenomena and complex processes of movement, on

the basis of a most delicately differentiated structure and architecture

of the living substance in its minute details, and from the egg onwards.

They have created the strict "machine theory," and they may be grouped

together as the "tectonists." "A watch that has been stamped to pieces is

no longer a watch." Thus the merely material and chemical is not the

essential part of the living; it is the tectonic, the machinery of

structure that is essential. The fundamental idea in this position is

precisely that of Lotze. It is not a "mystical," vital principle, that

sets up, controls, and regulates the physical and chemical processes

within the developed or developing organism. They receive their direction

and impulse through the fact that they are associated with a given

peculiar mechanical structure. This theory certainly contains all the

monstrosities of preformation in the germ, the mythologies of the

infinitely small, and it suffers shipwreck in ways as diverse as the

number of its sides and parts. But it has the merit of clearly disclosing

the impossibilities of purely chemical explanations. Reinke's "Theory of

Dominants" started from such tectonic conceptions, and so originally did

Driesch's Neovitalism, of which we shall presently have to speak.

Reinke's theory has gone through several stages of development. At first

its general tenor was as follows: Every living thing is typically

different from everything that is not living. What explains this

difference? Certainly not the hypothesis of vital force, which is far from

being clear. The idea that forces of a psychic nature are inherent in the

organism is also rejected. The illustration of a watch helps us to

understand. The impelling force in it is certainly not merely the ordinary

force of gravity or the general elasticity of steel. The efficacy of

simple forces such as these can be increased in infinite diversity by the

"construction of the apparatus" in which they operate. Life is the

function of a quite unique, marvellously complex, inimitable combination

of machines. If these be given, the most complex processes fulfil

themselves of necessity and without the intervention of special vital

forces. But how can they be "given"? The sole analogy to be found is the

making of real machines, artificial products as distinguished from

fortuitous products. They cannot be made without the influence and

activity of intelligence. To explain the incomparably more ingenious and

complex vital machine as due to a fortuitous origin and collocation of its

individual parts would be more absurd than it would be to think of a watch

being made in this way. The dominance of a creative idea cannot but be

recognised. An intelligent natural force which is conscious of its aims

and calculates its means must be presupposed, if we are really to satisfy

our sense of causality. It is a matter of personal conviction whether we

find this force in "God" or in the "Absolute."

These views are more fully developed in the theory of dominants expounded

in Reinke's later work, "Die Welt as Tat" (after what has been said the

meaning of the title will be self-evident), and in his "Theoretische

Biologie."(97) Very vigorous and convincing are the author's objections to

the naturalistic theories of organic life, especially to the "self-origin"

of the living, or spontaneous generation. In all vital processes we must

reckon with a "physiological x," which cannot be eliminated, which gives

to life its unique and underivable character. There are "secondary

forces," "superforces," "dominants," which bring about what is peculiar in

vital functions and direct their processes. "Vitalism" in the strict sense

is thus here also rejected. The machine-theory is held valid. There are

"dominants" even in our tools and utensils, in our hammer and spoon, and

the "operation" of these cannot be explained merely physico-chemically,

but through the dominants of the form, structure and composition, with

which they have been invested by intelligence. The association with the

views of the tectonists is so far quite apparent. But the idea of

"dominants" soon broadens out. We find dominants of form-development, of

evolution, and so on. What were at first only peculiarities of structure

and architecture have grown almost unawares into dynamic principles of

form which have nothing more to do with the mechanical theory, and which,

because of their dualistic nature, result in conclusions and modes of

explanation which can hardly be called very useful. The lines along which

the idea has developed are intelligible enough. It started originally from

that of the organism as a finished product, functioning actively,

especially in its metabolism. Here the comparison with a steam engine with

self-regulators and automatic whistles is admissible, and one may speak of

dominants in the sense of mechanical dominants. But the idea thus started

was pressed into general service. And thus arose dominants of development,

of morphogenesis, even of phylogenetic evolution ("phylogenetic

evolution-potential"). New dominants are added, and the theory advances

farther and farther from the "machine theory," becomes ever more

enigmatical, and more vitalistic.