The Concept of Nature

Chapter 2: Theories of the bifurcation of Nature

Alfred North Whitehead

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IN my previous lecture I criticised the concept of matter as the substance whose attributes we perceive. This way of thinking of matter is, I think, the historical reason for its introduction into science, and is still the vague view of it at the background of our thoughts which makes the current scientific doctrine appear so obvious. Namely we conceive ourselves as perceiving attributes of things, and bits of matter are the things whose attributes we perceive.

In the seventeenth century the sweet simplicity of this aspect of matter received a rude shock. The transmission doctrines of science were then in process of elaboration and by the end of the century were unquestioned, though their particular forms have since been modified. The establishment of these transmission theories marks a turning point in the relation between science and philosophy. The doctrines to which I am especially alluding are the theories of light and sound. I have no doubt that the theories had been vaguely floating about before as obvious suggestions of common sense; for nothing in thought is ever completely new. But at that epoch they were systematised and made exact, and their complete consequences were ruthlessly deduced. It is the establishment of this procedure of taking the consequences seriously which marks the real discovery of a theory. Systematic doctrines of light and sound as being something proceeding from

(27) the emitting bodies were definitely established, and in particular the connexion of light with colour was laid bare by Newton.

The result completely destroyed the simplicity of the 'substance and attribute' theory of perception. What we see depends on the light entering the eye. Furthermore we do not even perceive what enters the eye. The things transmitted are waves or- as Newton thought--minute particles, and the things seen are colours. Locke met this difficulty by a theory of primary and secondary qualities. Namely, there are some attributes of the matter which we do perceive. These are the primary qualities, and there are other things which we perceive, such as colours, which are not attributes of matter, but are perceived by us as if they were such attributes. These are the secondary qualities of matter.

Why should we perceive secondary qualities? It seems an extremely unfortunate arrangement that we should perceive a lot of things that are not there. Yet this is what the theory of secondary qualities in fact comes to. There is now reigning in philosophy and in science an apathetic acquiescence in the conclusion that no coherent account can be given of nature as it is disclosed to us in sense-awareness, without dragging in its relations to mind. The modern account of nature is not, as it should be, merely an account of what the mind knows of nature; but it is also confused with an account of what nature does to the mind. The result has been disastrous both to science and to philosophy, but chiefly to philosophy. It has transformed the grand question of the relations between nature and mind into the petty form of the interaction between the human body and mind.


Berkeley's polemic against matter was based on this confusion introduced by the transmission theory of light. He advocated, rightly as I think, the abandonment of the doctrine of matter in its present form. He had however nothing to put in its place except a theory of the relation of finite minds to the divine mind.

But we are endeavouring in these lectures to limit ourselves to nature itself and not to travel beyond entities which are disclosed in sense-awareness.

Percipience in itself is taken for granted - We consider indeed conditions for percipience, but only so far as those conditions are among the disclosures of perception. We leave to metaphysics the synthesis of the knower and the known. Some further explanation and defence of this position is necessary, if the line of argument of these lectures is to be comprehensible.

The immediate thesis for discussion is that any metaphysical interpretation is an illegitimate importation into the philosophy of natural science. By a metaphysical interpretation I mean any discussion of the how (beyond nature) and of the why (beyond nature) of thought and sense-awareness. In the philosophy of science we seek the general notions which apply to nature, namely, to what we are aware of in perception. It is the philosophy of the thing perceived, and it should not be confused with the metaphysics of reality of which the scope embraces both perceiver and perceived. No perplexity concerning the object of knowledge can be solved by saying that there is a mind knowing it [1].

In other words, the ground taken is this: sense-awareness is an awareness of something. What then is the general character of that something of which we

(29) are aware? We do not ask about the percipient or about the process, but about the perceived. I emphasise this point because discussions on the philosophy of science are usually extremely metaphysical-in my opinion, to the great detriment of the subject.

The recourse to metaphysics is like throwing a match into the powder magazine. It blows up the whole arena. This is exactly what scientific philosophers do when they are driven into a corner and convicted of incoherence. They at once drag in the mind and talk of entities in the mind or out of the mind as the case may be. For natural philosophy everything perceived is in nature. We may not pick and choose. For us the red glow of the sunset should be as much part of nature as are the molecules and electric waves by which men of science would explain the phenomenon. It is for natural philosophy to analyse how these various elements of nature are connected.

In making this demand I conceive myself as adopting our immediate instinctive attitude towards perceptual knowledge which is only abandoned under the influence of theory. We are instinctively willing to believe that by due attention, more can be found in nature than that which is observed at first sight. But we will not be content with less. What we ask from the philosophy of science is some account of the coherence of things perceptively known.

This means a refusal to countenance any theory of psychic additions to the object known in perception. For example, what is given in perception is the green grass. This is an object which we know as an ingredient in nature. The theory of psychic additions would treat the greenness as a psychic addition furnished by the

( 30) perceiving mind, and would leave to nature merely the molecules and the radiant energy which influence the mind towards that perception. My argument is that this dragging in of the mind as making additions of its own to the thing posited for knowledge by sense-awareness is merely a way of shirking the problem of natural philosophy. That problem is to discuss the relations inter se of things known, abstracted from the bare fact that they are known. Natural philosophy should never ask, what is in the mind and what is in nature. To do so is a confession that it has failed to express relations between things perceptively known, namely to express those natural relations whose expression is natural philosophy. It may be that the task is too hard for us, that the relations are too complex and too various for our apprehension, or are too trivial to be worth the trouble of exposition. It is indeed true that we have gone but a very small way in the adequate formulation of such relations. But at least do not let us endeavour to conceal failure under a theory of the byplay of the perceiving mind.

What I am essentially protesting against is the bifurcation of nature into two systems of reality, which, in so far as they are real, are real in different senses. One reality would be the entities such as electrons which are the study of speculative physics. This would be the reality which is there for knowledge; although on this theory it is never known. For what is known is the other sort of reality, which is the byplay of the mind. Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture and the other is the dream.

Another way of phrasing this theory which I am arguing against is to bifurcate nature into two divisions,

( 31) namely into the nature apprehended in awareness and the nature which is the cause of awareness. The nature which is the fact apprehended in awareness holds within it the greenness of the trees, the song of the birds, the warmth of the sun, the hardness of the chairs, and the feel of the velvet. The nature which is the cause of awareness is the conjectured system of molecules and electrons which so affects the mind as to produce the awareness of apparent nature. The meeting point of these two natures is the mind, the causal nature being influent and the apparent nature being effluent.

There are four questions which at once suggest themselves for discussion in connexion with this bifurcation theory of nature. They concern (i) causality, (ii) time, (iii) space; and (iv) delusions. These questions are not really separable. They merely constitute four distinct starting points from which to enter upon the discussion of the theory.

Causal nature is the influence on the mind which is the cause of the effluence of apparent nature from the mind. This conception of causal nature is not to be confused with the distinct conception of one part of nature as being the cause of another part. For example, the burning of the fire and the passage of heat from it through intervening space is the cause of the body, its nerves and its brain, functioning in certain ways. But this is not an action of nature on the mind. It is an interaction within nature. The causation involved in this interaction is causation in a different sense from the influence of this system of bodily interactions within nature on the alien mind which thereupon perceives redness and warmth.

The bifurcation theory is an attempt to exhibit

( 32) natural science as an investigation of the cause of the fact of knowledge. Namely, it is an attempt to exhibit apparent nature as an effluent from the mind because of causal nature. The whole notion is partly based on the implicit assumption that the mind can only know that which it has itself produced and retains in some sense within itself, though it requires an exterior reason both as originating and as determining the character of its activity. But in considering knowledge we should wipe out all these spatial metaphors, such as 'within the mind' and 'without the mind.' Knowledge is ultimate. There can be no explanation of the 'why' of knowledge; we can only describe the 'what' of knowledge. Namely we can analyse the content and its internal relations, but we cannot explain why there is knowledge. Thus causal nature is a metaphysical chimera; though there is need of a metaphysics whose scope transcends the limitation to nature. The object of such a metaphysical science is not to explain knowledge, but exhibit in its utmost completeness our concept of reality.

However, we must admit that the causality theory of nature has its strong suit. The reason why the bifurcation of nature is always creeping back into scientific philosophy is the extreme difficulty of exhibiting the perceived redness and warmth of the fire in one system of relations with the agitated molecules of carbon and oxygen, with the radiant energy from them, and with the various functionings of the material body. Unless we produce the all-embracing relations, we are faced with a bifurcated nature; namely, warmth and redness on one side, and molecules, electrons and ether on the other side. Then the two factors are explained as being respectively the cause and the mind's reaction to the cause.


Time and space would appear to provide these allembracing relations which the advocates of the philosophy of the unity of nature require. The perceived redness of the fire and the warmth are definitely related in time and in space to the molecules of the fire and the molecules of the body.

It is hardly more than a pardonable exaggeration to say that the determination of the meaning of nature reduces itself principally to the discussion of the character of time and the character of space. In succeeding lectures I shall explain my own view of time and space. I shall endeavour to show that they are abstractions from more concrete elements of nature, namely, from events. The discussion of the details of the process of abstraction will exhibit time and space as interconnected, and will finally lead us to the sort of connexions between their measurements which occur in the modern theory of electromagnetic relativity. But this is anticipating our subsequent line of development. At present 1 wish to consider how the ordinary views of time and space help, or fail to help, in unifying our conception of nature.

First, consider the absolute theories of time and space. We are to consider each, namely both time and space, to be a separate and independent system of entities, each system known to us in itself and for itself concurrently with our knowledge of the events of nature. Time is the ordered succession of durationless instants; and these instants are known to us merely as the relata in the serial relation which is the time-ordering relation, and the time-ordering relation is merely known to us as relating the instants. Namely the relation and the instants are jointly known to us in our apprehension of time, each implying the other.


This is the absolute theory of time. Frankly, I confess that it seems to me to be very unplausible. I cannot in my own knowledge find anything corresponding to the bare time of the absolute theory. Time is known to me as an abstraction from the passage of events. The fundamental fact which renders this abstraction possible is the passing of nature, its development, its creative advance, and combined with this fact is another characteristic of nature, namely the extensive relation between events. These two facts, namely the passage of events and the extension of events over each other, are in my opinion the qualities from which time and space originate as abstractions. But this is anticipating my own later speculations.

Meanwhile, returning to the absolute theory, we are to suppose that time is known to us independently of any events in time. What happens in time occupies time. This relation of events to the time occupied, namely this relation of occupation, is a fundamental relation of nature to time. Thus the theory requires that we are aware of two fundamental relations, the time-ordering relation between instants, and the time-occupation relation between instants of time and states of nature which happen at those instants.

There are two considerations which lend powerful support to the reigning theory of absolute time. In the first place time extends beyond nature. Our thoughts are in time. Accordingly it seems impossible to derive time merely from relations between elements of nature. For in that case temporal relations could not relate thoughts. Thus, to use a metaphor, time would apparently have deeper roots in reality than has nature. For we can imagine thoughts related in time without

(35) any perception of nature. For example we can imagine one of Milton's angels with thoughts succeeding each other in time, who does not happen to have noticed that the Almighty has created space and set therein a material universe. As a matter of fact 1 think that Milton set space on the same absolute level as time. But that need not disturb the illustration. In the second place it is difficult to derive the true serial character of time from the relative theory. Each instant is irrevocable. It can never recur by the very character of time. But if on the relative theory an instant of time is simply the state of nature at that time, and the time-ordering relation is simply the relation between such states, then the irrevocableness of time would seem to mean that an actual state of all nature can never return. I admit it seems unlikely that there should ever be such a recurrence down to the smallest particular. But extreme unlikeliness is not the point. Our ignorance is so abysmal that our judgments of likeliness and unlikeliness of future events hardly count. The real point is that the exact recurrence of a state of nature seems merely unlikely, while the recurrence of an instant of time violates our whole concept of time-order. The instants of time which have passed, are passed, and can never be again.

Any alternative theory of time must reckon with these two considerations which are buttresses of the absolute theory. But I will not now continue their discussion.

The absolute theory of space is analogous to the corresponding theory of time, but the reasons for its maintenance are weaker. Space, on this theory, is a system of extensionless points which are the relata in space-ordering relations which can technically be com-

( 36) -bined into one relation. This relation does not arrange the points in one linear series analogously to the simple method of the time-ordering relation for instants. The essential logical characteristics of this relation from which all the properties of space spring are expressed by mathematicians in the axioms[2] of geometry. From these axioms' as framed by modern mathematicians the whole science of geometry can be deduced by the strictest logical reasoning. The details of these axioms do not now concern us. The points and the relations are jointly known to us in our apprehension of space, each implying the other. What happens in space, occupies space. This relation of occupation is not usually stated for events but for objects. For example, Pompey's statue would be said to occupy space, but not the event which was the assassination of Julius Caesar. In this I think that ordinary usage is unfortunate, and I hold that the relations of events to space and to time are in all respects analogous. But here I am intruding my own opinions which are to be discussed in subsequent lectures. Thus the theory of absolute space requires that we are aware of two fundamental relations, the space-ordering relation, which holds between points, and the space-occupation relation between points of space and material objects.

This theory lacks the two main supports of the corresponding theory of absolute time. In the first place space does not extend beyond nature in the sense that time seems to do. Our thoughts do not seem to occupy space in quite the same intimate way in which they occupy time. For example, I have been thinking in a room, and

( 37) to that extent my thoughts are in space. But it seems nonsense to ask how much volume of the room they occupied, whether it was a cubic foot or a cubic inch; whereas the same thoughts occupy a determinate duration of time, say, from eleven to twelve on a certain date.

Thus whereas the relations of a relative theory of time are required to relate thoughts, it does not seem so obvious that the relations of a relative theory of space are required to relate them. The connexion of thought with space seems to have a certain character of indirectness which appears to be lacking in the connexion of thought with time.

Again the irrevocableness of time does not seem to have any parallel for space. Space, on the relative theory, is the outcome of certain relations between objects commonly said to be in space; and whenever there are the objects, so related, there is the space. No difficulty seems to arise like that of the inconvenient instants of time which might conceivably turn up again when we thought that we had done with them.

The absolute theory of space is not now generally popular. The knowledge of bare space, as a system of entities known to us in itself and for itself independently of Our knowledge of the events in nature, does not seem to correspond to anything in our experience. Space, like time, would appear to be an abstraction from events. According to my own theory it only differentiates itself from time at a somewhat developed stage of the abstractive process. The more usual way of expressing the relational theory of space would be to consider space as an abstraction from the relations between material objects.

Suppose now we assume absolute time and absolute

( 38) space. What bearing has this assumption on the concept of nature as bifurcated into causal nature and apparent nature? Undoubtedly the separation between the two natures is now greatly mitigated. We can provide them with two systems of relations in common; for both natures can be presumed to occupy the same space and the same time. The theory now is this: Causal events occupy certain periods of the absolute time and occupy certain positions of the absolute space. These events influence a mind which thereupon perceives certain apparent events which occupy certain periods in the absolute time and occupy certain positions of the absolute space; and the periods and positions occupied by the apparent events bear a determinate relation to the periods and positions occupied by the causal events.

Furthermore definite causal events produce for the mind definite apparent events. Delusions are apparent events which appear in temporal periods and spatial positions without the intervention of these causal events which are proper for influencing of the mind to their perception.

The whole theory is perfectly logical. In these discussions we cannot hope to drive an unsound theory to a logical contradiction. A reasoner, apart from mere slips, only involves himself in a contradiction when he is shying at a reductio ad absurdum. The substantial reason for rejecting a philosophical theory is the 'absurdum' to which it reduces us. In the case of the philosophy of natural science the 'absurdum' can only be that our perceptual knowledge has not the character assigned to it by the theory. If our opponent affirms that his knowledge has that character, we can only after making doubly sure that we understand each

( 39) other--agree to differ. Accordingly the first duty of an expositor in stating a theory in which he disbelieves is to exhibit it as logical. It is not there where his trouble lies.

Let me summarise the previously stated objections to this theory of nature. In the first place it seeks for the cause of the knowledge of the thing known instead of seeking for the character of the thing known: secondly it assumes a knowledge of time in itself apart from events related in time: thirdly it assumes a knowledge of space in itself apart from events related in space. There are in addition to these objections other flaws in the theory.

Some light is thrown on the artificial status of causal nature in this theory by asking, why causal nature is presumed to occupy time and space. This really raises the fundamental question as to what characteristics causal nature should have in common with apparent nature. Why-on this theory-should the cause which influences the mind to perception have any characteristics in common with the effluent apparent nature? In particular, why should it be in space? Why should it be in time? And more generally, What do we know about mind which would allow us to infer any particular characteristics of a cause which should influence mind to particular effects?

The transcendence of time beyond nature gives some slight reason for presuming that causal nature should occupy time. For if the mind occupies periods of time, there would seem to be some vague reason for assuming that influencing causes occupy the same periods of time, or at least, occupy periods which are strictly related to the mental periods. But if the mind does not

( 40) occupy volumes of space, there seems to be no reason why causal nature should occupy any volumes of space. Thus space would seem to be merely apparent in the same sense as apparent nature is merely apparent. Accordingly if science is really investigating causes which operate on the mind, it would seem to be entirely on the wrong tack in presuming that the causes which it is seeking for have spatial relations. Furthermore there is nothing else in our knowledge analogous to these causes which influence the mind to perception. Accordingly, beyond the rashly presumed fact that they occupy time, there is really no ground by which we can determine any point of their character. They must remain for ever unknown.

Now I assume as an axiom that science is not a fairy tale. It is not engaged in decking out unknowable entities with arbitrary and fantastic properties. What then is it that science is doing, granting that it is effecting something of importance? My answer is that it is determining the character of things known, namely the character of apparent nature. But we may drop the term 'apparent'; for there is but one nature, namely the nature which is before us in perceptual knowledge. The characters which science discerns in nature are subtle characters, not obvious at first sight. They are relations of relations and characters of characters. But for all their subtlety they are stamped with a certain simplicity which makes their consideration essential in unravelling the complex relations between characters of more perceptive insistence.

The fact that the bifurcation of nature into causal and apparent components does not express what we mean by our knowledge is brought before us when we realise

( 41) our thoughts in any discussion of the causes of our perceptions. For example, the fire is burning and we see a red coal. This is explained in science by radiant energy from the coal entering our eyes. But in seeking for such an explanation we are not asking what are the sort of occurrences which are fitted to cause a mind to see red. The chain of causation is entirely different. The mind is cut out altogether. The real question is, When red is found in nature, what else is found there also? Namely we are asking for an analysis of the accompaniments in nature of the discovery of red in nature. In a subsequent lecture I shall expand this line of thought. 1 simply draw attention to it here in order to point out that the wave-theory of light has not been adopted because waves are just the sort of things which ought to make a mind perceive colours. This is no part of the evidence which has ever been adduced for the wave-theory, yet on the causal theory of perception, it is really the only relevant part. In other words, science is not discussing the causes of knowledge, but the coherence of knowledge. The understanding which is sought by science is an understanding of relations within nature.

So far I have discussed the bifurcation of nature in connexion with the theories of absolute time and of absolute space. My reason has been that the introduction of the relational theories only weakens the case for bifurcation, and I wished to discuss this case on its strongest grounds.

For instance, suppose we adopt the relational theory of space. Then the space in which apparent nature is set is the expression of certain relations between the apparent objects. It is a set of apparent relations between

( 42) apparent relata. Apparent nature is the dream, and the apparent relations of space are dream relations, and the space is the dream space. Similarly the space in which causal nature is set is the expression of certain relations between the causal objects. It is the expression of certain facts about the causal activity which is going on behind the scenes. Accordingly causal space belongs to a different order of reality to apparent space. Hence there is no pointwise connexion between the two and it is meaningless to say that the molecules of the grass are in any place which has a determinate spatial relation to the place occupied by the grass which we see. This conclusion is very paradoxical and makes nonsense of all scientific phraseology. The case is even worse if we admit the relativity of time. For the same arguments apply, and break up time into the dream time and causal time which belong to different orders of reality.

I have however been discussing an extreme form of the bifurcation theory. It is, as I think, the most defensible form. But its very definiteness makes it the more evidently obnoxious to criticism. The intermediate form allows that the nature we are discussing is always the nature directly known, and so far it rejects the bifurcation theory. But it holds that there are psychic additions to nature as thus known, and that these additions are in no proper sense part of nature. For example, we perceive the red billiard ball at its proper time, in its proper place, with its proper motion, with its proper hardness, and with its proper inertia. But its redness and its warmth, and the sound of the click as a cannon is made off it are psychic additions, namely, secondary qualities which are only the mind's way of perceiving nature. This is not only the vaguely

( 43) prevalent theory, but is, I believe, the historical form of the bifurcation theory in so far as it is derived from philosophy. I shall call it the theory of psychic additions.

This theory of psychic additions is a sound commonsense theory which lays immense stress on the obvious reality of time, space, solidity and inertia, but distrusts the minor artistic additions of colour, warmth and sound.

The theory is the outcome of common-sense in retreat. It arose in an epoch when the transmission theories of science were being elaborated. For example, colour is the result of a transmission from the material object to the perceiver's eye; and what is thus transmitted is not colour. Thus colour is not part of the reality of the material object. Similarly for the same reason sounds evaporate from nature. Also warmth is due to the transfer of something which is not temperature. Thus we are left with spatio-temporal positions, and what I may term the 'pushiness' of the body. This lands us to eighteenth and nineteenth century materialism, namely, the belief that what is real in nature is matter, in time and in space and with inertia.

Evidently a distinction in quality has been presupposed separating off some perceptions due to touch from other perceptions. These touch-perceptions are perceptions of the real inertia, whereas the other perceptions are psychic additions which must be explained on the causal theory. This distinction is the product of an epoch in which physical science has got ahead of medical pathology and of physiology. Perceptions of push are just as much the outcome of transmission as are perceptions of colour. When colour is perceived the nerves of the body are excited in one way and transmit their message towards the brain, and when push is perceived

( 44) other nerves of the body are excited in another way and transmit their message towards the brain. The message of the one set is not the conveyance of colour, and the message of the other set is not the conveyance of push. But in one case colour is perceived and in the other case the push due to the object. If you snip certain nerves, there is an end to the perception of colour; and if you snip certain other nerves, there is an end to the perception of push. It would appear therefore that any reasons which should remove colour from the reality of nature should also operate to remove inertia.

Thus the attempted bifurcation of apparent nature into two parts of which one part is both causal for its own appearance and for the appearance of the other part, which is purely apparent, fails owing to the failure to establish any fundamental distinction between our ways of knowing about the two parts of nature as thus partitioned. I am not denying that the feeling of muscular effort historically led to the formulation of the concept of force. But this historical fact does not warrant us in assigning a superior reality in nature to material inertia over colour or sound. So far as reality is concerned all our sense-perceptions are in the same boat, and must be treated on the same principle. The evenness of treatment is exactly what this compromise theory fails to achieve.

The bifurcation theory however dies hard. The reason is that there really is a difficulty to be faced in relating within the same system of entities the redness of the fire with the agitation of the molecules. In another lecture 1 will give my own explanation of the origin of the difficulty and of its solution.

Another favourite solution, the most attenuated form

( 45) which the bifurcation theory assumes, is to maintain that the molecules and ether of science are purely conceptual. Thus there is but one nature, namely apparent nature, and atoms and ether are merely names for logical terms in conceptual formulae of calculation.

But what is a formula of calculation? It is presumably a statement that something or other is true for natural occurrences. Take the simplest of all formulae, Two and two make four. This-so far as it applies to nature-asserts that if you take two natural entities, and then again two other natural entities, the combined class contains four natural entities. Such formulae which are true for any entities cannot result in the production of the concepts of atoms. Then again there are formulae which assert that there are entities in nature with such and such special properties, say, for example, with the properties of the atoms of hydrogen. Now if there are no such entities, I fail to see how any statements about them can apply to nature. For example, the assertion that there is green cheese in the moon cannot be a premiss in any deduction of scientific importance, unless indeed the presence of green cheese in the moon has been verified by experiment. The current answer to these objections is that, though atoms are merely conceptual, yet they are an interesting and picturesque way of saying something else which is true of nature. But surely if it is something else that you mean, for heaven's sake say it. Do away with this elaborate machinery of a conceptual nature which consists of assertions about things which don't exist in order to convey truths about things which do exist. I am maintaining the obvious position that scientific laws, if they are true, are statements about entities

( 46) which we obtain knowledge of as being in nature; and that, if the entitles to which the statements refer are not to be found in nature, the statements about them have no relevance to any purely natural occurrence. Thus the molecules and electrons of scientific theory are, so far as science has correctly formulated its laws, each of them factors to be found in nature. The electrons are only hypothetical in so far as we are not quite certain that the electron theory is true. But their hypothetical character does not arise from the essential nature of the theory in itself after its truth has been granted.

Thus at the end of this somewhat complex discussion, we return to the position which was affirmed at its beginning. The primary task of a philosophy of natural science is to elucidate the concept of nature, considered as one complex fact for knowledge, to exhibit the fundamental entities and the fundamental relations between entities in terms of which all laws of nature have to be stated, and to secure that the entities and relations thus exhibited are adequate for the expression of all the relations between entities which occur in nature.

The third requisite, namely that of adequacy, is the one over which all the difficulty occurs. The ultimate data of science are commonly assumed to be time, space, material, qualities of material, and relations between material objects. But data as they occur in the scientific laws do not relate all the entities which present themselves in our perception of nature. For example, the wave-theory of light is an excellent well-established theory; but unfortunately it leaves out colour as perceived. Thus the perceived redness---or, other colour -has to be cut out of nature and made into the reaction of the mind under the impulse of the actual events of

( 47) nature. In other words this concept of the fundamental relations within nature is inadequate. Thus we have to bend our energies to the enunciation of adequate concepts.

But in so doing, are we not in fact endeavouring to solve a metaphysical problem? 1 do not think so. We are merely endeavouring to exhibit the type of relations which hold between the entities which we in fact perceive as in nature. We are not called on to make any pronouncement as to the psychological relation of subjects to objects or as to the status of either in the realm of reality. It is true that the issue of our endeavour may provide material which is relevant evidence for a discussion on that question. It can hardly fail to do so. But it is only evidence, and is not itself the metaphysical discussion. In order to make clear the character of this further discussion which is out of our ken, I will set before you two quotations. One is from Schelling and I extract the quotation from the work of the Russian philosopher Lossky which has recently been so excellently translated into English [3] --'In the "Philosophy of Nature" I considered the subject-object called nature in its activity of self-constructing. In order to understand it, we must rise to an intellectual intuition of nature. The empiricist does not rise thereto, and for this reason in all his explanations it is always he himself that proves to be constructing nature. It is no wonder, then, that his construction and that which was to be constructed so seldom coincide. A Natur-philosoph raises nature to independence, and makes it construct itself, and he never feels, therefore, the necessity of opposing nature

( 48) as constructed (i.e. as experience) to real nature, or of correcting the one by means of the other.'

The other quotation is from a paper read by the Dean of St Paul's before the Aristotelian Society in May of 1919. Dr Inge's paper is entitled 'Platonism and Human Immortality,' and in it there occurs the following statement: 'To sum up. The Platonic doctrine of immortality rests on the independence of the spiritual world. The spiritual world is not a world of unrealised ideals, over against a real world of unspiritual fact. It is, on the contrary, the real world, of which we have a true though very incomplete knowledge, over against a world of common experience which, as a complete whole, is not real, since it is compacted out of miscellaneous data, not all on the same level, by the help of the imagination. There is no world corresponding to the world of our common experience. Nature makes abstractions for us, deciding what range of vibrations we are to see and hear, what things we are to notice and remember.'

I have cited these statements because both of them deal with topics which, though they lie outside the range of our discussion, are always being confused with it. The reason is that they lie proximate to our field of thought, and are topics which are of burning interest to the metaphysically minded. It is difficult for a philosopher to realise that anyone really is confining his discussion within the limits that I have set before you. The boundary is set up just where he is beginning to get excited. But I submit to you that among the necessary prolegomena for philosophy and for natural science is a thorough understanding of the types of entities, and types of relations among those entities, which are disclosed to us in our perceptions of nature.


  1. Cf. Enquiry, preface.
  2. Cf. (for example) Projective Geometry by Veblen and Young, vol. i. 1910, vol. ii. 1917, Ginn and Company, Boston, U.S.A.
  3. The Intuitive Basis of Knowledge, by N. 0. Lossky, transl. by Mrs Duddington, Macmillan and Co., 1919.

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