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The part of his works, however, which chiedy led me to connect his name with that of Clarke, is a passage in the Scholium annexed to his Principia,* which may be considered as the germ of the celebrated argument a priori for the existence of God, which is commonly, though I apprehend, not justly, regarded as the most important of all Clarke's contributions to Metaphysical Philosophy. I shall quote the passage in Newton's own words, to the oracular conciseness of which no English version can do justice.
"Eternus est, et infinitus, omnipotens et omnisciens; id est, durat ab æterno in æternum, et adest ab infinito in infinitum. .... Non est æternitas et infinitas, sed æternus et infinitus; non est duratio et spatium, sed durat et adest. Durat semper et adest ubique, et existendo
Newton's Optics; and a long list of theories in Medicine, grafted on a hint thrown out in the same query, in the form of a modest conjecture.
This scholium, it is to be observed, first appeared at the end of the second edition of the Principia, printed at Cambridge in 1713. The former edition, published at London in 1687, has no scholium annexed to it. From a passage, however, in a letter of Newton's to Dr. Bentley (dated 1692), it seems probable, that as far back, at least, as that period, he had thoughts of attempting a proof a priori of the existence of God. After some new illustrations, drawn from his own discoveries, of the common argument from final causes, he thus concludes: "There is yet another argument for a Deity, which I take to be a very strong one; but, till the principles on which it is grounded are better received, I think it more advisable to let it sleep." (Four Letters from Sir I. Newton, to Dr. Bentley, p. 11. London, Dodsley, 1756.)
It appears from this passage, that Newton had no intention, like his predecessor Descartes, to supersede, by any new argument of his own for the existence of God, the common one drawn from the consideration of final causes; and, therefore, nothing could be more uncandid than the following sarcasm pointed by Pope at the laudable attempts of his two countrymen to add to the evidence of this conclusion, by deducing it from other principles:
"Let others creep by timid steps and slow,
By common sense to common knowledge bred,
And reason downwards till we doubt of God."
That Pope had Clarke in his eye when he wrote these lines, will not be doubted by those who recollect the various other occasions in which he has stepped out of his way, to vent an impotent spleen against this excellent person.
"Let Clarke live half his life the poor's support,
"Even in an ornament its place remark;
in which last couplet there is a manifest allusion to the bust of Clarke, placed in a hermitage by Queen Caroline, together with those of Newton, Boyle, Locke, and Wollaston. See some fine verses on these busts in a poem called the Grotto, by Matthew Green.
semper et ubique durationem et spatium constituit."* Proceeding on these principles, Dr. Clarke argued, that, as immensity and eternity (which force themselves irresistibly on our belief as necessary existences, or, in other words, as existences of which the annihilation is impossible) are not substances, but attributes, the immense and eternal Being, whose attributes they are, must exist of necessity also. The existence of God, therefore, according to Clarke, is a truth that follows with demonstrative evidence from those conceptions of space and time which are inseparable from the human mind. "These," says Dr. Reid, "are the speculations of men of superior genius; but whether they be as solid as they are sublime, or whether they be the wanderings of imagination region beyond the limits of the human understanding, I am at a loss to determine." After this candid acknowledgment from Dr. Reid, I need not be ashamed to confess my own doubts and difficulties on the same question.†
But although the argument, as stated by Clarke, does not carry complete satisfaction to my mind, I think it must be granted that there is something peculiarly wonderful and overwhelming in those conceptions of immensity and eternity, which it is not less impossible to banish from our thoughts, than the consciousness of our own existence. Nay, further, I think that these conceptions are very intimately connected with the fundamental principles of Natural Religion. For when once we have established, from the evidences of design everywhere manifested around us, the existence of an intelligent and powerful cause, we are unavoidably led to apply to this cause our conceptions of immensity and eternity, and to conceive Him as filling the infinite extent of both with his presence and with his power. Hence we associate with the idea
*Thus translated by Dr. Clarke, "God is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, he endures from everlasting to everlasting, and is present from infinity to infinity. He is not eternity or infinity, but eternal and infinite. He is not duration or space, but he endures and is present. He endures always, and is present everywhere, and by existing always and everywhere, constitutes duration and space." (See Clarke's Fourth Reply to Leibnitz.)
An argument substantially the same with this for the existence of God, is hinted at very distinctly by Cudworth, Intellect. System, Chap. V. sect. 3, 4. Also by Dr. Henry More, Enchir. Metaph. Cap. viii. sect. 8. See Mosheim's Trans. of Cudworth, Tom. II. p. 356.
of God those awful impressions which are naturally produced by the idea of infinite space, and perhaps still more by the idea of endless duration. Nor is this all. It is from the immensity of space that the notion of infinity is originally derived; and it is hence that we transfer the expression, by a sort of metaphor, to other subjects. When we speak, therefore, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, our notions, if not wholly borrowed from space, are at least greatly aided by this analogy; so that the conceptions of Immensity and Eternity, if they do not of themselves demonstrate the existence of God, yet necessarily enter into the ideas we form of his nature and attributes.
To these various considerations it may be added, that the notion of necessary existence which we derive from the contemplation of Space and of Time, renders the same notion, when applied to the Supreme Being, much more easy to be apprehended than it would otherwise be.
It is not, therefore, surprising, that Newton and Clarke should have fallen into that train of thought which encouraged them to attempt a demonstration of the being of God from our conceptions of Immensity and Eternity; and still less is it to be wondered at, that, in pursuing this lofty argument, they should have soared into regions where they were lost in the clouds.
I have said above, that Clarke's demonstration seems to have been suggested to him by a passage in Newton's Scholium. It is, however, more than probable that he had himself struck into a path very nearly approaching to it, at a much earlier period of his life. The following anecdote of his childhood, related, upon his own authority, by his learned and authentic, though, in many respects, weak and visionary biographer (Whiston,) exhibits an interesting example of an anomalous developement of the powers of reflection and abstraction, at an age when, in ordinary cases, the attention is wholly engrossed with sensible objects. Such an inversion of the common process of nature in unfolding our different faculties, is perhaps one of the rarest phenomena in the intellectual world; and, wherever it occurs, may be regarded as strongly symptomatic of something peculiar and decided in the philosophical character of the individual :
"One of his parents," says Whiston, " asked him, when he was very young, whether God could do every thing? He answered, Yes! He was asked again, Whether God could tell a lie? He answered, No! And he understood the question to suppose, that this was the only thing that God could not do; nor durst he say, so young was he then, that he thought there was any thing else which God could not do; while yet, well he remembered, that he had, even then, a clear conviction in his own mind, that there was one thing which God could not do;-that he could not annihilate that space which was in the room where they
*The question concerning the necessary existence of Space and of Time formed one of the principal subjects of discussion between Clarke and Leibnitz. According to the former, space and time are, both of them, infinite, immutable, and indestructible. According to his antagonist, "space is nothing but the order of things co-existing," and "time nothing but the order of things successive!" The notion of real absolute Space, in particular, he pronounces to be a mere chimera and superficial imagination; classing it with those prejudices which Bacon called idola tribus. (See his 4th Paper, § 14.)
It has always appeared to me a thing quite inexplicable, that the great majority of philosophers, both in Germany and in France, have, on the above question, decided in favor of Leibnitz. Even D'Alembert himself, who, on most metaphysical points, reasons so justly and so profoundly, has, in this instance, been carried along by the prevailing opinion (or, perhaps, it would be more correct to say, by the fashionable phraseology) among his countrymen. "Y auroit-il un espace, s'il n'y avoit point de corps, et une durée s'il n'y avoit rien? Ces questions viennent, ce me semble, de ce qu'on suppose au temps et à l'espace plus de réalité qu'ils n'en ont. .. Les enfants, qui disent que le vuide n'est rien, ont raison parce qu'ils s'en tiennent au simples notions du sens commun; et les philosophes, qui veulent réaliser le vuide se perdent dans leurs spéculations: le vuide a été enfanté par les abstractions, et voilà l'abus d'une méthode si utile à bien des égards. S'il n'y avoit point de corps et de succession, l'espace et le temps seroient possibles, mais ils n'existeroient pas." (Mélanges, &c. T. V. § xvi.) Bailly, a writer by no means partial to D'Alembert, quotes, with entire approbation, the foregoing observations; subjoining to them, in the following terms, his own judgment on the merits of this branch of the controversy between Clarke and Leibnitz." "La notion du temps et de l'espace, est un des points sur lesquels Leibnitz a combattu contre Clarke; mais il nous semble que l'Anglois n'a rien opposé de satisfaisant aux raisons de Leibnitz." (Eloge de Leibnitz.)
As for the point here in dispute, I must own, that it does not seem to me a fit sub. ject for argument; inasmuch as I cannot even form a conception of the proposition contended for by Leibnitz. The light in which the question struck Clarke in his childhood, is the same in which I am still disposed to view it; or rather, I should say, is the light in which I must ever view it, while the frame of my understanding continues unaltered. Of what data is human reason possessed, from which it is entitled to argue in opposition to truths, the contrary of which it is impossible not only to prove, but to express in terms comprehensible by our faculties?
For some remarks on the scholastic controversies concerning space and time, see the First Part of this Dissertation, Note I. See also Locke's Essay, Book ii. Chap. 13. §§ 16, 17, 18.
I quote the sequel of this passage on the authority of Bailly (see his Eloge on Leibnitz,) for it is not to be found in the copy of the Mélanges before at Amsterdam in 1767.
With this early and deep impression on his mind, it is easy to conceive how Newton's Scholium should have encouraged him to resume the musings of his boyish days, concerning the necessary existence of space; and to trace, as far as he could, its connexion with the principles of natural theology. But the above anecdote affords a proof how strongly his habits of thought had long before predisposed him for the prosecution of a metaphysical idea, precisely the same with that on which this scholium proceeds.
It would be superfluous to dwell longer on the history of these speculations, which, whatever value they may possess in the opinion of persons accustomed to deep and abstract reasoning, are certainly not well adapted to ordinary or to uncultivated understandings. This consideration furnishes, of itself, no slight presumption, that they were not intended to be the media by which the bulk of mankind were to be led to the knowledge of truths so essential to human happiness; and, accordingly, it was on this very ground, that Bishop Butler, and Dr. Francis Hutcheson, were induced to strike into a different and more popular path for establishing the fundamental principles of religion and morality. Both of these writers appear to have communicated, in very early youth, their doubts and objections to Dr. Clarke; and to have had, even then, a glimpse of those inquiries by which they were afterwards to give so new and so fortunate a direction to the ethical studies of their countrymen. It is sufficient here to remark this circumstance as an important step in the progress of moral philosophy. The farther illustration of it properly belongs to another part of this discourse.
The chief glory of Clarke, as a metaphysical author, is due to the boldness and ability with which he placed himself in the breach against the Necessitarians and Fatalists of his times. With a mind far inferior to that of Locke, in comprehensiveness, in originality, and in fertility of invention, he was nevertheless the more wary and skilful disputant of the two, possessing, in a singular degree, that reach of thought in grasping remote consequences, which effectually saved him from those rash