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THE

NORTH BRITISH REVIEW.

MAY, 1847.

Art. I.On the Whole Doctrine of Final Causes. A Disser.

tation. By WILLIAM I. Irons, of Queen's College, Oxford.

Ever since the times of Bacon and Descartes, who may be regarded as the fathers of Modern Philosophy-the founders of the two rival schools which represent respectively the inductive and the idealistic tendencies of speculation—it has been the fashion with some men of science, and still more with a host of literary writers, to speak disparagingly of the doctrine of Final Causes, and to claim the sanction of these eminent names to opinions which virtually exclude the argument from design in favour of the being and perfections of God. Both Bacon and Descartes had given forth some oracular utterances on the subject, which were caught up and repeated by not a few of their respective followers; utterances which, understood in a certain sense and applied within certain limits, might have been both safe and salutary; but which, when divorced from their connexion which served both to explain and define them, and exhibited absolutely as axiomatic truths, have generated in many minds a vague but influential prejudice against the whole study of final causes, as being either impracticable or illicit. And thus some adherents of each of the two great rival schools, which may be said to divide among them the speculative minds of modern Europe, are found not only abjuring the argument from design, but appealing to the authority of Bacon, the father of inductive science, and to that of Descartes, the model of idealistic reasoning, in support of their pernicious views.

It was less wonderful that Epicurus, and his poetical commentator Lucretius, should have discarded from their philosophy the

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VOL. VII.

NO. XIII,

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whole doctrine of Final Causes : since, denying the existence of God, they could not consistently admit the idea of design in the works of nature, or the intelligent adaptation of means to ends.

« Illud in his rebus vehementer, et istum

Effugere errorem ;" &c.
66 'Gainst their preposterous error guard thy mind,
Who

say
each

organ was for use design'd;
Think not the visual orbs, so clear, so bright,

Were furnish'd for the purposes of sight." But neither Bacon nor Descartes had the slightest sympathy with the Epicurean philosophy; on the contrary, the former declared that he would sooner believe all the legends of the Talmud or the Koran, than that the frame of nature could be produced without an omniscient mind : and the latter gave forth a series of demonstrations, by which he hoped to make it appear that the existence of God was a self-evident and necessary truth. Yet the father of Inductive Science objected to the doctrine of Final Causes, because it seemed to him to have been misapplied and perverted so as to have become an obstacle to the successful prosecution of physical inquiry; and the founder of the modern İdealism objected to it also, on the distinct ground that the ends of such a Being as God must be so high as to be far above our limited comprehension, and that it inight be presumptuous to attempt any explanation of His purposes from the mere phenomena of nature.

It may serve a useful purpose—both in the way of relieving theology from the pressure of an adverse presumption, and of vindicating philosophy from the charge of undermining the foundations of faith—if we inquire for a little into the real opinions of these distinguished men on this important subject; and seek to ascertain on what grounds they severally objected to the study of Final Causes, and to what extent or with what limitations their opinions ought to be received. Their utterances on the subject were widely different, and were founded on diverse reasons ;-they seem to agree only in the practical result -the virtual exclusion of Final Causes from the

range

of

possible, or, at least, of productive inquiry.

The real opinions of Bacon, on this subject, have been frequently misrepresented; and we are indebted to Mr. Dugald Stewart-who had ever a wakeful eye for every thing that might affect the evidences of natural religion, and an anxious solicitude to repel the advances of scepticism-for a clear exposition and discriminating estimate both of the truth and crror · which were mingled in Bacon's judgment on Final Causes. The Bacon's celebrated Aphorism explained.

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oracular utterance—“Causarum finalium inquisitio sterilis est, et tanquam Virgo Deo consecrata, nihil parit,” has been supposed to intimate an entire abnegation of the use of such inquiries, and has almost passed, chiefly perhaps owing to its epigrammatic point, and most apposite metaphor, into a philosophical proverb, current everywhere in Europe. Yet that Bacon did not intend to deny the existence of marks and evidences of design in nature, or to dissuade men from the study of these in connexion with the truths of theologyis evinced by two considerations which should set the question at rest :—The first is his strong, unqualified avowal of belief in God, founded on the phenomena of nature,-as where he says, “I had rather believe all the fables in the Legends, and the Talmud and the Koran, than that this universal frame is without a mind; and therefore God never wrought a miracle to convince Atheism, because his ordinary works convince it;-it is true that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to Atheism ; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion : for while the mind of man looketh

upon
second causes scattered, it may

sometimes rest in them and go no farther; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.” The second proof, which is equally strong—is the fact that, in the very passage which contains the celebrated aphorism on Final Causes, Bacon is careful to mark the precise sense in which he objects to the study of them, as it had been prosecuted by his predecessors and contemporaries in connexion with physical science. He objects to the “investigation of Final Causes, not as a speculation which ought to be neglected, but as one which has, in general, been very improperly regarded as a branch of physics :" he complains that “ the consideration of Final Causes in Physics has supplanted the study of Physical Causes-the fancy amusing itself with illusory explanations derived from the former, and misleading the curiosity from a steady prosecution of the latter :" he admits that the Final Causes just mentioned may be founded in truth, and in a metaphysical view extremely worthy of attention :". but insists that « when they invade and overrun the appropriate province of physics, they are likely to lay waste and ruin that department of knowledge,” and “ to operate as a powerful obstacle to the progress of inductive science.“Not," says he, “ because those Final Causes are not true, and worthy to be inquired, being kept within their own province; but because their excursions into the limits of physical causes shall shed a vastness and solitude in that track. For otherwise, keeping their precincts and borders, men are extremely deceived if they think there is an enmity or repugnance at all between them.” It must be evident, we think,

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that he refers throughout, not to the legitimate use, but to tlie common misapplication, of Final Causes: and that he speaks with special reference to the scholastic or Mediæval philosophy, which affords abundant proofs of the substantial soundness of his opinion, when he speaks of such speculations as “barren” of physical discovery, and a powerful obstacle to the progress of inductive science. The misapplication of Final Causes in physical investigation was a subject of just complaint, not only to Bacon, but even to Robert Boyle, who wrote in vindication of their legitimate usc,—while both admitted their undeniable claims, and their great importance, in connexion with the higher truths of theology:

The study of Final Causes may be regarded in two distinct aspects, or as subservient to two different ends : it may be used as a guide or directory in the investigation of physical science : or as a means of evolving the evidences and establishing the truths of Natural Theology. Bacon's remark as to its sterility,

virgin dedicated to God,” cannot be understood as referring at all to the second of these two aspects, since its uses in reference to theology are expressly admitted by him; but must be held merely to intimate that it is “barren" in respect of physical discovery. How far this latter opinion might be justified by the antecedent and existing state of science, or how far it might have been modified had he lived to witness the subsequent progress of inductive inquiry, it is unnecessary for our present purpose to inquire: since if it be limited merely to the method of physical inquiry, it leaves the groundwork of theology untouched and entire. But it may be observed in passing, that the idea of design as prevailing in every department of nature has been a guide to some of the most splendid discoveries of modern times, and that the doctrine of Final Causes has ob

; tained a noble vindication even on the ground of natural science, by the discovery of Harvey, who was led to think of the circulation of the blood by the indications of design in the valves of the veins, and by the invention of Dollond, who, guided by the same principle, examined the structure of the eye that he might perfect ihe construction of the telescope.

And while Physical Science has thus received valuable accessions from the study of Final Causes, Physiology may be said to stand indebted to it for every step it has made ; for, in the words of a truly competent judge, “ in that science the doctrine of Final Causes has been not only consistent with the successive steps of discovery, but has been the great instrument in every step of discovery from Galen to Cuvier."-" There is one idea which the researches of the physiologist and the anatomist so constantly force npon him, that lie cannot help assuming it as one

:

Whercell's Development of Bucon's Simile-Opinions of Descartes. 5 of the guides of his speculation : I mean, the idea of a purpose, or, as it is called in Aristotelian phrase, a final cause, in the arrangements of the animal frame. This conviction prevails so steadily among anatomists, that even when the use of any part is altogether unknown, it is still taken for granted that it has some use. The development of this conviction of a purpose in the parts of animals, of a function to which each portion of the organization is subservient-contributed greatly to the progress of physiology; for it constantly urged men forwards in their researches respecting each organ, till some definite view of its purpose was obtained."*

Mr. Whewell agrees with Bacon, as we do, in thinking that the study of Final Causes should not be allowed to supersede the investigation of physical laws : that we are not to think it a sufficient account of the clouds that they water the earth, although this is true—but we are to trace the clouds to the laws of evaporation and condensation : that we are not to content ourselves with saying that the solidity of the earth is useful as a means of rendering it a fit habitation for men-but should further investigate the laws of cohesion, by which its materials are compacted into a solid and durable substance. And with reference to Bacon's memorable saying, he remarks, with equal point and beauty,—“ Bacon's comparison of final causes to the Vestal Virgins, is one of those poignant sayings, so frequent in his writings, which it is not easy to forget. If he had had occasion to develop his simile, full of latent meaning as his similes ever are, he would probably have said that to these final causes barrenness was no reproach, seeing they ought to be not the mothers, but the daughters of our natural sciences; and that they were barren, not by imperfection of their nature, but in order that they might be kept pure and undefiled, and so fit ministers in the temple of God.” t

Descartes differed widely from Bacon on this as on many other subjects. He objected to the doctrine of Final Causes, not because it had been improperly applied, or threatened to be an obstacle to the progress of Inductive Science, but because, in his opinion, the ends or designs of God must necessarily be so high 'as to be far above the discovery or comprehension of men, and it might therefore be presumptuous in them to attempt any exposition of His purposes. Thus he lays it down as a prin

a ciple or rule, -—“ Ita denique nullas unquam rationes circa rés naturales, a fine, quem Deus aut Natura in iis faciendis sibi pro

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* WHEWELL's Indications of a Creator, ix, 20. WHEWELL's Philosnphy of the Inductive Sciences, ii. 79.

+ WHEWELL'S Bridgewater Treatise, 355.

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