1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: The Middle Ages. Early Schoolmen. Descartes. Spinoza.

(Part 14)


Middle Ages.—Early Schoolmen.—In the speculative passage of his Physics (chap. 25, sect. 5) he says that the universal existence of sensation in matter cannot be disproved, though he shows that when there are no organic arrangements the mental side of the movement (phantasma) is evanescent. The theory of the origin of society put forth by Hobbes, though directly opposed in most respects to modern ideas of social evolution, deserves mention here by reason of its enforcing that principle of struggle (bellum omnium contra omnes) which has placed so conspicuous a part in recent doctrines of evolution. Gassendi, with some deviations, follows Epicurus in his theory of the formation of the world. The world consists of a finite number of atoms, which have in their own nature a self-moving force or principle. These atoms, which are seeds of all things, are, however, not eternal but created by God. Gassendi distinctly argues against the existence of a world-soul or a principle of life in nature.

Descartes.—In the philosophy of Descartes we meet with a dualism of mind and matter which does not easily lend itself to the conception of evolution. His doctrine that consciousness is confined to man, the lower animals being unconscious machines (automata), excludes all ideas of a progressive development of mind. Yet Descartes, in his Principia Philosphia, laid the foundation of the modern mechanical conception of nature and of physical evolution. In the third part of this work he inclines to a thoroughly natural hypothesis respecting the genesis of the physical world, and adds in the fourth part that same kind of explanation might be applied to the nature and formation of the plants and animals. He is indeed careful to keep right with the orthodox doctrine of creation by saying that he does not believe the world actually arose in this mechanical ways out of the three kinds of elements which he here supposes, but that he simply puts out his hypothesis as a mode of conceiving how it might have arisen. Descartes’s account of the mind and its passions is thoroughly materialistic, and to this extent he works in the direction of a materialistic explanation of the origin of mental life.

Spinoza.—In Spinoza’s pantheistic theory of the world which regards thought and extension as but two sides of one substance, the problem of becoming is submerged in that of being. Although Spinoza’s theory attributes a mental side to all physical events, he rejects all teleological conceptions and explains the order of things as the result of an inherent necessity. He recognizes gradations. Of things according to the degree of complexity of their movements and that of their conception. To Spinoza (as Kuno Fischer observes) man differs from the rest of nature in the degree only and not in the kind of his powers. So far Spinoza approaches the conception of evolution may be said to furnish a further contribution to a metaphysical conception of evolution in his view of all finite individual things as the infinite variety to which the unlimited productive power of the universal substance gives birth. Mr F. Pollock has taken pains to show in more than one essay how nearly Spinoza approaches certain ideas contained in the modern doctrine of evolution, as for example that of self-preservation as the determining force in things.

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