Mind and Matter

Mind and Matter

October 8, 2018 0 By Felso

Popular metaphysic distinguishes two categories of reality, mind and matter.

Mind is a reality whose qualities are thought, will, and so forth; it is not extended over space or divisible into parts.

Matter, on the other hand, occupies space, and is homogeneously subdivisible into smaller parts; it has no consciousness of itself as mind has, nor can it originate any train of events of its own free will.

Mind is active, and acts according to its volitions; matter is passive, and the changes in its condition, all of which are forms of motion, must be brought about either by the influence of other portions of matter, or by that of mind.

Matter is thus subject to the law of causation, the law that whatever happens has a cause, external to itself, which determines it to happen in this way and in no other. This law of causation does not apply to mind, whose changes of state are initiated freely from within, in the form of acts of will. These acts of will may influence matter, but they cannot alter or in any way affect the operation of the laws which govern the movements of matter.

The importance of this distinction from our point of view is that most religions, and notably Christianity, teach a metaphysic different from this. They hold that whatever happens in the world is brought about not by automatic causation but by the free activity of one or more spirits; and consequently they place mind not side by side with matter as a coordinate reality but above it. On the other hand, materialism reverses this order, ascribes everything to the operation of matter, or causation, and denies to spirit any arbitrament in the course of the world’s history.

We have thus three hypotheses before us. Either the world is entirely material, or it is entirely spiritual, or it is a compound of the two.

When it is said that the world is “entirely” material or spiritual it is not meant that the phenomena commonly described as mind or matter are simply illusory; it is of course allowed that they exist, but they are explained in such a way as to reduce them to the position of instances of the opposite principle.

Thus materialism will admit the existence of thought, but will try to explain it as a kind of mechanism; the opposite theory (which for the sake of convenience I shall call idealism) will admit the existence of mechanism, but will try to describe it in such a way that its operation is seen to be a form of spiritual activity.