Religion and the Modern Mind

by W.T. Stace


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Part 1: Section 2 - God and the World-Purpose

THE MEDIEVAL WORLD-PICTURE WAS A MIXTURE OF SCIENTIFIC and philosophical ideas. The geocentric theory, for example, is scientific in character, since it belongs to astronomy. But if one leaves on one side the scientific conceptions, one finds that there are three main philosophical ideas left—God, world-purpose, and the moral order of the world. In the next two chapters I shall examine these conceptions. Our purpose is not history, and nothing further of their history will be mentioned until we come, in later chapters, to discuss what happened to them as a result of the seventeenth century scientific revolution. For the present I shall concentrate on their meaning and logical implications. If we are in any way to attempt a solution of the problems which beset our own age, the first essential is to pin down, so far as possible, the exact meanings of the conceptions which are our cultural inheritance and which, coming down to us from the past, have set our problems.

The first idea is that of God. The important thing for us to understand is what this word, inherited by us from a long past, has commonly meant in men's minds. In other words we want to know what kind of a being God has been believed to be. And the main point to be stressed is that he has been thought of as personal, that is to say, as a conscious mind or spirit.

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This implies that God's mind must be something like a human mind. It makes plans and has purposes. It must be conscious. It must have thoughts and ideas, perhaps also emotions, such as love and anger, though perhaps it has no physical sensations since God as pure spirit has no physical body. Of course theoologians may not say quite these things. But the point is that it is impossible to think of a mind at all except in some such terms. The sophisticated may say that psychological words like "idea," "purpose," "thought," "emotion," are only used of God in some allegorical or symbolical sense, and that in reality God's mind must be entirely different from any mind known to us. But in that case it becomes a question whether the use of such psychological words as applied to God has any meaning. It becomes a question whether to call God a mind or a spirit, or to attribute to him a purpose for man or for the world, conveys any true thought to our minds at all. One may quite legitimately use a word or a phrase in a metaphorical or symbolic way. But one must in that case be able to say what the non-metaphorical meaning is. For instance, you can speak of a "sea of troubles." If you are asked how troubles can constitute a sea, you can explain that the word "sea" is a metaphor which here stands for the manyness, the multitudinous character, or perhaps the overwhelming nature, of the troubles. You have then given the literal meaning. The rule is that a metaphor is meaningful if you can give the literal meaning of it. But if you cannot, then it is a "mere" metaphor, and is meaningless.

If one were to say of an object, "this is a tree," and were to add that by the word "tree" one did not mean anything like any of the things which are ordinarily called trees; and if at the same time one could not say in what other sense the word was being used, it would then be obvious that the word "tree" as thus used had no meaning at all. And it cannot be otherwise with psychological words as applied to God. Either they mean, when applied to God, the same things as they mean when applied to men; or, if they are metaphors, we must be able to say what the metaphors literally stand for; or they mean nothing at all.

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The purpose of these remarks is not to be skeptical, or to ridiicule the idea of God as spirit. But we have to face up to the difficulties which are implicit in our thinking. It may be said that the real nature of God is beyond human conception, that we cannnot give the literal meanings of the words we use in such a manner as to satisfy a logician, but that nevertheless these words "spirit," "purpose," and so on, hint at some meaning to which we cannot give explicit expression in language. Perhaps something of this sort may be true. But what I am at present trying to do is to ascertain what—apart from the thought of profound theologians or mystics—the ordinary thoughts and words of plain men have meant and implied; what they must have believed when they believed that God is a mind or a spirit. They must have believed what their words logically imply, that God is a consciousness having a psychology basically similar to human psychology, so that mental processes such as those which we denote by such words as "idea," "thought," "purpose," "love," "anger," can be properly attributed to him. Of course God's mind is thought of as much larger, greater, more powerful, wiser than any human mind—it has been orthodox to speak of God's wisdom, love, knowledge, and power as infinite—but still it must be of the same kind as a human mind.

Sophisticated thinkers, whether theologians or philosophers, are aware of the tremendous difficulties wrapt up in this ordinary anthropomorphic conception of God. Hence they have attempted to substitute other more abstruse conceptions, and these may posssibly possess very great philosophical merits. But it is impossible that, however sophisticated or erudite, they can ever wholly escape from anthropomorphism. If you think of God as in any sense a person, a mind, or a spirit—however much you realize the innadequacy of such words, however much you try to avoid their ordinary crude meanings as applied to human beings—you cannnot help being anthropomorphic, you cannot help conceiving of God in terms of your conception of human minds, because you have no other materials out of which to form your conception of

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him. In short, the idea of God is incurably and necessarily anthropomorphic.

To say this is not to criticize. Anthropomorphism may be true. Or it may not. The question lies quite open before us, entirely unprejudiced by anything that has been said. What is at present apparent is simply this: that men who believe in God believe in a mind which must have consciousness, thoughts, ideas, purposes, and other mental states; that this is what the idea of God means; that it must have meant this for the medieval mind; that this is what it means now; that in popular religion, then or now, it is obvious that this is what it meant; and that even the most elaborate and learned constructions of theologians or philosophers cannot refine the idea of God in such a manner as to avoid some element of anthropomorphism.

This psychological being, God, created the world at some time in the past. According to medieval belief it was only a few thouusand years ago. According to modern thinking it must have been billions of years ago. The period of time which has elapsed since the act of creation is of no importance in our present context. The point to which attention should be directed is that in this account the word "creation" must have its ordinary English meaning or none at all. To create means to make. Men make houses, machines, furniture. God made the world in just this sense. For the same arguments which showed that the word "mind," if used of God, must have its ordinary meaning or none, show equally that the word "create," if used of God, must in the same way, and for the same reasons, have its ordinary meaning or none. God then made the world in the same sense as men make houses, the only difference being that he made the world out of nothing whereas men make their artifacts out of pre-existing materials. This difference, however, presents no difficulty to the mind. Though we do not happen to have the power of making someething out of nothing, the idea is nevertheless quite easy to understand. Making a thing with no pre-existing material could only mean deciding that it should come into existence, whereupon it does come into existence. The biblical text according to which

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"God said, 'Let there be light': and there was light" precisely expresses the thought. That we ourselves cannot do a thing in no way prevents us from understanding what is meant by saying that it is or was done. Exactly what a magician appears to do when he takes an object out of an empty box is what God actually did. This is the original basic idea of the creation of the world, however much learned men may have tried to refine upon it or alter it.

The second idea, the meaning of which we have to discuss, is that of purpose as applied to the world, and the consequent attempt to explain natural phenomena teleologically. "Teleeological" means "purposive," and the teleological explanation of a phenomenon means the explanation of it in terms of a purpose. Thus if a man commits a theft, his action is an event in nature just as much as would be a flash of lightning, and we may ask for an explanation of the one event as of the other. We may ask "why" the event, either the lightning flash or the theft, occurred. If the theft is explained by the consideration that the man was hungry and that he stole the money for the purpose of buying food, this would be called a teleological explanation. Teleological explanation is usually contrasted with "mechanical" explanation. To give a teleological explanation of an event is to give the purpose of it; to give the mechanical explanation is to give the cause of it. Mechanical explanation may also be defined as explanation by laws of nature. For to explain by a law and by a cause are the same thing. That the water froze in accordance with the law that water freezes at such and such a temperature, and that the cause of its freezing was such and such a temperature, are equivalent statements.

To return to the distinction between teleological and mechanical explanation, consider the following case. Suppose that a man is observed climbing a hill. We ask why he is climbing, that is, we ask for an explanation of the event. There are two different kinds of answers which may be given, both of which appear to be quite sensible. One would be: "He is climbing the hill because he wants to see the view from the top." This would be a tele-

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ological explanation. A physiologist, however, might answer the same question by giving a chain of causes and effects ending in the movement of the man's legs. The food he had eaten caused energy to be stored in certain parts of his nervous system. Some external stimulus caused the release of this energy, resulting in nerve currents which caused the contractions and relaxations of his muscles, which finally caused the propulsion of his body up the hill. This would be called a mechanical explanation of his movement. It should be noted, merely as a matter of terminology, that the word "mechanical" is used wherever the explanation is by causes, whether the object caused to act is what is ordinarily called a machine or not. This is evident from the example of the man climbing the hill.

By way of emphasizing the opposite natures of the two kinds of explanation some philosophers have thought of causes as pushing the event from behind, and of purposes or goals as drawwing the event after them from the front. The cause of an event happens before it in time. In a chain of causes and effects one follows another in a time series. First I swallow the poison, then it coagulates my blood, then this stops my heart, and then I die. When the man climbs the hill the stimulus comes first, and after it the contraction of the muscles. But it has been supposed that, if we give a teleological explanation, the purpose or goal comes after the event in time, and not before it as a cause would. The seeing of the view from the top of the hill, which is the goal of the man's climbing, comes into existence after he has done the climbbing. It is in this sense that the cause has been said to push the event from the past, while the purpose draws it from the future.

This contention, which is not justified, is nevertheless one which it is important for us to understand. For it has contributed to the widespread belief that teleological and mechanical explanation, being opposite in nature, are mutually exclusive, so that if a mechanical explanation is true, a teleological explanation must be false, and vice versa, a view against which we shall have to protest. The contention is unjustified because it is the result of a simple confusion between the idea of a purpose and the idea

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of a goal. When the man is climbing the hill, the goal, it is true, is in the future. The goal is the actual seeing of the view which does not occur until the man reaches the top. But the purpose which drives him to climb the hill is something which characterizes the man while he is climbing the hill or, indeed, before he begins to climb. It is roughly identical with the desire to see the view, which he had before he began to climb, and which persists in him while he is climbing.

The belief that the two kinds of explanation are mutually exclusive opposites, which cannot both be true at the same time, is part of (not the whole of) the reason why many scientific men have a prejudice against teleological explanations and consider them "unscientific." An event, it may be said, is fully and completely explained by its causes. Suppose that all the causal condiitions of a phenomenon are known. Let us call them A, B, C, and D. If this is a complete list of the causal conditions, it is a complete explanation. It is also a mechanical explanation since it mentions nothing but causes. There is therefore no room and no necessity for any other kind of explanation. Any attempt to introduce purposes or goals, as well as causes, into the explanation will result in an incongruous jumble of incommensurable conceptions and irrelevant considerations.

It is true that the introduction of the idea of future goals into an explanation has this effect, since goals lie in the future of the event and therefore cannot be among its causes. But the introduction of purposes in the sense of present desires for future goals does not have this effect. It is not the actual seeing of the view in the future which explains the man's present climbing. It is his present desire for that goal which explains it, or is at least a part of the explanation. This means that the desire is one of the causes of his motion. No doubt among the causes are nervous impulses and muscle contractions. But desires and purposes also appear somewhere in the chain of causes. This amounts to reducing telelogical explanation to a species of mechanical explanation. The teleological explanation of the climbing of the man is part of the mechanical explanation.

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There is therefore no reason to say that the two kinds of explanation are inconsistent with one another. And common examples seem to show that they cannot be. It is obviously true that the man climbs because nerve currents and muscles impel him. And it is obviously also true that he climbs because he wants to see the view. These plain facts cannot contradict each other, and if anyone supposes that they do, it must be owing to some mistake. It would be absurd to contend that you have to choose between one or other of the two statements.

It is true that if we admit teleological explanations, difficulties are supposed to arise about the interaction of mind with body. A desire or a purpose is supposed to be a "mental" thing, while a nerve current is a physical thing. What is mental is supposed to be non-physical. And if we admit desires among the causes of human or animal actions, we then seem to be committed to the view that non-material things such as purposes and thoughts have physical effects such as bodily movements. And it is asked how this is possible.

The answer is that there certainly do exist difficult problems of this kind, the solutions of which we do not at present know. There is a problem about the nature of mind and about its relation to the body. There are different views about this, some of which seem plausible; but they are all speculations, not knowledge. And no considerations or theories about matters of which we are ignorant ought ever to cause us to deny plain facts. It is a plain fact that men and animals have desires and are moved by purposes, and that these desires and purposes in many cases explain their actions or are a part of the explanation. It is silly to deny that when I am hungry I desire food, and that when I go out of my office to get lunch my purpose in going out is to satisfy my hunger, and that this is a reasonable and true explanation of my action. This will remain true whether or not I can say what a mind is, or what a desire is, or how a mind is related to a body.

While the motivation of men by purposes is a plain fact, the suggestion that minds and desires and thoughts are "non-material" is not a plain fact. It is a speculative theory which may be true

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or false. So also is the opposite view that minds and desires and ideas are material things or are in some way reducible to them. If minds are in the end reducible to functions of the physical body, then there is no difficulty in holding that a desire may cause a bodily movement, since this will be no more than a case of one physical phenomenon causing another. But if minds are not reducible to physical functions, then we shall have to admit that a non-physical cause may have a physical effect, no matter what prejudices of ours this may contradict, no matter what modificaations we should have to admit in our physical science or in our view of the world.

You may adopt a behavioristic or a materialistic or a dualistic psychology. But in any case it is stupid to deny that desires and purposes exist and that they are among the causes of human behavior. It is unscientific to deny known facts because they seem to conflict with a speculative theory which you hold. And the fact that many psychologists and other scientific men sometimes seem to scout the very word "purpose," and wish to abolish it from their vocabularies, is an example of how very unscientific scientific men sometimes are. The desire to expel teleological explanations from psychology is no more than a prejudice.

We pass on to another consideration having to do with teleology. There is an ambiguity in connection with teleological explanation which, if we are to follow some of the later discusssions in this book, must be cleared up. In the example of the man climbing the hill, the purpose which is given as the explanaation of the movement is in the moving object itself, that is, in the man. But if we say that a watch has a purpose, namely, that of telling the time, we mean to refer to the purpose in the minds of the people who made, or use, the watch. We do not mean that the watch itself has a mind and that the watch's mind entertains a purpose. This may seem almost irritatingly obvious. Nevertheless if it is not remembered, we may easily become confused. It becomes important if we wish to raise such a question as whether the universe has a purpose. Some philosophers have supposed. that, in some sense or other, the universe itself is alive, and may

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have purposes in itself. But unless we believe this, our question whether the universe has a purpose must be meant as an inquiry whether there is a living being who is related to the universe in some such way as a watchmaker is related to a watch. Hence, if the world has a purpose, either it is itself alive, or there is some living being whose purposes control it and perhaps made it. The former view may be called immanent teleology. The latter we will call external teleology. Both views have been held, but they have not commonly been distinguished or given separate names. Both have been referred to as teleological explanations of the universe.

The distinction between teleological and mechanical explanation is of very great importance for the understanding of the history of human thought. One of the contrasts between the medieval mind and the modern mind, as we saw, is that the former was dominated by religion, while the latter is dominated by science. We may now add that religion has generally been associated with teleology, science with mechanism. Hence another contrast between the medieval and the modern minds is that by the former teleology was stressed, by the latter mechanism is stressed. It is an important characteristic of the modern mind, which it has derived from science, that its outlook is almost wholly mechanistic, and that it has thrust a teleological view of the world into the background, even if it does not deny teleology altogether. Most biologists are mechanists, and tend to frown upon explanations even of the behavior of living beings by purposes. And in psyychology the same dislike of teleology is common, and the introduction of the notion of purpose is often considered unscientific.

It is sometimes said that science has ceased to be mechanistic under the impact of the new physics of relativity and quantum theory. This, however, is a mistake due to a confusion over the meaning of the word "mechanism." It is true that there is a special scientific sense of the word in which science has ceased to be mechanistic. This special meaning of the term will be found explained in books such as Einstein's and Infeld's The Evolution

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of Physics. It has nothing at all to do with what we are here discussing. For us, as we use the word any explanation in terms of causes, or—what comes to the same thing—in terms of natural laws, any explanation which does not introduce the concept of purpose, is called mechanical. No physicist dreams of giving teleological explanations of phenomena. This is not necessarily because he denies the existence of purposes in events. But they fall outside his science. His business is to give causal or mechanical explanations, and his science is therefore wholly mechanistic. He may sometimes say that a movement, say of an electron, is not determined by causes. But this is not to say its explanation is teleological. It is to say that it has no explanation. Thus the physicist's concept of explanation is still entirely mechanical.

Perhaps another point about scientific explanations had better here be made, lest the absence of explicit reference to it may lead to misunderstanding. It is sometimes .said that the concept of functional dependence has replaced that of cause and effect in science. The scientist no longer thinks of the process of nature as divided up into a series of discrete chunks of which one is labeled a cause and the succeeding one an effect. Rather he thinks of a continuous process in which a later part is functionally deependent on an earlier part. This, however, is of no importance to us. The cause-effect concept and the functional dependence concept are identically the same idea, except that the former is a relatively crude and common-sense version of it, while the latter is more refined and accurate. For our purposes the commonnsense language is quite sufficient, and will not introduce any. errors into our thinking.

Religion as such is perhaps not necessarily bound up with the belief that there is a cosmic purpose. Buddhism may perhaps be quoted as an example of a great religion which exists without it. But it is a characteristic belief of most religions, and certainly of Christianity, that God made the world for a purpose. Even people who may have no clear belief in God may sometimes say such things as "there must be some sort of purpose in things." Howwever vague such a statement may be, it is evidence of some sort

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of religious feeling. And a teleological view of the world is in .general, I should say, characteristic of a religious attitude to the world, notwithstanding that it may sometimes be found in indiividuals who entertain no definite theological creed.

That not only the world as a whole has a purpose, but that particular things and events in it are capable of being teleologically explained, has also been characteristic of western religion, and especially of the religion of medieval times. The rainbow is teleologically explained when it is understood as giving man assurance that the human lace will not again be destroyed by flood. It is mechanically explained when it is understood in terms of the laws of physics. And that the medieval mind supposed that the ultimate explanations of sun, moon, and stars, of plants, aniimals, and water, and indeed of all natural phenomena, must be in terms of God's purposes for man, has already been stressed.

But the conception of the world as governed by purpose was not invented by Christianity. It is obvious that ancient Hebrew religion, as set forth in the Old Testament, is permeated by it. And if, instead of going back into the Hebrew origins of our civilization, we trace it backwards into its pagan sources, we find the same thing. The most famous of the ancient Greek philosoophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, developed teleological sysstems of metaphysics. Plato, in the Phaedo, put into the mouth of Socrates, awaiting execution in prison, the following remarkable words:

I heard someone reading, as he said, from a book of Anaxagoras, that mind was the disposer and cause of all, and I was delighted at this notion ... and I said to myself: If mind is the disposer, mind will dispose all for the best, and put each particular in the best place. . . . And I rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher . . . such as I desired, and I imagined that he would tell me first whether the earth is flat or round; and whichever was true he would proceed to ... show that this was best; and if he said that the earth was in the centre, he would further explain that this position was best, and I should be satisfied with the explanation given and not want any other sort of cause. And I thought I would then go on and ask him

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about the sun and moon and stars, and he would explain to me their comparative swiftness and their returnings and various states, active and passive, and how all of them were for the best.

Thus Socrates is represented as believing that the shape of the earth, its position in the heavens—whether it is "in the centre" or not—the orbits, velocities, and states of the heavenly bodies, could be explained by showing that the facts regarding these matters were all "for the best," in other words that they served a good purpose, and he states specifically that he "does not want any other sort of cause," i.e., any explanation, other than a teleological one. That he clearly realizes the distinction between teleological and mechanical explanations, and rejects the latter, is clear from the fact that he goes on immediately to say that he became bitterly disappointed with Anaxagoras as soon as he disscovered that, after his initial promise of teleological explanations, Anaxagoras in the end gave only mechanical explanations. He puts it in these words:

What expectations I had formed, and how grievously was I disappointed! As I proceeded I found my philosopher altogether forsaking mind or any other principle of order, but having recourse to air, and ether, and water, and other eccentricities. I might compare him to a person who began by maintaining gennerally that mind is the cause of the actions of Socrates, but who, when he endeavoured to explain the causes of my several actions in detail, went on to show that I sit here because my body is made up of bones and muscles; and the bones, as he would say, are hard and have joints which divide them, and the muscles are elastic ... and as the bones are lIfted at their Joints by the contraction or relaxation of the muscles, I am able to bend my limbs, and this is why I am sitting here in a curved posture ... forgetting to mention the true cause, which is that the Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and accordingly I have thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo my sentence.

This passage makes clear the distinction between teleological and mechanical explanation, and brands the latter as inferior and not the "true" explanation, which is rather to be found in the

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purposes of the Athenians and of Socrates himself. The account given in terms of muscles, joints, and bones of why Socrates is "sitting here in a curved posture" is, of course, mechanistic, and is—if we make allowances for the primitive character of the physiology—exactly the kind of explanation considered "scientific" by the physiologists and psychologists of the present day.

Socrates' words exhibit a bias in favor of teleological explanation and a prejudice against mechanism. Our own age, under the influence of science, shows a prejudice in the opposite direction. Since, as has been shown, the two kinds of explanation are not inconsistent with one another, neither bias is justified. Nevertheless what Socrates says seems to me to convey a deserved rebuke to the kind of thought which, in our own day, would try to eliminate the concept of purpose altogether from the sphere of explanation.

We do not know whether the passage just quoted represents the thinking of Socrates himself or that of his biographer, Plato. But in what is generally admitted to be Plato's own philosophy the teleological motif is dominant. If we had the highest kind of knowledge—if we were omniscient, in fact—we should, in his view, understand everything in the universe in terms of what he calls "the form of the good." This may be briefly explained. We accept as brute facts that space has three dimensions; that there are three kinds of angles, acute, right, and obtuse; that there are two kinds of numbers, odd and even; and in general that the nature and structure of the world is as we find it. We take these facts for granted. But why should they be as they are? Why should there be three dimensions of space, not two or twenty? (The point is not whether three is the correct number. Suppose it were to be discovered that as a matter of fact there are six dimensions, this would not answer Plato's question. He would still ask: why six, not seven or seventeen? The point is that, however many there are, this is a brute fact for which no reason is given.) Why should there be three kinds of angles; why two kinds of numbers? Why, in short, should the world be just the particular sort of world it is, and not some other kind? One might, for instance,

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ask in the same sense: why should water boil at the temperature at which it does boil and not at some other? These are exactly the kinds of questions which a currently fashionable school of philosophers, the logical positivists, would say are "meaningless." But Plato thought that they could be answered if we could see all lhings under the "form of the good." There must be some reason why everything is what it is. For if there is no reason at all for the world being the kind of world it is, then the world is irrational. And this he would not admit. The reason of things, however,

an not be mechanical causes. For mechanical causation is always mere irrational brute fact-it just is a fact that such and such a temperature produces boiling, while another temperature does not. The reasons therefore must lie in purposes of some kind. It must be that there are three dimensions, not four, because, in the ultimate scheme or plan of things, which we do not understand, three dimensions is "for the best"—for "the form of the good," as Plato puts it—while four would not be. Every detailed fact of lhe world, which seems to us irrational in the sense that "it just is so," must have some reason for being what it is, and this ultiimate reason must lie in some good purpose which its being so serves. We may give mechanical causes of things, and these may be, so far as they go, interesting, correct, and useful. But in the end they explain nothing. It is true that water boils at a certain temperature. Perhaps a mechanical explanation of this can be given in terms of molecules, atoms, or electrons. But however far we proceed in such a scientific way, we shall only be saying, in greater or less detail, what happens, not why anything happens. The world will still be a brute fact world, which just is what it is, without any rhyme or reason having been given for it. The moleecules or electrons behave in this way and not in that way. Only if we could see the ultimate purpose of things, if we could see all things in the light of "the form of the good," should we underrstand. Only then would the world be intelligible. A world seen without this vision of an ultimate plan is nothing but a mass of senseless and unintelligible "facts."

Plato did not, of course, himself profess to be the possessor of

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any such ultimate explanation of the world. What he calls true "knowedge" is a superhuman ideal which no mortal can attain. Only God himself has such a knowledge. Yet it is the ideal towards which philosophy must strive. And though one cannot actually reach it in its pure state, Plato seems to have thought that a man might glimpse it by means of myths, allegories, and images.

That there is some plan or purpose in things is essentially a part of the religious view of the world, whether or not it is combined with some theistic creed about a God or gods. Wherever we find it we know that the religious vision is at work. Plato was a deeply religious man. The writing of Aristotle strikes us as much colder than that of Plato, as much less permeated by religious or mystical feeling. He is, by comparison with Plato, prosaic and uninspired. Nevertheless he too maintains a teleological view of the world. I shall not here give any detail of Aristotle's teleology. For our point has sufficiently been made, namely, that belief in cosmic purpose was not the invention of Christianity, but stretches far back into antiquity.

There was, it is true, plenty of mechanistic thinking in ancient Greece. The earliest Greek philosophers and scientists from Thales to Empedocles were mechanists. So was the famous Democritus, who was contemporary with Socrates, and who elaborated in some detail an atomic theory of matter. The mechanism of the Greeks influenced modern science, but what the ages chiefly absorbed from Greece was the thought of Plato and Aristotle, not that of Democritus and his mechanistic precursors. Mechanism, always to be found in any advanced human thinking, was nevertheless a recessive strain in western culture until the rise of modern science.

Thus Christianity did not begin, but only continued, the teleological character of the thinking of the western world. Of course the details of the Christian theological scheme are not the same as the details of any Greek philosophy in spite of the great influence of both Plato and Aristotle on Christian theology. But the Platonic vision of a purposive world under the form of the good

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fitted very well into the Christian scheme of a world created and ruled by the purposes of a good God. And the conclusion which emerges is that the conception of the world as having purpose, of a world in which all apparently unintelligible happenings find meaning in the light of a cosmic purpose, in which all the apparently senseless and irrelevant welter of detail, even all the apparent evil, could—if one could reach the divine vision—be seen as fitting into the one grand scheme of things and finding their meaning in the light of the whole—this, which we may simply call the teleological view of the world, was part of the intellectual and spiritual heritage of western man for over two thousand years, from the time of Socrates in the fifth century B.C. until comparatively recent times. What happened to it in the seventeenth century, what was the effect on it of the sudden appearance of science with its mechanistic ways of thinking, this question belongs to a later part of our story.

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W.T. Stace: Mysticism and Philosophy

W.T. Stace: Religion and the Modern Mind

W.T. Stace: Theory of Existence and Knowledge

The problem of evil assumes the existence of a world-purpose. What, we are really asking, is the purpose of suffering? It seems purposeless. Our question of the why of evil assumes the view that the world has a purpose, and what we want to know is how suffering fits into and advances this purpose. The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose: the world is run by causes, not by purposes.
         ... W. T. Stace, Religion and the Modern Mind