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Chapter 7: The Epistemological Roots of Monism

1. The Nonexperimental Character of Monism

Man's world view is, as has been pointed out, deterministic. Man cannot conceive the idea of an absolute nothing or of something originating out of nothing and invading the universe from without. The human concept of the universe comprehends everything that exists. The human concept of time knows neither of any beginning nor of any end of the flux of time. All that is and will be was potentially present in something that was already existing before. What happens was bound to happen. The full interpretation of every event leads to a regressus in infinitum.

This unbroken determinism, which is the epistemological starting point of all that the experimental natural sciences do and teach, is not derived from experience; it is a priori.1 Logical positivists realize the aprioristic character of determinism and, faithful to their dogmatic empiricism, passionately reject determinism. But they are not aware of the fact that there is no logical or empirical basis whatever for the essential dogma of their creed, their monistic interpretation of all phenomena. What the empiricism of the natural sciences shows is a dualism of two spheres about the mutual relations of which we know very little. There is, on the one hand, the orbit of external events about which our senses convey information to us, and there is, on the other hand, the orbit of invisible and intangible thoughts and ideas. If we not only assume that the faculty to develop what is called mind was already potentially inwrought in the original structure of things that existed from eternity on and was brought to fruition by the succession of events that the nature of these things necessarily produced, but also that in this process there was nothing that could not be reduced to physical and chemical events, we are resorting to deduction from an arbitrary theorem. There is no experience that could either support or refute such a doctrine.

All that the experimental natural sciences up to now have taught us about the mind-body problem is that there prevails some connection between a man's faculty of thinking and acting and the conditions of his body. We know that injuries to the brain can seriously impair or even entirely destroy man's mental abilities and that death, the total disintegration of the physiological functions of the living tissues, invariably blots out those activities of the mind that can be noticed by other peoples' minds. But we know nothing about the process that produces within the body of a living man thoughts and ideas. Almost identical external events that impinge on the human mind result with different people and with the same people at different moments in different thoughts and ideas. Physiology does not have any method that could adequately deal with the phenomena of the mind's reaction to stimuli. The natural sciences are unable to employ their methods for the analysis of the meaning a man attaches to any event of the external world or to other peoples' meaning. The materialistic philosophy of La Mettrie and Feuerbach and the monism of Haeckel are not natural science; they are metaphysical doctrines aiming at an explanation of something that the natural sciences could not explore. So are the monistic doctrines of positivism and neopositivism.

In establishing these facts one does not intend to ridicule the doctrines of materialistic monism and to qualify them as nonsense. Only the positivists consider all metaphysical speculations as nonsense and reject any kind of apriorism. Judicious philosophers and scientists have admitted without any reservation that the natural sciences have not contributed anything that could justify the tenets of positivism and materialism and that all these schools of thought are teaching is metaphysics, and a very unsatisfactory brand of metaphysics.

The doctrines that claim for themselves the epithet of radical or pure empiricism and stigmatize all that is not experimental natural science as nonsense fail to realize that the allegedly empiricist nucleus of their philosophy is entirely based upon deduction from an unwarranted premise. All that the natural sciences can do is to trace back all the phenomena that can be—directly or indirectly—perceived by the human senses to an array of ultimately given data. One may reject a dualistic or pluralistic interpretation of experience and assume that all these ultimate data might in the future development of scientific knowledge be traced back to a common source. But such an assumption is not experimental natural science. It is a metaphysical interpretation. And so is the further assumption that this source will also appear as the root out of which all mental phenomena evolved.

On the other hand, all the attempts of philosophers to demonstrate the existence of a supreme being by mundane methods of thinking, either by aprioristic reasoning or drawing inferences from certain observed qualities of visible and tangible phenomena, have led to an impasse. But we have to realize that it is no less impossible to demonstrate logically by the same philosophical methods the nonexistence of God or to reject the thesis that God created the X from which everything the natural sciences deal with is derived and the further thesis that the inexplicable powers of the human mind came and come into being by reiterated divine intervention in the affairs of the universe. The Christian doctrine according to which God creates the soul of every individual cannot be refuted by discursive reasoning as it cannot be proved in this way. There is neither in the brilliant achievements of the natural sciences nor in aprioristic reasoning anything that could contradict Du Bois-Reymond's Ignorabimus.

There cannot be such a thing as scientific philosophy in the sense that logical positivism and empiricism ascribe to the adjective "scientific." The human mind in its search for knowledge resorts to philosophy or theology precisely because it aims at an explanation of problems that the natural sciences cannot answer. Philosophy deals with things beyond the limits that the logical structure of the human mind enables man to infer from the exploits of the natural sciences.

  • 1. "La science est déterministe; elle l'est a priori; elle posture le déterminisme, parce que sans lui elle ne pourrait être." Henri Poincaré, Dernières pensées (Paris, 1913), P. 244.