Space, time, and deity - PDF book by Samuel Alexander

Space, time, and deity

Space, time, and deity


From preface:
The following work was written, and, except for some revision, in its present form, for the Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Glasgow in the sessions 1916-18. The spoken lectures were based upon the book, but for reasons of time did not follow the text closely. I have accordingly omitted all references to them in the division of the subject. I take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to the University of Glasgow for the honour they did me in entrusting me with the office of GifFord Lecturer; to my audience for the attention with which they listened me. 

The substance of various published papers has been incorporated into the book, and in several places, notably in the chapters on Freedom and Value, passages have been repeated verbally with the kind permission of the editors of Mind and the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.

 The first volume and the first two chapters of the second were in pages before the summer of last year, and accordingly, I have made no reference to Mr A. N. Whitehead's work on The Principles of Natural Knowledge, nor to Mr Einstein's generalised form of the Theory of Relativity (the earlier restricted form I have ventured to refer to) which has lately become generally known in this country through Mr Eddington and other exponents. 

The original papers of Mr Einstein appeared in 191 5 and 19 16, and I saw the later one but felt unequal to it without interpretation. In any case, the physical theory is beyond my province, and the metaphysical theory developed in this book, which deals with the same topic but from a different approach, is best left to tell its ov/n tale. But, as Bk. II. ch. iii. contains an apparent contra- diction to one part of the new relativity doctrine, I have added a postscript to remove misapprehension, which the reader will find on p. vii. Some suspicion is entertained of the system in philosophy, though I can see no good reason for it. This book is, at any rate, an attempt at the system, but its fault in my own eyes is not that it is systematic, but that it is not systematic enough. 

Parts of it I may hope to fill out with better knowledge and reflection, in which process I have no doubt that many things in it will need to be revised or abandoned. I am most concerned about the general outline. Criticism does not occupy a large proportion of the whole, but I have not been able to dispense with it altogether, as I should have preferred. It is, at any rate, not introduced for the sake of criticism, for which I have no taste, but in order to make my own statement clearer. Naturally enough, most of it is directed against those writers from whom I have learned most, and may, I trust, be taken by them as a mark of respect and gratitude. 

My general obligations will be fairly clear. Apart from these, I have, I hope, indicated where I know myself to have borrowed from others; but there will be many places where I do not know whether I have done so unconsciously or arrived independently at similar conclusions. My work is part of the widely-spread movement towards some form of realism in philosophy, which began in this country with Messrs. Moore and Russell, and in America with the authors of The New Realism. 

It is, I think, matter for congratulation that there should be such marked differences amongst the independent workers; because there is better hope that something permanent may be reached amongst them. My warm thanks are due to Mr J. S. Mackenzie, who undertook the labour of reading the whole of my proofs, and gave me valuable comments; and to my colleague the Rev. S. H. Mellone, who read the book for me in pages. Several other friends have allowed me to consult them on special points, in particular, Mr T. P. Nunn, who did me a great service (not the first he has done me, by his writings or privately) by criticising certain chapters of the book, for which I can hardly thank him enough, I add that neither he nor my other friends are to be held accountable for anything I have written.


As existents within Space-Time, minds enter into various relations of a perfectly general character with other things and with one another. These account for the familiar features of mental life: knowing, freedom, values and the like. In the hierarchy of qualities, the next higher quality to the highest attained is a deity. God is the whole universe engaged in the process towards the emergence of this new quality, and religion is the sentiment in us that we are drawn towards him, and caught in the movement of the world to a higher level of existence. 

— Space, Time and Deity [1920] Vol. II, p. 428

Excerpt:

Empirical things are complexes of space-time with their introduce- qualities; and it is now my duty to attempt to show how tory the different orders of empirical existence are related to each other, and in particular to explain more precisely the nature of qualities which hitherto have merely been described as being correlative with their underlying motions, the exact nature of this relation having been left over for further consideration. 

To do this is the second and perhaps the more difficult of the two problems assigned to metaphysics in the Introduction. The first was to describe the fundamental or a priori elements of experience. 

The second was to explain what empirical existence is and to indicate those relations among empirical existences which arise out of the a priori features of all existence if any such can be discovered. In making this attempt I am met by a particular difficulty. My principal object is to ask whether minds do not fall into their appropriate place in the scale of empirical existence, and to establish that they do. It would be most convincing if minds were first mentioned in their place at the end of the scale. But this procedure would compel me to use conceptions that would remain difficult until their application to minds was reached. 

Moreover, the nature of mind and its relation to the body is a simpler problem in itself than the relation of lower qualities of existence to their inferior basis; and for myself, it has afforded the clue to the interpretation of the lower levels of existence.

I shall therefore adopt a method of exposition (not of demonstration) which partakes of compromise and shall preface the inquiry with two problems as to mind, the solution of which can be used as a clue and a means of simplification. 

The one problem is the relation of mind to the living organism with which, or with a part of which, it is correlated. The other is the relation of minds to one another. I shall then be able to state a hypothesis as to Space-Time and the kinds of empirical existence, — matter, life, mind, to name the most obvious distinctions, — which arise within the one Space-Time. Mind is at once the case which most urgently forces on our attention the problem of quality and at the same time offers the readiest means for its solution.

 For our mind is experienced by us as a set of connected processes which have the character of being mental, possessing the quality of ' mentality/ or as I shall most frequently say, the character of consciousness. Whether there is any department of mind, which, remaining mind, may be said to be unconscious, and in what sense this is true, is a question T shall defer for the present. 

Anyone who wishes can substitute for the quality of consciousness the quality of being mind, and can, if he pleases, continue to think of mentality as something less specified than consciousness. A mind, then, is for immediate experience a thing or organisation of processes with this distinctive property of being mind, and, however much interrupted it may be, it is normally linked up by memory in its various forms. 

Under consciousness, I include without further ado those vague and indistinct mental processes on the extreme margin of consciousness which are some- times described as the subconscious, such as, in general, the tone of the organic sensations when we are occupied with external events. Such then is mind as we experience it. 

But we experience also our bodies, and, moreover, in the organic and motor sensations, such as hunger and breathing and the like, we experience our bodies as alive, while they are also experienced by touch and sight, etc., as being physical things of the order of external things. And, as we have seen in a previous chapter, experience leads us on to connect our mental processes with our body, and in particular with our central nervous system, and more specifically still with a certain part of our brain, and to localise our mental processes in the same places and times 1 as certain neural processes. 

We thus become aware, partly by experience, partly by reflection, that a process with the distinctive quality of mind or consciousness is in the same place and time with a neural process, that is, with a highly differentiated and complex process of our living body. We are forced, therefore, to go beyond the mere correlation of the mental with these neural processes and to identify them. 

There is but one process which, being of a specific complexity, has the quality of consciousness; the term complexity being used to include not merely complexity in structure or constitution of the various motions engaged, but also intensity, and above all unimpeded outlet, that is, connection with the other processes or structures with which the process in question is organised. 

For failure in intensity may mean failure of an otherwise sufficiently complex process to be conscious, and so may any cause which disconnects it from the rest of the neural processes which in their connection give us mind. Correlation is therefore an inadequate and misleading word to describe the relation of the mental to the corresponding neural process and is only used provisionally so long as the two are separated from one another. In truth, according to our conception, they are not two but one. 

That which as experienced from the inside or enjoyed is a conscious process is as experienced from the outside or contemplated a neural one. When we speak of them separately it is that we consider the .same process first in respect of the character which allies it with simpler vital processes, and second in respect of the new quality which emerges at this higher stage of vital complexity.

the book details :
  • Author: Samuel Alexander - Samuel Alexander OM FBA was an Australian-born British philosopher. He was the first Jewish fellow of an Oxbridge college.
  • Publication date: 1920
  • Company: London: Macmillan and co., limited

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    Download volume two 18.9 MB 

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