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MECHANISM


100


MECHANISM


Abraha's army at the haiul of the Meccans, have been alreaily discussed in the article Ciikistianitv in Arabia.

See the bibliography appended to the articles AnAniA, M(»-

IIAMMEH, AX[> MnllAMMKHANlSM; BuHKHAUIiT. 7Vac.7\ ( J( ,1 r(l/>l'<I

(Loiulon. lS:iO); ilvnTuH. Personal narralin- of d I'llurimogr to El Medina and Meeca (I-ondon. 1S57); Iltinr.uoNjE, Snouck, Mecca, mil Bildcr Atlas. II (The Hague. 18SS); Idkm, Het Mck- kanische Fecst (Leydcu, 1888). GABRIEL OUSSANI.

Mechanism. — Then- is no constant meaning in the history of philosophy forthe woni Mechanism. Origin- ally, tlie term meant tluit cosniological theory which ascribes the motion and changes of the world to some external force. In this view material things are purely pa.ssive, while according to the opposite the- ory (i. e., Dynamism), they possess certain internal sources of energy which account for the activity of each ami for its influence on the course of events. These meanings, however, soon underwent modifi- cation. The question as to whether motion is an in- herent proper!}' of botlies, or has been communicated to them by some external agency, was very often ignoreil. With a large number of cosmologists the essential feature of Mechanism is the attempt to re- duce all the qualities and activities of bodies to quan- titative realities, i. e. to mass and motion. But a further modification soon followed. Living bodies, as is well known, present at first sight certain character- istic properties which have no counterpart in lifeless matter. Mechanism aims to go beyond these appear- ances. It seeks to explain all "vital" phenomena as physical and chemical facts; whether or not these facts are in turn reducible to mass and motion be- comes a secondarj' question, although Mechanists are generally inclined to favour such reduction. The theory opposed to this biological mechanism is no longer DjTiamism, but Vitalism or Neo-vitalism, which maintains that vital activities cannot be explained, and never will be explained, by the laws which govern lifeless matter. As Mechanism professes to furnish a complete system of the world, its extreme partisans apply it to psychical manifestations and even to social phenomena; but here it is at best only tentative and the result very questionable. Its ad- vocates merely connect, more or less thoroughly, psychological and social facts with the general laws or leading hypotheses of biology. It is preferable, there- fore, in the present state of our knowledge, to disre- gard these features of mechanistic doctrine, which are certainly of a provisional character. In a word then, Mechanism in its various forms shows a tendency to interpret phenomena of a higher order in terms of the lower and less complex, and to carry this reduction down to the simplest attainable forms, i. e. to those quantitative realities which we call mass and motion. Psychology and sociology derive their explanation from biolog}'; biology derives its explanation from the

Ehysical and chemical sciences, while these in turn orrow their explanation from mechanics. The science of mechanics becomes by a very simple pro- cess a particular phase of mathematical analysis, so that the ideal of Mechanism Ls Mathematism, that is to .say, the representation of all phenomena by mathematical equations. Hence it is plain that Mechanism tenfls to eliminate from science and from reality all "qualitative" aspects, all "forms" and "ends". We shall first state the arguments brought forward in support of the theory, and then subject it to criticism.

I. .\rgl'mf.nt.s. — (1) Modem Mechanism, which unquestionaljly goes back to Descartes, arose, it is said, from a legitimate reaction against the errors of decadent Scholasticism. The latter had abused the old theory of forms and latent qualities. Whenever a phenomenon called for explanation, it was furnished by endowing the substance with a new quality ; and, as Molidre jestingly puts it, "the poppy made one


sleep, because it has the sleei)-inducing property". Eiicn thing was what it was by virtue of an appropri- ate form; man by the human form, a peljble by its pebble form; and ea,ch thing performed its character- istic functions by some " virtue ". Thus, it is alleged, all explanations fell into tautology, and science was doomed a priori to pursue a monotonous round in complete sterility. If Mechanism diil nothing more than deliver us from this absurd logomachy, it would possess at least a negative value, emphasizing by its opjiosition the weakness of qualitative explanations.

(2) The general laws of applied logic are cited in favour of the principles of Mechanism. The .scientific fact is not the initial fact of olxservation. The scien- tist is not satLsfii'd with .seeing, he must understand; and the only way to uinlerstand is to explain. Now there is but one conceivable method of explaining the new reality ; the things which are not understood must be reduceil to known antecedents. The barrenness of formal antl final causes is, according to the Mechanists, at once manifest. The form is what makes a thing what it is, but the fact or thing which is to be explained does not become intelligible by reason of its being what it is. Therefore, to allege the form as an ex- planation is to explain a thing by itself. The inter- pretations based on "ends" are not more productive of scientific results, .\side from the anthropomorphic illusions to which such interpretations are liable, the ends help us no better than the forms to avoid tautol- ogy. The end of a thing is only the action towards which it tends, the term of its development. But this action and this term can be known only through further observation; they constitute new facts which require an explanation of their own. We leani noth- ing from them as to the nature of the original thing; they do not tell us how or by what internal factors it performs its action or reaches its term. To explain the eye by declaring that it was made to see, is to state that it is an eye but nothing more. To understand the eye it is necessary to know by what internal struct- ure, and under what sort of stimulation the organ performs its visual functions.

Hence, say the Mechanists, all ends and final causes must be banished from scientific systematizations. The unknown can be explained only by redviction, to the known, the new by reduction to the anterior, the complex by reduction to the simple. Now, if we look for the only genuinely scientific explanation, we can- not stop until we reach mass and motion. Such in- deed is human intelligence, that we first grasp the most general and the simplest realities, and we grasp these the best. Take for example the very general phenomenon of life. To explain it by a vital force or principle would simply be not to explain it at all. We must, if we would understand life, reduce it to some- thing which is not life, to something simpler and better known. We must therefore, the Mechanist asserts, have recourse to the physical and chemical phenom- ena, and our understanding of life is measured by the possibilities of this reduction. It may be that we have not explained by this method everj-thing con- nected with vital phenomena, since their reduction to physical laws is as yet incomplete: but tliis does not justify the assumption of a latent quality; it only means that our biological knowledge is far from per- fect. Chemical phenomena and physical qualities must likewise be accounted for. Under pain of fruit- less tautology, we must reduce them to that which is already known. But we find here only quantitative matter and motion, realities which may be reduced to mathematical formuke, thus bringing us to a practi- cally pure idea of quantity. Beyond this we cannot go, for if we suppress quantity our mind loses all hold on the real. It apparently follows that by the very requirements of logic. Mechanism alone has an indis- putable claim to a place in the realm of science. Any other system, the Mechanists claim, must necessarily