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If plagues and earthquakes break not Heaven's design,
The THIRD HYPOTHESIS to which I have referred is that of the idealists, or those who maintain that there is no such thing as a material or external world; that the existence of man consists of nothing more than impressions and ideas, or of pure incorporeal spirit, which surveys every thing in the same unsubstantial manner as the visions of a dream. Some of the tenets of Malebranche appear to have a tendency to this theory; but it has been chiefly developed in modern times by Bishop Berkeley and Mr. Hume. Their premises are indeed somewhat different, but their conclusion is the same; excepting that the argument is pressed much farther by the latter than was ever intended by the former, and leads to more dangerous consequences. In Germany, Professor Kant has allowed a part of this tenet, as well as parts of various other tenets *, to enter into his system, or that which he chooses to distinguish by the name of the Transcendental Philosophy, and which not long since bade fair to obtain an universal sway over the Continent, though for some years it has appeared to be considerably declining in its reputation. It was my intention to have traced the origin of the ideal hypothesis, and to have pointed out its sophisms, but our time will not allow me; and it is the less necessary, as I shall have an opportunity, on a future occasion, of revert
* Degerando, Histoire Comparée des Systèmes de Philosophie, tom. ii. p. 17.
ing to all these various conjectures, and examining them at full length.*
But why, after all, is it necessary to support the proposition, that "nothing can spring from nothing?" why may not something spring from nothing, when the proposition is applied to Omnipotence +? I may be answered, perhaps, because it is a selfcontradiction, an impossibility, an absurdity. This, however, is only to argue in a circle; for why is it a self-contradiction, or an impossibility?" It is impossible," said M. Leibnitz, " for a thing to be and not to be at the same time." This impossibility I admit; because to assert the contrary, would imply a self-contradiction absolute and universal, founded upon the very nature of things, and consequently applicable to Omnipotence itself. But the position that "nothing can spring from nothing" is of a very different character: it is necessarily true when applied to man, but is not necessarily true when applied to God. Instead of being absolute and universal, it is relative and limited; the nature of things does not allow us to reason concerning it when its reference is to the latter: and hence we have no authority to say that it is impossible to the Deity; or to maintain that an absolute creation out of nothing by the Deity is an absurdity or self-contradiction. It is absurd to suppose that matter does not exist; it is absurd to suppose that it does exist eternally and independently of the Creator; it is absurd to suppose that it constitutes the Creator himself: but, as it is not absurd to suppose
* Vol. III. Series III. Lect. v.
See the author's Prolegomena, ut supra, p. lxxviii.
its absolute formation out of nothing by the exercise of an almighty power, and as one of these four propositions must necessarily be true, reason should induce us to embrace the last with the same promptitude with which we reject the other three.
So far, indeed, from intimating any absurdity in the idea that matter may be created out of nothing by the interposition of an almighty intelligence, reason seems, on the contrary, rather to point out to us the possibility of an equal creation out of nothing of ten thousand other substances, of which each may be the medium of life and happiness to infinite orders of beings; while every one may, at the same time, be as distinct from every other, as the whole may be from matter, or as matter is from what, without knowing any thing farther of, we commonly denominate spirit. Spirit, as generally used among modern metaphysicians, is but a negative term, employed to express something that is not matter; but there may be ten thousand somethings, and substrates of being, and moral excellence and felicity, which are not matter, none of which, however, we can otherwise characterise. Yet why, between all or any of these and matter itself, there should be such an utter opposition and discrepancy as was contended for by Des Cartes, and has since been maintained by most metaphysicians, I cannot possibly conjecture; nor conceive why it should be universally thought necessary, as it still appears to be thought, that the essence of the eternal Creator himself must indispensably consist of the essence of some one of the orders of beings whom he has created. Why may it not be as distinct from that of an archangel as from that of a mortal? from the
whole of these various substances, which I have just supposed, and which we cannot otherwise contemplate or characterise than by the negative term Spirit, as it is from matter, which is more immediately submitted to our eyes, and constitutes the substrate of our own being and sensations?
Matter, then, we are compelled to regard as a substance created out of nothing by an intelligent first cause; himself immaterial, self-existent, eternal, and alone; and of matter the whole visible universe is composed. It is arranged and regulated by an extensive code of laws, of which, however, we know but a few; and which give birth to a multiplicity of concrete forms, under which alone we are capable of contemplating it: for no effort has hitherto succeeded in ultimately enucleating the compound and tracing it to its elementary particles. We may divide and subdivide as we please; but when we have followed it up into its subtlest rudiments, its most retiring principles, by the aid of the best glasses which the best art of man can provide for us, we learn no more of the real nature of its primitive essence than we do from an acorn or a pebble.
But we are as ignorant of matter in its total scope as we are of it in its elementary particles. We can examine it as it exists in the globe, but the globe on which we tread is but as a drop to the ocean; the earth is surrounded by other planets, by other worlds, by other systems of worlds; all of which, we have reason to believe, are composed of similar substances, and regulated by the same laws. We stretch out our view on every side, but there are still worlds beyond us; we call in the aid of the best telescopes, but they still surpass our reach;
till at length we resign ourselves to imagination, and, in the confusion of our thoughts and the weakness of our language, we speak of space as being filled, and of matter as being infinite.
This view of the subject has given rise to a variety of magnificent speculations, at which I shall just glance without meaning to dwell upon them. Is all this immensity of matter, this universe of worlds within worlds, and systems within systems, the result of one single fiat of the great Creator? Did the Power that spake it into existence give it from the first the general order and harmony and perfection that prevail at present? or did he merely produce a vast central and aggregate chaos, as the rude basis of future worlds, the parent stock or storehouse from which they have since issued by a series of distinct efforts and evolutions? or, thirdly, has every separate system of worlds, or every separate planet, been the result of a separate birth, and a separate act of creation?
It is of little importance which of these splendid fancies we adopt ; for all of them are but fancies, and built upon conjecture alone. In a course of philosophical enquiry, however, it becomes us to be acquainted with their existence; and to be informed, beyond this, that the second is the speculation which has been more generally espoused by philosophers; that, I mean, which conceives the existence of a central and primary chaos, from which all the heavenly bodies have successively proceeded, of whatever kind or description, whether suns, stars, comets, or planets; though the mode by which such efforts have been produced has been variously accounted for. Des Cartes seems to have supposed stars to