Matter as opposed to mind or spirit (q.v.), is that which occupies space, and with which we become acquainted by means of our bodily senses or organs. Everything of which we have any knowledge is either matter or mind, i.e. spirit. Mind is that which knows and thinks. Matter is that which makes itself known to mind by certain properties. "The first form which matter assumes is extension, or length, breadth, and thickness; it then becomes body. If body were infinite there could be no figure, which is body bounded. But body is not physical body, unless it partake of or is constituted of one or more of the elements, fire, air, earth, or water" (Monboddo, Ancient Metaphys. b. 2, c. 2). According to Des Cartes the essence of mind is thought, and the essence of matter is extension. He said, Give me extension and motion, and I shall make the world. Leibnitz said the essence of all being, whether mind or matter, is force. Matter is an assemblage of simple forces or monads. His system of physics may be called dynamical, in opposition to that of Newton, which may be called mechanical; because Leibnitz held that the monads possessed a vital or living energy. We may explain the phenomena of matter by the movements of ether, by gravity and electricity; but the ultimate reason of all movement is a force primitively communicated at creation, a force which is everywhere, but which, while it is present in all bodies, is differently limited; and this force, this virtue or power of action, is inherent in all substances material and spiritual. Created substances received from the creative substance not only the faculty to act, but also to exercise their activity each after its own manner. See Leibnitz, De Primae Philosophiae Emendatione et de Notione Substantia, or Nouveau Systeme de la Nature et de la Communication des Substances, in the Journal des Savans, 1695. On the various hypotheses to explain the activity of matter, see Stewart (Outlines, pt. 2, ch. 2, sect. 1, and Act. and Mor. Pow. last edit., vol. 2, note A). SEE PERCEPTION.
The properties which have been predicated as essential to matter are impenetrability, extension, divisibility, inertia, weight. To the senses it manifests color, sound, smell, taste, heat, and motion; and by observation it is discovered to possess elasticity, electricity, magnetism, etc. Metaphysicians have distinguished the qualities of matter into primary and secondary, and have said that our knowledge of the former, as of impenetrability and extension, is clear and absolute; while our knowledge of the latter, as of sound and smell, is obscure and relative. This distinction taken by Des Cartes, adopted by Locke and also by Reid and Stewart, was rejected by Kant, according to whom, indeed, all our knowledge is relative. Others who do not doubt the objective reality of matter, hold that our knowledge of all its qualities is the same in kind. See the distinctions precisely stated and strenuously upheld by Sir William Hamilton (Reid's Works, note D), and ingeniously controverted by Mons. Emilie Saisset, in Dict. des Sciences Philosoph. art. "Matiere." SEE MATERIALISM.
The metaphysical history of this term, like that of most others, begins with Aristotle; its theological significance may be said to begin with the first two verses of Genesis. Three questions of theological as well as philosophical interest grow out of this subject.
I. Popular language, in spite of Berkeley's own appeal to popular opinion, must be admitted to be framed on the hypothesis that matter exists in itself, independently of any mind perceiving it; and theologians have in general been content to accept popular language on the point, so that the language of theologians represents the popular opinion. But as Berkeley's system does not, when understood, contradict any of the ordinary facts of experience, so the language of theologians, like that of other non- Berkeleyans, does not become meaningless in consequence of the system being accepted. For a system invented or advanced from a theological motive, it affects theology singularly little.
It can hardly be denied, that a belief in the reality of matter, however reality may be defined, is necessary to orthodox Christianity. The narrative of the Creation becomes meaningless, or at least deceptive, if the things created be no more than "permanent possibilities of sensation," things that would be perceived, or rather groups of phenomena that would make impressions, if there were any minds placed ready to observe them, which there are not; and, to tell the truth, even Berkeley's system confuses or obscures the notion of creation. The existence of a material substance means, according to him, that some mind or minds are affected with certain sensations, from a cause external to themselves. Now in this there is nothing to conflict with Christian doctrine; when we say that God created all material substances, we shall mean, on this hypothesis, that he is the sole and ultimate cause of the laws, external to created minds, whereby their consciousness is modified in the various ways which we ascribe to the presence of matter.
So far, then, all is clear. If Berkeley has not yet given any support to the doctrines of religion, he certainly has not assailed them. But when we come to the part of his theory which was to confute atheism, it is more possible to bring him into collision with that Revelation which he undertakes to defend. Matter, it is said, exists in virtue of being perceived by a mind: e.g. "my inkstand exists," means "my mind has a group of sensations, simultaneous or successive, which I describe as seeing and feeling a glass inkstand, hearing it ring when struck or thrown down, etc., or otherwise as being conscious of the presence of a hard, smooth, round, hollow body, of a heavy, grayish, transparent substance." But if I go out of the room, I believe that my inkstand still exists, though no longer perceived by me. What do I mean by this, on the idealistic hypothesis? We have rejected the answer, "You mean that you believe that, if you went into the room again, you would again experience the same sensations." In the first place, I do mean more than that, though I am unable to prove that anything more than that is true. And further, as has been said above, unless the inkstand exists when not seen, how is it true that the Creator caused the flint, sand, alkali, copper and zinc ore, etc., of which it is made, to exist ages before they were discovered I and used, and sustains the manufactured product of his works in being now?
To these objections the sensationalist has no answer: the Berkeleyan has. "When you say that the inkstand exists in your absence, you mean that when it is not perceived by your mind, it is perceived by some mind or other. Your only notion of existence (except the existence of a mind, a conscious subject) is of existence as the object of consciousness of a mind. If you believe, as you doubtless do, that matter exists absolutely, not only in relation to the finite minds that perceive it, you are bound to admit that there is an infinite mind, which always perceives all matter existent, even what is perceived by no other mind." Injustice is done to Berkeley by a sensationalist philosopher, if he regards the negative part of his system, the denial of an objective substratum to material phenomena, as separate from this, its positive part. Berkeley was a real idealist, not a mutilated or inconsistent sensationalist; and any one who denies an objective substratum to matter, but does not recognize its absolute existence as an object of consciousness to a necessarily existing mind, is not taking half Berkeley's system and leaving the other half, but framing a new one, suggested, it may be, by Berkeley's, but essentially different from it. His religious philosophy was not an amiable excrescence on his metaphysical, but an essential correlative to it; and therefore his system has no skeptical tendency. Neither does it seem fair to charge it with a tendency to pantheism (Mansel's Prolegomena Logica, App. B); for God is distinguished adequately, on the one hand, from the created objects, i.e. groups of ideas, which he perceives; on the other, from the created minds which he causes to perceive the same objects. But it seems doubtful whether the system, sublime as is the picture it gives of the Creator's relation to his universe, does not really, by implication, lower our view of his nature and his dealings with it.
What, on this hypothesis, do we mean when we say that God made the material world? That he caused, and, having begun, continues to cause, created intelligences to receive certain impressions, under certain laws of sequence and coexistence. But more than this. We mean also that God himself, when he created, began to perceive certain ideas as real. Now this is almost shockingly contradictory to the generally-received notion of an eternal present in the divine mind; and it is hard to see that it does not contradict the doctrines of his eternal foreknowledge and immutability. Doubtless God began (on this hypothesis) to be conscious of the world at his own mere will, and not, as we do, from an external cause. But his nature seems lowered, if we confess that by his creating we mean that he caused certain ideas to become present to his mind, which therefore were not present to it before. We have, in fact, a curious converse of pantheism. Pantheism (as the term is commonly used) merges the personal God in union with the universe, a universe consisting of matter, or spirit, or both. Here the personality as well as the spirituality of the Eternal is preserved; but instead of his being so merged in the world as to deify it, the world is so merged in him as to introduce its own finite and mutable qualities into his nature.
Creation is a mystery on any hypothesis. On any hypothesis, God. at some finite time, came into new relations with things that are not God. He assumed new characters (as those of Creator, Preserver, Ruler, Judge) which he had not before; and we must believe this to be without any change in his nature, or even in his purpose. Whether this necessary difficulty is aggravated by the above form of stating it; whether the theory of creation in the divine mind implies more of a change of nature than that of a creation of things external to it, may be a question. It is one that at least deserves to be stated. If it be admitted that idealism is not logically opposed to Christianity on this ground, there remain only two slighter objections to it.
Existence has, on this hypothesis, a twofold aspect. Things material exist, absolutely as being perceived by God, relatively as being caused by God to be perceived by his sensitive creatures. Now if, to avoid the objection above stated, it be said that while creation existed eternally in the purpose of God, so that his works were always known to him, yet it may be said that creation had a beginning in time, when God first made it known to other intelligences than his own. In itself, no doubt, this would be inadequate as an account of creation, however fair a defense it might be against the charge of introducing change into the divine purpose or thought. And it just stops short of making the world eternal, though it comes dangerously near to it. It may be added that the hypothesis of a subjective creation is not invented on behalf of this system. One of the recognized explanations of the double account of the creation in Genesis is that the former or Elohistic narrative describes the order in which God's purpose was made known to the holy angels, the second that in which' it was executed.
But the reality (in whatever sense) of the material universe is presupposed, not only in the doctrine of the creation, but in that of the sacraments, insomuch that "matter" is used as a technical term in relation to them, describing one of their essential requisites. Speaking generally, any hypothesis that allows the reality of matter would be sufficient, and therefore the idealistic, since it does make matter, in an intelligible sense, real. The command to use certain material substances, and the promise of certain spiritual effects to follow on their use, is not evacuated if we describe their use as "taking the known means to occasion, to our own mind and others, including the divine, certain states of consciousness." But it seems hard to see how the theory call fail to affect the doctrine of the holy Eucharist. If the presence of a body means the fact that its bodily properties are manifest to all intelligences capable of observing them, then a presence of a body, real but not sensible, becomes self-contradictory. . If; however, the point be urged with sufficient boldness. that absolute truth is not "truth relative to all intelligences," but truth relative to the Infinite intelligence, then it is of course possible to believe that God regards that as present which man does not recognize as present by the ordinary test of manifesting the properties, in manifesting which bodily presence consists; and this will, by an adherent of the system, be regarded as constituting a real but not sensible presence.
II. Whether matter exists only in virtue of minds to which it bears relation, or whether it exists in itself, the source of its being must be determined. For not even, if it be said that matter is a mode of the mind of a spirit, is it yet proved that matter is not self-caused or eternal: it might be a necessary mode of an eternal Spirit's thought, and so coeternal with his being. However, the motives that have led to the belief in the eternity of matter have been, in general, such as would involve a belief in its independence. It is conceding either too much or too little to make matter merely the thought of God, yet a thought which he never was without, and without which he could not have existed. Eternal matter was usually conceived as an antitheistic power, whether active or passive; sometimes so passive as to be no more than an imperfect medium for the divine operation. It is hardly worth while to frame a system in which matter should have a subjective eternity, since such a system has never yet been received. It has already been pointed out, however, that such a system is a conceivable corollary of Berkeley's. But, supposing matter to be something external to the divine mind which (all theists will probably admit) knows or contemplates it, what is the relation between the two? Is one the work of the other, or are they both independent?
Strictly speaking, there are three possible answers to this question, viz. that matter is the product of mind, that mind is the product of matter, and that the two are independent. But the second, in this exact form, has probably never been maintained. Matter, being inactive, cannot be conceived as producing, unless it be first personified. Materialism, however, or regarding mind as a mode of matter, is a fair representative of this view. Setting this on one side, we come to the choice between the two other alternatives, that matter is the work of .mind, and that it is coeternal with mind — between theism and dualism.
The Jewish and Christian religions are theistic: most other religions of any claim to depth or speculative value are dualistic. Attempts to import dualism into Christianity have been numerous, but it has in every age been so obvious that the hybrid system was inconsistent — for if Christianity was a coherent system, its authoritative documents denounced dualism, and its instinctive consciousness rejected it — that it is unnecessary to reopen a question which is practically closed. All who claim to be, strictly speaking, theists, would now admit the prerogative of creation to belong to God in the fullest sense. It will be enough here to classify the forms of dualism which have either been opposed to the theistic doctrine of Christianity, or which it has been sought to amalgamate with it, as they refer to the subject before us, all of them being separately and fully noticed elsewhere. SEE DUALISM.
1. The Buddhistic dualism assumes two eternal and impersonal principles, matter and spirit. Finite and (eminently) human nature exists in virtue of the union or collision of the two; they are not only the good and evil, but the positive and negative elements of existence: existence consists in partaking of both, as the Hegelian system makes it consist in the union of being and nothing. The victory of the human spirit is to be free from matter, and one with all pure spirit; but since matter as well as spirit is necessary to existence, this pure being, though not conceived as nothingness, is undistinguishable from it.
2. The Manichaean dualism (to use the name of its most famous and permanently vital form, for a system not confined to the Manichaean sect, or those affiliated to it) assumes two eternal principles, matter and spirit, of which both are more or less distinctly personified. The strange and grotesque mythology by which the Manichaeans (in the stricter sense) accounted for the intermixture of good and evil in the world, may have been meant to be understood allegorically; but this is hardly likely-the allegory is too vivid to have been less than a myth, in the minds of its hearers, if not of its inventors. Two powers which make war on each other, which devour and assimilate from each others' substance, or create and beget from their own, are strangely personal if regarded as abstractions: indeed, the best reason for thinking them so is that, if the Manichaean cosmogony be taken literally, the eternal Spirit is wonderfully carnal. But because a system is unphilosophical or inconsistent, if understood in the natural way, it does not follow that it ought to be understood otherwise: there being such things as inconsistent systems. It, however, is to be remembered that Manichaeanism always maintained an esoteric doctrine, which may have allegorized the known gross one.
3. The Platonic dualism (if one may take a title from a single enunciation of it — it does not appear to have been a consistent or permanent conviction with Plato) assumes an eternal personal Spirit, acting on an eternal impersonal matter. Out of this he produces all things that are: not deriving them from his own being, lest he should impoverish himself, yet being in a real sense their author. Matter is conceived as negatively but not positively evil — unable to be made entirely good, even by the entirely good Spirit — and passively but not actively resisting his will.
4. The general character of Gnostic systems was not strictly dualistic. They assumed two eternal principles of spirit and matter, of which the first at least was conceived, more or less distinctly, as personal: but matter was made into finite beings, not by the action of the eternal Spirit, but of a created or generated one; who, though not eternal, held a place so exalted as to be practically a third God; and usurped, more or less, the bad eminence of the eternal matter, since, in opposition to orthodox Christians, it was necessary to distinguish him from the eternal Spirit. SEE DEMIURGE.
The most ancient form of dualism, the Persian, does not come in for consideration here, as its antithesis is not between spirit and matter, but between light and darkness. Owing to its antiquity, the distinction between personal and impersonal principles is not formulated in it."
III. Has matter ever existed abstracted from those conditions of concrete form in which we meet with it? The third and fourth of the forms of dualism just enumerated make their cosmogony depend on the distinction devised by Anaxagoras, and formulated by Aristotle, between matter and form. If matter be conceived as eternal, and yet a creation by a spiritual Being be in some sense admitted, this is necessary. If matter be believed to be itself the work of a Spirit, it is possible, but by no means necessary, still to believe that he first created matter, and then formed it. Such was, perhaps, the general view of the scholastic period in the widest sense of the term: the belief recognized absolute creation by God out of nothing, while it left a meaning for the Aristotelian distinction which was familiar. It seemed to derive direct support from the narrative of the creation in Ge 1:2. But it is evident that the word '"without form," in this passage, is not to be pressed in so strict a philosophical sense: if the meaning of the word were less general, it would still follow from the fact that the "formless" matter is already called (not the universe merely, but) "the earth." It therefore follows that the scriptural or Christian doctrine of creation admits, but does not require, the complication of this intermediate step. It probably is ignored by almost all modern thought on the subject: in the last age of scholasticism, Sir Thomas Browne still continued to assume it, and his critic Digly thought it needless. SEE CREATION.