Speculative Philosophy -- By: Robert Turnbull

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 008:30 (Apr 1851)
Article: Speculative Philosophy
Author: Robert Turnbull


Speculative Philosophy

Rev. Robert Turnbull

But what is the relation of the external or created universe to God? This is a great question which Descartes attempts to answer. It is produced, he says, by God at first, and not only so, but constantly reproduced. The whole dependent world both of matter and of mind is a vast mechanism carried on by external laws, demanding the constant interposition of the Divine hand. Matter has no direct action upon matter, neither has matter any direct action upon mind, nor mind upon matter. Their action and interaction depend upon the all-creating, all-renewing force. Therefore, concludes Descartes, there are no secondary or occasional causes, and the whole universe, material and spiritual lies, like a passive machine, in the hands of God, moved, modified and controlled by his resistless might.1

Here then we find the fruitful germ of a system of pure idealism, which speedily evolved itself in the speculations of Malebranche and Spinoza.

In Descartes we see what is by no means singular in the history even of profound and philosophical minds, the most startling combinations of strength and weakness, of truth and error. For, he not only denied the existence and operation of occasional causes, but he placed the essence of mind in thought, of matter in extension, thus confounding being or substance with attribute or quality, insisted that the lower animals are mere machines and actually lodged the immaterial spirit in the conarion or pineal gland!

Malebranche, whom we mention now, though actually following Spinoza in the history of philosophical opinions, was a minister of the papal church, quite orthodox of course, and certainly a man of a reverent and lofty spirit. He seized with avidity, upon the principles of the Cartesian philosophy; and since all finite being has its life and action in God, and mind can communicate directly with God; and since also, the ideas of all things, as Plato has shown, exist in the mind of God, it follows, argues Malebranche, that the human mind sees everything in the Divine, and that God himself is “our intelligible world.”

What then is the use of the external at all? It exists, says Malebranche, by the will of God, as discovered to us in the Scriptures, thus deserting the reasonings of philosophy for the teachings of revelation.2 Hence it only required some bold, consistent, sceptical spirit to adopt the same fundamental notions, and rush with them into absolute spiritualism.

Such a man was Spinoza, that singular and subtile Jew, whom Novalis, in a ‘furor’ of...

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