Is Space A Reality? Observations On Professor Bowne’s Doctrine Of Space, Motion, And Change -- By: C. M. Mead

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 047:187 (Jul 1890)
Article: Is Space A Reality? Observations On Professor Bowne’s Doctrine Of Space, Motion, And Change
Author: C. M. Mead


Is Space A Reality? Observations On Professor Bowne’s Doctrine Of Space, Motion, And Change

C. M. Mead

Since in the Bibliotheca Sacra for 1886 I made some animadversions on Professor Bowne’s doctrine of Time, President Strong has discussed (Jan., 1888) the general subject of Modern Idealism. While his article may seem to have covered the whole ground, and to have refuted this Idealism in all its assumptions and positions, it may yet be well to follow it up with a more limited discussion, which seems to be needed as a complement to my previous article, and which, while less comprehensive than Dr. Strong’s able discussion, may yet serve to bring out more sharply the points of difference between the Idealist and the Realist. In presenting these criticisms, I desire again to express my almost unqualified admiration of the ability and brilliancy of Professor Bowne’s discussions of the deepest and driest of metaphysical problems. But together with a vast deal of clearheaded and masterful presentation of important truths, he advocates a system which, I am firmly persuaded, cannot stand the test of thorough inspection.

With respect to space, as with respect to time, our author finds himself constrained to say that it cannot be regarded as an objective reality, but only a way or form in which the mind views things. He admits that this notion conflicts with that of spontaneous thought. But, he thinks, we are

driven to his conclusion by the self-contradictions into which we are drawn by the attempt to carry out the spontaneous thought. This he aims to show by urging the following difficulties :—

1. “The conception of space as an all-containing form is an inconsistent metaphor borrowed from our sense-experience. Forms must always be forms of something; and when there is no reality to produce and limit the form, the form exists only in imagination.” Space, simply as form, is nothing. If something real, it “must come under the law of reality in general.”1 If we try to make space a tertium quid between something and nothing, it must be able in some way to assert itself as a determining factor in the system of things. For we cognize things as existent only as they in some way act. Being is activity. Space, if real, cannot be “powerless emptiness,” but an “active something.” If space is regarded as conditioning things and their activities, it must act on them, and therefore must be a thing itself. Moreover, “if space be real and extended, its several parts must be real, and space can have no proper unity” (p. 184). “But the relation of these parts is fixed and changeless.” “Each smallest volume ...

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