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MEDICAL AND SURGICAL JOURNAL.
I.-An Examination of the Riddellian Philosophy. By ALBERT WELLES
Ely, M.D., of New Orleans. 1. If it is true that men are always loth to abandon the venerable philosophic opinions in which they have been educated,---a proposition which seems to be opposed to the fact, that in all ages of inquiry one new theory has succeeded another in rapid succession, thus showing no very deep reverence for existing systems of philosophy,—it is equally true, that the great and besetting sin of philosophers in general, is too rapid generalization. Such is the proneness of the human mind to pretend to be able to assign an adequate cause for every existing phe. nomenon or effect, that it is not surprising that the history of philosophy should present so many revolutions of opinion-so many highly inge. nious theories, one rising upon the ruins of another -- so little real veneration for venerable philosophic opinions. No very affectionate tenacity for old theories certainly can be traced. This affectionate tenacity is observable, and lamentably so, in the history of religious and political opinions; but the charge, that theories of physical science have been, and still continue to be, pertinaciously adhered to, for no other reason than because they are old, is quite untenable. Philosophers have not been, generally, so unphilosophic. This new philosophy which I now propose to examine is only another notable exemplification of the truth of this ; for assuredly that can be called no very affectionate tena. city, no very great veneration for the theory of the immortal Newton, which could venture, after the approval of La Place, and the profound admiration of a host of renowned philosophers, to pronounce it an absurdity!
2. It is assumed, in this new philosophy, that the theory of Newton affords no satisfactory explanation of the physical phenomena of nature, and it proposes to supply this great defect-to give an explanation of them which is satisfactory, because comprehensible, and in every respect in
accordance with known truths. But the grand error of this new philo. sophy is, 1st, that it assumes that to be an absurdity which is not; 2d, that it generalizes from too few facts, and often from facts which are not facts; and, 3d, that, finally, it falls into the very absurdity which it charges upon the Newtonian philosophy. In my examination of the Riddellian Philosophy I shall consider
I. What was the great absurdity of Newton ?
3. I. The Newtonian absurdity is discovered to be involved in the doctrine of Universal Gravitation, which Newton declared to be an influence by which every body in the universe, whether great or small, tends towards every other, with a force which is directly as the quantity of matter, and inversely as the square of the distance. Gravitation was believed to be a force acting through matter. Newton did not pretend to say what this force is; he only knew that such a force existed in nature, giving rise to all the great phenomena of the heavenly bodies. He believed it to be a force by which bodies were enabled to act on one another at a distance ; not a quiescent force, as is stated by Professor Riddell, but essentially an active force, constantly acting, never quiescent. What, then, is the great absurdity, in all this, by which the Newtonian theory is rejected ? It lies, we are told, in supposing that one body can act upon another at a distance. This is declared to be altogether inconceivable and absurd. It is admitted that it is incompre. hensible a profound mystery; but is it therefore absurd ? To answer this question in the affirmative, would be itself a palpable absurdity; for, since there are many things in nature which we cannot at all comprehend, it would follow that they are all absurdities. We cannot compre. hend how the particles of a body cohere, so as to form a solid mass, or how they act on each other by impulse, or how the different properties of matter reside together. In what way do impenetrability and other properties co-exist ? These are all mysteries which we cannot fathom; but are they absurdities? Reasoning after the manner of Professor Riddell, they are. The position assumed by Professor Riddell is, that whatever is inconceivable, is an absurdity. It is needless to say how fatal to all existing systems of philosophy this principle would be, if adopted. Every thing is an absurdity which the poor, feeble, finite mind of man cannot comprehend. Mind itself would be the greatest of all absurdities. Of the nature of mind of the nature of its connection with matter, and of its power to act upon it, we absolutely know nothing. Can Professor Riddell' tell us, does he comprehend how the slightest muscular action can be produced through the agency of mind ? He cannot; and therefore such action, produced by such a cause, must be an absurdity! If gravity be an inherent quality, pent up and quiet in matter, how can it produce action at a distance ? Newton did not suppose, nor does any one suppose, that gravity is a force pent up and quiet in matter, any more than that mind is pent up and quiet in the body. It is necessarily an active quality; and how it acts we will tell him when he tells us how mind acts, or how impenetrability and other properties joined to extension produce matter.
4. We are told, that the admission of attraction, as an inherent quality, precludes all rational inquiry. By this is it meant, that we must never pretend to assign an ultimate cause? There is no case in which all rational inquiry can cease, except where an ultimate cause is assigned ; and can Professor Riddell avoid ultimate causes ? Has he avoided them in his theory? When we come to unfold that theory, we shall see. We know that the pride of man is such, that he is unwilling to rest any thing upon a final cause. He loves to think, that there is nothing in nature which the mind cannot finally comprehend. Hence the many theories — vain, poetical, scientific dreams, that have arisen ever since the days of Epicurus and Democritus. What strange cosmogonies have arisen! What ingenious attempts to shut out final causes have been made! Just at this moment has the world before it, perhaps, the most able attempt, and yet a very feeble one, that has ever ap. peared; I allude to the theory of the unknown author of the Vestiges of Creation, by which he attempts to show, that the entire work of crea. tion is entirely comprehensible by man, and that the whole superstructure of the universe, and every thing in it—man, animals and plants, have all been erected by the natural and unassisted development of the inherent qualities of brute matter alone. To this conclusion he has arrived, by being resolved not to let rational inquiry be shackled by final causes. The idea is of Pagan origin, for it may be traced to Epicurus, and found announced in the writings of Lucretius. In differ. ent forms has it been advocated by various modern authors; and this may also be said of Professor Riddell's theory. Newton himself did, for a time, promulgate such an idea, but he afterwards abandoned it. Descartes maintained similar ideas; and Euler, the very same theory itself as that of Professor R. The theory of impulsive attraction, which Professor Riddell now maintains, is only an old theory revived. It was invented and advocated in the time of Newton and Descartes, and during that time discussed and exploded. The theory is clearly announced in the works of Euler, and by him defended. It is now revived. To verify these statements, we quote from Euler: “But in attempting to dive into the mysteries of nature,” says he, “it is of importance to know if the heavenly bodies act upon each other by impulsion or by attraction ; if a certain subtile invisible matter impels them towards each other; or if they are endowed with a secret or occult quality by which they are mutually attracted. Some are of opinion that this phenomenon is analogous to an impulsion ; others maintain, with Newton, and the English in general, that it consists in attraction.” Here are the two rival theories distinctly announced. Again : “ The English maintain that attraction is a property essential to all the bodies in nature, causing them to approach one another. Other philosophers consider this opinion absurd, and contrary to the principles of a rational philosophy. They admit that powers exist, causing the reciprocal tendency of bodies towards each other, but they maintain that they are foreign to the bodies—that they belong to the ether, or the subtile matter which surrounds them, and that bodies may be put in motion by the ether, just as we see that a body plunged into a Auid receives several impressions from it. Thus, according to the first, the cause of attraction resides in the bodies themselves, and is essential to their nature ; and according