Collingwood on Materialism

"Materialism as the heir of Reiassance pantheism continued to live and thrive not only in the seventeenth century but throughout the eighteenth and even the nineteenth centuries, until it was finally destroyed by the new theory of matter which grew up in the late nineteenth century. To the very end it retained the impress of its pantheistic origin. This appears in the outspoken religious character of its attitude towards matter which it postulates as the only reality. It denies God, but only because it transferred the attributes of God to matter, and being the offspring of a monotheistic tradition thinks one God quite enough. The phenomenon is so uniform that in a general way we can recognize a materialist author by his habit of using the traditional forms of Christian piety in speaking about the material world. On occasion he will even pray to it....

"Scientifically speaking, on the other hand, materialism was from first to last an aspiration rather than an achievement. Its God was always a miracle-working God whose ways were past our finding out.... Failing experimental confirmation in the laboratory... that the brain secretes thought in exactly the same way in which the gall bladder secretes gall, might pass as a dogma of religion, but scientifically considered was simple bluff."

-- R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of Nature


  1. Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau:
    Mock on, mock on: ‘tis all in vain!
    You throw the sand against the wind,
    And the wind blows it back again.

    And every sand becomes a Gem,
    Reflected in the beam divine;
    Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
    But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

    The Atoms of Democritus
    And the Newton’s Particles of Light
    Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
    Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.


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