Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > The System of Nature
Order and Confusion.--Intelligence.--Chance.
THE observation of the necessary, regular, and periodical motion in the universe, generated in the mind of man the idea of ORDER; this term, in its original signification, represents nothing more than a mode of considering, a facility of perceiving, together and separately, the different relations of a whole; in which is discovered, by its manner of existing and acting, a certain affinity or conformity with his own. Man, in extending this idea to the universe, carried with him those methods of considering things which are peculiar to himself: he has consequently supposed there really existed in Nature affinities and relations, which he classed under the name of ORDER; and others which appeared to him not to conform to those, which he has ranked under the term of CONFUSION.
It is easy to comprehend, that this idea of order and confusion can have no absolute existence in Nature, where every thing is necessary; where the whole follows constant and invariable laws, which oblige each being, in every moment of its duration, to submit to other laws, which flow from its own peculiar mode of existence. Therefore it is in his imagination, only, man finds a model of that which he terms order or confusion; which, like all his abstract, metaphysical ideas, supposes nothing beyond his reach. Order, however, is never more than the faculty of conforming himself with the beings by whom he is environed, or with the whole of which he forms a part.
Nevertheless, if the idea of order be applied to Nature, it will be found to be nothing but a series of action or motion, which he judges to conspire to one common end. Thus, in a body that moves, order is the chain of action, the series of motion, proper to constitute it what it is, and to maintain it in its actual state. Order, relatively to the whole of Nature, is the concatenation of causes and effects, necessary to her active existence--to maintaining her constantly together; but, as it has been proved in the chapter preceding, every individual being is obliged to concur to this end, in the different ranks they occupy; from whence it is a necessary deduction, that what is called the ORDER OF NATURE, can never be more than a certain manner of considering the necessity of things, to which all, of which man has any knowledge, is submitted. That which is styled CONFUSION, is only a relative term, used to designate that series of necessary action, that chain of requisite motion, by which an individual being is necessarily changed or disturbed in its mode of existence--by which it is instantaneously obliged to alter its manner of action; but no one of these actions, no part of this motion is capable, even for a single instant, of contradicting or deranging the general order of Nature; from which all beings derive their existence, their properties, the motion appropriate to each.
What is termed confusion in a being, is nothing more than its passage into a new class, a new mode of existence; which necessarily carries with it a new series of action, a new chain of motion, different from that of which this being found itself susceptible in the preceding rank it occupied. That which is called order, in Nature, is a mode of existence, or a disposition of its particles, strictly necessary. In every other assemblage of causes and effects, of worlds, as well as in that which we inhabit, some sort of arrangement, some kind of order would necessarily be established. Suppose the most incongruous, the most heterogeneous substances were put into activity, and assembled by a concatenation of extraordinary circumstances; they would form amongst themselves, a complete order, a perfect arrangement. This is the true notion of a property, which may be defined, an aptitude to constitute a being, such as it is actually found, such as it is with respect to the whole of which it makes a part.
Order, then, is nothing but necessity, considered relatively to the series of actions, or the connected chain of causes and effects, that it produces in the universe. What is the motion in our planetary system; but a series of phenomena, operated upon according to necessary laws, that regulate the bodies of which it is composed? In conformity to these laws, the sun occupies the centre; the planets gravitate towards it, and revolve round it, in regulated periods: the satellites of these planets gravitate towards those which are in the centre of their sphere of action, and describe round them their periodical route. One of these planets, the earth which man inhabits, turns on its own axis; and by the various aspects which its revolution obliges it to present to the sun, experiences those regular variations which are called SEASONS. By a sequence of the sun's action upon different parts of this globe, all its productions undergo vicissitudes: plants, animals, men, are in a sort of morbid drowsiness during Winter: in Spring, these beings re-animate, to come as it were out of a long lethargy. In short, the mode in which the earth receives the sun's beams, has an influence on all its productions; these rays, when darted obliquely, do not act in the same manner as when they fall perpendicularly; their periodical absence, caused by the revolution of this sphere on itself, produces night and day. However, in all this, man never witnesses more than necessary effects, flowing from the nature of things, which, whilst that remains the same, can never be opposed with propriety. These effects are owing to gravitation, attraction, centrifugal power, &c.
On the other hand, this order, which man admires as a supernatural effect, is sometimes disturbed, or changed into what he calls confusion: this confusion is, however, always a necessary consequence of the laws of Nature; in which it is requisite to the support of the whole that some of her parts should be deranged and thrown out of the ordinary course. It is thus, COMETS present themselves so unexpectedly to man's wondering eyes; their eccentric motion disturbs the tranquillity of his planetary system; they excite the terror of the misinstructed to whom every thing unusual is marvellous. The natural philosopher, himself, conjectures that in former ages, these comets have overthrown the surface of this mundane ball, and caused great revolutions on the earth. Independent of this extraordinary confusion, he is exposed to others more familiar to him: sometimes, the seasons appear to have usurped each other's place; to have quitted their regular order: sometimes the opposing elements seem to dispute among themselves the dominion of the world; the sea bursts its limits; the solid earth is shaken and rent asunder; mountains are in a state of conflagration; pestilential diseases destroy both men and animals; sterility desolates a country: then affrighted man utters piercing cries, offers up his prayers to recall order; tremblingly raises his hands towards the Being he supposes to be the author of all these calamities; nevertheless, the whole of this afflicting confusion are necessary effects, produced by natural causes; which act according to fixed laws, determined by their own peculiar essence, and the universal essence of Nature: in which every thing must necessarily be changed, moved, and dissolved; where that which is called ORDER, must sometimes be disturbed and altered into a new mode of existence; which to his deluded mind, to his imagination, led astray by ignorance and want of reflection, appears CONFUSION.
There cannot possibly exist what is generally termed a confusion of Nature: man finds order in every thing that is conformable to his own mode of being; confusion in every thing by which it is opposed: nevertheless, in Nature, all is in order; because none of her parts are ever able to emancipate themselves from those invariable rules which flow from their respective essences: there is not, there cannot be confusion in a whole, to the maintenance of which what is called confusion is absolutely requisite; of which the general course can never be discomposed, although individuals may be, and necessarily are; where all the effects produced are the consequence of natural causes, that under the circumstances in which they are placed, act only as they infallibly are obliged to act.
It therefore follows, there can be neither monsters nor prodigies; wonders nor miracles in Nature: those which are designated MONSTERS, are certain combinations, with which the eyes of man are not familiarized; but which, therefore, are not less the necessary effects of natural causes. Those which he terms PRODIGIES, WONDERS, or SUPERNATURAL effects, are phenomena of Nature, with whose mode of action he is unacquainted; of which his ignorance does not permit him to ascertain the principles; whose causes he cannot trace; but which his impatience, his heated imagination, aided by a desire to explain, makes him foolishly attribute to imaginary causes; which, like the idea of order, have no existence but in himself; and which, that he may conceal his own ignorance, that he may obtain more respect with the uninformed, he places beyond Nature, out of which his experience is every instant demonstrably proving that none of these things can have existence.
As for those effects which are called MIRACLES, that is to say, contrary to the unalterable laws of Nature, it must be felt such things are impossible; because, nothing can, for an instant, suspend the necessary course of beings, without the whole of Nature was arrested; without she was disturbed in her tendency. There have neither been wonders nor miracles in Nature; except for those, who have not sufficiently studied the laws, who consequently do not feel, that those laws can never be contradicted, even in the most minute parts, without the whole being destroyed, or at least without changing her essence, her mode of action; that it is the height of folly to recur to supernatural causes to explain the phenomena man beholds, before he becomes fully acquainted with natural causes--with the powers and capabilities which Nature herself contains.
Order and Confusion, then, are only relative terms, by which man designates the state in which particular beings find themselves. He says, a being is in order, when all the motion it undergoes conspires to favor its tendency to its own preservation; when it is conducive to the maintenance of its actual existence: that it is in confusion when the causes which move it disturb the harmony of its existence, or have a tendency to destroy the equilibrium necessary to the conservation of its actual state. Nevertheless, confusion, as we have shown, is nothing but the passage of a being into a new order; the more rapid the progress, the greater the confusion for the being that is submitted to it: that which conducts man to what is called death, is, for him, the greatest of all possible confusion. Yet this death is nothing more than a passage into a new mode of existence: it is the eternal, the invariable, the unconquerable law of Nature, to which the individuals of his order, each in his turn, is obliged to submit.
The human body is said to be in order, when its various component parts act in that mode, from which results the conservation of the whole; from which emanates that which is the tendency of his actual existence; in other words, when all the impulse he receives, all the motion he communicates, tends to preserve his health, to render him happy, by promoting the happiness of his fellow men. He is said to be in health when the fluids and solids of his body concur to render him robust, to keep his mind in vigour; when each lends mutual aid towards this end. He is said to be in confusion, or in ill health, whenever this tendency is disturbed; when any of the essential parts of his body cease to concur to his preservation, or to fulfil its peculiar functions. This it is that happens in a state of sickness, in which, however, the motion excited in the human machine is as necessary, is regulated by laws as certain, as natural, as invariable, as that which concurs to produce health. Sickness merely produces in him a new order of motion, a new series of action, a new chain of things. Man dies: to him, this appears the greatest confusion he can experience; his body is no longer what it was--its parts no longer concur to the same end--his blood has lost its circulation--he is deprived of feeling--his ideas have vanished--he thinks no more--his desires have fled--death is the epoch, the cessation of his human existence.--His frame becomes an inanimate mass, by the subtraction of those principles by which it was animated; that is, which made it act after a determinate manner: its tendency has received a new direction; its action is changed; the motion excited in its ruins conspires to a new end. To that motion, the harmony of which he calls order, which produced life, sentiment, thought, passions, health, succeeds a series of motion of another species; that, nevertheless, follows laws as necessary as the first; all the parts of the dead man conspire to produce what is called dissolution, fermentation, putrefaction: these new modes of being, of acting, are just as natural to man, reduced to this state, as sensibility, thought, the periodical motion of the blood, &c. were to the living man: his essence having changed, his mode of action can no longer be the same. To that regulated motion, to that necessary action, which conspired to the production of life, succeeds that determinate motion, that series of action which concurs to produce the dissolution of the dead carcass; the dispersion of its parts; the formation of new combinations, from which result new beings; and which, as we have before seen, is the immutable order of active Nature.
How then can it be too often repeated, that relatively to the great whole, all the motion of beings, all their modes of action, can never be but in order, that is to say, are always conformable to Nature; that in all the stages through which beings are obliged to pass, they invariably act after a mode necessarily subordinate to the universal whole? To say more, each individual being always acts in order; all its actions, the whole system of its motion, are the necessary consequence of its peculiar mode of existence; whether that be momentary or durable. Order, in political society, is the effect of a necessary series of ideas, of wills, of actions, in those who compose it; whose movements are regulated in a manner, either calculated to maintain its indivisibility, or to hasten its dissolution. Man constituted, or modified, in the manner we term virtuous, acts necessarily in that mode, from whence results the welfare of his associates: the man we stile wicked, acts necessarily in that mode, from whence springs the misery of his fellows: his Nature, being essentially different, he must necessarily act after a different mode: his individual order is at variance, but his relative order is in whom he discovers neither the same construction, nor the same faculties: of which he knows neither the essence, the end to which they tend, the energies by which they act, nor the order that is necessary to them. The whole cannot have a distinct name, or end, because there is nothing out of itself, to which it can have a tendency. If it be in himself, that he arranges the idea of order, it is also in himself, that he draws up that of intelligence. He refuses to ascribe it to those beings, who do not act after his own manner: he accords it to all those whom he supposes to act like himself: the latter he calls intelligent agents: the former blind causes; that is to say, intelligent agents who act by chance: thus chance is an empty word without sense, but which is always opposed to that of intelligence, without attaching any determinate, or any certain idea.
Man, in fact, attributes to chance all those effects, of which the connection they have with their causes is not seen. Thus he uses the word chance, to cover his ignorance of those natural causes, which produce visible effects, by means which he cannot form an idea of; or that act by a mode of which he does not perceive the order; or whose system is not followed by actions conformable to his own. As soon as he sees, or believes he sees, the order of action, or the manner of motion, he attributes this order to an intelligence; which is nothing more than a quality borrowed from himself--from his own peculiar mode of action--from the manner in which he is himself affected.
Thus an intelligent being is one who thinks, who wills, and who acts, to compass an end. If so, he must have organs, an aim conformable to those of man: therefore, to say Nature is governed by an intelligence, is to affirm that she is governed by a being, furnished with organs; seeing that without this organic construction, he can neither have sensations, perceptions, ideas, thought, will, plan, nor action which he understands.
Man always makes himself the center of the universe: it is to himself that he relates all he beholds. As soon as he believes he discovers a mode of action that has a conformity with his own, or some phenomenon that interests his feelings, he attributes it to a cause that resembles himself--that acts after his manner--that has faculties similar to those he possesses--whose interests are like his own--whose projects are in unison with and have the same tendency as those he himself indulges: in short, it is from himself, or the properties which actuate him, that he forms the model of this cause. It is thus that man beholds, out of his own species, nothing but beings who act differently from himself; yet believes that he remarks in Nature an order similar to his own ideas--views conformable to those which he himself possesses. He imagines that Nature is governed by a cause whose intelligence is conformable to his own, to whom he ascribes the honor of the order which he believes he witnesses--of those views that fall in with those that are peculiar to himself--of an aim which quadrates with that which is the great end of all his own actions. It is true that man, feeling his incapability of producing the vast, the multiplied effects of which he witnesses the operation, when contemplating the universe, was under the necessity of making a distinction between himself and the cause which he supposed to be the author of such stupendous effects; he believed he removed every difficulty, by amplifying in this cause all those faculties of which he was himself in possession; adding others of which his own self-love made him desirous, or which he thought would render his being more perfect: thus, he gave JUPITER wings, with the faculty of assuming any form he might deem convenient: it was thus, by degrees, he arrived at forming an idea of that intelligent cause, which he has placed above Nature, to preside over action--to give her that motion of which he has chosen to believe she was in herself incapable. He obstinately persists in regarding this Nature as a heap of dead, inert matter, without form, which has not within itself the power of producing any of those great effects, those regular phenomena, from which emanates what he styles the order of the Universe. ANAXAGORAS is said to have been the first who supposed the universe created and governed by an intelligence: ARISTOTLE reproaches him with having made an automaton of this intelligence; or in other words, with ascribing to it the production of things, only when he was at a loss to account for their appearance. From whence it may be deduced, that it is for want of being acquainted with the powers of Nature, or the properties of matter, that man has multiplied beings without necessity--that he has supposed the universe under the government of an intelligent cause, which he is, and perhaps always will be, himself the model: in fine, this cause has been personified under such a variety of shapes, sexes, and names, that a list of the deities he has at various times supposed to guide this Nature, or to whom he has submitted her, makes a large volume that occupies some years of his youthful education to understand. He only rendered this cause more inconceivable, when he extended in it his own faculties too much. He either annihilates, or renders it altogether impossible, when he would attach to it incompatible qualities, which he is obliged to do, to enable him to account for the contradictory and disorderly effects he beholds in the world. In fact, he sees confusion in the world; yet, notwithstanding his confusion contradicts the plan, the power, the wisdom, the bounty of this intelligence, and the miraculous order which he ascribes to it; he says, the extreme beautiful arrangement of the whole, obliges him to suppose it to be the work of a sovereign intelligence: unable, however, to reconcile this seeming confusion with the benevolence he attaches to this cause, he had recourse to another effort of his imagination; he made a new cause, to whom he ascribed all the evil, all the misery, resulting from this confusion: still, his own person served for the model; to which he added those deformities which he had learned to hold in disrespect: in multiplying these counter or destroying causes, he peopled Pandemonium.
It will no doubt be argued, that as Nature contains and produces intelligent beings, either she must be herself intelligent, or else she must be governed by an intelligent cause. We reply, intelligence is a faculty peculiar to organized beings, that it is to say, to beings constituted and combined after a determinate manner; from whence results certain modes of action, which are designated under various names; according to the different effects which these beings produce: wine has not the properties called wit and courage; nevertheless, it is sometimes seen that it communicates those qualities to men, who are supposed to be in themselves entirely devoid of them. It cannot be said Nature is intelligent after the manner of any of the beings she contains; but she can produce intelligent beings by assembling matter suitable to their particular organization, from whose peculiar modes of action will result the faculty called intelligence; who shall be capable of producing certain effects which are the necessary consequence of this property. I therefore repeat, that to have intelligence, designs and views, it is requisite to have ideas; to the production of ideas, organs or senses are necessary: this is what is neither said of Nature nor of the causes he has supposed to preside over her actions. In short experience warrants the assertion, it does more, it proves beyond a doubt, that matter, which is regarded as inert and dead, assumes sensible action, intelligence, and life, when it is combined and organized after particular modes.
From what has been said, it must rationally be concluded that
order is never more than the necessary or uniform connection
of causes with their effects; or that series of action which flows
from the peculiar properties of beings, so long as they remain in a
given state; that confusion is nothing more than the change
of this state; that in the universe, all is necessarily in order,
because every thing acts and moves according to the various
properties of the different beings it contains; that in Nature
there cannot be either confusion or real evil, since every thing
follows the laws of its natural existence; that there is neither
chance nor any thing fortuitous in this Nature, where no
effect is produced without a sufficient, without a substantial cause; where all causes act necessarily
according to fixed and certain laws, which are themselves dependant
on the essential properties of these causes or beings, as well as
on the combination, which constitutes either their transitory or
permanent state; that intelligence is a mode of acting, a method of
existence natural to some particular beings; that if this
intelligence should be attributed to Nature, it would then be
nothing more than the faculty of conserving herself in active
existence by necessary means. In refusing to Nature the
intelligence he himself enjoys--in rejecting the intelligent cause
which is supposed to be the contriver of this Nature, or the
principle of that order he discovers in her course, nothing
is given to chance, nothing to a blind cause, nothing to a
power which is indistinguishable; but every thing he beholds is
attributed to real, to known causes; or to those which by analogy
are easy of comprehension. All that exists is acknowledged to be a
consequence of the inherent properties of eternal matter, which by
contact, by blending, by combination, by change of form, produces
order and confusion; with all those varieties which assail his
sight, it is himself who is blind, when he imagines blind
causes:--man only manifested his ignorance of the powers of motion,
of the laws of Nature, when he attributed, any of its effects to
chance. He did not show a more enlightened feeling when he
ascribed them to an intelligence, the idea of which he borrowed
from himself, but which is never in conformity with the effects
which he attributes to its intervention--he only imagined words to
supply the place of things--he made JUPITER, SATURN, JUNO, and a
thousand others, operate that which he found
himself inadequate to perform; he distinguished them from Nature,
gave them an amplification of his own properties, and believed he
understood them by thus obscuring ideas, which he never dared
either define or analyze.
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