From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (04-06)

01.08.2015 09:15

IV. Things Never Seen Before and Thoughts Never Thought:


Galileo & Descartes

I have already mentioned the Sidereus Nuncius1 of Galileo Galilei, a work of which the influence—and the importance—cannot be overestimated, a work which announced a series of discoveries more strange and more significant than any that had ever been made before. Reading it today we can no longer, of course, experience the impact of the unheard-of message; yet we can still feel the excitement and pride glowing beneath the cool and sober wording of Galileo's report:2


In this little treatise I am presenting to all students of nature great things to observe and to consider. Great as much because of their intrinsic excellence as of their absolute novelty, and also on account of the instrument by the


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aid of which they have made themselves accessible to our senses.


It is assuredly important to add to the great number of fixed stars that up to now men have been able to see by their natural sight, and to set before the eyes innumerable others which have never been seen before and which surpass the old and previously known [stars] in number more than ten times.

It is most beautiful and most pleasant to the sight to see the body of the moon, distant from us by nearly sixty semidiameters of the earth, as near as if it were at a distance of only two and a half of these measures.


[paragraph continues] So that


Any one can know with the certainty of sense-perception that the moon is by no means endowed with a smooth and polished surface, but with a rough and uneven one, and, just like the face of the earth itself, is everywhere full of enormous swellings, deep chasms and sinuosities.


Then to have settled disputes about the Galaxy or Milky Way and to have made its essence manifest to the senses, and even more to the intellect, seems by no means a matter to be considered of small importance; in addition to this, to demonstrate directly the substance of those stars which all astronomers up to this time have called nebulous, and to demonstrate that it is very different from what has hitherto been believed, will be very pleasant and very beautiful.

But what by far surpasses all admiration, and what in the first place moved me to present it to the attention of astronomers and philosophers, is this: namely, that we have discovered four planets, neither known nor observed by any one before us, which have their periods around a certain big star of the number of the previously known ones, like Venus and Mercury around the sun, which sometimes precede


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it and sometimes follow it, but never depart from it beyond certain limits. All this was discovered and observed a few days ago by means of the perspicilli invented by me through God's grace previously illuminating my mind.


To sum up: mountains on the moon, new "planets" in the sky, new fixed stars in tremendous numbers, things that no human eye had ever seen, and no human mind conceived before. And not only this: besides these new, amazing and wholly unexpected and unforeseen facts, there was also the description of an astonishing invention, that of an instrument—the first scientific instrument—the perspicillum, which made all these discoveries possible and enabled Galileo to transcend the limitation imposed by nature—or by God—on human senses and human knowledge.3

No wonder that the Message of the Stars was, at first, received with misgivings and incredulity, and that it played a decisive part in the whole subsequent development of astronomical science, which from now on became so closely linked together with that of its instruments that every progress of the one implied and involved a progress of the other. One could even say that not only astronomy, but science as such, began, with Galileo's invention, a new phase of its development, the phase that we might call the instrumental one.

The perspicilli not only increased the number of the fixed, and errant, stars: they changed their aspect. I have already dealt with this effect of the use of the telescope. Yet it is worth while quoting Galileo himself on this subject:


First of all, this is worthy of consideration, namely that


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stars, as well fixed as errant, when they are seen through the perspicillum, are never seen to increase their dimensions in the same proportions in which other objects, and the moon itself, increase in size. Indeed in [the case of] the stars this increase appears much smaller, so that a perspicillum which, for instance, is powerful enough to magnify all other objects a hundred times will scarcely render the stars four or five times larger. But the reason for it is this: namely the stars, when seen by our free and natural eyesight, do not present themselves to us with their real and, so to say, naked size, but are surrounded by a certain halo and fringed with sparkling rays, particularly so when the night is already advanced; therefore they appear much larger than [they would] if they were stripped of these adventitious fringes; for the angle of vision is determined not by the primary body of the star; but by the brightness that surrounds it.


According to Galileo, this "adventitious" and "accidental" character of the halo surrounding the stars is clearly demonstrated by the fact that, when they are seen at dawn, stars, even of the first magnitude, appear quite small; and even Venus, if seen by daylight, is hardly larger than a star of the last magnitude. Daylight, so to say, cuts off their luminous fringes; and not only light, but diaphanous clouds or black veils and colored glass have the same effect.5


The perspicillum acts in the same way. First it removes from the stars the accidental and adventitious splendours, and [only] then enlarges their true globes (if indeed they are of a round shape), and therefore they appear to be magnified in a smaller proportion [than other objects]. Thus a starlet of the fifth or the sixth magnitude seen through a perspicillum is shown only as of the first magnitude.


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This, indeed, is extremely important as it destroys the basis of Tycho Brahe's most impressive—for his contemporaries—objection to heliocentric astronomy, according to which the fixed stars—if the Copernican world-system were true—should be as big, nay much bigger, than the whole orbis magnus of the annual circuit of the earth. The perspicillum reduces their visible diameter from 2 minutes to 5 seconds and thus disposes of the necessity to increase the size of the fixed stars beyond that of the sun. Yet the decrease in size is more than compensated by an increase in number:6


The difference between the appearance of the planets and of the fixed stars seems equally worthy of notice. Planets indeed present their discs perfectly round and exactly delimited, and appear as small moons completely illuminated and globular; but the fixed stars are not seen as bounded by a circular periphery, but like blazes of light, sending out rays on all sides and very sparkling; and with the perspicillum they appear to be of the same shape as when viewed by the natural sight, and so much bigger that a starlet of the fifth or sixth magnitude seems to equal the Dog, the largest of all the fixed stars. But below the stars of the sixth magnitude, you will see through the perspicillum so numerous a herd of other stars that escape the natural sight as to be almost beyond belief; for you may see more than six other differences of magnitude; of which the largest, those that we may call stars of the seventh magnitude or of the first of the invisible ones, appear with the aid of the perspicillum larger and brighter than stars of the second magnitude seen by natural sight. But in order that you may see one or two examples of their nearly inconceivable number, we decided to make out two star-pictures, so that


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FIGURE 4<br> <i>Galileo's star-picture of the shield and sword of Orion</i><br> (from the <i>Sidereus Nuncius</i>, 1610)
Click to enlarge

Galileo's star-picture of the shield and sword of Orion
(from the Sidereus Nuncius, 1610)

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from these examples you may judge about the rest. At first we determined to depict the entire constellation of Orion, but we were overwhelmed by the enormous multitude of stars and by lack of time, and have deferred this attempt to another occasion; for there are adjacent to, or scattered around, the old ones more than five hundred [new ones] within the limits of one or two degrees.


As a second example we have depicted the six stars of Taurus, called the Pleiades (we say six, because the seventh is scarcely ever visible), which are enclosed in the sky within very narrow boundaries, and near which are adjacent more than forty other visible ones, none of which is more than half a degree distant from the aforesaid six.


We have already seen that the invisibility for the human eye of the fixed stars discovered by Galileo, and, accordingly, the role of his perspicillum in revealing them, could be interpreted in two different ways: it could be explained by their being (a) too small to be seen, (b) too far away. The perspicillum would act in the first case as a kind of celestial microscope, in enlarging, so to say, the stars to perceivable dimensions; in the second it would be a " telescope " and, so to say, bring the stars nearer to us, to a distance at which they become visible. The second interpretation, that which makes visibility a function of the distance, appears to us now to be the only one possible. Yet this was not the case in the seventeenth century. As a matter of fact both interpretations fit the optical data equally well and a man of that period had no scientific, but only philosophical, reasons for choosing between them. And it was for philosophical reasons that the prevailing trend of seventeenth century thinking rejected the first interpretation and adopted the second.

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There is no doubt whatever that Galileo adopted it too, though he very seldom asserts it. As a matter of fact he does it only once, in a curious passage of his Letter to Ingoli where he tells the latter that:7


If it is true, as is commonly held,8 that the highest parts of the universe are reserved for the habitation of substances more pure and perfect [than ourselves] they [the fixed stars] will be no less lucid and resplendent than the sun; and yet their light, and I mean the light of all of them taken together, does not come up to the tenth part of the visible magnitude and of the light that is communicated by the sun; and of the one as well as of the other of these effects the sole reason is their great distance: how great therefore must we not believe it to be?


[paragraph continues] Indeed, in the debate about the finiteness or the infinity of the universe, the great Florentine, to whom modern science owes perhaps more than to any other man, takes no part. He never tells us whether he believes the one or the other. He seems not to have made up his mind, or even, though inclining towards infinity, to consider the question as being insoluble. He does not hide, of course, that in contradistinction to Ptolemy, Copernicus and Kepler, he does not admit the limitation of the world or its enclosure by a real sphere of fixed stars. Thus in the letter to Ingoli already quoted he tells him:9


You suppose that the stars of the firmament are, all of them, placed in the same orb: that is something the knowledge of which is so doubtful that it will never be proved either by you or by anybody else; but if we restrict ourselves to conjectures and probabilities I shall say that not even four of the fixed stars . . . are at the same distance


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from whichever point of the universe you may want to choose.


[paragraph continues] And, what is more, not only is it not proved that they are arranged in a sphere but neither Ingoli himself,10


. . . nor any one in the world, knows, nor can possibly know, not only what is the shape [of the firmament] but even whether it has any figure at all.


Consequently, once more in opposition to Ptolemy, Copernicus and Kepler, and in accordance with Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno, Galileo rejects the conception of a center of the universe where the earth, or the sun, should be placed, "the center of the universe which we do not know where to find or whether it exists at all." He even tells us that "the fixed stars are so many suns." Yet, in the selfsame Dialogue on the Two Greatest World-Systems from which the last two quotations are taken, discussing ex professo the distribution of the fixed stars in the universe, he does not assert that the stars are scattered in space without end:11


Salv.—Now, Simplicius, what shall we do with the fixed stars? Shall we suppose them scattered through the immense abysses of the universe, at different distances from one determinate point; or else placed in a surface spherically distended about a center of its own, so that each of them may be equidistant from the said center?


Simp.—I would rather take a middle way and would assign them a circle described about a determinate center and comprised within two spherical surfaces, to wit, one very high and concave, the other lower and convex betwixt which I would constitute the innumerable multitude of stars, but yet at diverse altitudes, and this might be called


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the sphere of the universe, containing within it the circles of the planets already by us described.


Salv.—But now we have all this while, Simplicius, disposed the mundane bodies exactly according to the order of Copernicus. . . .


We can assuredly explain the moderation of Salviati, who does not criticize the conception presented by Simplicio—though he does not share it—and who accepts it, for the purpose of the discussion, as agreeing perfectly with Copernican astronomy, by the very nature of the Dialogue: a book intended for the "general reader," a book which aims at the destruction of the Aristotelian world-view in favor of that of Copernicus, a book which pretends, moreover, not to do it, and where, therefore, subjects both difficult and dangerous are obviously to be avoided.

We could even go as far as to discard the outright negation of the infinity of space in the Dialogue—which had to pass the censorship of the Church—and to oppose to it the passage of the letter to Ingoli where its possibility is just as strongly asserted. In the Dialogue, indeed, Galileo tells us, just as Kepler does, that it is:12


. . . absolutely impossible that there should be an infinite space superior to the fixed stars, for there is no such place in the world; and if there were, the star there situated would be imperceptible to us.


Whereas in the Letter to Ingoli he writes:13


Don't you know that it is as yet undecided (and I believe that it will ever be so for human knowledge) whether the universe is finite or, on the contrary, infinite. And, given that it be truly infinite, how would you be able to say that


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the magnitude of the stellar sphere would be proportionate to that of the orbis magnum, if this one, in respect to the universe, were rather smaller than a grain of millet in respect to it?


[paragraph continues] We must not forget, however, that in the selfsame Dialogue where he so energetically denied the infinity of space, he makes Salviati tell Simplicio—just as he himself had told Ingoli—that:14


Neither you nor any one else has ever proved that the world is finite and figurate or else infinite and interminate.


[paragraph continues] Moreover, we cannot reject the testimony of Galileo's Letter to Liceti, where, coming back to the problem of the finiteness and the infinity of the world, he writes:15


Many and subtle reasons are given for each of these views but none of them, to my mind,' leads to a necessary conclusion, so that I remain in doubt about which of the two answers is the true one. There is only one particular argument of mine that inclines me more to the infinite and interminate than to the terminate (note that my imagination is of no help here since I cannot imagine it either finite or infinite): I feel that my incapacity to comprehend might more properly be referred to incomprehensible infinity, rather than to finiteness, in which no principle of incomprehensibility is required. But this is one of those questions happily inexplicable to human reason, and similar perchance to predestination, free-will and such others in which only Holy Writ and divine revelation can give an answer to our reverent remarks.


It is possible, of course, that all the pronouncements of Galileo have to be taken cum grano salis, and that the fate of Bruno, the condemnation of Copernicus in 1616,

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his own condemnation in 1633 incited him to practise the virtue of prudence: he never mentions Bruno, either in his writings or in his letters; yet it is also possible—it is even quite probable—that this problem, like, generally speaking, the problems of cosmology or even of celestial mechanics, did not interest him very much. Indeed he concentrates on the question: a quo moventur projecta? but never asks: a quo moventur planetae? It may be, therefore, that, like Copernicus himself, he never took up the question, and thus never made the decision—though it is implied in the geometrization of space of which he was one of the foremost promoters—to make his world infinite. Some features of his dynamics, the fact that he never could completely free himself from the obsession of circularity—his planets move circularly around the sun without developing any centrifugal force in their motion—seem to suggest that his world was not infinite. If it was not finite it was probably, like the world of Nicholas of Cusa, indeterminate; and it is, perhaps, more than a pure contingent coincidence that in his letter to Liceti he uses the expression also employed by Cusa: interminate.


Be this as it may, it is not Galileo, in any case, nor Bruno, but Descartes who clearly and distinctly formulated principles of the new science, its dream de reductione scientiae ad mathematicam, and of the new, mathematical, cosmology. Though, as we shall see, he overshot the mark and by his premature identification of matter and space deprived himself of the means of giving a correct solution to the problems that seventeenth century science had placed before him.

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The God of a philosopher and his world are correlated. Now Descartes’ God, in contradistinction to most previous Gods, is not symbolized by the things He created; He does not express Himself in them. There is no analogy between God and the world; no imagines and vestigia Dei in mundo; the only exception is our soul, that is, a pure mind, a being, a substance of which all essence consists in thought, a mind endowed with an intelligence able to grasp the idea of God, that is, of the infinite (which is even innate to it), and with will, that is, with infinite freedom. The Cartesian God gives us some clear and distinct ideas that enable us to find out the truth, provided we stick to them and take care not to fall into error. The Cartesian God is a truthful God; thus the knowledge about the world created by Him that our clear and distinct ideas enable us to reach is a true and authentic knowledge. As for this world, He created it by pure will, and even if He had some reasons for doing it, these reasons are only known to Himself; we have not, and cannot have, the slightest idea of them. It is therefore not only hopeless, but even preposterous to try to find out His aims. Teleological conceptions and explanations have no place and no value in physical science, just as they have no place and no meaning in mathematics, all the more so as the world created by the Cartesian God, that is, the world of Descartes, is by no means the colorful, multiform and qualitatively determined world of the Aristotelian, the world of our daily life and experience—that world is only a subjective world of unstable and inconsistent opinion based upon the untruthful testimony of confused and erroneous sense-perception—but a strictly uniform mathematical world, a world of geometry made

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real about which our clear and distinct ideas give us a certain and evident knowledge. There is nothing else in this world but matter and motion; or, matter being identical with space or extension, there is nothing else but extension and motion.

The famous Cartesian identification of extension and matter (that is, the assertion that "it is not heaviness, or hardness, or color which constitutes the nature of body but only extension,"16 in other words, that "nature of body, taken generally, does not consist in the fact that it is a hard, or a heavy, or a colored thing, or a thing that touches our senses in any other manner, but only in that it is a substance extended in length, breadth and depth," and that conversely, extension in length, breadth and depth can only be conceived—and therefore can only exist—as belonging to a material substance) implies very far-reaching consequences, the first being the negation of the void, which is rejected by Descartes in a manner even more radical than by Aristotle himself.

Indeed, the void, according to Descartes, is not only physically impossible, it is essentially impossible. Void space—if there were anything of that kind—would be a contradictio in adjecto, an existing nothing. Those who assert its existence, Democritus, Lucretius and their followers, are victims of false imagination and confused thinking. They do not realize that nothing can have no properties and therefore no dimensions. To speak of ten feet of void space separating two bodies is meaningless; if there were a void, there would be no separation, and bodies separated by nothing would be in contact. And if there is separation and distance, this distance is not a length, breadth or depth of nothing but of something, that is, of

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substance or matter, a "subtle" matter, a matter that we do not sense—that is precisely why people who are accustomed to imagining instead of thinking speak of void space—but nevertheless a matter just as real and as "material" (there are no degrees in materiality) as the "gross" matter of which trees and stones are made.

Thus Descartes does not content himself with stating, as did Giordano Bruno and Kepler, that there is no really void space in the world and that the world-space is everywhere filled with "ether." He goes much farther and denies that there is such a thing at all as "space," an entity distinct from "matter" that "fills" it. Matter and space are identical and can be distinguished only by abstraction. Bodies are not in space, but only among other bodies; the space that they "occupy" is not anything different from themselves:17


The space or the interior locus, and the body which is comprised in this space are not distinct except in our thought. For, as a matter of fact, the same extension in length, breadth and depth that constitutes space, constitutes also body; and the difference between them consists only in this, that we attribute to body a particular extension, which we conceive to change place with it every time that it is transported, and that we attribute to space an [extension] so general and so vague, that after having removed from a certain space the body which occupied it, we do not think that we have also transported the extension of that space, because it seems to us that the same extension remains there all the time, as long as it is of the same magnitude, of the same figure and has not changed its situation in respect to the external bodies by means of which we determine it.


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[paragraph continues] But that, of course, is an error. And,18


. . . it will be easy to recognize that the same extension that constitutes the nature of body constitutes also the nature of space so that they do not differ in any other way than the nature of the gender or of the species differs from the nature of the individual.


[paragraph continues] We can, indeed, divest and deprive any given body of all its sensible qualities and19


. . . we shall find that the true idea we have of it consists in this alone, that we perceive distinctly that it is a substance extended in length, breadth and depth. But just that is comprised in the idea we have of space, not only of that which is full of bodies, but also that one which is called void.


[paragraph continues] Thus,20


. . . the words "place" and "space" do not signify anything which differs really from the body that we say to be in some place, and denote only its magnitude, its figure and the manner in which it is situated among other bodies.




. . . there cannot be any void in the sense in which philosophers take this word, namely as denoting a space where there is no substance, and it is evident that there is no space in the universe that would be such, because the extension of space or of the interior locus is not different from the extension of the body. And as from this alone, that a body is extended in length, breadth and depth, we have reason to conclude that it is a substance, because we conceive that it is not possible that that which is nothing should have an extension, we must conclude the same about the space


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supposed to be void: namely that, as there is in it some extension, there is necessarily also some substance.


The second important consequence of the identification of extension and matter consists in the rejection not only of the finiteness and limitation of space, but also that of the real material world. To assign boundaries to it becomes not only false, or even absurd, but contradictory. We cannot posit a limit without transcending it in this very act. We have to acknowledge therefore that the real world is infinite, or rather—Descartes, indeed, refuses to use this term in connection with the world—indefinite.

It is clear, of course, that we cannot limit Euclidean space. Thus Descartes is perfectly right in pursuing:22


We recognize moreover that this world, or the entirety of the corporeal substance, has no limits in its extension. Indeed, wherever we imagine such limits, we always not only imagine beyond them some indefinitely extended spaces, but we even perceive them to be truly imaginable, that is, real; and therefore to contain in them also the indefinitely extended corporeal substance. This because, as we have already sufficiently shown, the idea of this extension which we conceive in such a space is obviously identical with that of the corporeal substance itself.


There is no longer any need to discuss the question whether fixed stars are big or small, far or near; more exactly this problem becomes a factual one, a problem of astronomy and observational technics and calculation. The question no longer has metaphysical meaning since it is perfectly certain that, be the stars far or near, they are, like ourselves and our sun, in the midst of other stars without end.

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It is exactly the same concerning the problem of the constitution of the stars. This, too, becomes a purely scientific, factual question. The old opposition of the earthly world of change and decay to the changeless world of the skies which, as we have seen, was not abolished by the Copernican revolution, but persisted as the opposition of the moving world of the sun and the planets to the motionless, fixed stars, disappears without trace. The unification and the uniformization of the universe in its contents and laws becomes a self-evident fact23—"The matter of the sky and of the earth is one and the same; and there cannot be a plurality of worlds"—at least if we take the term "world" in its full sense, in which it was used by Greek and mediaeval tradition, as meaning a complete and self-centered whole. The world is not an unconnected multiplicity of such wholes utterly separated from each other: it is a unity in which—just as in the universe of Giordano Bruno (it is a pity that Descartes does not use Bruno's terminology)—there are an infinite number of subordinate and interconnected systems, such as our system with its sun and planets, immense vortices of matter everywhere identical joining and limiting each other in boundless space.24


It is easy to deduce that the matter of the sky is not different from that of the earth; and generally, even if the worlds were infinite, it is impossible that they should not be constituted from one and the same matter; and therefore, they cannot be many, but only one: because we understand clearly that this matter of which the whole of nature consists, being an extended substance, must already occupy completely all the imaginary spaces in which these other


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worlds should be; and we do not find in ourselves the idea of any other matter.


The infinity of the world seems thus to be established beyond doubt and beyond dispute. Yet, as a matter of fact, Descartes never asserts it. Like Nicholas of Cusa two centuries before him, he applies the term "infinite" to God alone. God is infinite. The world is only indefinite.


The idea of the infinite plays an important part in the philosophy of Descartes, so important that Cartesian-ism may be considered as being wholly based upon that idea. Indeed, it is only as an absolutely infinite being that God can be conceived; it is only as such that He can be proved to exist; it is only by the possession of this idea that man's very nature—that of a finite being endowed with the idea of God—can be defined.

Moreover, it is a very peculiar, and even unique, idea: it is certainly a clear and positive one—we do not reach infinity by negating finitude; on the contrary, it is by negating the infinite that we conceive finiteness, and yet it is not distinct. It so far surpasses the level of our finite understanding that we can neither comprehend nor even analyse it completely. Descartes thus rejects as perfectly worthless all the discussions about the infinite, especially those de compositione continui, so popular in the late Middle Ages, and also in the xviith century. He tells us that:25


We must never dispute about the infinite, but only hold those things to which we do not find any limit, such as the extension of the world, the divisibility of the parts of matter, the number of stars, etc., to be indefinite.


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Thus we shall never burden ourselves with disputes about the infinite. Indeed, as we are finite, it would be absurd for us to want to determine anything about it, to comprehend- it, and thus to attempt to make it quasi-finite. Therefore we shall not bother to answer those who would inquire whether, if there were an infinite line, its half would also be infinite; or whether an infinite number would be even or odd; and such like; because about them nobody seems to be able to think except those who believe that their mind is infinite. As for us, in regard to those [things] to which in some respects we are not able to assign any limit, we shall not assert that they are infinite, but we shall consider them as indefinite. Thus, because we cannot imagine an extension so great that a still greater one could not be conceived, we shall say that the magnitude of possible things is indefinite. And because a body cannot be divided into so many parts that further division would not be conceivable, we shall admit that quantity is indefinitely divisible. And because it is impossible to imagine such a number of stars that we should believe God could not create still more, we shall assume that their number is indefinite.


In this way we shall avoid the Keplerian objections based upon the absurdity of an actually infinite distance between ourselves and a given star, and also the theological objections against the possibility of an actually infinite creature. We shall restrict ourselves to the assertion that, just as in the series of numbers, so in world-extension we can always go on without ever coming to an end:28


All these [things] we shall call indefinite rather than infinite: on the one hand that we may reserve the concept of infinity for God alone, because in Him alone we not only do not recognize any limits whatsoever, but also understand


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positively that there are none; and on the other hand because, concerning these things, we do not understand in the same positive way that, in certain respects, they have no limits, but only in a negative way that their limits, if they had any, cannot be found by us.


The Cartesian distinction between the infinite and the indefinite thus seems to correspond to the traditional one between actual and potential infinity, and Descartes’ world, therefore, seems to be only potentially infinite. And yet . . . what is the exact meaning of the assertion that the limits of the world cannot be found by us? Why can they not? Is it not, in spite of the fact that we do not understand it in a positive way, simply because there are none? Descartes, it is true, tells us that God alone is clearly understood by us to be infinite and infinitely, that is absolutely, perfect. As for other things:27


We do not recognize them to be so absolutely perfect, because, though we sometimes observe in them properties that seem to us to have no limits, we do not fail to recognize that this proceeds from the defect of our understanding and not from their nature.


But it is hard to admit that the impossibility of conceiving a limit to space must be explained as a result of a defect of our understanding, and not as that of an insight into the nature of the extended substance itself. It is even harder to believe that Descartes himself could seriously espouse this opinion, that is, that he could really think that his inability to conceive, or even imagine, a finite world could be explained in this way. This is all the more so as somewhat farther on, in the beginning of the third part of the Principia Philosophiae, from which

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the passages we have quoted are taken, we find Descartes telling us that in order to avoid error,28


We have to observe two things carefully: the first being that we always keep before our eyes that God's power and goodness are infinite, in order that this should make us understand that we must not fear to fail in imagining His works too great, too beautiful or too perfect; but that, on the contrary, we can fail if we suppose in them any boundaries or limits of which we have certain knowledge.


The second of these necessary precautions is that,29


We must always keep before our eyes that the capacity of our mind is very mediocre, and that we must not be so presumptuous as it seems we should be if we supposed that the universe had any limits, without being assured of it by divine revelation or, at least, by very evident natural reasons; because it would [mean] that we want our thoughts to be able to imagine something beyond that to which God's power has extended itself in creating the world. . . .


which seems to teach us that the limitations of our reason manifest themselves in assigning limits to the world, and not in denying outright their existence. Thus, in spite of the fact that Descartes, as we shall see in a moment, had really very good reasons for opposing the "infinity" of God to the "indefiniteness" of the world, the common opinion of his time held that it was a pseudo-distinction, made for the purpose of placating the theologians.

That is, more or less, what Henry More, the famous Cambridge Platonist and friend of Newton, was to tell him.



V. Indefinite Extension or Infinite Space

Descartes & Henry More

Henry More was one of the first partisans of Descartes in England even though, as a matter of fact, he never was a Cartesian and later in life turned against Descartes and even accused the Cartesians of being promoters of atheism.1 More exchanged with the French philosopher a series of extremely interesting letters which throws a vivid light on the respective positions of the two thinkers.2

More starts, naturally, by expressing his admiration for the great man who has done so much to establish truth and dissipate error, continues by complaining about the difficulty he has in understanding some of his teachings, and ends by presenting some doubts, and even some objections.

Thus, it seems to him difficult to understand or to admit the radical opposition established by Descartes between body and soul. How indeed can a purely spiritual soul, that is, something which, according to Descartes, has no extension whatever, be joined to a purely material

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body, that is, to something which is only and solely extension? Is it not better to assume that the soul, though immaterial, is also extended; that everything, even God, is extended? How could He otherwise be present in the world?

Thus More writes:3


First, you establish a definition of matter, or of body, which is much too wide. It seems, indeed, that God is an extended thing (res), as well as the Angel; and in general everything that subsists by itself, so that it appears that extension is enclosed by the same limits as the absolute essence of things, which however can vary according to the variety of these very essences. As for myself, I believe it to be clear that God is extended in His manner just because He is omnipresent and occupies intimately the whole machine of the world as well as its singular particles. How indeed could He communicate motion to matter, which He did once, and which, according to you, He does even now, if He did not touch the matter of the universe in practically the closest manner, or at least had not touched it at a certain time? Which certainly He would never be able to do if He were not present everywhere and did not occupy all the spaces. God, therefore, extends and expands in this manner; and is, therefore, an extended thing (res).


Having thus established that the concept of extension cannot be used for the definition of matter since it is too wide and embraces both body and spirit which both are extended, though in a different manner (the Cartesian demonstration of the contrary appears to More to be not only false but even pure sophistry), More suggests secondly that matter, being necessarily sensible, should be defined only by its relation to sense, that is, by tangibility.

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[paragraph continues] But if Descartes insists on avoiding all reference to sense-perception, then matter should be defined by the ability of bodies to be in mutual contact, and by the impenetrability which matter possesses in contradistinction to spirit. The latter, though extended, is freely penetrable and cannot be touched. Thus spirit and body can co-exist in the same place, and, of course, two—or any number of—spirits can have the same identical location and "penetrate" each other, whereas for bodies this is impossible.

The rejection of the Cartesian identification of extension and matter leads naturally to the rejection by Henry More of Descartes’ denial of the possibility of vacuum. Why should not God be able to destroy all matter contained in a certain vessel without—as Descartes asserts—its walls being obliged to come together? Descartes, indeed, explains that to be separated by "nothing" is contradictory and that to attribute dimensions to "void" space is exactly the same as to attribute properties to nothing; yet More is not convinced, all the more so as "learned Antiquity"—that is Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius—was of quite a different opinion. It is possible, of course, that the walls of the vessel will be brought together by the pressure of matter outside them. But if that happens, it will be because of a natural necessity and not because of a logical one. Moreover, this void space will not be absolutely void, for it will continue to be filled with God's extension. It will only be void of matter, or body, properly speaking.

In the third place Henry More does not understand the "singular subtlety" of Descartes’ negation of the existence of atoms, of his assertion of the indefinite divisibility

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of matter, combined with the use of corpuscular conceptions in his own physics. To say that the admission of atoms is limiting God's omnipotence, and that we cannot deny that God could, if He wanted to, divide the atoms into parts, is of no avail: the indivisibility of atoms means their indivisibility by any created power, and that is something that is perfectly compatible with God's own power to divide them, if He wanted to do so. There are a great many things that He could have done, but did not, or even those that He can do but does not. Indeed, if God wanted to preserve his omnipotence in its absolute, status, He would never create matter at all: for, as matter is always divisible into parts that are themselves divisible, it is clear that God will never be able to bring this division to its end and that there will always be something which evades His omnipotence.

Henry More is obviously right and Descartes himself, though insisting on God's omnipotence and refusing to have it limited and bounded even by the rules of logic and mathematics, cannot avoid declaring that there are a great many things that God cannot do, either because to do them would be, or imply, an imperfection (thus, for instance, God cannot lie and deceive), or because it would make no sense. It is just because of that, Descartes asserts, that even God cannot make a void, or an atom. True, according to Descartes, God could have created quite a different world and could have made twice two equal to five, and not to four. On the other hand, it is equally true that He did not do it and that in this world even God cannot make twice two equal to anything but four.

From the general trend of his objections it is clear that the Platonist, or rather Neoplatonist, More was deeply

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influenced by the tradition of Greek atomism, which is not surprising in view of the fact that one of his earliest works bears the revealing title, Democritus Platonissans. . .4

What he wants is just to avoid the Cartesian geometrization of being, and to maintain the old distinction between space and the things that are in space; that are moving in space and not only relatively to each other; that occupy space in virtue of a special and proper quality or force—impenetrability—by which they resist each other and exclude each other from their "places."

Grosso modo, these are Democritian conceptions and that explains the far-reaching similarity of Henry More's objections to Descartes to those of Gassendi, the chief representative of atomism in the XVIIth century.5 Yet Henry More is by no means a pure Democritian. He does not reduce being to matter. And his space is not the infinite void of Lucretius: it is full, and not full of "ether" like the infinite space of Bruno. It is full of God, and in a certain sense it is God Himself as we shall see more clearly hereafter.

Let us now come to More's fourth and most important objection to Descartes:6


Fourth, I do not understand your indefinite extension of the world. Indeed this indefinite extension is either simpliciter infinite, or only in respect to us. If you understand extension to be infinite simpliciter, why do you obscure your thought by too low and too modest words? If it is infinite only in respect to us, extension, in reality, will be finite; for our mind is the measure neither of the things nor of truth. And therefore, as there is another simpliciter infinite expansion, that of the divine essence, the matter of your


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vortices will recede from their centers and the whole fabric of the world will be dissipated into atoms and grains of dust.7


[paragraph continues] Having thus impaled Descartes on the horns of the dilemma, More continues:8


I admire all the more your modesty and your fear of admitting the infinity of matter as you recognize, on the other hand, that matter is divided into an actually infinite number of particles. And if you did not, you could be compelled to do so,


by arguments that Descartes would be bound to accept.9


To the perplexity and objections of his English admirer and critic Descartes replies10—and his answer is surprisingly mild and courteous—that it is an error to define matter by its relation to senses, because by doing so we are in danger of missing its true essence, which does not depend on the existence of men and which would be the same if there were no men in the world; that, moreover, if divided into sufficiently small parts, all matter becomes utterly insensible; that his proof of the identity of extension and matter is by no means a sophism but is as clear and demonstrative as it could be; and that it is perfectly unnecessary to postulate a special property of impenetrability in order to define matter because it is a mere consequence of its extension.

Turning then to More's concept of immaterial or spiritual extension, Descartes writes:11


I am not in the habit of disputing about words, and therefore if somebody wants to say that God is, in some sense, extended because He is everywhere, I shall not


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object. But I deny that there is in God, in an Angel, in our soul, and in any substance that is not a body, a true extension, such as is usually conceived by everybody. For by an extended thing everybody understands something [which is] imaginable (be it an ens rations or a real thing), and in which, by imagination, can be distinguished different parts of a determined magnitude and figure, of which the one is in no way the other; so that it is possible, by imagination, to transfer any one of them to the place of another, but not to imagine two of them in the same place.


Nothing of that kind applies to God, or to our souls, which are not objects of imagination, but of pure understanding, and have no separable parts, especially no parts of determinate size and figure. Lack of extension is precisely the reason why God, the human soul, and any number of angels can be all together in the same place. As for atoms and void, it is certain that, our intelligence being finite and God's power infinite, it is not proper for us to impose limits upon it. Thus we must boldly assert "that God can do all that we conceive to be possible, but not that He cannot do what is repugnant to our concept." Nevertheless, we can judge only according to our concepts, and, as it is repugnant to our manner of thinking to conceive that, if all matter were removed from a vessel, extension, distance, etc., would still remain, or that parts of matter be indivisible, we say simply that all that implies contradiction.

Descartes’ attempt to save God's omnipotence and, nevertheless, to deny the possibility of void space as incompatible with our manner of thinking, is, to say the truth, by no means convincing. The Cartesian God is a Deus verax and He guarantees the truth of our clear and

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distinct ideas. Thus it is not only repugnant to our thought, but impossible that something of which we clearly see that it implies contradiction be real. There are no contradictory objects in this world, though there could have been in another.

Coming now to More's criticism of his distinction between " infinite " and " indefinite," Descartes assures him that it is not because of12


. . . an affectation of modesty, but as a precaution, and, in my opinion a necessary one, that I call certain things indefinite rather than infinite. For it is God alone whom I understand positively to be infinite; as for the others, such as the extension of the world, the number of parts into which matter is divisible, and so on, whether they are simpliciter infinite or not, I confess not to know. I only know that I do not discern in them any end, and therefore, in respect to me, I say they are indefinite. And though our mind is not the measure of things or of truth, it must, assuredly, be the measure of things that we affirm or deny. What indeed is more absurd or more inconsiderate than to wish to make a judgment about things which we confess to be unable to perceive with our mind?


Thus I am surprised that you not only seem to want to do so, as when you say that if extension is infinite only in respect to us then extension in truth will be finite, etc., but that you imagine beyond this one a certain divine extension, which would stretch farther than the extension of bodies, and thus suppose that God has partes extra partes, and that He is divisible, and, in short, attribute to Him all the essence of a corporeal being.


Descartes, indeed, is perfectly justified in pointing out that More has somewhat misunderstood him: a space

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beyond the world of extension has never been admitted by him as possible or imaginable, and even if the world had these limits which we are unable to find, there certainly would be nothing beyond them, or, better to say, there would be no beyond. Thus, in order to dispel completely More's doubts, he declares:13


When I say that the extension of matter is indefinite, I believe it to be sufficient to prevent any one imagining a place outside it, into which the small particles of my vortices could escape; because wherever this place be conceived, it would already, in my opinion, contain some matter; for, when I say that it is indefinitely extended, I am saying that it extends farther than all that can be conceived by man.


But I think, nevertheless, that there is a very great difference between the amplitude of this corporeal extension and the amplitude of the divine, I shall not say, extension, because properly speaking there is none, but substance or essence; and therefore I call this one simpliciter infinite, and the other, indefinite.


Descartes is certainly right in wanting to maintain the distinction between the "intensive" infinity of God, which not only excludes all limit, but also precludes all multiplicity, division and number, from the mere endlessness, indefiniteness, of space, or of the series of numbers, which necessarily include and presuppose them. This distinction, moreover, is quite traditional, and we have seen it asserted not only by Nicholas of Cusa, but even by Bruno.

Henry More does not deny this distinction; at least not completely. In his own conception it expresses itself in the opposition between the material and the divine extension. Yet, as he states it in his second letter to

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[paragraph continues] Descartes,14 it has nothing to do with Descartes’ assertion that there may be limits to space and with his attempt to build a concept intermediate between the finite and the infinite; the world is finite or infinite, tertium non dater. And if we admit, as we must, that God is infinite and everywhere present, this "everywhere" can only mean infinite space. In this case, pursues More, re-editing an argument already used by Bruno, there must also be matter everywhere, that is, the world must be infinite.15


You can hardly ignore that it is either simpliciter infinite or, in point of fact, finite, though you cannot as easily decide whether it is the one or the other. That, however, your vortices are not disrupted and do not come apart seems to be a rather clear sign that the world is really infinite. For my part, I confess freely that though I can boldly give my approval to this axiom: The world is finite, or not finite, or, what is here the same thing, infinite, I cannot, nevertheless, fully understand the infinity of any thing whatsoever. But here there comes to my imagination what Julius Scaliger wrote somewhere about the contraction and the dilatation of the Angels: namely, that they cannot extend themselves in infinitum, or contract themselves to an imperceptible (οὐδενότητα) point. Yet if one recognizes God to be positively infinite (that is, existing everywhere), as you yourself rightly do, I do not see whether it is permitted to the unbiassed reason to hesitate to admit forthwith also that He is nowhere idle, and that with the same right, and with the same facility with which [He created] this matter in which we live, or that to which our eyes and our mind can reach, He produced matter everywhere.


[paragraph continues] Nor is it absurd or inconsiderate to say that, if the extension is infinite only quoad nos, it will, in truth and in reality, be finite:16

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I will add that this consequence is perfectly manifest, because the particle "only" (tantum) clearly excludes all real infinity of the thing which is said to be infinite only in respect to us, and therefore in reality the extension will be finite; moreover my mind does perceive these things of which I judge, as it is perfectly clear to me that the world is either finite or infinite, as I have just mentioned.


As for Descartes’ contention that the impossibility of the void already results from the fact that "nothing" can have no properties or dimensions and therefore cannot be measured, More replies by denying this very premise:17


. . . for, if God annihilated this universe and then, after a certain time, created from nothing another one, this intermundium or this absence of the world would have its duration which would be measured by a certain number of days, years or centuries. There is thus a duration of something that does not exist, which duration is a kind of extension. Consequently, the amplitude of nothing, that is of void, can be measured by ells or leagues, just as the duration of what does not exist can be measured in its inexistence by hours, days and months.


We have seen Henry More defend, against Descartes, the infinity of the world, and even tell the latter that his own physics necessarily implies this infinity. Yet it seems that, at times, he feels himself assailed by doubt. He is perfectly sure that space, that is, God's extension, is infinite. On the other hand, the material world may, perhaps, be finite. After all, nearly everybody believes it; spatial infinity and temporal eternity are strictly parallel, and so both seem to be absurd. Moreover Cartesian cosmology can be put in agreement with a finite world. Could

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[paragraph continues] Descartes not tell what would happen, in this case, if somebody sitting at the extremity of the world pushed his sword through the limiting wall? On the one hand, indeed, this seems easy, as there would be nothing to resist it; on the other, impossible, as there would be no place where it could be pushed.18

Descartes’ answer to this second letter of More19 is much shorter, terser, less cordial than to the first one. One feels that Descartes is a bit disappointed in his correspondent who obviously does not understand his, Descartes’, great discovery, that of the essential opposition between mind and extension, and who persists in attributing extension to souls, angels, and even to God. He restates20


. . . that he does not conceive any extension of substance in God, in the angels, or in our mind, but only an extension of power, so that an angel can proportionate this power to a greater or smaller part of corporeal substance; for if there were no body at all, this power of God or of an angel would not correspond to any extension whatever. To attribute to substance what pertains only to power is an effect of the same prejudice which makes us suppose all substance, even that of God, to be something that can be imagined.


If there were no world, there would be no time either. To More's contention that the intermundium would last a certain time, Descartes replies:21


I believe that it implies a contradiction to conceive a duration between the destruction of the first world and the creation of the second one; for, if we refer this duration or something similar to the succession of God's ideas, this will be an error of our intellect and not a true perception of something.


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Indeed, it would mean introducing time into God, and thus making God a temporal, changing being. It would mean denying His eternity, replacing it by mere sempiternity—an error no less grave than the error of making Him an extended thing. For in both cases God is menaced with losing His transcendence, with becoming immanent to the world.

Now Descartes’ God is perhaps not the Christian God, but a philosophical one.22 He is, nevertheless, God, not the soul of the world that penetrates, vivifies and moves it. Therefore he maintains, in accordance with mediaeval tradition, that, in spite of the fact that in God power and essence are one—an identity pointed out by More in favour of God's actual extension—God has nothing in common with the material world. He is a pure mind, an infinite mind, whose very infinity is of a unique and incomparable non-quantitative and non-dimensional kind, of which spatial extension is neither an image nor even a symbol. The world therefore, must not be called infinite; though of course we must not enclose it in limits:23


It is repugnant to my concept to attribute any limit to the world, and I have no other measure than my perception for what I have to assert or to deny. I say, therefore, that the world is indeterminate or indefinite, because I do not recognize in it any limits. But I dare not call it infinite as I perceive that God is greater than the world, not in respect to His extension, because, as I have already said, I do not acknowledge in God any proper [extension], but in respect to His perfection.


Once more Descartes asserts that God's presence in the world does not imply His extension. As for the world

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itself which More wants to be either simpliciter finite, or simpliciter infinite, Descartes still refuses to call it infinite. And yet, either because he is somewhat angry with More, or because he is in a hurry and therefore less careful, he practically abandons his former assertion about the possibility of the world's having limits (though we cannot find them) and treats this conception in the same manner in which he treated that of the void, that is, as nonsensical and even contradictory; thus, rejecting as meaningless the question about the possibility of pushing a sword through the boundary of the world, he says:24


It is repugnant to my mind, or what amounts to the same thing, it implies a contradiction, that the world be finite or limited, because I cannot but conceive a space outside the boundaries of the world wherever I presuppose them. But, for me, this space is a true body. I do not care if it is called by others imaginary, and that therefore the world is believed to be finite; indeed, I know from what prejudices this error takes its origin.


Henry More, needless to say, was not convinced—one philosopher seldom convinces another. He persisted, therefore, in believing "with all the ancient Platonists" that all substance, souls, angels and God are extended, and that the world, in the most literal sense of this word, is in God just as God is in the world. More accordingly sent Descartes a third letter,25 which he answered,26 and a fourth,27 which he did not.28 I shall not attempt to examine them here as they bear chiefly on questions which, though interesting in themselves—for example, the discussion about motion and rest—are outside our subject.

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Summing up, we can say that we have seen Descartes, under More's pressure, move somewhat from the position he had taken at first: to assert the indefiniteness of the world, or of space, does not mean, negatively, that perhaps it has limits that we are unable to ascertain; it means, quite positively, that it has none because it would be contradictory to posit them. But he cannot go farther. He has to maintain his distinction, as he has to maintain the identification of extension and matter, if he is to maintain his contention that the physical world is an object of pure intellection and, at the same time, of imagination—the precondition of Cartesian science—and that the world, in spite of its lack of limits, refers us to God as its creator and cause.

Infinity, indeed, has always been the essential character, or attribute, of God; especially since Duns Scotus, who could accept the famous Anselmian a priori proof of the existence of God (a proof revived by Descartes) only after he had "colored" it by substituting the concept of the infinite being (ens infinitum) for the Anselmian concept of a being than which we cannot think of a greater (ens quo maius cogitari nequit). Infinity thus—and it is particularly true of Descartes whose God exists in virtue of the infinite "superabundance of His essence" which enables Him to be His own cause (causa sui) and to give Himself His own existence29—means or implies being, even necessary being. Therefore it cannot be attributed to creature. The distinction, or opposition, between God and creature is parallel and exactly equivalent to that of infinite and of finite being.



VI. God and Space, Spirit and Matter

Henry More

The breaking off of the correspondence with—and the death of—Descartes did not put an end to Henry More's preoccupation with the teaching of the great French philosopher. We could even say that all his subsequent development was, to a very great extent, determined by his attitude towards Descartes: an attitude consisting in a partial acceptance of Cartesian mechanism joined to a rejection of the radical dualism between spirit and matter which, for Descartes, constituted its metaphysical background and basis.

Henry More enjoys a rather bad reputation among historians of philosophy, which is not surprising. In some sense he belongs much more to the history of the hermetic, or occultist, tradition than to that of philosophy proper; in some sense he is not of his time: he is a spiritual contemporary of Marsilio Ficino, lost in the disenchanted world of the "new philosophy" and fighting a losing battle against it. And yet, in spite of his partially anachronistic standpoint, in spite of his invincible trend towards syncretism which makes him jumble together

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[paragraph continues] Plato and Aristotle, Democritus and the Cabala, the thrice great Hermes and the Stoa, it was Henry More who gave to the new science—and the new world view—some of the most important elements of the metaphysical framework which ensured its development: this because, in spite of his unbridled phantasy, which enabled him to describe at length God's paradise and the life and various occupations of the blessed souls and spirits in their post-terrestrial existence, in spite of his amazing credulity (equalled only by that of his pupil and friend, fellow of the Royal Society, Joseph Glanvill,1 the celebrated author of the Scepsis scientifica), which made him believe in magic, in witches, in apparitions, in ghosts, Henry More succeeded in grasping the fundamental principle of the new ontology, the infinitization of space, which he asserted with an unflinching and fearless energy.

It is possible, and even probable, that, at the time of his Letters to Descartes (1648), Henry More did not yet recognize where the development of his conceptions was ultimately to lead him, all the more so as these conceptions are by no means "clear" and "distinct." Ten years later, in his Antidote against Atheism2 and his Immortality of the Soul3 he was to give them a much more precise and definite shape; but it was only in his Enchiridium metaphysicum,4 ten years later still, that they were to acquire their final form.

As we have seen, Henry More's criticism of Descartes’ identification of space or extension with matter follows two main lines of attack. On the one hand it seems to him to restrict the ontological value and importance of extension by reducing it to the role of an essential attribute of matter alone and denying it to spirit, whereas it is an

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attribute of being as such, the necessary precondition of any real existence. There are not, as Descartes asserts, two types of substance, the extended and the unextended. There is only one type: all substance, spiritual as well as material, is extended.

On the other hand, Descartes, according to More, fails to recognize the specific character both of matter and of space, and therefore misses their essential distinction as well as their fundamental relation. Matter is mobile in space and by its impenetrability occupies space; space is not mobile and is unaffected by the presence, or absence, of matter in it. Thus matter without space is unthinkable, whereas space without matter, Descartes notwithstanding, is not only an easy, but even a necessary idea of our mind.

Henry More's pneumatology does not interest us here; still, as the notion of spirit plays an important part in his—and not only his—interpretation of nature, and is used by him—and not only by him—to explain natural processes that cannot be accounted for or "demonstrated" on the basis of purely mechanical laws (such as magnetism, gravity and so on), we shall have to dwell for a moment on his concept of it.

Henry More was well aware that the notion of "spirit" was, as often as not, and even more often than not, presented as impossible to grasp, at least for the human mind,5


But for mine own part, I think the nature of a spirit is as conceivable and easy to be defined as the nature of anything else. For as for the very Essence or bare Substance of any thing whatsoever, he is a very Novice in speculation that does not acknowledge that utterly unknowable; but for the Essential and Inseparable Properties, they are as intelligible and explicable in a Spirit as in any other Subject


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whatever. As for example, I conceive the intire Idea of a Spirit in generall, or at least of all finite, created and subordinate Spirits, to consist of these severall powers or properties, viz. Self-penetration, Self-motion, Self-contraction and Dilatation, and Indivisibility; and these are those that I reckon more absolute: I will adde also what has relation to another and that is power of Penetrating, Moving and Altering the Matter. These Properties and Powers put together make up the Notion and Idea of a Spirit whereby it is plainly distinguished from a Body whose parts cannot penetrate one another, is not Self-moveable, nor can contract nor dilate it self, is divisible and separable one part from another; but the parts of a Spirit can be no more separable, though they be dilated, than you can cut off the Rayes of the Sun by a pair of Scissors made of pellucid Crystall. And this will serve for the settling of the Notion of a Spirit. And out of this description it is plain that Spirit is a notion of more Perfection than a Body, and therefore more fit to be an Attribute of what is absolutely Perfect than a Body is.


As we see, the method used by Henry More to arrive at the notion or definition of spirit is rather simple. We have to attribute to it properties opposite or contrary to those of body: penetrability, indivisibility, and the faculty to contract and dilate, that is, to extend itself without loss of continuity, into a smaller or larger space. This last property was for a very long time considered as belonging to matter also, but Henry More, under the conjoint influence of Democritus and Descartes, denies it to matter, or body, which is, as such, incompressible and always occupies the same amount of space.

In The Immortality of the Soul Henry More gives us an even clearer account both of his notion of spirit and

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of the manner in which this notion can be determined. Moreover he attempts to introduce into his definition a sort of terminological precision. Thus, he says,6 "by Actual Divisibility I understand Discerpibility, gross tearing or cutting of one part from the other." It is quite clear that this "discerpibility" can only belong to a body and that you cannot tear away and remove a piece of a spirit.

As for the faculty of contraction and dilation, More refers it to the "essential spissitude" of the spirit, a kind of spiritual density, fourth mode, or fourth dimension of spiritual substance that it possesses in addition to the normal three of spatial extension with which bodies are alone endowed.7 Thus, when a spirit contracts, its "essential spissitude" increases; it decreases, of course, when it dilates. We cannot, indeed, imagine the "spissitude" but this "fourth Mode," Henry More tells us,8 "is as easy and familiar to my Understanding as that of the Three dimensions to my sense or Phansy."

The definition of spirit is now quite easy:9


I will define therefore a Spirit in generall thus: A substance penetrable and indiscerpible. The fitness of which definition will be better understood, if we divide Substance in generall into these first Kindes, viz. Body and Spirit and then define Body A Substance impenetrable and discerpible. Whence the contrary Kind to this is fitly defined, A Substance penetrable and indiscerpible.


Now I appeal to any man that can set aside prejudice, and has the free use of his Faculties, whether every term of the Definition of a Spirit be not as intelligible and congruous to Reason, as in that of a Body. For the precise Notion of Substance is the same in both, in which, I conceive, is comprised


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[paragraph continues] Extension and Activity either connate or communicated. For Matter it self once moved can move other Matter. And it is as easy to understand what Penetrable is as Impenetrable, and what Indiscerpible is as Discerpible; and Penetrability and Indiscerpibility being as immediate to Spirit as Impenetrability or Discerpibility to Body, there is as much reason to be given for the Attributes of the one as of the other, by Axiome 910 And Substance in its precise notion including no more of Impenetrability than of Indiscerpibility we may as well wonder how one kind of Substance holds out its parts one from another so as to make them impenetrable to each other (as Matter, for instance does the parts of Matter) as that parts of another substance hold so fast together that they are by no means Discerpible. And therefore the holding out in one being as difficult a business to conceive as the holding together in the other, this can be no prejudice to the notion of a Spirit.


I am rather doubtful whether the modern reader—even if he puts aside prejudice and makes free use of his faculties—will accept Henry More's assurance that it is as easy, or as difficult, to form the concept of spirit as that of matter, and whether, though recognizing the difficulty of the latter, he will not agree with some of More's contemporaries in "the confident opinion" that "the very notion of a Spirit were a piece of Nonsense and perfect Incongruity." The modern reader will be right, of course, in rejecting More's concept, patterned obviously upon that of a ghost. And yet he will be wrong in assuming it to be pure and sheer nonsense.

In the first place, we must not forget that for a man of the seventeenth century the idea of an extended, though not material, entity was by no means something strange or even uncommon. Quite the contrary: these

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entities were represented in plenty in their daily life as well as in their scientific experience.

To begin with, there was light, assuredly immaterial and incorporeal but nevertheless not only extending through space but also, as Kepler does not fail to point out, able, in spite of its immateriality, to act upon matter, and also to be acted upon by the latter. Did not light offer a perfect example of penetrability, as well as of penetrating power? Light, indeed, does not hinder the motion of bodies through it, and it can also pass through bodies, at least some of them; furthermore, in the case of a transparent body traversed by light, it shows us clearly that matter and light can coexist in the same place.

The modern development of optics did not destroy but, on the contrary, seemed to confirm this conception: a real image produced by mirrors or lenses has certainly a determinate shape and location in space. Yet, is it body? Can we disrupt or "discerp" it, cut off and take away a piece of this image?

As a matter of fact, light exemplifies nearly all the properties of More's "spirit," those of "condensation" and "dilatation" included, and even that of "essential spissitude" that could be represented by the intensity of light's varying, just like the "spissitude," with its "contraction" and "dilatation."

And if light were not sufficiently representative of this kind of entity, there were magnetic forces that to William Gilbert seemed to belong to the realm of animated much more than to purely material being: "there was attraction (gravity) that freely passed through all bodies and could be neither arrested nor even affected by any.

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Moreover, we must not forget that the "ether," which played such an important role in the physics of the nineteenth century (which maintained as firmly or even more firmly than the seventeenth the opposition between "light" and "matter," an opposition that is by no means completely overcome even now), displayed an ensemble of properties even more astonishing than the "spirit" of Henry More. And finally, that the fundamental entity of contemporary science, the "field," is something that possesses location and extension, penetrability and indiscerpibility. . . . So that, somewhat anachronistically, of course, one could assimilate More's " spirits," at least the lowest, unconscious degrees of them, to some kinds of fields.11a

But let us now come back to More. The greater precision achieved by him in the determination of the concept of spirit led necessarily to a stricter discrimination between its extension and the space in which, like everything else, it finds itself, concepts that were somehow merged together into the divine or spiritual extension opposed by More to the material Cartesian one. Space or pure immaterial extension will be distinguished now from the " spirit of nature " that pervades and fills it, that acts upon matter and produces the above-mentioned non-mechanical effects, an entity which on the scale of perfection of spiritual beings occupies the very lowest degree. This spirit of nature is12


A Substance incorporeal but without sense or animadversion, pervading the whole matter of the Universe, and exercising a plastic power therein, according to the sundry predispositions and occasions of the parts it works upon, raising such Phenomena in the world, by directing the parts of the


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matter, and their motion, as cannot be resolved into mere mechanical power.


Among these phenomena unexplainable by purely mechanical forces, of which Henry More knows, alas, a great number, including sympathetic cures and consonance of strings (More, needless to say, is a rather bad physicist), the most important is gravity. Following Descartes, he no longer considers it an essential property of body, or even, as Galileo still did, an unexplainable but real tendency of matter; but—and he is right—he accepts neither the Cartesian nor the Hobbesian explanation of it. Gravity cannot be explained by pure mechanics and therefore, if there were in the world no other, non-mechanical, forces, unattached bodies on our moving earth would not remain on its surface, but fly away and lose themselves in space. That they do not is a proof of the existence in nature of a "more than mechanical," "spiritual" agency.

More writes accordingly in the preface to The Immortality of the Soul,13


I have not only confuted their [Descartes’ and Hobbes] Reasons, but also from Mechanical principles granted on all sides and confirmed by Experience, demonstrated that the Descent of a stone or a bullet, or any such like heavy Body is enormously contrary to the Laws of Mechanicks; and that according to them they would necessarily, if they lye loose, recede from the Earth and be carried away out of our sight into the farthest parts of the Aire, if some Power more than Mechanical did not curb that Motion, and force them downwards towards the Earth. So that it is plain that we have not arbitrarily introduced a Principle but that it is forced upon us by the undeniable evidence of Demonstration.


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As a matter of fact the Antidote against Atheism had already pointed out that stones and bullets projected upwards return to earth—which, according to the laws of motion, they should not do; for,14


. . . if we consider more particularly what a strong tug a massive Bullet, suppose of lead or brass must needs give (according to that prime Mechanicall law of motion persisting in a straight line) to recede from the superficies of the Earth, the Bullet being in so swift a Motion as would dispatch some fifteen Miles in one Minute of an Hour; it must needs appear that a wonderful Power is required to curb it, regulate it, or remand it back to the Earth, and keep it there, notwithstanding the strong Reluctancy of that first Mechanical law of Matter that would urge it to recede. Whereby is manifested not only the marvellous Power of Unity in Indiscerpibility in the Spirit of Nature but that there is a peremptory and even forcible Execution of an all-comprehensive and eternal Council for the Ordering and the Guiding of the Motion of Matter in the Universe to what is the Best. And this phenomenon of Gravity is of so good and necessary consequence, that there could be neither Earth nor Inhabitants without it, in this State that things are.


Indeed, without the action of a non-mechanical principle all matter in the universe would divide and disperse; there would not even be bodies, because there would be nothing to hold together the ultimate particles composing them. And, of course, there would be no trace of that purposeful organization which manifests itself not only in plants, animals and so on, but even in the very arrangement of our solar system. All that is the work of the spirit of nature, which acts as an instrument, itself unconscious, of the divine will.

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So much for the spirit of nature that pervades the whole universe and extends itself in its infinite space. But what about this space itself? the space that we cannot conceive if not infinite—that is, necessary—and that we cannot "disimagine" (which is a confirmation of its necessity) from our thought? Being immaterial it is certainly to be considered as spirit. Yet it is a "spirit" of quite a special and unique kind, and More is not quite sure about its exact nature. Though, obviously, he inclines towards a very definite solution, namely towards the identification of space with the divine extension itself, he is somewhat diffident about it. Thus he writes:15


If there were no Matter but the Immensity of the Divine Essence only occupying all by its Ubiquity, then the Reduplication, as I may so speak, of his indivisible substance, whereby he presents himself intirely everywhere, would be the Subject of that Diffusion and Measurability. . . .


for which the Cartesians require the presence of matter, asserting that material extension alone can be measured, an assertion which leads inevitably to the affirmation of the infinity and the necessary existence of matter. But we do not need matter in order to have measures, and More can pursue:16


And I adde further, that the perpetual observation of this infinite Amplitude and Mensurability, which we cannot disimagine in our Phancie but will necessary be, may be a more rude and obscure notion offered to our mind of that necessary and self-existant Essence which the Idea of God does with greater fulness and distinctness represent to us. For it is plain that not so much as our Imagination is engaged to an appropriation of this Idea of Space to corporeal


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[paragraph continues] Matter, in that it does not naturally conceive any impenetrability or tangibility in the Notion thereof; and therefore it may as well belong to a Spirit as a Body. Whence as I said before, the Idea of God being such as it is, it will both justly and necessarily cast this ruder notion of Space upon that infinite and eternal spirit which is God.


There is also another way of answering this Objection, which is this; that this Imagination of Space is not the imagination of any real thing, but only of the large and immense capacity of the potentiality of the Matter, which we can not free our Minds from but must necessarily acknowledge that there is indeed such a possibility of Matter to be measured upward, downward, everyway in infinitum, whether this corporeal Matter were actually there or no; and that though this potentiality of Matter and Space be measurable by furloughs, miles, or the like, that it implies no more real Essence or Being, than when a man recounts so many orders or Kindes of the Possibilities of things, the compute or number of them will infer the reality of their Existence.


But if the Cartesians would urge us further and insist upon the impossibility of measuring the nothingness of void space,17


. . . it may be answered, That Distance is no real or Physical property of a thing but only notional; because more or less of it may accrue to a thing when as yet there has been nothing at all done to that to which it does accrue.


And if they urge still further and contend, that . . . distance must be some real thing . . . I answer briefly that Distance is nothing else but the privation of tactual union and the greater distance the greater privation . . .; and that this privation of tactual union is measured by parts, as other privations of qualities by degrees; and that parts


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and degrees, and such like notions, are not real things themselves any where, but our mode of conceiving them, and therefore we can bestow them upon Non-entities as well as Entities. . . .


But if this will not satisfie, ’tis no detriment to our cause. For if after the removal of corporeal Matter out of the world, there will be still Space and distance, in which this very matter, while it was there, was also conceived to lye, and this distant Space cannot but be something, and yet not corporeal, because neither impenetrable nor tangible, it must of necessity be a substance Incorporeal, necessarily and eternally existent of it self: which the clearer Idea of a Being absolutely perfect will more fully and punctually inform us to be the Self-subsisting God.


We have seen that, in 1655 and also in 1662, Henry More was hesitating between various solutions of the problem of space. Ten years later his decision is made, and the Enchiridium metaphysicum (1672) not only asserts the real existence of infinite void space against all possible opponents, as a real precondition of all possible existence, but even presents it as the best and most evident example of non-material—and therefore spiritual—reality and thus as the first and foremost, though of course not unique, subject-matter of metaphysics.

Thus Henry More tells us that "the first method for proving the uncorporeal things" must be based on18


. . . the demonstration of a certain unmovable extended [being] distinct from the movable matter, which commonly is called space or inner locus. That it is something real and not imaginary, as many people assert, we shall prove later by various arguments.


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Henry More seems to have completely forgotten his own uncertainty concerning the question; in any case he does not mention it and pursues:19


First, it is so obvious that it hardly needs proof, as it is confirmed by the opinions of nearly all the philosophers, and even of all men in general, but particularly of those who, as it is proper, believe that matter was created at a certain time. For we must either acknowledge that there is a certain extended [entity] besides matter, or that God could not create finite matter; indeed, we cannot conceive finite matter but as surrounded on all sides by something infinitely extended.


Descartes remains, as we see, the chief adversary of Henry More; indeed, as More discovered meanwhile, by his denial both of void space and of spiritual extension, Descartes practically excludes spirits, souls, and even God, from his world; he simply leaves no place for them in it. To the question "where?," the fundamental question which can be raised concerning any and every real being—souls, spirits, God—and to which Henry More believes he can give definite answers (here, elsewhere or—for God—everywhere), Descartes is obliged, by his principles, to answer: nowhere, nullibi. Thus, in spite of his having invented or perfected the magnificent a priori proof of the existence of God, which Henry More embraced enthusiastically and was to maintain all his life, Descartes, by his teaching, leads to materialism and, by his exclusion of God from the world, to atheism. From now on, Descartes and the Cartesians are to be relentlessly criticized and to bear the derisive nickname of nullibists.

Still, there are not only Cartesians to be combatted.

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[paragraph continues] There is also the last cohort of Aristotelians who believe in a finite world, and deny the existence of space outside it. They, too, have to be dealt with. On their behalf Henry More revives some of the old mediaeval arguments used to demonstrate that Aristotelian cosmology was incompatible with God's omnipotence.

It cannot be doubted, of course, that if the world were finite and limited by a spherical surface with no space outside it,20


it would follow, secondly, that not even divine omnipotence could make it that this corporeal finite world in its ultimate surface possess mountains or valleys, that is, any prominences or cavities.


Thirdly, that it would be absolutely impossible for God to create another world; or even two small bronze spheres at the same time, in the place of these two worlds, as the poles of the parallel axes would coincide because of the lack of an intermediate space.


Nay, even if God could create a world out of these small spheres, closely packed together (disregarding the difficulty of the space that would be left void between them), He would be unable to set them in motion. These are conclusions which Henry More, quite rightly, believed to be indigestible even for a camel's stomach.

Yet Henry More's insistence on the existence of space "outside" the world is, obviously, directed not only against the Aristotelians, but also against the Cartesians to whom he wants to demonstrate the possibility of the limitation of the material world, and at the same time, the mensurability, that is, the existence of dimensions (that now are by no means considered as merely "notional"

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determinations) in the void space. It seems that More, who in his youth had been such an inspired and enthusiastic adherent of the doctrine of the infinity of the world (and of worlds), became more and more adverse to it, and would have liked to turn back to the "Stoic" conception of a finite world in the midst of an infinite space, or, at least, to join the semi-Cartesians and reject Descartes’ infinitization of the material world. He even goes so far as to quote, with approval, the Cartesian distinction of the indefiniteness of the world and the infinity of God; interpreting it, of course, as meaning the real finiteness of the world opposed to the infinity of space. This, obviously, because he understands now much better than twenty years previously the positive reason of the Cartesian distinction: infinity implies necessity, an infinite world would be a necessary one. . . .

But we must not anticipate. Let us turn to another sect of philosophers who are at the same time More's enemies and allies.21


But also those philosophers who did not believe in the creation of matter nevertheless acknowleged [the existence of] Space, such are Leucippus, Democritus, Demetrius, Metrodorus, Epicurus and also all the Stoics. Some people add Plato to these. As for Aristotle, who defined place (Locus) as the nearest surface of the ambient body, he was in this question deserted by a great number of his disciples who rightly observed that in this case he was not in agreement with himself, as indeed he attributed to place properties that could not pertain to any thing but to the space occupied by any body; that is, Equality and Immobility.


It is, moreover, worth while mentioning that those philosophers who made the world finite (such as Plato, Aristotle


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and the Stoics) acknowledged Space outside the world, or beyond it, whereas those who [believe in] infinite worlds and infinite matter, teach that there is even inside the world an intermixed vacuum; such are Democritus and all the Ancients who embraced the atomic philosophy, so that it seems to be entirely confirmed by the voice of nature that there is διατημά τι χωριζοῦ, a certain interval or space really distinct from mundane matter. As for the posteriors, this is sufficiently known. Whereas concerning the Stoics, Plutarch testifies that they did not admit any void inside the world, but an infinite one outside. And Plato says in his Phaedrus that above the supreme heaven where he places the purest souls, there is a certain Supracelestial place (locus), not very different from the abode of the blessed of the Theologians.


As the admission of an infinite space seems thus to be, with very few exceptions, a common opinion of mankind, it may appear unnecessary to insist upon it and to make it an object of discussion and demonstration. More explains therefore that22


I should assuredly be ashamed to linger so long upon so easy a question if I were not compelled to do it by the great name of Descartes, who fascinates the less prudent to such an extent that they prefer to rave and rage with Descartes, than to yield to most solid arguments if the Principles of Philosophy are opposed to them. Among the most important [tenets] that he himself mentions is that one I have so diligently combatted [elsewhere], namely, that not even by Divine virtue could it happen that there should be in the Universe any interval which, in reality, would not be matter or body. Which opinion I have always considered false; now however I impugn it also as impious. And in order that it should not appear as not completely


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overcome, I shall present and reveal all the subterfuges by which the Cartesians want to elude the strength of my demonstrations, and I shall reply to them.

I must confess that Henry More's answers to the "principal means that the Cartesians used in order to evade the strength of the preceding demonstrations" are sometimes of very dubious value. And that "the refutation of them all" is, as often as not, no better than some of his arguments.

Henry More, as we know, was a bad physicist, and he did not always understand the precise meaning of the concepts used by Descartes—for instance, that of the relativity of motion. And yet his criticism is extremely interesting and, in the last analysis, just.23


The first way to escape the strength of our Demonstrations is derived from the Cartesian definition of motion which is as follows: [motion is] in all cases the translation of a body from the vicinity of those bodies which immediately touch it and are considered as at rest, into the vicinity of others.24


[paragraph continues] From this definition, objects Henry More, it would follow that a small body firmly wedged somewhere between the axis and the circumference of a large rotating cylinder would be at rest, which is obviously false. Moreover, in this case, this small body, though remaining at rest, would be able to come nearer to, or recede from, another body P, placed immobile, outside the rotating cylinder. Which is absurd as " it supposes that there can be an approach of one body to another, quiescent, one without local motion."

Henry More concludes therefore:25

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[paragraph continues] . . . that the preceding definition is gratuitously set up by Descartes and, because it is opposed to solid demonstrations, it is manifestly false.


More's error is obvious. It is clear that, if we accept the Cartesian conception of the relativity of motion, we no longer have any right to speak of bodies as being absolutely "in motion" or "at rest" but have always to add the point or frame of reference in respect to which the said body is to be considered as being at rest or in motion. And that, accordingly, there is no contradiction in stating that the selfsame body may be at rest in respect to its surroundings and in motion in respect to a body placed farther away, or vice versa. And yet Henry More is perfectly right: the extension of the relativity of motion to rotation—at least if we do not want to restrict ourselves to pure kinematics and are dealing with real, physical objects—is illegitimate; moreover, the Cartesian definition, with its more than Aristotelian insistence on the vicinity of the points of reference, is wrong and incompatible with the very principle of relativity. It is, by the way, extremely probable that Descartes thought it out not for purely scientific reasons, but in order to escape the necessity of asserting the motion of the earth and to be able to affirm—with his tongue in his cheek—that the earth was at rest in its vortex.

It is nearly the same concerning More's second argument against the Cartesian conception of relativity, or, as More calls it, "reciprocity" of motion. He claims26


That the Cartesian definition of motion is rather a description of place; and that if motion were reciprocal, its nature would compel one body to move by two contrary motions and even to move and not to move at the same time.


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Thus for instance, let us take three bodies, CD, EF and AB, and let EF move towards H, whilst CD moves

towards G, and AB remains fixed to the earth. Thus it does not move and yet moves at the same time: who can say anything more absurd? And is it not evident27


that the Cartesian definition of motion is repugnant to all the faculties of the soul, the sense, the imagination and the reason.


Henry More, it is clear, cannot transform the concept of motion into that of a pure relation. He feels that when bodies move, even if we consider them as moving in respect to each other, something happens, at least to one of them, that is unilateral and not reciprocal: it really moves, that is, changes its place, its internal locus. It is in respect to this "place" that motion has to be conceived and not in respect to any other, and therefore28


the supposition of the Cartesians that local motion is relative to the place where the body is not, and not [to the place] where it is, is absurd.


In other terms, relative motion implies absolute motion and can only be understood on the basis of absolute motion and thus of absolute space. Indeed, when a cylindrical body is in circular motion, all its internal points not only change their position in respect to its surrounding surface, or a body placed outside it: they move, that is, pass

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through some extension, describe a trajectory in this extension which, therefore, does not move. Bodies do not take their places with them, they go from one place to another. The place of a body, its internal locus, is not a part of the body: it is something entirely distinct from it, something that is by no means a mere potentiality of matter: a potentiality cannot be separated from the actual being of a thing, but is an entity, independent of the bodies that are and move in it. And even less is it a mere "phansy,"29 as Dr. Hobbes has tried to assert.


Having thus established, to his own satisfaction, the perfect legitimacy and validity of the concept of space as distinct from matter and refuted their merging together in the Cartesian conception of " extension " Henry More proceeds to the determination of the nature and the ontological status of the corresponding entity.

"Space," or "inner locus," is something extended. Now, extension, as the Cartesians are perfectly right in asserting, cannot be an extension of nothing: distance between two bodies is something real, or, at the very least, a relation which implies a fundamentum reale. The Cartesians, on the other hand, are wrong in believing that void space is nothing. It is something, and even very much so. Once more, it is not a fancy, or a product of imagination, but a perfectly real entity. The ancient atomists were right in asserting its reality and calling it an intelligible nature.

The reality of space can be demonstrated also in a somewhat different manner; it is certain30


. . . that a real attribute of any subject can never be found anywhere but where some real subject supports it. But extension is a real attribute of a real subject (namely


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matter), which [attribute] however, is found elsewhere [namely there where no matter is present], and which is independent of our imagination. Indeed we are unable not to conceive that a certain immobile extension pervading everything in infinity has always existed and will exist in all eternity (whether we think about it or do not think about it), and [that it is] nevertheless really distinct from matter.


It is therefore necessary that, because it is a real attribute, some real subject support this extension. This argumentation is so solid that there is none that could be stronger. For if this one fails, we shall not be able to conclude with any certainty the existence in nature of any real subject whatever. Indeed, in this case, it would be possible for real attributes to be present without there being any real subject or substance to support them.


Henry More is perfectly right. On the basis of traditional ontology—and no one in the seventeenth century (except, perhaps, Gassendi, who claims that space and time are neither substances nor attributes but simply space and time) is so bold or so careless as to reject it or to replace it by a new one—his reasoning is utterly unobjectionable. Attributes imply substances. They do not wander alone, free and unattached, in the world. They cannot exist without support, like the grin of the Cheshire cat, for this would mean that they would be attributes of nothing. Even those who, like Descartes, modify traditional ontology by asserting that the attributes reveal to us the very nature, or essence, of their substance—Henry More sticks to the old view that they do not—maintain the fundamental relationship: no real attribute without real substance. Henry More, therefore, is perfectly right,

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too, in pointing out that his argumentation is built on exactly the same pattern as the Cartesian and31


. . . that this is the very same means of demonstration as Descartes uses to prove that Space is a substance though it becomes false, in his case, insofar as he concludes that it is a corporeal one.


Moreover, Henry More's conclusion from extension to the underlying and supporting substance is exactly parallel to that of Descartes31


. . . though he [Descartes] aims at another goal than myself. Indeed, from this argument he endeavors to conclude that the Space that is called void is the very same corporeal substance as that called matter. I, on the contrary, since I have so clearly proved that Space or internal place (locus) is really distinct from matter, conclude therefrom that it is a certain incorporeal subject or spirit, such as the Pythagoreans once asserted it to be. And so, through that same gate through which the Cartesians want to expel God from the world, I, on the contrary (and I am confident I shall succeed most happily) contend and strive to introduce Him back.


To sum up: Descartes was right in looking for substance to support extension. He was wrong in finding it in matter. The infinite, extended entity that embraces and pervades everything is indeed a substance. But it is not matter. It is Spirit; not a spirit, but the Spirit, that is, God.

Space, indeed, is not only real, it is something divine. And in order to convince ourselves of its divine character we have only to consider its attributes. Henry More proceeds therefore to the32

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[paragraph continues] Enumeration of about twenty titles which the metaphysicians attribute to God and which fit the immobile extended [entity] or internal place (locus).


When we shall have enumerated those names and titles appropriate to it, this infinite, immobile, extended [entity] will appear to be not only something real (as we have just pointed out) but even something Divine (which so certainly is found in nature); this will give us further assurance that it cannot be nothing since that to which so many and such magnificent attributes pertain cannot be nothing. Of this kind are the following, which metaphysicians attribute particularly to the First Being, such as: One, Simple, Immobile, Eternal, Complete, Independent, Existing in itself, Subsisting by itself, Incorruptible, Necessary, Immense, Un-created, Uncircumscribed, Incomprehensible, Omnipresent, Incorporeal, All-penetrating, All-embracing, Being by its essence, Actual Being, Pure Act.

There are not less than twenty titles by which the Divine Numen is wont to be designated, and which perfectly fit this infinite internal place (locus) the existence of which in nature we have demonstrated; omitting moreover that the very Divine Numen is called, by the Cabalists, MAKOM, that is, Place (locus). Indeed it would be astonishing and a kind of prodigy if the thing about which so much can be said proved to be a mere nothing.


Indeed, it would be extremely astonishing if an entity eternal, untreated, and existing in and by itself should finally resolve into pure nothing. This impression will only be strengthened by the analysis of the "titles" enumerated by More, who proceeds to examine them one by one:33


How this infinite extended [entity] distinct from matter is One, Simple, and Immovable.


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But let us consider the individual titles and note their congruence. This Infinite Extended [entity] distinct from matter is justly called One, not only because it is something homogeneous and everywhere similar to itself, but because it is to such an extent one, that it is absolutely impossible that of this one there be many, or that it become many, as it has no physical parts out of which it could be multiplied or in which, truly and physically, it could be divided, or in which it could be condensed. Such indeed is the internal, or, if you prefer, innermost locus. From which it follows that it is aptly called Simple, since, as I have said, it has no physical parts. As for what pertains to those diversities of which a logical distribution can be made, there is absolutely no thing so simple that they would not be found in it.


But from the Simplicity its Immobility is easily deduced. For no Infinite Extended [entity] which is not co-augmented from parts, or in any way condensed or compressed, can be moved, either part by part, or the whole [of it] at the same time, as it is infinite, nor [can it be] contracted into a lesser space, as it is never condensed, nor can it abandon its place, since this Infinite is the innermost place of all things, inside or outside which there is nothing. And from the very fact that something is conceived as being moved, it is at once understood that it cannot be any part of this Infinite Extended [entity] of which we are speaking. It is therefore necessary that it be immovable. Which attribute of the First Being Aristotle celebrates as the highest.


Absolute space is infinite, immovable, homogeneous, indivisible and unique. These are very important properties which Spinoza and Malebranche discovered almost at the same time as More, and which enabled them to put extension—an intelligible extension, different from that

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which is given to our imagination and senses—into their respective Gods; properties that Kant—who, however, with Descartes, missed the indivisibility—was to rediscover a hundred years later, and who, accordingly, was unable to connect space with God and had to put it into ourselves.

But we must not wander away from our subject. Let us come back to More, and More's space34


It is indeed justly called Eternal, because we can in no way conceive but that this One, Immovable and Simple [entity] was always, and will be always. But this is not the case for the movable, or for what has physical parts, and is condensed or compressed into parts. Accordingly, Eternity, at least the necessary one, implies also the perfect simplicity of the thing.


We see it at once: space is eternal and therefore uncreated. But the things that are in space by no means participate in these properties. Quite the contrary: they are temporal and mutable and are created by God in the eternal space and at a certain moment of the eternal time. Space is not only eternal, simple and one. It is also35


. . . Complete because it does not coalesce with any other thing in order to form one entity [with it]; otherwise it would move with it at the same time as [that thing], which is not the case of the eternal locus.


It is indeed not only Eternal but also Independent, not only of our Imagination, as we have demonstrated, but of anything whatever, and it is not connected with any other thing or. supported by any, but receives and supports all [things] as their site and place.

It must be conceived as Existing by itself because it is totally independent of any other. But of the fact that it


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does not depend on anything there is a very manifest sign, namely, that whereas we can conceive all other things as destructible in reality, this Infinite Immovable Extended [entity] cannot be conceived or imagined destructible.


Indeed, we cannot "disimagine" space or think it away. We can imagine, or think of, the disappearance of any object from space; we cannot imagine, or think of, the disappearance of space itself. It is the necessary presupposition of our thinking about the existence or non-existence of any thing whatever.36


But that it is Immense and Uncircumscribed is patent, because wherever we might want to imagine an end to it, we cannot but conceive an ulterior extension which exceeds these ends, and so on in infinitum.


Herefrom we perceive that it is incomprehensible. How indeed could a finite mind comprehend that which is not comprehended by any limit?


Henry More could have told us, here too, that he was using, though of course for a different end, the famous arguments by which Descartes endeavoured to prove the indefinity of material extension. Yet he may have felt that not only the goal of the argument, but also its very meaning, opposed it to that of Descartes. Indeed, the progressus in infinitum was used by Henry More not for denying, but for asserting the absolute infinity of the extended substance, which37


. . . is also untreated, because it is the first of all, for it is by itself (a se) and independent of anything else. And Omnipresent because it is immense or infinite. But Incorporeal because it penetrates matter, though it is a substance, that is, an in-itself subsisting being.


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Furthermore it is All-pervading because it is a certain immense, incorporeal [entity], and it embraces all the singular [things] in its immensity.


It is even not undeservedly called Being by essence in contradistinction to being by participation, because Being by itself and being Independent it does not obtain its essence from any other thing.

Furthermore, it is aptly called being in act as it cannot but be conceived as existing outside of its causes.


The list of "attributes" common to God and to space, enumerated by Henry More, is rather impressive; and we cannot but agree that they fit fairly well. After all, this is not surprising: all of them are the formal ontological attributes of the absolute. Yet we have to recognize Henry More's intellectual energy that enabled him not to draw back before the conclusions of his premises; and the courage with which he announced to the world the spatiality of God and the divinity of space.

As for this conclusion, he could not avoid it. Infinity implies necessity. Infinite space is absolute space; even more, it is an Absolute. But there cannot be two (or many) absolute and necessary beings. Thus, as Henry More could not accept the Cartesian solution of the indefiniteness of extension and had to make it infinite, he was eo ipso placed before a dilemma: either to make the material world infinite and thus a se and per se, neither needing, nor even admitting, God's creative action; that is, finally, not needing or even not admitting God's existence at all.

Or he could—and that was exactly what he actually did—separate matter and space, raise the latter to the dignity of an attribute of God, and of an organ in which

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and through which God creates and maintains His world, a finite world, limited in space as well as in time, as an infinite creature is an utterly contradictory concept. That is something that Henry More acknowledges not to have recognized in his youth when, seized by some poetic furor, he sang in his Democritus Platonissans a hymn to the infinity of the worlds.

To prove the limitation in time is not very difficult: it is sufficient, according to More, to consider that nothing can belong to the past if it did not become "past" after having been "present"; and that nothing can ever be "present" if it did not, before that, belong to the future. It follows therefrom that all past events have, at some time, belonged to the future, that is, that there was a time when all of them were not yet "present," not yet existent, a time when everything was still in the future and when nothing was real.

It is much more difficult to prove the limitation of the spatial extension of the (material) world. Most of the arguments alleged in favor of the finiteness are rather weak. Yet it can be demonstrated that the material world must, or at least can, be terminated, and therefore is not really infinite.


And, in order not to dissimulate anything, this seems to be the best argument for demonstrating that the Matter of the World cannot be absolutely infinite but only indefinite, as Descartes has said somewhere, and to reserve the name of infinite for God alone. Which must be asserted as well of the Duration as of the Amplitude of God. Both are indeed absolutely infinite; those of the World, however, only indefinite . . . that is, in truth, finite. In this way God is duly, that is, infinitely, elevated above the Universe, and


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is understood to be not only by an infinite eternity older than the World, but also by immense spaces larger and more ample than it.


The circle is closed. The conception that Henry More ascribed to Descartes—though falsely—and so bitterly criticized in his youth, has demonstrated its good points. An indeterminately vast but finite world merged in an infinite space is the only conception, Henry More sees it now, that enables us to maintain the distinction between the contingent created world and the eternal and a se and per se existing God.

By a strange irony of history, the κενόν of the godless atomists became for Henry More God's own extension, the very condition of His action in the world.