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One of the initial reasons for putting together this website was to discuss the philosophy of Orson Pratt and Brigham Young as a way of conceiving of a fundamental investigation of Mormon theology. Their differences were rather deep and typically oriented one in two radically different ways towards theology.
With Pratt I noticed right off how his philosophy was remarkably similar to that of Leibniz. The big difference was that Pratt adopted a basically Newtonian conception of a substantial space-time in which material monads existed. That is obviously a rather radical difference from Leibniz whose monads were immaterial and from which space and time emerged. Pratt's monads were not point masses but were impenetrable atoms fairly close to Epicurean atoms.
While pursuing the Leibniz, neoPlatonic, Epicurean and Stoic parallels of Pratt's thought, I unfortunately neglected the more contemporary sources of his views. Scottish realism was a dominant force in American philosophy in the 19th century. This "common sense realism" almost certainly was the major source on Pratt's thought. So, before I descend into a discussion of more ancient sources, I thought I'd provide some sources for Pratt's philosophy.
The following excerpts are from Breck England's The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt and Erich Rober Paul's Science, Religion and Mormon Cosmology. Paul's work isn't directly on Pratt and doesn't really delve that far into the history. England's touches upon it but unfortunately it is long out of print with used copies going for $80 or more. I'm only quoting short segments so hopefully they fall under fair use. Numbers at the end of each quote represent the pages quoted from. My thanks to Lorin Hanson who provided me the England sources when I couldn't locate a copy of the book.
These are intented to be starting points for discussion. I'm in the process of trying to get up to speed with the Scottish Enlightenment and will write more as I do so. I should add that Paul largely follows England in terms of Pratt's philosophy. I've only quoted those portions where something different from England seems present.
During that unproductive summer, Orson turned to writing for publication. His brother's success with tracts, combined with his desire to appeal to the more literate populace of Edinburgh, led to the first of his works. The city resounded with philosophical and scientific discussion, for the great university there was experiencing a sort of flowering-much of the important work done in physics and astronomy during the nineteenth century was then under way in Edinburgh." The philosophical capital of the English-speaking world at that time, Edinburgh had contributed the great ideas of the Scottish "Enlightenment" and the "common sense" school of philosophy. Thomas Chalmers, the greatest Scottish theologian of the time and a professor in the University, was attempting to reconcile to orthodox Protestant theology the new discoveries of the scientific revolution. Scottish philosophy dominated even American thinking at this time; the Scots were "empiricists who sought a science of knowledge," not "speculative metaphysicians." With important differences Orson Pratt's later writings were profoundly influenced by the ideas current in Edinburgh during these days. (66-67)
"When the temple is reared, God will manifest Himself in a peculiar manner. If we are obedient, He has told us He will make manifest to us things we are ignorant of. He has said He will reveal things which pertain to this dispensation that have been hidden and kept secret from the foundation of the world. No former age or generation of the world have had the same things revealed: all other dispensations will be swallowed up in this."
In other words, the building of the temple fulfilled a sacred prophecy in providing a ritual center for the last days. Orson developed Joseph Smith's concept of the temple as a place where the Church would receive an endowment of knowledge and power. Orson went on to warn the Saints against failing in the construction of the temple under penalty of rejection by the Lord. As an example he cited "the shortcomings" of the Saints in Missouri: "Did the churches do as God commanded? No, they did not . . . the enemies of the Saints came upon them, and drove them from their houses and homes. "
Orson's preaching had been transformed. He now began to discourse upon the "mysteries of godliness" in order to close the widening fissure between science and religion. He believed that their unity had to be articulated and demonstrated.
In the midst of their solemn mission, the six traveling apostles consulted Mr. 0. S. Fowler, a leading Boston phrenologist. Phrenology, the practice of describing individual character traits by measuring bumps and hollows on the skull, was a popular pseudoscience of the day. Orson obtained his phrenological chart from Fowler, probably with a good deal of interest although he has left no comment on the subject. Phrenology was totally unacceptable to orthodox Christians, for it "equated mental and even spiritual characteristics with cranial form and function." This fact probably heightened the interest of phrenology for the Mormon materialist Orson Pratt. (91-92)
The September numbers of the New York Messenger contain some of Orson's earliest and most compelling metaphysical speculations. In an article entitled "Mormon Philosophy"" he deals with space and time and most interesting of all with the origin and nature of matter and intellect. Although most of his thinking reflects scientific commonplaces of the day, he argues that Newton's laws of motion are ill conceived for two reasons: first, Newton does not account in his system for the presence of self-conscious entities in the universe; and second, Newton cannot offer an adequate explanation for the attractive force between atoms. Orson believed, as did most physicists, that matter consists of fundamental indivisible particles or "atoms," spherical bodies "perfectly solid, and incapable of being broken or abraded by any concussion or violence, however intense, and therefore their sizes and shapes remain unchangeably the same." Beyond this, however, he departs from conventional physics as he posits that a primal "intelligence" forms one of the basic properties of matter: "To say that some being gave this property to atoms is to admit the prior existence of a being with intelligence . . . Reason has demonstrated, that the intelligence of every atom must either be without beginning, or else be the result of contact and combination."
To Orson the presence of self-conscious beings such as men and animals demonstrated that intellect is a fundamental quality of matter, "either a property of material atoms, or a result of the combination or contact of these atoms." If the former, then intelligence must be an eternal function of the atom because underived from any other source, "for such operations would be impossible in a perfectly solid and imporous atom." If, on the other hand, intelligence results from the combination or contact of -atoms, then the "capacity to receive intelligence" must be eternally present.
Orson then explains that motion results from self-propelled, intelligent atoms drawing together in combination: "Those who believe in attraction . . . assert that matter is entirely passive. . . Now if an atom has not power to move itself, how can it move any thing external to itself? It is the very height of absurdity to suppose that a helpless passive atom can move every thing in the universe but itself . . . Every atom moves itself towards every other atom, with a force varying inversely as the square of the distance." Pratt thus turns around Newton's theory with one of his own based on the concept of intelligent, self-moving matter.
Orson's "Mormon Philosophy" next goes on to examine the nature of these intelligent capacities: "What are these? . . . Are they not a species of intelligence self-existent and eternal? If not, how can we account for the combination or contact of atoms? Is this combination fortuitous . . . What then is the cause of atoms approaching atoms, and adhering together with such a variety of intensities according to such uniform and general laws? The only sound answer that can be given to these intricate enquiries is, that these atoms must be intelligent. "
Orson defines "intelligence" as the capacity to obey uniform principles while "limited to certain spheres and modes of action."" It is difficult to determine whether Orson is constructing here a truly metaphysical system, for his definition of the degrees of intelligence manifested by atomic particles seems restricted to the "selfmotivating force." Although his terms are ambiguous, he does not necessarily apply the idea of "self-awareness" to all modes of organized matter organization. Although most moderns would probably smile at Orson's system, rooted as it is in old assumptions about the atom, it continues to this day to influence Mormon thinking about these fundamental scientific questions.
Orson Pratt's notions about the materiality of intelligence probably derive more from his understanding of Joseph Smith's teachings than from readings or lectures he may have absorbed by philosophical or scientific authorities. The dominant Scottish "common sense" school of philosophy for all its de-emphasis of the "spiritual" or "metaphysical" held to a strong distinction between physical and mental phenomena." Orson's assumptions echo in some respects those of Joseph Priestley, who like Leibniz before him held that matter is not solid or inert but active. For Priestley matter is dynamic, the locus of attraction and repulsion. Since thought occurs in conjunction with some organized material system, thought and matter are contextually inseparable." Although Orson read Priestley and perhaps drew from him, by far the most immediate and overwhelming influence on Orson's thought was the Prophet. Both Pratt brothers, Parley and Orson, wrote considerably upon the philosophical and scientific implications of Joseph's teachings.
Joseph had repudiated the traditional "dematerialized" notion of God and the spirit of man as early as 1833. His definitive statement on this question came in 1843 in the document later known as Doctrine and Covenants 130: "The father has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man's, the son also. "78 He went on to teach that "there is no such thing as immaterial matter," that what is known in scripture as "spirit" is a material substance of a refined nature generally imperceptible to our mortal senses. In the well-known "King Follett Sermon," April 7, 1844, Joseph outlined the evolution of "self-existent intelligences" from their primeval state to godhood. The key to Joseph's cosmology was therefore the ubiquity of material intelligences, more or less highly organized, which were never "created or made"" but are eternal in duration and "susceptible of enlargement. " In Mormonism, as Professor Sterling M. McMurrin has pointed out, "whatever is ultimate and essential in the human soul is self-existent. ''
The origin of Joseph Smith's cosmological views, which formed the basis for Orson's, has been a subject of sharp debate. For the faithful, these pronouncements are simply articles of faith, revealed truths from heaven. Joseph's biographer, Fawn M. Brodie, has suggested that Joseph's notion that "matter is eternal and indestructible" came directly from the writings of Scottish theologian and astronomer Thomas Dick." In Philosophy of a Future State (1829), Dick propounds a vision of a universe peopled with "intelligences," a term which arises in Joseph's revelations now known as Doctrine and Covenants 88:40 and 93:29, and is used in later revelations to refer to the class of uncreated beings to which man and the gods belong.84 Dick also suggests the possibility of eternal progression among "intelligences": "The grand aim of celestial intelligences will be, to increase in the knowledge and love of God . . . the soul of man appears to be capable of making a perpetual progress towards intellectual and moral perfection . . . without the possibility of ever arriving at a boundary to its excursions." Dick thus developed a Christian theology compatible with the Baconian, empirical, scientific bias of the thinkers of his time. He extended into the hereafter Francis Bacon's popular vision of human progress: "a progressive and cottinuously increasing mastery over nature through the systematic and uninterrupted pursuit of knowledge."
Clearly, Joseph Smith's cosmology has an affinity with the views of Thomas Dick. The contrasts, however, are equally striking. Dick is thoroughly orthodox in his views on God and creation. His perspective on the "future state" of man, like Joseph's, embraces a spiritual and material unity, with the happiness of "just men made perfect"" comprised in their evolving cognition of the material universe through astronomy, mathematics, and all the branches of the "natural philosophy" so highly regarded by American and British intellectuals of the time. However, Dick considers the material universe a creation ex nihilo in the orthodox theological tradition; and God is "infinite, both in respect of space and duration."" In direct contrast to Joseph Smith's theology, Dick rejected the "end product" of eternal progression which Joseph preached: the eternal exaltation to godhood. Joseph's idea that matter is self-existent and indestructible would have been blasphemous to Dick, who, although repelled at the idea of "annihilation of matter," grants that it is possible for God to will the complete cancellation of the universe. Furthermore, for Dick, the spirit of man is a created being whose immortality "depends solely on the will of its Creator." By "holy intelligences," Dick intended "the angelic tribes of heaven," and had no inkling of including created man in that sphere; the dichotomy between heavenly and earthly beings still holds. On the other hand, for Joseph, the spirits of men are the holy, uncreated intelligences. In short, Dick's ideas were not markedly divergent from Protestant orthodoxy.
Joseph Smith never mentioned Dick or his writings, and rejected most of Dick's ideas. Edward T. Jones, who has carefully compared the works of the two men, concludes their doctrines were "radically different at vital points. "Jones concedes that no foreign writer was more "generally read on this side the Atlantic . . . than Dr. Thomas Dick," but also points out that "it is impossible to determine whether the Prophet ever read Dick." Brodie bases her argument about the relationship of Smith and Dick on a quotation from Philosophy of a Future State which appeared in the Kirtland newspaper Messenger and Advocate in December 18. Her thesis is that Sidney Rigdon had read Dick and, in this way, the Prophet's theology was influenced. Her observations are inaccurate in that it was Oliver Cowdery who inserted the quotation, not Rigdon. Furthermore, the text in question, which deals with the idea of a Creator "replenishing the voids of space with new worlds and new orders of intelligent beings" appears nearly four years afterJoseph's revelation (now Doctrine and Covenants 93) which outlined the Mormon theology of matter and evolving intelligences. It seems to have been inserted as a reasoned argument in favor of already established Mormon doctrines, as Cowdery so introduces the quotation: "We extract the following chapter from 'Dick's philosophy of a future state.' There are reasonings sufficient, we think, to commend it to the attention of the reader." (Cowdery then quotes from section ten of Dick's book.)
It is clear that Joseph Smith's doctrine of the uncreated intelligences did not arise from the works of Thomas Dick, because Dick never taught such a doctrine. Joseph's disciple, Orson Pratt, was no less sparing in his criticism of the attempts of men like Dick to construct a scientific basis for their orthodox Christian understanding of the universe. Given Joseph's revelations about the unoriginated nature of intelligence and matter, Orson erected his own system to account for the organization of the physical world. As summarized by Joseph Willard Tingey, Orson's "Mormon Philosophy" affirmed that all organizations of things and beings . . . are results of self-designs and self-combinations of these ultimate atoms. All atoms initiall) possessed equal capacities for knowledge and wisdom gained through experience." Such a notion would have been anathema to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Dick, whatever its genealogy.(100-105)
But the most important news of all related that the world seemed to be going up in smoke. Orson arrived in England to the echoes of street-smashing riots, part of the convulsive wave of revolutionary sentiment that engulfed all of Europe in 1848. The February revolution in France had touched off insurrection almost at once everywhere else: all the German-speaking rulers were thrashing at peasant uprisings while Marx and Engels stirred the radical heart with their "Manifesto"; the battling Milanese had spread unrest all over Italy, and the conflagration had touched even the dim industrial belt of Britain. Everywhere men questioned the fabric of society and set the torch to it when they could, while others as passionately clung to the secure, propertied notions of feudal Europe."
Predictably, Orson Pratt's pen advocated a clean sweep as he turned to the problem of social order. What ideal did the Mormons have to contribute? he asked with the first number of a five-part booklet entitled The Kingdom of God. He called this kingdom "the only legal government that can exist in any part of the universe," as his brother Parley did in the monumental pamphlet Voice of Warning: the kingdom was constituted of a king, officers, laws, and citizens." (145)
Though written as an attempt to solve the fulminating questions of right order in society, The Kingdom of God was in the main a brief defense of Mormon "materialism": "His kingdom . . . hath its seat in the everlasting mountains, and the ruler, himself a tangible, sentient being, derives his authority from consonance with and therefore mastery over the universal intelligences. The appeal of authoritarian Mormonism has been attributed by some to the American uneasiness with economic democracy, but this is certainly insufficient. At least in part, Mormon theocracy attracted followers thirsty for these transcendent assurances. For Orson Pratt loyalty to the hierarchy simply reflected the universal and eternally autonomous consent of the "intelligences" to defer to superior wisdom in all things.
The five pamphlets were completed in June 1849 and scattered by the thousands in Liverpool Manchester and Glasgow. Even before the series was finiihd, aw Kingdom began to stir up a response, a kind of clerical-academic splutter. Orson had touched a raw nerve in the "Kirk." in thrust of the extremely influential Scottish "Common Sense" school of philosophy had been to defend Presbyterianism against the "corrosive influence of. . . necessitarian materialism (personified in . . . Joseph Priestley)." Orson's insistence upon a material deity aroused the fury of a church endangered by the encroachments of demythologizing "natural philosophers." A group of Scottish clergymen banded together to oppose Orson's pamphlets, commissioning a Dunfermline minister named Joseph Paton to compose a general rebuttal. . . (147)
Orson came close to the ideas of Joseph Priestley, whom he had read and quoted by name, when he announced, "Solidity is not a property of anything -it is the essence itself . . . Deprive atoms of solidity, and they are deprived . . . of existence itself, and nothing remains. " Priestley, the foremost scientific mind of his age and a thoroughgoing determinist, believed that mind could be understood as the mechanical interaction of material substances. Orson attacked this notion as "baseless . . Mechanism implies the incapability of a substance to act only as it is acted upon . . . But not so with an intelligent thinking substance: it can . . act according to its own will, independently of the laws of mechanism. " This argument proceeded from Orson's fundamental premise that all matter is inherently active, self-moving, and therefore "intelligent in its sphere." Though he believed the universe to be "essentially" material, Orson rejected philosophical materialism as a system because he found its mechanistic arguments insufficient to account for the phenomenon of mind.
But Orson's rejection of materialism did not by any means endorse its opponents. On the contrary he considered the learned metaphysicians who had taken up David Hume's attack on empirically acquired knowledge to be victims of "wild and vague imagination. " Orson discussed at some length the work of Dr. Thomas Brown, light of the "Common Sense" school and disciple of Hume, who taught that mind is nonmaterial because it does not conform to material criteria of extension and resistance when touched . The nature of mind was the fundamental problem for the Scottish philosophers because (like most modern philosophers) they felt that "one must begin with an understanding of the nature of human knowledge and develop an understanding of the universe as a derivative procedure." Brown tried to steer a median course between materialism and immaterialism but could not explain (at least to Orson's satisfaction) the contact point between mind and universe. Orson laughed off Brown's "resistance" test, using light as an example: "Has light in any way resisted his muscular efforts? Have his muscular organs ever been able to grasp a ray of light? . . . If that which produces a sensation or feeling be regarded a solid substance . . . where is the impropriety, in regarding that which receives the sensation or feeling, as a solid extended substance also?" In other words, he asked, why define light as a material phenomenon and mind as immaterial? Brown's "extension" test proves mind to be material: "If mind be unextended, how can it receive any sensations from things without? It could not act upon bodily organs, for they are extended. Neither could bodily organs act upon it."
However, unlike his predecessors in the school of skepticism, Brown was not hopelessly deluded, because he admitted cognition of the external world to be valid. After all he helped found the school of "Common Sense" which thought it pointless to question the certainties of everyday experience. Brown taught that the contact between mind and matter produces a "change of state" - though how this happens he did not pretend to conjecture. Orson agreed with Brown's "change of state": "Now this, in our view, is really what happens. We believe that matter can only act upon mind because mind is an extended material substance. But Dr. Brown supposes there is no absurdity in matter acting upon that which is unextended." This Orson found to be a strong argument in favor of the "materiality" of mind.
After disposing of conventional materialism and the school of skepticism, which places excessive emphasis on ideas, Orson closed his essay by answering a number of Taylder's rather typical misconceptions about Mormon doctrine. But Orson's argumentation was not without its gaps. For example, he imputed to Priestley the "absurd" assumption that mind proceeds from the operations of the brain"- "absurd" because it does not provide for the "separate existence of the mind or spirit" (as though the existence of spirit were somehow self-evident). Here he plainly answered assertion with assertion. But elsewhere he displayed not only cogent and original logic but a remarkable level of acquaintance with the philosophical disputes of his day. The writings of Priestley and Thomas Brown, Bishops Berkeley and Butler, Erasmus Darwin, even Dionysius Lardner, the Irish lecturer and popularizer of science are all familiar ground to him. As for the target of the pamphlet, Rev. Taylder did not try to answer Pratt, considering that his premises were not "suffieientlv dmnd" to "renuire reinforcement. "
In summary Orson saw Taylder's arguments as merely one more of the "numberless hypotheses" philosophers had invented to "account for the action of matter on the mind, which they have assumed to be immaterial."" The problem for the British philosophers was even more acute, since their acceptance of Newtonian physics implied a purely mechanistic universe. (Even the "immortal Newton" was unwilling to face up to the implications of his own system and insisted upon a theistic "first cause.") The philosophers' attempt to reconcile themselves to Newtonian physics ultimately failed: "Christians found it necessary to twist and turn dexterously to avoid giving assent to its final ramifications." This was of course not true of Pratt, who welcomed the Newtonian system as evidence of the "undeviating exactness" with which matter actively obeys God" and as an irrefutable demonstration of the "absurdity of immaterialism." For all the noise they made about "empiricism" and a new scientific Christianity, the theologians continued "essentially to do Christian metaphysics in the same way it had been done for nearly two thousand years"; that is, to find some tortuous way to bring the immaterial God into contact with his material creation. Thomas Dick, for example, insisted on the infinity of God, "both in respect of space and duration." Like others, he persevered in the spiritualizing of the scriptures: "seeing God as he is" means "beholding the Divine glory as displayed in the physical and moral economy of the universe. For Pratt this was simply an ingenious atheism "clothing an indivisible unextended NOTHING with the powers of a god.
Pratt's essay laid a foundation for what Brigham H. Roberts later called "eternalism," the philosophy derived from Joseph Smith's teachings that all things are matter and all things are eternal. Pratt finds comfort in Newton's observation that "it seems probable that God, in the beginning, formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles . . . That nature may be lasting, the changes of corporeal things are to be placed only in the various separations, and new associations and motions of these permanent particles. Although Orson later objected to the notion that God "formed" matter in the absolute sense," he inferred here that the existence of "ultimate atoms" which cannot be subdivided points to a universe that is "intelligent in all its parts"" and eternally indestructible. In this last respect Orson's ideas about physical matter foreshadowed the ruminations of modern physics: twentieth-century exploration of the subatomic world has revealed particles that resist analysis and defy division. Nigel Calder has said of this research, "Maybe nature is giving us a signal that we have reached the end of the road," that the universe may not be an infinitely divisible "Chinese box."(152-155)
The famous theologian William Paley, archdeacon of Carlisle and author of Natural Theology, taught that design in the universe implies a designer, and the more perfect the being, the greater are the evidences of design. For Pratt, Paley's view compels belief in an ultimate "anterior designer . . . a self-moving intelligent substance . . . Parts of this most glorious substance now exist in the form of personages. "
In summary, Pratt believed that the "activity" of matter points inescapably to the "intelligence" of matter and that the primeval substance from which men and gods and worlds are formed can be defined as "Holy Spirit" (not to be confused with "Holy Ghost") which acts as the "Great First Cause" of its own painstaking evolution. He cited leading philosophical minds to illuminate his own conclusions but did not hesitate to point out where their personal orthodoxies interfere with their judgment. Although he found [John] Herschel close to the discovery of intelligent substance, he was too much a slave to the concepts of "inert" matter and an extramaterial Creator. He criticized the famous philosopher William Whewell, master of Trinity College, Cambridge, for his insistence that matter must necessarily have weight in order to be quantifiable. It is not necessary, said Orson, for matter to be heavy in order to share the other qualities of matter, such as inertia and force: "Such a condition of things is easily conceivable, and, therefore, the assertion that all bodies must have weight is not a necessary truth." (Whewell's a priori reasoning was rejected by other, more conventional philosophers of science as well.) Even Paley, who provided Pratt a tidy argument for the evolution of higher minds, clearly did not go far enough for Orson. Newton suffered the most. To Orson, Newton's idea of gravitational attraction was a logical absurdity; it was more reasonable to think of atoms as intelligently and obediently moving toward the harmony of structure.
Any attempt to locate Orson Pratt within an established school of philosophy will falter. His premises include not only the activity but also the divinity of primal "intelligent matter." This in turn seems to be based on the observation that some inner force binds the atom and that there is no conceivable activity in nature that is not somehow a manifestation of intellect. Nevertheless, Orson's system corresponds quite closely to the philosophical tradition of "panpsychism," which views matter as intrinsically "active" rather than "passive" and, after a fashion, "alive." Orson agrees substantially with the panpsychists, a formidable company in the history of philosophy: Empedocles, many of the Stoics, Francis Bacon, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, and in the twentieth century Alfred North Whitehead and Monseigneur Teilhard can all be considered "panpsychists." Bacon, for example, believed in a limited sense that all matter has perception. Panpsychist proofs bear a resemblance to Orson's arguments. They maintain that continuous motion in the universe demonstrates inner psychic processes, that the idea of inert matter is untenable in the face of modern physics, and that any exertion of energy requires an agent that wills it.
Many philosophers question the intelligibility of panpsychism. They point out that to insist that an atom "wills" its own motions in the same sense that a human being "wills" himself to move an arm or a leg is to commit the logical error of arguing from analogy. Furthermore, such an analogy ignores the observable differences between intellectual man and atomic particles. For example, man's capacity for making random choices clearly differs from the atomic capacity only to obey. It is interesting to note that analogical reasoning was widely accepted among Victorian thinkers (particularly the Scottish philosophers) as an effective tool for understanding the world." They tended to downplay the limitations of analogy as a logical device, namely, the danger of assuming that if two things seem similar in one respect that they are similar in other respects as well. In this case, the analogical trap consists of using inappropriate terms-activity and °assivitv-in discussing Physical processes.
Mormon philosopher Sterling M. McMurrin criticizes Orson's logic as deficient: Orson reasons "axiomatically"; that is, he appeals to self-evident truths to generate his premises. For example, he considers the existence of the "Great First Cause" inescapably true, since there is no effect without a cause." (This generalizing from experience is another manifestation of Orson's Baconian approach to reasoning. Orson has never observed causeless phenomena; therefore his experience requires that there be no causeless phenomena.) Such axiomatic reasoning, according to McMurrin, is "fundamentally in error," In partial explanation, if not justification, of Orson's reliance upon this system is the accepted British attitude toward logic: as Berkeley and Hume insisted, "a statement has no meaning unless it has an absolutely clear-cut reference to experience."
Orson's contemporary, French writer Jules Remy, criticized Orson's philosophy as old hat. In his book A Journey to Great-Salt-Lake City, Remy writes: "The metaphysical system of Mormonism is not an invention peculiar to itself . . . it is the old materialism of Epicurus and Lucretius, of D'Holbach and of Lamettrie, . . . with a considerable dash of pantheism . . . It is in fact, the philosophy most in favour in America, and Orson Pratt, who has constituted himself its teacher amongst the Mormons, is hardly anything more than an echo of many a philosophical school in Boston and Philadelphia." Remy is nevertheless surprised at the erudition of the "Mormon doctor," reporting his astonishment to hear from the mouths of the Mormons "language which reminds us of that of the eclectics of the Sorbonne. " Actually, Remy need not have been so surprised since the "philosophy most in favour in America" was the same Scottish Realism" which had produced French eclecticism in the early nineteenth century. Both philosophical movements attempted to combine spiritual and epistemological approaches to truth." (This blend of religious idealism with scientific rationalism has been called "Protestant Scholasticism.") Remy is describing the contemporaneous movement to "integrate natural and Biblical philosophies . . . to arrive at a religion free from doubt . . . a scientific theology."'
Of course, Orson was not above this effort and indeed contributed to it. He spoke of his respect for "the views entertained by philosophers generally at the present day."" Remy fails to realize, however, that Orson eschews the mechanistic view of the Scottish Realists and the French eclectics, that .his is a materialism with a difference. Remy compares Orson's philosophy with that of Julien 0. De Lamettrie, French materialist and author of L'Homme Machine (The Mechanical Man, 1747), who posited that the mind is indeed a material phenomenon but who also "failed to commit himself definitively to the materiality of the soul." Nevertheless, the anti-Christian De Lamettrie is not at all radical in comparison to Orson, who teaches that the soul is not only material but also subject to a set of physical laws appropriate to its own sphere." The whole problem with nineteenth-century philosophy as Orson saw it was its unwillingness to give up its "innumerable conjectures" or attempts to connect a nonexistent, "imaginary," immaterial substance with the material world." Although Remy recognizes that Orson Pratt is a "thorough materialist," he errs in describing Orson as nothing more than "an echo of many a philosophical school in Boston and Philadelphia." (Orson seems far more concerned in any case with the work of British natural philosophers than with that of any American thinkers of his own time.) As Joseph Willard Tingey points out, Orson Pratt's theories were "not so much the products of metaphysical speculation as extensions of his interpretation of scripture and revelation" given by Joseph Smith.
In a way, Pratt's philosophy can be seen as a reaction against the "Protestant Scholasticism" of the nineteenth century. His ideas bear an affinity with those of the great French positivist, Auguste Comte, who at the time Orson was writing issued his brilliant attacks on the same occult metaphysics of Christian orthodoxy (though for different reasons than Orson). For Comte, the attempt to connect the material world with some mysterious, immaterial, transcendent otherworld was evidence of immature thinking. Comte felt that it was useless to explore the problem of why events occur; it was enough to discover the relatively constant relations between self-existent objects and material events. The contrasts, of course, are just as great: where Orson's active materialism proceeded from revelatory premises, Comte's positivism was derived from pure scientism and ended in a godless universe. Furthermore, Comte would have considered Orson's theory of "intelligent atoms" quite simply a throwback to a primitive stage of reasoning."
One critic has called Mormon metaphysics "apocalyptic nonsense." The difficulties in Orson Pratt's reasoning, however, should not obscure the contributions he makes. The notion of "active matter" finds at least partial vindication in the philosophy of Joseph Priestley, who also considers it the answer to the "mind vs. matter" dilemma facing nineteenth-century thought: "Once matter is taken as active the incompatibility between mind and body simply disappears." Though Orson criticized Priestley for not going far enough," it is interesting that both share a view of matter as dynamic rather than passive. . . ( 166-169)
...[Pratt's] efforts at a Mormon cosmology are obviously extrapolated from the principles taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith and embellished by his brother Parley; but the general tenor of nineteenth-century physics and Newtonian natural theology, as developed particularly in the work of the Scottish realists, resounds as well in Pratt's writings. His vision of the Latter-day Saint as a philosopher in a kingdom of philosophers, a missionary and laborer for the truth in a celestial realm of truth-seekers, reflected the contagious idealism of the previous century in both British and American thought.
Orson first encountered the aging and failing "natural philosophy" movement during the last, declining period of the Scottish Enlightenment while working at Edinburgh in 1840. He became infected with the feverish attempt to reconcile Christianity with the mechanism of Newton's universe, Orson Pratt carried into Mormonism (with only partial success) the "insistence on mechanical models in science and life" that so thoroughly dominated British ways of thinking. These views so colored Orson's religious perspective that he felt himself justified in calculating the number of spirits God created (105 billion) and even presented a mathematical proof of the existence of numberless gods! ("This may be exemplified, by conceiving the existence of endless straight lines in boundless space: conceive each of these lines to be divided . . . into an endless number of yards. All can at once see, that there would be a beginning to each of these yards, but there would be no beginning to the endless succession . . . each world and the inhabitants thereof would have a beginfling; but . . . there could not be a first world in this endless succession, nor a first Father in the endless genealogy. ") Such an alliance between natural philosophy and mathematics was a hallmark of British (particularly Scottish) intellectual life.
Pratt himself embodied in an admirable way the eighteenth century "man of parts,"" an ideal derived from Scottish philosophy: "The highest tribute to an enlightened Scot was to be known as a 'man o'parts', meaning not only an extremely capable man in his field but also a man of wide-ranging interests and abilities. The primary aim and object of all education was thus, 'to cultivate all the various principles of our nature, both speculative and active, in such a manner as to bring them to the greatest perfection of which they are susceptible.' For Orson Pratt, this was an eternal ideal; in a way, it was his definition of God: the Father was first of all a man who had attained perfection in all the "various principles of our nature," in whom was found the fullness of truth ("Persons are only tabernacles or temples, and TRUTH is the God, that dwells in them. ") This idea, which Orson in his commitment to reason thought inescapable, was condemned by Brigham Young more roundly than any other-in McMurrin's words, it "cannot be regarded as conforming to Mormon orthodoxy because it appears to deny that, in the last analysis, God as God is a person." ... ( 290-291)
Outside the Mormon church, Orson Pratt's theory of "Holy Spirit" and "Great First Cause" bears an affinity to the views of various contemporary and modern philosophers. Schopenhauer, one notable example, believed like Orson Pratt in the oneness of the "Will," the governing energy of all things, which "knows no plurality, and consequently is one."" Pratt's notion of a universe made up of self-combining, intelligent particles has an interesting modern echo in the writings of Nobel laureate biologist George Wald of Harvard University. Wald suggests that the "universe wants to be known," that there must exist a kind of cosmic consciousness that "formed the material universe and brought out life and overt forms of consciousness," suggesting also that "matter and mind are a cornplementarity . . . two contradictory sides of the same reality."" Orson Pratt drew a similar conclusion in Great First Cause: "Unintelligent primary powers are not only inexplicable but inconceivable! . . .organization could not take place-anterior powers could not exist independently of intelligence, which must be the first moving cause, anterior to all other causes or effects."
Evolution of intelligences toward or away from godhood is the teleology of Orson Pratt's Mormon cosmos. This process of divinization is, for Pratt, dependent upon the acquisition of knowledge, which he himself pursued as best he could. Furthermore, the process is as much earthly as heavenly: the business of man is to learn, and the highest purpose of society is the schooling of man in the fullness of truth. "We are now speaking of what ought to be, and what must be when Zion is built up according to the celestial law . . . As in temporal things, so in spiritual . . . when each Saint obtains the fullness of all the knowledge revealed, instead of being made an accountable steward over a small portion of the joint fund, he is accountable for the whole. "38 For Orson Pratt, Zion was built up of men and women who have reached perfection in knowledge. In this, the Mormon vision recalls once again the social idealism of the eighteenth century. Condorcet, the great Enlightenment social philosopher, also "en- shrines the idea of progress as a moral absolute," and looks forward to "the climax of man's progress, when reason and science would secure the natural rights of man in a world of peace, prosperity and equality." Condorcet preaches unlimited human potential ("Nature has set no term to the perfection of human faculties; . . . the perfectibility of man is truly indefinite") and envisions "an Elysium created by reason, `9 very similar to the Utopia of Scottish natural philosophers such as Thomas Dick. "The soul of man," writes Dick, "appears to be capable of making a perpetual progress towards intellectual and moral perfection . . . without the possibility of ever arriving at a boundary to its excursions."" In this respect Orson Pratt's view of the "celestial order of Zion" reflects the Enlightenment concept of man's glorious "future state."" The modern Latter-day Saint still cherishes this dream as both an earthly and a heavenly possibility. ( 294-295)
Figures mentioned as possible 'contemporary' sources by England:
Thomas Chalmers, Joseph Priestly, Thomas Dick, Thomas Brown, George Berkeley, Joseph Butler, Erasmus Darwin, Dionysius Lardner, William Paley, John Herschel, William Whewell, David Hume,
Whereas Pratt argued foramaterial metaphysics, his philosophical position is justified, ironically, not in the mechanical tradition of modern science associated with the names of Galileo, Descartes, Gassendi, Newton, and Laplace but in the organic worldview rooted in the Hermetic tradition of the Renaissance. This view was also favored in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century by German idealists such as Schelling, Hegel, and Goethe, by the English romantic tradition of Wordsworth and Byron, and by the American transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau. For Pratt, the animate, active, and psychic presence of a material god was always the ultimate justification for motion, thought, and perception in the universe. In the categories of the Hermetic Philosophy, Pratt's monistic metaphysics was thoroughly occult precisely because the materiality of his world possessed self-volition.
In radical contrast to both the occult world of Hermeticism and the rational Aristotelian metaphysics, the mechanical philosophy of nature that came to define seventeenth-century thinking argued for a metaphysics of nature that admitted only two ontological realities-inert matter and motion. The mechanical philosophy had several different interpretations, however. The Cartesian ontology was a plenum (th admitting no void space) entirely full of matter in various degrees sizes, while Gassendi's mechanical ontology admitted only inert ato of and void space. As scientist vis-Ó-vis alchemist, Newton, whose greatest achievement was to synthesize the (Gassendist) mechanical view of reality with a mathematical ontology, added an independent force to the mechanical view of nature.
Descartes, Gassendi, and most other seventeenth-century natural philosophers rejected occult forces as imaginative at best but illicit and dangerous in the extreme. The mechanical ontology argued that things move in the world, not through some mysterious force or interplay between things but rather through the direct contact of particles. Thus by definition, the mechanical world, full of inanimate particles of materiality, caused things to happen by the direct pressure of one particle upon another. Admittedly, in this sense Pratt, like Newton before him, was a (Gassendist) mechanical philosopher:
There is in reality only one force in the universe, and that is a self-moving force; all the phenomena of the universe are the effects of this self-moving force, either directly or indirectly; and this force always resides in the atoms of matter, and never extends beyond their surfaces; and therefore can only act in the form of pressure, and can never act where the atoms are not present; its effects can only be transferred to a distance through the medium of other matter in the form of pressure, and not in the form of attraction or repulsion which in all cases is absolutely impossible.
In contrast to the mechanical requirement of inert particles, however, Pratt's atomistic ontology admitted particles that possessed self-volition. Thus his ontology of nature was a curious mixture of the occult with the mechanical: he accepted the Hermetic emphasis on the animate and active, yet he rejected Newton's idea of force and adopted a mechanical universe entirely full of atoms.
By retaining the active presence of self-moving particles, Pratt both explained the causative nature of reality-things happen because of the direct pressure of one particle on another-and guaranteed the direct primacy of God's presence in the world. Thus, the "all-powerful substance (called God)" holds everything together, specifically the phenomena-such as cohesive attraction, universal gravitation, repulsion and chemical affinity-that the early Newton had spent so much time trying to explain, using his alchemical ideas. Above all, Pratt argued. "When God performs a miracle by suspending a law of nature, he does so, not by acting at a distance from where the miracle is performed but by the actual presence of those parts of his essence which are in contact with the materials on which the miracle is performed." In the final analysis, all natural forces, whether mechanical, gravitational, or chemical, are, in Pratt's view, not forces at all but effects of his selfactivating universe: "The force which produces these effects is hidden from the view of mortals. A living, intelligent, self-moving force, is the origin of all the motions and laws of nature." In his Absurdities of Immaterjli5m as well as elsewhere throughout most of his life, Pratt argued that, when carried to the extreme in living organisms, these self-active particles become mutually active and emerge into an organic holism.
Other mechanical philosophers, such as Descartes, reduced the Divine to 'first cause' only, or, as in the case with the later Newton, God's primacy was entirely ad hoc and admitted actively only when the world machine wound down sufficiently for the cosmic designer to intervene in an otherwise self-moving, independent system. Thus, while Descartes, Gassendi, Newton, and other mechanical philosophers in the new age that came to define modern science admitted God provisionally or as a last resort, Pratt was fundamentally motivated by a profound belief in an active god and therefore constructed an ontology that demanded an active role for the Holy Spirit, all the while retaining his materialistic ontology. ( 129-131 )
Whereas mainstream nineteenth-century physical scientists (primarily physicists) concerned themselves almost exclusively with problems entailed in the electromagnetic and luminiferous ether, Pratt represents a minority tradition (mostly astronomers) that concerned itself with the general viability of the universal applicability of Newton', gravitation theory. In terms of the gravitational ether, there were two opposing positions. On the one hand, some argued that the planets slid through the ether perfectly, without any noticeable retardation. If this were the case, then, asked others, how could the alleged gravitational attraction between celestial objects pull them together if the ether does not appear to interact with gross matter? On the other hand, if the ether is dragged along with a planet's motion, then wouldn't the planet be retarded in its motion, causing it to slow down and eventually devolve into its central sun? ( 131-132 )
With the rise of modern science beginning with Galileo in the seventeenth century and the emergence of the new mechanical ontology of nature most carefully articulated by Descartes, Isaac Newton's greatest contribution was his synthesis of the mathematical and the mechanical traditions into a coherent whole that has been the foundation of modern science ever since. In so doing, Newton, in the emerging tradition of his age of reason with its emphasis on its mathematical language, explicated nature as law. In keeping with the Hermetic philosophers of the Renaissance, however, Newton at the ontological level engaged nature in terms of occult tendencies. As we have seen, this aspect of his science was, by the standards of the seventeenth century, totally out of sync with the mathematical and empirical efforts presented in his Principia and Opticks.
Orson Pratt also attempted to explicate the laws of nature mathematically. But Pratt, like Descartes, Newton, and many others in the seventeenth century, also continued in that tradition which attempted to explicate the actual, microcosmic workings of nature by constantly speculating on the mechanisms based on its ontology, whereas science, as it continued to develop in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, became increasingly positivistic, emphasizing the 'how' of nature and not the 'why.' In this sense, Pratt was most strongly associated with the Romantic and organic vision of reality and therefore correspondingly out of step with the very mechanical tradition that he attempted to emulate. Thus, although Pratt was unaware of Newton's deepest philosophical feelings, Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century and Orson Pratt in the nineteenth became philosophical bedfellows.
Pratt's excursions into mathematics, though modest and actually quite naive, were meant to satisfy his unfulfilled quest for theoretical and mathematical dominance. Pratt understood, in the tradition of Newton and Laplace, that to explicate the mysteries of the universe required thorough knowledge of the language of nature and that that language, at least since the seventeenth century, had become mathematics. Consequently, his Key to the Universe was thoroughly saturated with a mathematical and Newtonian veneer. ( 139 )