Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Reinhold Friedrich Alfred Hoernlé

R. F. A.  Hoernlé (1880-1943)

The following excerpt from Matter, life, mind, and God (1923) by Reinhold Friedrich Alfred Hoernlé was summarized by Iqbal in the second lecture of The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930-34).
Now, the theory of “matter”—the “materialism” of common parlance—which we have to discuss and which we shall find reason to reject as untenable, is a particular theory of the nature of sense-objects and of their relation, on the one side, to the percipient’s mind, and, on the other, to “scientific objects.”

The essence of this theory is to be found in the following propositions:
(1)   Sense-objects (colours, sounds, etc.) are “sensations” and, as such, states of the perceiver’s mind. They are “subjective.”
(2)   By this classification of sense-objects as “mental states,” or “mental impressions,” they are, at once, excluded from Nature as “physical” (“material,” “objective”).
(3)   Hence, they cannot be in any proper sense qualities of physical things (theory of “secondary qualities”: strictly, we should not say, “the sky is blue,” but, “it produces a blue sensation in our minds”).
(4)   As mental states they are effects produced in us.
(5)   The cause of these effects is matter, or material things, acting through our sense-organs, nerves, and brain on our minds.
(6)   The manner of this causation is mechanical, i.e., by contact, or impact; hence the physical cause must possess the “primary qualities” of shape, size, solidity, resistance.

Two points, especially, stand out in this materialistic theory. The first is that the world of Nature is stripped of all sense-objects, of all colour, sound, smell, temperature, etc., which are all denied to Nature by being classed under the heading of “mind,” with the twofold result that (a) our ordinary way of speaking of perceptual objects and their qualities involves a complete illusion, and (b) that what remains of Nature must be conceived as consisting only of imperceptible entities, possessing only the primary qualities. The second point is a causal theory of perception: the sense-objects which we perceive are the effects produced in our minds by the action of the imperceptible entities on our sense-organs. In short, it is a theory, not merely of what Nature is, or is known to be, but also of what Nature does to the mind of the percipient.

The net result is that Nature is split in two. What we directly perceive (the tissue of sense-objects) is divorced from the realm of scientific objects, which latter now figure precariously as the hypothetical and unverifiable causes of the impressions in our minds.

Some physicists, straying into the field of philosophy of Nature, have endorsed this materialistic theory under the impression that it is at least in harmony with, if not actually implied by, the science of physics itself. But these adventurers are misguided. For, closely considered, nothing could well be less in harmony with this theory than the actual method of scientific investigation. As observer and experimenter, the physicist gets his evidence of what Nature is, and does, in the first instance through his senses. Yet, on the theory, this evidence consists of nothing but subjective impressions in his mind, and he is still separated from Nature by a gap which he can bridge only by means of a precarious hypothesis concerning the imperceptible Somewhat which may caused his sensations. In fact, were his practice not better than this theory, he could hardly move a step. Fortunately, in actual practice he forgets all about the theory and accepts all he observes as bona fide disclosures of Nature. He does not hamper himself by labelling “mental” whatever he perceives, and then guessing at the “physical” world “behind the veil.” He never thinks of sensations, but only of phenomena, and of what may be needed to explain them.


  1. Greetings,

    Thank you for this.

    This examination of experience is fascinating. Elsewhere in "The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam," Iqbal mentions that "Reality lives in its own appearances..." The Imperceptible is, then, not so far away.

    All good wishes,


  2. Great explanation about philosophy of Nature.

    Much Appreciated.

    Hira Abid