Book I: Metaphysics of Knowledge.

Chapter I: The Spiritual Principle in Knowledge and Nature.

§ 54.

We may express the conclusion to which we are thus brought by saying that nature in its reality, or in order to be what it is, implies a principle which is not natural. By calling the principle not natural we mean that it is neither included among the phenomena which through its presence to them form a nature, nor consists in their series, nor is itself determined by any of the relations which it constitutes among them. In saying more than this of it we must be careful not to fall into confusion. We are most safe in calling it spiritual, because, for reasons given, we are warranted in thinking of it as a self-distinguishing consciousness. In calling it supernatural we run the risk of misleading and being misled, for we suggest a relation between it and nature of a kind which has really no place except within nature, as a relation of phenomenon to phenomenon. We convey the notion that it is above or beyond or before nature, that it is a cause of which nature is the effect, a substance of which the changing modes constitute nature; while in truth all the relations so expressed are relations which, indeed, but for the non-natural self-conscious subject would not exist, but which are not predicable of it. If we employ language about it in which, strictly taken, they are implied, it must only be on a clear understanding of its metaphorical character. (§ 54 ¶ 1)

On the other hand, there is no imperative reason why we should limit nature to the restricted sense in which we have been supposing it to be used, if only the same sense can be covered by another term. If we like, we may employ the term nature to represent the one whole which includes both the system of related phenomena and the principle, other than itself, which that system implies. But in that case, if we would avoid confusion, we must find some other term than nature to represent the system of phenomena as such, or as considered without inclusion of the spiritual principle which it implies, and some other term than natural to represent that which this system contains. We are pretty sure, however, to fail in this, and nature in consequence becomes a term that is played fast and loose with in philosophical writing. It is spoken of as an independent agent; a certain completeness and self-containedness are ascribed to it; and to this there is no objection so long as we understand it to include the spiritual principle, neither in time nor in space, immaterial and immovable, eternally one with itself, which is necessary to the possibility of a world of phenomena. But it is otherwise if nature is at the same time thought of, as it almost inevitably is, under attributes only applicable to the world of phenomena, and thus as excluding the spiritual principle which that world indeed implies, but implies as other than itself. In that case, to ascribe independence or self-consciousness to it--if for a moment the use of theological language may be allowed which it is generally desirable to avoid--is to deify nature while we cancel its title to deification. It is to speak of nature without God in a manner only appropriate to nature as it is in God. Or--to employ language less liable to misleading associations--it is to involve ourselves in perpetual confusion by seeking for a completeness in the world of phenomena, the world existing under conditions of space and time, which, just because it exists under those conditions, is not to be found there. The result of the confusion will generally be that, being unable to discover any perfection or totality or independent agency among the matters of fact which we know, and having ignored the implication by those facts of a spiritual principle other than themselves, we come to assume that no perfect or self-determined being exists at all, or at any rate in any relation to us. (§ 54 ¶ 2)