Observations upon experimental philosophy to which is added The description of a new blazing world
Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of, 1624?-1674.

4. Of Epicurus his Principles of Philosophy.

1. COncerning the World, Epicurus is of opinion, That it is not Eternal and Incorruptible; but that it was generated, and had a beginning, and shall also have an end, and perish: For, says he, It is necessary that all compounded things be also dissipated, and resolved into those things of which they were com∣pounded. By the World, he understands a portion of the universe; that is, the circumference of Heaven, containing the Stars, the Earth, and all things visible; For Heaven he supposes to be the extreme, or outmost Page  21 part of the World; and by the Universe, he under∣stands Infinite Nature, which consists of Body, and Vacuum; for he thinks bodies could not move, were there no Vacuum to move in.

Whereof I do briefly declare my opinion, thus: If the Universe or Nature it self be Infinite, Eternal and Incorruptible, all parts of Nature, or the Universe, must be so too; I mean, in themselves, as they are Matter, or Body; for were it possible, that some of them could perish, or be annihilated; the Universe would be imperfect, and consequently not infinite, as wanting some parts of its own body. 'Tis true, par∣ticular natural figures may be infinitely changed, dis∣solved, transformed; but they can never be dissolved from being Matter, or parts of Nature; and if not, they cannot perish, no not the figures of finite parts, for as Matter cannot perish, so neither can figure, be∣cause matter and figure are but onething; and though one part be transformed into millions of figures, yet all those figures do not perish in their changes and altera∣tions, but continue still in Nature, as being parts of Nature, and therefore material. Thus, change, al∣teration, dissolution, division, composition, and all other species of motions, are no annihilation, or pe∣rishing; neither can it be proved, that parts dissolve more then they unite; because dissolution, or divi∣sion and composition of parts, are but one act; for whensoever parts separate themselves from some, they Page  22 must of necessity join to others; which doth also prove, that there can be no Vacuum in Nature; for if there were, there would be division without composition: besides, there would be no parts, but all parts would be several wholes, by reason they would subsist by themselves. Thus Nature would not be one infinite body, com∣posed of Infinite parts; but every part being a whole by it self, would make some kind of a finite world; and those parts which separate themselves from each other by the intervals of Vacuum, would subsist precised from each other, as having no relation to one another, and so become wholes of parts; nay, if several of those in∣tire and single bodies should join closely together, they would make such a gap of Vacuum, as would cause a confusion and disturbance both amongst themselves, and in the Universe. Wherefore sense and reason contradicts the opinion of Vacuum; neither is there any necessity of introducing it, by reason of the motion of natural bodies; for they may move without Vacuum better then within Vacuum, since all bodies are not of the like Nature, that is, dense, close, or compact; but there are fluid bodies, as well as hard bodies; rare, as well as dense; subtile, as well as gross; because there is animate and inanimate matter in Nature. But con∣cerning the World, it seems, Epicurus doth not mean by the dissolution of the world, an absolute annihila∣tion, but onely a reduction into its former principles, which are Atomes; however, if this be his meaning, Page  23 he contradicts himself, when he affirms, that the uni∣verse, whose portion the World is, was ever such as it is now, and shall ever be thus; for if it shall continue so for ever as it is now, how is it possible, that it should be reduced into Atomes. He says also, That the Vni∣niverse is immovable and immutable. If he mean it to be so in its Essence or Nature, so that it cannot be changed from being material; and that it is immovable, so that it cannot be moved, beyond, or without it self; I am of his opinion: For Nature being purely and wholly ma∣terial, cannot be made immaterial, without its total destruction; and being infinite, has nothing without it self to move into: Otherwise, Nature is not onely a self-moving body, but also full of changes and varie∣ties; I mean, within her self, and her particulars. As for his infinite Worlds, I am not different from his o∣pinion, if by Worlds he mean the parts of infinite Na∣ture; but my Reason will not allow, that those infi∣nite Worlds do subsist by themselves, distinguished from each other by Vacuum; for it is meer non-sense to say, the Universe consists of body and Vacuum; that is, of something, and nothing; for nothing cannot be a constitutive principle of any thing, neither can it be measured, or have corporeal dimensions; for what is no body, can have no bodily affections or properties. God, by his Omnipotency, may reduce the World into nothing; but this cannot be comprehended by na∣tural reason.

Page  24 2. The Matter or Principle of all natural Beings, Epicurus makes Atomes: For, say he, There are Simple, and Compounded bodies in the Universe; the Simple bodies are the first matter, out of which the Com∣pounded bodies consist, and those are Atomes; that is, bo∣dies indivisible, immutable, and in themselves void of all mutation; consisting of several infinite figures; some big∣ger, and some less. Which opinion appears very Para∣doxical to my reason; for if Atomes be bodies, I do not see how they can be indivisible, by reason where∣soever is body, there are also parts; so that divisibi∣lity is an essential propriety or attribute of Matter or Body. He counts it impossible, that one finite part should be capable of infinite divisions; but his Vacuum makes him believe there are single finite parts, distin∣guished from each other by little spaces or intervals of vacuity, which in truth cannot be; but as soon as parts are divided from such or such parts, they immediately join to other parts; for division and composition, as I mentioned before, are done by one act; and one countervails the other. 'Tis true, there are distin∣ctions of parts in Nature, or else there would be no variety; but these are not made by little intervals of vacuity, but by their own figures, interior as well as exterior, caused by self-motion, which make a diffe∣rence between the infinite parts of Nature. But put the case there were such Atomes, out of which all things are made; yet no man that has his sense and reason Page  25 regular, can believe, they did move by chance, or at least without sense and reason, in the framing of the world, and all natural bodies, if he do but consider the wonderful order and harmony that is in Nature, and all her parts. Indeed I admire so witty and great a Phi∣losopher as Epicurus, should be of such an extravagant opinion, as to divide composed bodies into animate and inanimate, and derive them all from one Principle, which are senseless and irrational Atomes; for if his A∣tomes, out of which all things consist, be self-moving, or have, as he says, some natural impulse within them∣selves, then certainly all bodies that are composed of them, must be the same. He places the diversity of them onely in figure, weight and magnitude, but not in motion, which he equally allows to all; nay, more∣over, he says, that although they be of different fi∣fiures, weight and magnitude, yet they do all move equally swift; but if they have motion, they must of necessity have also sense, that is, life and knowledg; there being no such thing as a motion by chance in Na∣ture, because Nature is full of reason as well as of sense, and wheresoevever is reason, there can be no chance; Chance is onely in respect to particulars, caused by their ignorance; for particulars being finite in them∣selves, can have no Infinite or Universal knowledg; and where there is no Universal knowledg, there must of necessity be some ignorance. Thus ignorance, which proceeds from the division of parts, causes that which we Page  26 call chance; but Nature, being an infinite self-moving body, has also infinite knowledg; and therefore she knows of no chance, nor is this visible World, or any part of her, made by chance, or a casual concourse of senseless and irrational Atomes; but by the All-pow∣erful Decree and Command of God, out of that pre∣existent Matter that was from all Eternity, which is in∣finite Nature; for though the Scripture expresses the framing of this World, yet it doth not say, that Na∣ture her self was then created; but onely that this world was put into such a frame and state, as it is now; and who knows but there may have been many other Worlds before, and of another figure then this is: nay, if Nature be infinite, there must also be infinite Worlds; for I take, with Epicurus, this World but for a part of the Universe; and as there is self-motion in Nature, so there are also perpetual changes of particulars, although God himself be immovable; for God acts by his All∣powerful Decree or Command, and not after a na∣tural way.

3. The Soul of Animals, says Epicurus, is corpo∣real, and a most tenuious and subtile body, made up of most subtile particles, in figure, smooth and round, not perceptible by any sense; and this subtile contexture of the soul, is mixed and compounded of four several natures; as of something fiery, something aerial, some∣thing flatuous, and something that has no name; by means whereof it is indued with a sensitive faculty. And Page  27 as for reason, that is likewise compounded or little bo∣dies, but the smoothest and roundest of all, and of the quickest motion. Thus he discourses of the Soul, which, I confess, surpasses my understanding; for I shall never be able to conceive, how senseless and irra∣tional Atomes can produce sense and reason, or a sen∣sible and rational body, such as the soul is, although he affirms it to be possible: 'Tis true, different effects may proceed from one cause or principle; but there is no principle, which is senseless, can produce sensitive effects; nor no rational effects can flow from an irra∣tional cause; neither can order, method and harmo∣ny proceed from chance or confusion; and I cannot conceive, how Atomes, moving by chance, should onely make souls in animals, and not in other bodies; for if they move by chance, and not by knowledg and consent, they might, by their conjunction, as well chance to make souls in Vegetables and Minerals, as in Animals.

4. Concerning Perception, and in particular, the Perception of sight, Epicurus affirms, that it is per∣formed by the gliding of some images of external ob∣jects into our eyes, to wit, that there are certain effluxi∣ons of Atomes sent out from the surfaces of bodies, preserving the same position and order, as is found in the superficies of them, resembling them in all their li∣neaments; and those he calls Images, which are per∣petually flowing in an interrupted course; and when Page  28 one Image goes away, another immediately succeeds from the superficies of the object in a continued stream; and this entering into our eyes, and striking our sight, with a very swift motion, causes the Perception of seeing.

This strange opinion of his, is no less to be admired then the rest, and shews, that Epicurus was more blind in his reason, then perhaps in his Eye-sight: For, first, How can there be such a perpetual effluxion of Atomes, from an external body, without lessening or weakning its bulk or substance, especially they being corporeal? Indeed, if a million of eyes or more, should look for a long time upon one object, it is impossible, but that object would be sensibly lessened or diminished, at least weakned, by the perpetual effluxions of so many millions of Atomes: Next, how is it possible, that the Eye can receive such an impress of so many Atomes, without hurting or offending it in the least? Thirdly, Since Epicurus makes Vacuities in Nature, How can the images pass so orderly through all those Vacuities, especially if the object be of a considerable magnitude? for then all intermediate bodies that are between the sentient, and the sensible object, must re∣move, and make room for so many images to pass thorow. Fourthly, How is it possible, that, espe∣cially at a great distance, in an instant of time, and as soon as I cast my eye upon the object, so many A∣tomes can effluviate with such a swiftness, as to enter Page  29 so suddenly through the Air into the Eye; for all mo∣tion is progressive, and done in time? Fifthly, I would fain know, when those Atomes are issued from the object, and entered into the eye, what doth at last become of them? Surely they cannot remain in the Eye, or else the Eye would never lose the sight of the object; and if they do not remain in the Eye, they must either return to the object from whence they came, or join with other bodies, or be annihilated. Sixtly, I cannot imagine, but that, when we see several objects at one and the same time, those images proceeding from so many several objects, be they never so orderly in their motions, will make a horrid confusion; so that the eye will rather be confounded, then perceive any thing exactly after this manner. Lastly, A man having two eyes; I desire to know, Whether every eye has its own image to perceive, or whether but one image enters into both; if every eye receives its own image, then a man having two eyes, may see double; and a great Drone-flie, which Experimental Philoso∣phers report to have 14000 eyes, may receive so many images of one object; but if but one image enters into all those eyes, then the image must be divided into so many parts.

5. What Epicurus means by his divine Nature, cannot be understood by a natural capacity; for, he says it is the same with corporeal Nature; but yet not so much a body, as a certain thing like a body, as Page  30 having nothing common to it with other bodies, that is, with transitory, generated, and perishable things. But, in my opinion, God must either be Corporeal, or Incorporeal; if Corporeal, he must be Nature it self; for there's nothing corporeal, but what is natural; if incorporeal, he must be supernatural; for there is nothing between body, and no body; corporeal and incorporeal; natural, and supernatural; and therefore to say, God is of a corporeal nature, and yet not a body, but like a body, is contrary to all sense and reason. 'Tis true, God hath actions, but they are not corporeal, but supernatural, and not comprehensible by a humane or finite capacity: Neither is God naturally moving, for he has no local or natural motion, nor doth he trouble himself with making any thing, but by his All-power∣full Decree and Command he produces all things; and Nature, which is his Eternal servant, obeys his Com∣mands: Wherefore the actions of Nature cannot be a disturbance to his Incomprehensible felicity, no not to Nature, which being self-moving, can do no other∣wise, but take delight in acting, for her actions are free and easie, and not forced or constrained.

6. Although he affirms, That God, or Nature, considers Man no more then other Creatures; yet he endeavours to prove, That Man is the best product of his Atomes; which to me seems strange, considering that all compositions of Atomes come by chance, and that the Principles of all Creatures are alike. But Page  31 truly, take away the supernatural or divine soul from man, and he is no better then other Creatures are, be∣cause they are all composed of the same matter, and have all sense and reason, which produces all sorts of figures, in such order, method and harmony, as the wisdom of Nature requires, or as God has ordered it; for Nature, although she be Infinite and Eter∣nal, yet she depends upon the Incomprehensible God, the Author of Nature, and his All-powerfull Commands, Worshipping and Adoring him in her infinite particulars; for God being Infinite, must also have an infinite Worship; and if Nature had no dependance on God, she would not be a servant, but God her self. Wherefore Epicurus his Atomes, having no dependance upon a divine power, must of necessity be Gods; nay, every Atome must be a peculiar God, each being a single body, subsisting by it self; but they being senseless and irrational, would prove but weak Gods: Besides his Chance is but an uncertain God, and his Vacuum an empty God; and if all natural effects were grounded up∣on such principles, Nature would rather be a con∣fused Chaos, then an orderly and harmonical Uni∣verse.