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The New Cosmology in Its Historical Aspect: Plato, Newton, Whitehead


Recent developments both in science and philosophy are tending to converge upon an outlook on things that constitutes or at least foreshadows a great new synthesis. The advances made more especially in astronomical and physical knowledge—the one concerning the indefinitely vast and the other the indefinitely minute—and the similarities disclosed in the two spheres, recalling Pascal’s insistent relating of the two infinites (the infinitely great and the infinitely small), and also Bacon’s contention that such similarities are not mere analogies but “the same footsteps of nature treading or printing upon several subjects or matters,” 1 have both widened and unified our conceptions of reality. Along with this has gone the influence alike on philosophy and on the sciences generally of the development of mathematical and biological ideas. Under the combined influence, especially, of Bergson and Einstein a restatement of fundamental principles is proceeding apace.

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page 54 note 1 Advancement of Learning, Book II, chap, v, § 3.

page 54 note 2 Cf. especially Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919); Concept of Nature (1920); Process and Reality (1929).

page 54 note 3 Op. cit., p. 129.

page 55 note 1 The cosmology given in the Timæus does not stand alone, for aspects of it are found in such Dialogues as the Phædrus, Philebus, and Laws; but the exposition of the Timæus is the fullest as well as having been the most influential. It is contended with much likelihood of truth (by A. E. Taylor in his Commentary on the Dialogue) that all or most of the statement is Pythagorean doctrine; and Jowett remarks that “many, if not all, the elements of the Pre-Socratic philosophy are included in the Timæus.” But by taking different Dialogues together—as the following account of it does—we can see what Plato’s fundamental standpoint is, quite apart from the question how far this agrees or disagrees with the tenets of some of the other Greek thinkers. Its relation to the system of Democritus is referred to below.

page 55 note 2 Timæus, 27d–31b.

page 56 note 1 37d.

page 56 note 2 49a.—The identity of matter with space is implied, as Windelband remarks, in Plato’s identification of physical with mathematical body, viz. form and number.

page 56 note 3 52d–53b.

page 56 note 4 Phadrus, 245; Philebus, 28–30; Laws, X, 891–9.

page 56 note 5 This is the real meaning of the so-called intractability of matter.

page 57 note 1 Adam’s rendering of the passage.

page 57 note 2 Timæus, 47e–8a.—Cf.: “There is always the problem in cosmic evolution of inducing individuals to adjust themselves to a higher pattern—of bringing the electron into the atomic field, the atom into the molecular field, molecules into the structural field of molar body, inorganic matter into the field of living matter, living matter into a more and more complex hierarchy of fields, man into the field of more adequate social patterns, and social patterns into line with the ultimate cosmic patterns.”—Boodin J. E., “Cosmology in Plato’s Thought,” in Mind, January 1930, p. 77.

page 57 note 3 Philosophies Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687).

page 57 note 4 These are in great part common to Galilei, Descartes, and Locke along with Newton.

page 58 note 1 History of Modern Philosophy, vol. i, p. 411.

page 59 note 1 I have treated the subject of this and the immediately following paragraph more fully in two papers already published, namely “Some Aspects of the Approach of Philosophy and Science” and the “Significance of Holism” is the South African Journal of Science, vols. xxv and xxvi respectively. Hence the brevity of the statement here.

page 60 note 1 From one of the papers just mentioned, which referred at length to Bergson and Alexander, and also to Whitehead’s previous works.

page 60 note 2 Cf. “Process is the becoming of experience,” Process and Reality, p. 233.

page 60 note 3 This is the only possible evidence of the existence of a common world. Subjective and objective, as aspects of experience, are in general identical with mental and material respectively. Experience, whether conscious or unconscious, is both mental and physical. In each actuality there are two poles of realization, the mental pole and the physical, which are related to each other as vision (implying valuation and purpose) to actual fulfilment, or as final to efficient cause.

page 61 note 1 Whitehead expresses this in his distinction of what he terms the “primordial” and the “consequent” nature of God. Op. cit., Part V, chap, ii (“God and the World”).

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