Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
The term "spiritualism" has been frequently used to denote the belief in the possibility of communication with disembodied spirits, and the various devices employed to realize this belief in practice. The term "Spiritism", which is used in Italy, France, and Germany, seems more apt to express this meaning. Spiritualism, then, suitably stands opposed to materialism. We may say in general that Spiritualism is the doctrine which denies that the contents of the universe are limited to matter and the properties and operations of matter. It maintains the existence of real being or beings (minds, spirits) radically distinct in nature from matter. It may take the form of Spiritualistic Idealism, which denies the existence of any real material being outside of the mind; or, whilst defending the reality of spiritual being, it may also allow the separate existence of the material world. Further, Idealistic Spiritualism may either take the form of Monism (e.g., with Fichte), which teaches that there exists a single universal mind or ego of which all finite minds are but transient moods or stages: or it may adopt a pluralistic theory (e.g. with Berkeley), which resolves the universe into a Divine Mind together with a multitude of finite minds into which the former infuses all those experiences that generate the belief in an external, independent, material world. The second or moderate form of Spiritualism, whilst maintaining the existence of spirit, and in particular the human mind or soul, as a real being distinct from the body, does not deny the reality of matter. It is, in fact, the common doctrine of Dualism. However, among the systems of philosophy which adhere to Dualism, some conceive the separateness or mutual independence of soul and body to be greater and others less. With some philosophers of the former class, soul and body seem to have been looked upon as complete beings merely accidentally united. For these a main difficulty is to give a satisfactory account of the inter-action of two beings so radically opposed in nature.
Historically, we find the early Greek philosophers tending generally towards Materialism. Sense experience is more impressive than our higher, rational consciousness, and sensation is essentially bound up with the bodily organism. Anaxagoras was the first, apparently, among the Greeks to vindicate the predominance of mind or reason in the universe. It was, however, rather as a principle of order, to account for the arrangement and design evident in nature as a whole, than to vindicate the reality of individual minds distinct from the bodies which they animate. Plato was virtually the father of western spiritualistic philosophy. He emphasized the distinction between the irrational or sensuous and the rational functions of the soul. He will not allow the superior elements in knowledge or the higher "parts" of the soul to be explained away in terms of the lower. Both subsist in continuous independence and opposition. Indeed, the rational soul is related to the body merely as the pilot to the ship or the rider to his horse. Aristotle fully recognized the spirituality of the higher rational activity of thought, but his treatment of its precise relation to the individual human soul is obscure. On the other hand, his conception of the union of soul and body, and of the unity of the human person, is much superior to that of Plato. Though the future life of the human soul, and consequently its capacity for an existence separate from the body, was one of the most fundamental and important doctrines of the Christian religion, yet ideas as to the precise meaning of spirituality were not at first clear, and we find several of the earliest Christian writers (though maintaining the future existence of the soul separate from the body), yet conceiving the soul in a more or less materialistic way (cf. Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, etc.). The Catholic philosophic doctrine of Spiritualism received much of its development from St. Augustine, the disciple of Platonic philosophy, and its completion from Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas, who perfected the Aristotelian account of the union of soul and body.
Modern Spiritualism, especially of the more extreme type, has its origin in Descartes. Malebranche, and indirectly Berkeley, who contributed so much in the sequel to Monistic Idealism, are indebted to Descartes, whilst every form of exaggerated Dualism which set mind and body in isolation and contrast traces its descent from him. In spite of serious faults and defects in their systems, it should be recognized that Descartes and Leibnitz contributed much of the most effective resistance to the wave of Materialism which acquired such strength in Europe at the end of the eighteenth and during the first half of the nineteenth centuries. In particular, Maine de Biran, who emphasized the inner activity and spirituality of the will, followed by Jouffroy and Cousin, set up so vigorous an opposition to the current Materialism as to win for their theories the distinctive title of "Spiritualism". In Germany, in addition to Kant, Fichte, and other Monistic Idealists, we find Lotze and Herbart advocating realistic forms of Spiritualism. In England, among the best-known advocates of Dualistic Spiritualism, were, in succession to the Scottish School, Hamilton and Martineau; and of Catholic writers, Brownson in America, and W.G. Ward in England.
Whilst modern Idealists and writers advocating an extreme form of Spiritualism have frequently fallen into grievous error in their own positive systems, their criticisms of Materialism and their vindication of the reality of spiritual being seem to contain much sound argument and some valuable contributions, as was indeed to be expected, to this controversy.
The line of reasoning adopted by Berkeley against Materialism has never met with any real answer from the latter. If we were compelled to choose between the two, the most extreme Idealistic Materialism would be incomparably the more logical creed to hold. Mind is more intimately known than matter, ideas are more ultimate than molecules. External bodies are only known in terms of consciousness. To put forward as a final explanation that thought is merely a motion or property of certain bodies, when all bodies are, in the last resort, only revealed to us in terms of our thinking activity, is justly stigmatized by all classes of Spiritualists as utterly irrational. When the Materialist or Sensationist reasons out his doctrine, he is landed in hopeless absurdity. Materialism is in fact the answer of the men who do not think, who are apparently quite unaware of the presuppositions which underlie all science.
The contention, old as Anaxagoras, that the order, adaptation, and design evidently revealed in the universe postulate a principle distinct from matter for its explanation is also a valid argument for Spiritualism. Matter cannot arrange itself. Yet that there is arrangement in the universe, an that this postulates the agency of a principle other than matter, is continually more and more forced upon us by the utter failure of natural selection to meet the demands made on it during the last half of the past century to accomplish by the blind, fortuitous action of physical agents work demanding the highest intelligence.
The denial of spiritual beings distinct from, and in some sense independent of, matter inexorably involves the annihilation of morality. If the mechanical or materialistic theory of the universe be true, every movement and change of each particle of matter is the inevitable outcome of previous physical conditions. There is no room anywhere for effective human choice or purpose in the world. Consequently, all those notions which form the constituent elements of man's moral creed--duty, obligation, responsibility, merit, desert, and the rest--are illusions of the imagination. Virtue and vice, fraud and benevolence are alike the inevitable outcome of the individual's circumstances, and ultimately as truly beyond his control as the movement of the piston is in regard to the steam-engine.
Again, unless the reality of spirit distinct from, and independent of, matter be admitted, the still more incredible conclusion inexorably follows that mind, thought, consciousness play no really operative part in the world's history. If mind is not a real distinct energy, capable of interfering with, guiding, and influencing the movements of matter, then clearly it has played no real part in the creations of art, literature, or science. Consciousness is merely an inefficacious by-product, an epiphenomenon which has never modified in any degree the movements of matter concerned in the history of the human race.
The outcome of all the main theses of psychology, empirical and rational, in Catholic systems of philosophy is the establishment of a Spiritualistic Dualism, and the determination of the relations of soul and body. Analysis of the higher activities of the soul, and especially of the operations of intellectual conception, judgment, reasoning, and self-conscious reflection, proves the faculty of intellect and the soul to which it belongs to be of a spiritual nature, distinct from matter, and not the outcome of a power inherent in a bodily organ. At the same time the Scholastic doctrine, better than any other system, furnishes a conception of the union of soul and body which accounts for the extrinsic dependence of the spiritual operations of the mind on the organism; whilst maintaining the spiritual nature of the soul, it safeguards the union of soul and body in a single person.
APA citation. (1912). Spiritualism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14229a.htm
MLA citation. "Spiritualism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14229a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Janet Grayson.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.