Think Tank
Contact Us
Other Links

Human Organic
Lecture Notes by Hugo Lj. Odhner  

Go to Next Chapter
or Go to Table of Contents


Part 1, Chapter II


    The Writings reveal that the essence of wisdom is of life - good living. In the celestial church this wisdom was perceptive, not a matter of debate or reflection.

    In the Ancient Church, the object of all knowledge and of doctrine was Charity, not intellectual research. Yet thought among the Ancients became profound, or elevated from merely sensual light, so long as motives of selfish ambition and fame of learning were shunned.(21)

    Natural truth, in the heyday of the Ancient Churches compelled little interest on its own account, and was not regarded as more than a means to a spiritual end. Their idea of the earth of mortals, as the center about which the spheres of spiritual beings revolved, was really the picture of the geography of man's spiritual environment. Among the ancients of known history, therefore, spiritual and natural things were not clearly separated, and the spiritual cosmogony of tradition (as with the Hebrews, in Genesis) was taken for an actual description of the natural universe.(22)

    In the literature of the ancient nations - Babylonia, Egypt, China, and India - we recognize a total reliance upon representative and symbolic truth. Not only was all human procedure frankly ritualized (as in the home life of the Chinese today), but rulers were invested with a Divine representation, and a sentiment was estimated for the wealth of its vague implications rather than for its factual worth. The greatest intellectual thrill was not the discovery of truth, but the sensible presence of a mystery.(23)

    As the age of the representative churches drew to a close, the interest in the art of magic - the influence of spirit over nature and over man - continued to forestall the development of natural truth as a study by itself, until Greece, the light-hearted stepchild, not the offspring, of the Ancient Church, afforded the freedom of thought which led to a breakdown of faith in the ancient traditions and the beginning of what is properly called Philosophy. Of this we read in the Arcana:

    "It is to be known that the knowledge of the Ancients was altogether different from that of the present day. Their knowledge treated of the correspondence of things in the natural world with things in the spiritual world. The knowledge which is now called Philosophy, such as that of Aristotle and others like him, was unknown to them...[The learning of the ancients] led them into a knowledge of spiritual and heavenly things which at this day are scarce known to exist. The knowledges which succeeded that of the ancients, and are properly called philosophy, rather draw the mind away from the knowledge of such things, because they can be applied to the confirmation of falsities as well; and they also bring the mind into darkness when truths are confirmed by means of them, because for the most part they are bare words (voces) whereby confirmations are effected, which are comprehended only by a few, and regarding which even those few disagree. From this it is evident how far mankind has receded from the erudition of the ancients, which led to wisdom." (24)

    The GREEK PHILOSOPHY is rightly claimed as the beginning of the development of occidental modern thought. In Socrates it was hardly more than a revolt against mere prejudices and traditions, and an application of a keen and bold common sense to social, intellectual, and spiritual problems. But with Aristotle it begins to analyze and categorize all forms of factual experience or natural truth - a process which, after centuries of interruption, was resumed in modern times and eventually yielded the magnificent results of which our scientific and technical civilization can boast. These results, unfortunately, have not taught the virtue of wise living, nor revealed the purposes of creation, nor promoted "a knowledge of spiritual and heavenly things". They constitute an abnormal development of one external phase of the mind, to the neglect of the internal faculty of spiritual thought.
p. 12

    The circumstances under which the great Greek philosophers arose were those of skepticism. Early Greek thought had centered around mythological concepts. Then, in the Greek colonies, various doctrines were thought out which purported to explain nature as a unit of common origin - made from water (Thales, ca. 550 B.C.), from air (Anaximenes, ca. 540 B.C.), fire (Heraclitus ca. 500 B.C), or from "the infinite" (Anaximander, ca. 550 B.C.) - and this was generally conceived as a living substance (hylozoism). They speculated on the question of the uniformity and regularity of the forms of nature, and theorized that numbers were responsible causes for form, (Pythagorus). Mathematical points of force were thus conceived of by Pythagoras as the beginnings of creation.(25) The cause of change, or "becoming", was next considered, and some said that nothing is permanent, all is flux (Heraclitus); others that reality could never change - all change being mere sense appearance, illusion! (Parmenides of Elea, ca. 475 B.C.).

    Below all their thought was the urging perception that God is One. This was by some developed into the idea that God is all, being infinite, and that all nature and man are movable and changeable parts of the Infinite Godessence (Xenophanes, 500 B.C.). This is "pantheism", identifying the world with God.

    The Atomists held that motion is inherent in the elements from which the cosmos was organized, but that they had no quality. Others held that the elements have different qualities and are alive; or that they are moved by a mind outside of them. Anaxagoras (500-428 B.C.) thought that all these elements of an original chaos were the seeds of all composites - infinitely various, and gradually sorted out by "Nous" (Mind) to form skin, bone, stone, water, metal, etc. Democritus (460-370 B.C.) is credited with inventing the the term "atom" , an "indivisible" extended unity and underived simple, from which the universe is constructed. This implied that there exists a void or vacuum, and that the Real is a plurality of beings separated by empty spaces. Motion has no cause, but is innate in the atom.

    These conflicting speculative systems prepared the way for a nobler idea of God and for a truer philosophy. But from their wide differences came first a confused skepticism about all things, and an individualism which tended to anti-social unscrupulousness and intellectual quibbling. The Sophists, or traveling teachers, became irresponsible arguers rather than philosophers, morality and knowledge were undermined, and the need of the times was clearly a more sound mode of thinking.

    SOCRATES (d. 399 B.C.) gave a new meaning to TRUTH: a way of right thinking as the basis of right action. He showed that there were certain things which common sense allowed to be unquestionable, and pointed to knowledge as the highest good. He constantly insisted on proper understanding of the terms used.

    PLATO analyzed what knowledge was - how it arose. The idea, he showed, does not come from experience only: the concept of justice, for instance, or of a mathematical relationship, comes from within, a priori, from the soul, or from the inner world of reality - the ordered world of Ideas. Independently of whether justice or goodness are experienced in the sensual world, they exist as reality - and thus as substances  and forms , which are the original, eternal, transcendent archetypes  of things; and material things are the lowly copies of these eternal patterns. The universe is a logical system of ideas - an organic and rational unity of the Logos , the cosmic purpose.

    "We have, in this framework of the Platonic system, a combination and transformation of the teachings of the leaders of Greek thought. With the Sophists, Plato agrees that knowledge (of appearances) is impossible; with Socrates, that genuine knowledge is always of concepts; with Heraclitus, that the world (of appearances) is in constant change; with Eleatics, that the world (of ideas) is unchangeable; with the Atomists, that being is plural (ideas); with the Eleatics, that it is one; with nearly all the Greek thinkers, that it is at bottom rational; with Anaxagoras, that mind rules it, and that mind is distinct from matter. His system is the mature fruit of the history of Greek philosophy down to his time."(26)

    The world of matter which we sense, is unreal and irrational, and owes all its form or reality to the prior world of ideas. It is, in itself, non-being , but acts as the raw material to embody ideas, and as a prism to break the idea into many objects. [Dualism, Idealism]. The intermediary between the two is (in the Timmaeus) pictured as a world soul, the cause of all motion, a visible God, which the Demiurge or Former creates, together with gods and rational human souls. But here, of course, he leaves Philosophy and goes back to the more ancient modes of thought.

    The pre-existing soul of man possesses ideas prior to experience; sensation "provokes" these ideas, but does not produce them.(27) Both Socrates and Plato strongly argued for immortality and believed in the transmigration of souls. The release of the soul from the fetters of matter was the goal and end of life.

    ARISTOTLE (d. 322 B.C) tried to bridge the gap which Plato left between soul and body, between form and matter. He taught that the changeless eternal forms (or ideas) were not apart from things, but immanent in them; the two, the spiritual and the material, are eternally together, and thus the phenomenal world is the real world, and the true object of Science.(28)

    Therefore Aristotle contributed to Philosophy an analysis of how man thinks, or should think, based on observation or introspective experience.

    Induction. The universals dormant in our rational soul are not consciously ours until aroused by experience. From particular facts gathered by experience we derive by induction a universal proposition, or concept, answering certain categorical questions such as "What?" "how large?" "where?" "when?" "what doing?" "what suffering?" etc., through which the qualifications of the object are conceived.

    But conclusions derived a posteriori by induction are only probabilities, unless demonstrated or proved to be implicit, or a priori, in the mind.

Examples of Induction
Reasoning from particulars to generals
P. is good. x, y, z are ductile.
P. is wise. x, y, z are metals.
Therefore wise men are also good. Therefore all metals are ductile.

    Formally, these are instances of a "non-sequitur". But induction is the beginning of a possibility, a probability increasing in truth-value with the accumulation of experience to that effect, or destined to be disproved ultimately by a single instance of an exception.

    Hence there must be deduction from universals. The universal seen must be seen to hold good in valid cases. The conclusion must always, necessarily, follow from the premise. Such thought moves in syllogisms.

Example of Deductive Syllogism
Reasoning from universals to particulars
Accepted Law or major premise: All men are mortal.
Minor premise: John is a man.
Conclusion: John is mortal.

     (Thus Kepler calculated by inductive reasoning the ellipticity of the orbit of Mars. But this proved nothing about other planetary orbits. Newton, on establishing the law of gravitation, could deduct that the paths of all planets around the sun must be elliptical. This has been verified in all later findings.)
p. 16

    Certain laws of logic were recognized by Aristotle: 1 ) The law of Identity that A is A, or a thing is identical with itself. 2) The law of Contradiction - that it cannot be true together that A is B and that A is not B. 3) The law of the Excluded Middle - that of the two propositions, A is B. and A is not B. one must be true and the other false. Ambiguous middle terms cause fallacious conclusions. Note also the fallacy of the undistributed middle term:

All rash men are confident.
All brave men are confident.
Therefore a brave man is rash, and a rash man is brave!

    In the building up of thought, one premise must necessarily depend on another. Aristotle therefore recognized as the final basis of thought certain necessary,immediate, intuitive, or self-evident principles - like mathematical axioms and the principle of contradiction. Common to all the sciences were universal principles of first philosophy or metaphysics.

    Matter, according to Aristotle, is never without qualities, or without form, or non-being (), as Plato taught, Matter, as well as form, is eternal; but, unlike form, is changeable. By growth the potential form () becomes actual () and realizes itself as (29) form thus in matter. Space is predicable only of finite matter; there is no infinite space.
major lemma minor lemma conclusion

    The Greeks stated practically all the persistent problems of philosophy. Ethics, or the principles which ought to govern moral conduct and should be expressive of the ends of life, became the issue of various schools of thought. The Epicureans (Epicurus d. 270 B.C.) - as had Democritus - stressed human happiness as the end of life. What gives a man pleasure is good, what gives a man pain is bad. But the Stoics (Zeno, ca. 300 B.D) insisted that reason - the Logos or soul of the universe - must rule man, and make him un-egotistically submit to the law and will of the world. Duty, and freedom from passion, were stressed - above pleasure as the higher good. The Stoics had a special cosmology, featuring the eventual destruction of the world by fire and its cyclic recreation.

    Most of the world did not consist of philosophers. The first appeal of Christianity was primarily to simple religious people who felt the barrenness of philosophy and its lack of authority and warmth. They were conscious of human weakness, were not interested in the squabbles of philosophic schools which tended towards skepticism. They felt the need instead of a Divine Redeemer.

    Yet at the same time Christian apologists came to use philosophy to defend their world-concepts. Christ was identified or described as the creative Word or Logos (John 1:1 ff, Col. 1:15 ff.). A pagan philosopher, Plotinus ( d.269 A D.), later constructed a religious philosophy, Neoplatonism, on the basis of Greek thought. Many Christian teachers, like Origen (d. 254 A D.), practically claimed Plato as a pre-Christian Christian, and used his doctrine of the Logos-world in defense of their theology.

    In Augustine (d. 430) the Christian world-view reaches its maturity. God - from a free act of love - created the world out of nothing. Each soul is a simple immaterial, or spiritual, immortal substance, not "emanating" from God, but created by God from the souls of parents at the same time as the body from the bodies of parents (traducianism)
The Superior Soul, or Spirit:

The Inferior or Sensitive Soul:
                                  Sensuous desire



1 Cor.

    In the Christian "Dark Ages", philosophy became so bound to doctrinal authority that only in secret could any new philosophic thought ferment, and this consisted mostly in mystical and phantastic reverberations of the Gnostic and Neo-platonic speculations.

    The broadening contacts caused by the Crusades made it necessary for the Catholic Church to call philosophy to its defense, and the complex intellectual movement called Scholasticism arose.

    The dominant problem was the reality of spiritual things and of the world of angels and saints.

    1. From the Ninth Century into the Twelfth, Platonic conceptions of universals as the real essence of things, and as prior to things, prevailed.   Anselm (d. 1109) is the chief champion of this Platonic realism.

    2. The Thirteenth Century showed the rise of comprehensive systems (Albert the Great d. 1280, and Thomas Aquinas, (d. 1274) based on Aristotle's philosophy of realism, which was soon given authority. Universals are conceived as real, not as prior to things but as in them.

    3. In the Fourteenth Century, Nominalism (John Duns Scotus and William of Occam) becomes the vogue. Universals are regarded not as the essences of things, but as mere concepts in the mind or as names which generalize particulars (Universalia sunt reala post res). This led towards the abandonment of any attempt to unite reason and faith, and in the medieval equivalent of materialistic philosophy. It broke down, with many, the hopes of reaching truth by reason, and these reacted by falling back upon mere blind obedience to the dogmas of faith.

    After the Renaissance had contributed a new knowledge of classical thought and life, and the Age of Discovery and Science had - through Columbus, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton- restored mankind's faith in experience and systematized research as roads to truth, there came into greater contrast the two tendencies of materialistic and idealistic thought.

    Descartes (d. 1650), in an empirical and introspective psychology, championed the existence of two mutually exclusive substances in man; one material - identified space or extension and subject to motion but not to thought; and the other spiritual and non-extended --the substance of which thought (the mind or self) properly consists. He knew that the soul somehow rules the body. The difficulty was then perceived that two so oppositely defined substances could not interact, as the soul and body seemingly do.

    The task of modern philosophy was now to solve this question of the intercourse of soul and body. Where was the mistake? Was there only matter, and was mind merely a shadow - an epi-phenomenon - cast by moving matter? (Materialism) Was there no material world, but only mind (Idealism), and the material world only a projection of our mental states? Or were mind and matter the two phases of some unknowable substance? (Spinoza and psycho-physical monism.) Were mind and body so created that they were pre-ordained by a "preestablished harmony" to parallel activities without interacting? (Leibnitz) Was Descartes wrong in positing a Dualism of two substances produced by the Creator (who is the only real substance)? Or is the difficulty only in our faulty ideas about their interrelation?

    Swedenborg, in his work on "The Intercourse of Soul and Body" (1769), cites the three alternatives represented by the systems of Physical Influx, Pre-established Harmony, and Spiritual Influx; and confirms the latter, showing that the soul inflows into the body, but not the body into the soul.

    All these theories were bruited about in the schools of philosophy which followed Descartes. Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Leibnitz - each examined the workings of the mind in order to find some foundation of truth.

    At the end of the 18th Century, IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804), in his critical philosophy, keenly laid down the limitations of human thought and certainty, showing that:

1. We do not know "things-in-themselves", because we experience only sensations. But we must think that things-in themselves must exist, otherwise sensation is unexplainable.

2. The rational mind arranges the knowledge furnished through the senses: we have a universal and necessary knowledge of the order of our ideas; the mind conceives its experiences according to its a priori, or innate, rational ways.

    We have a priori "knowledge" only of the phenomenal world, however. "Mathematics owes its necessity to the forms of space and time, geometry being based on a priori space-perception, arithmetic on the notion of number, which expresses a priori time-perception.

    Even knowledge of myself is impossible except through perceptions of my successive states (a priori time-category) which I think of as a synthetic unity, as a personality which is self-conscious, and without such a unifying factor I would not have any knowledge at all. Thus in the realm of "practical reason" the personality of man must be assumed as more than the mere sum-total of mental processes (as modern psychologists sometimes aver). The mind is not an eddy in a stream of sensations, but a subject, a living agent, which can make universal judgments.

    The fact of the moral sentiment of man similarly compelled Kant to regard the idea of moral law as a "categorical imperative" - a universal and necessary law, a priori, inherent in reason itself. Nor can we be rational without the idea of a future world in which the moral law becomes the law of human happiness. Reason also necessarily implies that man - in his mind - is free as to will and is immortal; and that there is a God.

    It was thus that Kant - possibly influenced by Swedenborg whom he attacked - held out to the thinking world a saving plank from the deluge of utter skepticism which often follows in the wake of two strongly active opposing philosophies, and preserved people from the discouraging idea that nothing can be known, or that we are living either in the phantasmagoria of our own imaginations, or else in a mechanical universe where we are a predetermined cog without will or purpose of our own.

    Fashions in thought change. And since spiritual freedom was restored by the Last Judgment in 1757, materialistic thought has had greater publicity and power. Scientists, and purely empirical thinkers, have invaded the realm of philosophy merely by shutting their eyes to the problems with which philosophy is vitally concerned. Yet the recent philosophies are mostly new presentations of the tendencies of past theories, or developments of special phases - special problems.

    A new angle of approach was that of the pragmatist philosophers, of which the American, William James (d. 1910), was the mouthpiece. This new angle is that universal permanent utility constitutes truth; but this while a practical sentiment - constitutes no test of truth.

    The real study of the history of philosophy allows us to make a useful survey of the limitations of the natural mind, and the scope and function of natural reasoning. After all the philosophers have spoken, it is useful to reflect on certain outstanding facts which, we believe, mark out these limitations, and which Swedenborg - in his judgment about philosophy and its functions - was quick to perceive and constantly pointed to.

1. No final truth, but only probabilities, can be built up a posteriori by induction from external experience.

2. No a priori concept can be long held unless it is agreeable with experience, i.e. not contradictory to the experience. -

3. No sensation can be made intelligible or perceptible except by the presence of a priori patterns in the mind. This is recurrently realized in the history of thought.

4. No "simple" system of philosophy has proved acceptable to the human reason or by "common sense" - such as pure monism, pure dualism, pure materialism, pure idealism, pure positivism, etc. But each of these systems contributes a legitimate phase of the truth.

5. No spiritual realities - God, the soul, the spiritual world - can be either proved or disproved by sensual means. A first cause can be logically deduced from the law of cause and effect; but its nature or essence can be known only through Divine revelation.

6. No spiritual realities can be described in natural terms except so far as these terms are used "by eminence", or applied "correspondentially". This involves a freeing of the idea of reality and substance from definitions by tridimensional space and by time.(30)

7. Philosophy, and its kindred fields, ethics and aesthetics, have as their true use the recognition of laws for the ordering of the natural mind (rational, natural, and sensual) so as to facilitate the perception of spiritual truths and the performance of spiritual goods.

    It is plain from its history that philosophy has not discovered and cannot discover spiritual truths. Philosophy therefore requires for its usefulness a prior acknowledgment of a priori truths (like those which Kant calls "regulative principles of the practical reason"). And these come to man by Divine giving: a) By the predisposition of the very order of the internal or spiritual mind, through an influx from God into the soul, to acknowledge truth when presented(31); b) By ordered representations of the Divine in nature and in the objective experiences of mankind, and the spontaneous recognition of the correspondence of these representations by the mind, when receptive of the influx through the soul; c) By objective representations of spiritual things in the spiritual world, experienced a posteriori by prophets whose spiritual senses have been opened, and recorded by them in states of Divine inspiration, as in the written Word; d) By traditional propagation and external teaching from the Word and from other men.(32)

    There is, therefore, no natural theology, but only revealed theology.


    We claim the philosophy of Swedenborg, as it was gradually developed in his preparatory period and stands out in complete form in the implications of the Writings, to be a truly rational philosophy, because it gives a balanced view of all the elements of human life and experience. It aims to give the ratio between spiritual and natural values and realities. It skims off the cream from the thought of natural philosophers from Thales to Christian Wolff; but it gives a paramount place to the spiritual truths taught in the Word, and makes ample use of the "theosophic" thought of the Ancient Church, restoring the doctrine of correspondences to its true interpretative place in philosophy, and applying to the problems of thought the doctrine of discrete degrees now restored in fullness.

    The ancients sought to see the natural world purely as a reflection of the spiritual world. The moderns, reeling with the new wines of discovery, interpret the spiritual realm as a mere shadow of the world of matter! But Swedenborg by virtue of direct experience of both worlds - saw them as distinct and discrete, and now enables us to study  each world as to its separate essence as well as to understand the conjunction of the two worlds in mutual uses which all look to the fulfilling of the ends of creation. There is indeed need for the correspondential philosophy of the Ancient Church, with its perception of degrees, and with its representative ultimates of spiritual-natural truth such as were laid down in the letter of the Scriptures. But there is also now imperative need for a study of the universe objectively, as it exists actually about us; and to the New Church the Lord comes immediately in His Divine Natural - unobscured by merely representative forms. To see His image in the universe, rather than to see our own states reflected therein, is, we believe, the distinctive intellectual mission of the New Church. And for this a knowledge of the soul and of the spiritual world is necessary, as well as acquaintance with the workings of the material world.

Go to Next Chapter
or Go to Table of Contents


21 AC 442, 9396 (2superscript)?, 6201, 6313.

22 See H. L Odhner's "The Cosmology of the Bible; Its Sources, Its Purpose, and Its Influence", in New Philosophy ( 1956),

23 See the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Book of the Dead, the Tao Teh King, the Rig-Veda and the Upanishads.

24 AC 4966

25 See G.R.S Mead, "Fragments of a Faith Forgotten", pp.314-317.

26 Thilly, History of Philosophy (New York: 1927), p. 64.

27 Op. cit., p. 67.

28 It is to be observed that these two views - Plato's and Aristotle's - furnish the basis of different schools of thought and
interpretation within the New Church also.

29 Entelechy. The perfect realization of the living body is the Soul with its power of reproduction.

30 Illustrated in Journal of Education ( 1925), p. 45f.

31 T. 8.

32 T. 11.

Go to Next Chapter
or Go to Table of Contents