Samuel Alexander

Samuel Alexander

Influenced by the Darwinian movement of the late 19th century, the philosopher Samuel Alexander (1859–1933) developed a dynamic worldview that focused on time and emergence. He presented a comprehensive metaphysical system in his major work Space, Time, and Deity (1920). Alexander distinguished between spacetime or motion as the infinite whole of this universe and those finite units of spacetime or motion that fill the endless cosmos. As such, evolving reality is a complex continuum of interrelated events grounded in the psychic pointinstants of spatiotemporal motions.

Alexander maintained that the dynamic universe manifests an innate creative trend that generates new emergent qualities throughout cosmic time. The resultant hierarchy of empirical levels consists of motion, matter, life, mind, and a future deity. Consequently, through time and evolution, the existence of each higher level emerges from the preceding level of reality (from the metaphysical perspective, it was time that generated spacetime).

As an emergent evolutionist, Alexander held that mind, or consciousness, emerged from and is dependent upon life, just as life emerged from and is dependent upon matter. Furthermore, matter emerged from and is dependent upon motion. This whole creative process is ultimately grounded in time, the quintessential quality of all existence. The appearance of our own species is a recent event within the spatiotemporal progress of cosmic evolution. Because the universe continues to evolve, a new quality or level of existence will emerge in the future. Presumably, emergent evolution will continue to generate empirical qualities as long as time exists. Clearly, Alexander’s dynamic worldview is in sharp contrast to earlier ideas and traditional beliefs that taught the sudden and complete creation of the entire universe with all its entities fixed in nature.

In his scheme of abstract ideas, Alexander attempted to reconcile pantheism and theism in terms of emergent evolution. To do this, he made a crucial distinction between the infinite God that already exists now and the finite deity that will appear sometime in the future within the creative advance of this universe. Because God is held to be spacetime or motion, this represents the pantheistic aspect of his metaphysical system. However, in this dynamic universe, a new finite quality will emerge from the level of human consciousness. Alexander claimed that this new level of existence will be the deity. As such, deity is the next empirical quality to appear within the creative evolution of time. This is the theistic aspect of Alexander’s metaphysical system. The emergent deity will be only a finite, yet the divine, quality of God as the infinite universe itself. Therefore, God is totally imminent, but the deity is transcendent in terms of the time to come; in philosophy, this position is a form of panentheism.

Samuel Alexander’s metaphysical reconciliation of pantheism with theism (i.e., imminence with transcendence) clearly demonstrates how challenging the evolutionary framework was to entrenched religious beliefs and established philosophical ideas about God and time. Previous views of humankind within a world of fixed objects and recurring events needed to be replaced by a dynamic interpretation of this evolving universe and everything within it. Alexander’s systematic interpretation of emerging reality was a rigorous attempt to take both time and change seriously.

 See also God and Time; Metaphysics; Spacetime Continuum; Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre; Unamuno y Jugo, Miguel de; Universe, Evolving; Whitehead, Alfred North

Further Readings

 Alexander, S. (1939). Philosophical and literary pieces. London: Macmillan.

Alexander, S. (1966). Space, time, and deity (2 vols.). New York: Dover.


Age of Enlightenment Albertus Magnus
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