The Principles of the New Philosophy
Not only the philosophical works of Emanuel Swedenborg, but also the theological
Writings (in their external or biographical aspect) testify that Swedenborg's
mind was in a state of constant growth and contained the record of the continually
new knowledge which he acquired by reflection upon the phenomena of both worlds.
In the Writings we thus find not only a new Divine revelation of spiritual truths
for the New Church, but also the evidence of a final development of Swedenborg's
own understanding of philosophical principles.
In the Writings, many of these principles are given a Divine imprimatur as
a vehicle of revealed doctrine, and certain new natural truths are introduced
without which the doctrine would be meaningless. But a philosophy is a very
personal thing: it is a way of thinking, by which a man explains to himself
his own varied experiences and reconciles his knowledge with the inmost perceptions
of his faith and conscience. As such, a philosophy cannot be merely transferred
from man to man, by total adoption. The factual data which Swedenborg had to
explain, differ from those which confront us; his knowledge was both greater
and less than the knowledge we call ours. His faith - his religious grasp -
underwent many changes that find only vague parallels in our own development.
His philosophy, therefore, at no point is so definite that any two New Church
men can adopt it with like assurance.
Yet certain stated principles of a man's philosophy can be of untold benefit
to others who struggle with similar problems. In the New Church we know that
Swedenborg, as he advanced in knowledge, was being led by the Lord towards a
definite end, so that his rational mind might be equipped and enlightened to
recognize and formulate the very truths of heaven given by Divine inspiration
in the Writings. For this reason we may expect to see, even in the rich record
of his preparatory studies, the principles or "beginnings" (principia)
of a philosophy which may help to lead us also out of the confusion and darkness
of a skeptical age into the light of a real understanding.
These principles, or fundamentals of thought, are not so easily listed. For
example, the work published in 1734 as the first volume of Swedenborg's studies
of the "Mineral Kingdom" - and entitled "The Principles of Natural
Things, or New Attempts to Explain Philosophically the Phenomena of the Elementary
World" - cannot as such be regarded as his final conclusion on the subject
or as an 'Open, sesame' to all the mysteries of the Writings; and we must distinguish
between the things therein which are theoretical and mathematical calculations
about the constitution of matter, and those which are statements of permanent
philosophical value. Indeed, in all Swedenborg's preparatory works, including
the extensive physiological treatises, philosophical principles are invoked
and formulated; yet the bulk of his writing is occupied with purely scientific
citations and analyses. It would be unwise to discourage the study and acceptance
of any of his scientific data and conclusions, some of which have indeed anticipated
modern findings; but if we accept them, we must do so on scientific grounds
and not confuse them with universals of thought.
In the Divine providence, Swedenborg was led to perceive certain universals
which took an ever clearer form as he progressed in his studies. They came to
constitute a philosophy which was finally tested and matured in the light of
heaven, and which, by its nature, cannot be disturbed by new factual research.
Such perennial principles and premises are as essential to us as they were to
him, and may be called "doctrines" of rational philosophy. We find
these, clearly stated or clearly implied, in the Writings. But in order to see
them more distinctly, we should also see them in their formative stages, as
they take shape successively in Swedenborg's earlier works when the need for
them first dawned upon him.1
What are these doctrines? Every student must be free to distinguish for himself
the subtle line where science stops and philosophy begins. For the very object
of philosophy is to fill the breach and to unite Religion with Experience. Swedenborg
regarded philosophy as ancillary to faith - as the handmaid of religion.2
To view religion, with its revealed spiritual truths, in the light of human
philosophy, is to subvert the proper order. But "it is never forbidden
to confirm the truths of faith and spiritual things by the things that are in
nature . ."3 "For perfect order to exist, celestial and
spiritual truths should be inrooted in natural truths . . . ."4
Such natural truths include not only the symbols of the letter of Scripture,
but "the laws of the order of nature, in the world and in man."
5 An affirmative attitude which acknowledges the doctrine drawn from the
Word "leads to all intelligence and wisdom" and can be confirmed rationally
and scientifically by innumerable things which bring a fuller grasp of the subject.6
The Writings thus show that there are two "foundations of truth"
- the first being the revealed Word and the second the truths of nature. These
two agree with one another, and the sciences which have shut up men's understanding
may also open it with those who live according to the Word. But nothing can
be founded on scientifics unless it be previously based upon the Word.7
Every philosophy must take a position as to the acknowledgment of God's existence
and as to the nature of man. The primary postulate in all New Church thinking
is the truth that there is one God who is Divine Man, infinite Love and infinite
Wisdom.8 This is a necessary idea.9 It is also necessary
to conceive that God-Man reveals Himself - in the symbols of nature, in the
written Word, in His incarnation on earth, and in the Spirit of Truth which
"leadeth unto all truth."
The following brief outline contains what the present writer sees as the general,
but also the most fundamental principles which should constitute the new philosophy
that can serve the New Church in its future progress. It utilizes both ancient
and modern truths. It should embody an acknowledgment of all the universals
which Reason has ever perceived, and requires the balancing of these universals
into a whole logical system, a synthesis in which each must receive its true
value and application.
The guiding concepts here listed are taken primarily from the Writings10
; but where similar ideas are discussed in Swedenborg's philosophical works,
references to these are often noted, if not in the text, yet in the footnotes.
For the sake of convenience we classify these principles under certain conventional
categories. The theology of the Writings is partly couched in old terms which
are used with specific new meanings that can be understood only when the entire
doctrine is studied. We refer to words such as 'regeneration,' 'conjugial love,'
'influx,' 'the rational,' 'the Divine Human,' 'glorification,' 'discrete,' 'celestial,'
'ultimate,' etc. Well known philosophical terms, such as 'subject,' 'predicate,'
'esse,' 'essence,' 'existere,' 'substance,' 'form,' etc., are also used, because
they are unavoidable if certain ideas are to be simply and concisely named without
circumlocution.11 "Without words adapted to the subject, nothing
can be described."12 But the human mind is confused
rather than clarified when it thinks not from ideas but from scholastic terms,
or by artificial rules and misapplied syllogisms.13