Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Reformatted from February 26, 2015.

We saw in a previous post that Blake thought Natural Religion an "Impossible absurdity." Something which calls itself religion and limits perception to sensing and reasoning, has misunderstood the meaning of the concept of religion. Without God religion is absurd. In one of Blake's earliest engraved poems he presented his argument that man sees only himself, not God, if he relies of his senses and his reasoning to provide him with a religion.

There is no Natural Religion, (E 2)
  The Author & Printer W Blake 
  The Argument   
Man has no notion of moral
  fitness but from Education.   
Naturally he is only a nat- 
   ural organ subject to Sense.     
 Man cannot naturally Per- 

cieve, but through his natural 
or bodily organs
As a natural man all data from the exterior world comes through the senses.

 Man by his reason- 
ing power. can only 
 compare & judge of 
what he has already 
  Man's reason can only process what it has received

From a perception of 
only 3 senses or 3 ele- 
ments none could de- 
duce a fourth or fifth
  Each sense is limited to its own ability to receive data.

None could have other
 than natural or organic 
thoughts if he had none 
but organic perceptions
  Sense perceptions provide only material which can be processed mechanically.

 Mans desires are 
limited by his percepti
ons. none can de 
-sire what he has not 
  Without the ability to perceive extra-sensory data man is cut off from desire for more.

The desires & percepti- 
ons of man untaught by
 any thing but organs 
of sense, must be limited 
to objects of sense.
  Without desire or additional means of perceptions, man is trapped in a state of 'single vision.'

  Mans percepti- 
ons are not bound- 
ed by organs of 
perception. he per- 
cieves more than 
sense (tho' ever 
so acute) can 
  Man's senses provide limited information. However man has the ability to perceive more than the narrow range which his eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin can sense.

Reason or the ra-
tio of all we have 
already known. 
is not the same that 
it shall be when
 we know more.
  If we were to depend on reason alone we would not be able to go beyond the limit that reason is able to discern.

[III lacking]  
The bounded is 
 loathed by its pos- 
sessor. The same 
dull round even 
of a univer[s]e would 
soon become a 
mill with complica- 
ted wheels.
  Input from outside of a limited system prevents it from becoming a continual repetition of the same events.

 If the many be-
come the same as 
the few, when pos- 
sess'd, More! More! 
is the cry of a mista 
-ken soul, less than 
All cannot satisfy  
  Continually treading the same ground cannot satisfy man no matter how often it is repeated.

If any could de- 
sire what he is in- 
capable of pos- 
sessing, despair must
be his eternal 
  The desire for more than man can access through his senses and reasoning power would lead to a dead end if he were incapable of perceiving more.

The desire of 
Man being Infi- 
nite the possession 
is Infinite & him- 
self Infinite
  If man is capable of desiring more than his limited faculties provide, he opens himself to achieving a perception of the Infinite through perceiving the Infinite within himself.

 If it were not for the 
Poetic or Prophetic 
character. the Philo- 
sophic & Experimen- 
tal would soon be 
at the ratio of all 
things & stand still,
 unable to do other
 than repeat the same
 dull round over a- gain
  There is a level of perception which is beyond that which is reached by sensing and reasoning. Poetry and Prophecy are expressions which allow man to reach outside of the static repetition of natural patterns.

He who sees the In- 
finite in all things 
sees God. He who 
sees the Ratio only 
sees himself only.
  Unless an individual develops the ability to go beyond depending on his own sense perception and reasoning power, he is trapped within himself. Seeing more than the surface - into the depths - will open the way to seeing the Infinite in all things and God. 

Wikimedia Commons


The presence of God within man provides him with the ability to recognize that Presence. Through that recognition he develops the ability to see as God sees - the Infinite in all things. We are in the process of becoming with God. The whole of creation is an expression of God. As creation recognizes God, God becomes as we are and we as he is. God has chosen to be articulated through his creation. As creation strives to respond to the God which is embodied in it, Man and God become One

 John 17
[20] Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
[21] That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
[22] And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
[23] I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Romans 12
[2] And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Colossians 1
[15] He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
[16] for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.
[17] He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
[18] He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
[19] For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
[20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.


Vincent said...

I’m wondering whether this work by Blake is his riposte to the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, by David Hume, published 1779. It seems Blake’s was probably completed in 1788. The former is a philosophical work discussing the existence, attributes and knowability of God.

It seems to me that he used his indignation at Hume’s line of Socratic dialogue as the impetus to produce one of his first illuminated texts in the form of a polemic.

To me, the key text here is:

“The desire of Man being Infinite the possession is Infinite & himself Infinite.”

(which calls to mind Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God, except that it introduces a key word desire; which lifts Blake beyond mere philosophy, which bandies concepts, up to a level which he calls the “Poetic or Prophetic character”.

Hume does indeed depend on reason as a means to find truth, and I can best illustrate Blake’s frustration by this short excerpt from the Dialogues (beginning of Part 11):

“I scruple not to allow, said CLEANTHES, that I have been apt to suspect the frequent repetition of the word infinite, which we meet with in all the theological writers, to savour more of panegyric than of philosophy; and that any purpose of reasoning, and even of religion, would be better served, were we to rest contented with more accurate and more moderate expressions. The terms, admirably, excellent, superlatively great, wise, and holy; these sufficiently fill the imaginations of men; and anything beyond, besides that it leads to absurdities, has no influence on the affections or sentiments.”

And so Blake, who sees beyond this philosophical claustrophobia, replies to Hume thus:

“The desires & perceptions of man untaught by any thing but organs of sense, must be limited to objects of sense.”

I especially like your gloss on this:

“Without desire or additional means of perceptions, man is trapped in a state of 'single vision.'”

ellie said...

Thanks Ian for keeping me engaged in "War and Hunting."

The Internet gives these synonyms for absurd:
preposterous, ridiculous, ludicrous, farcical, laughable, risible, idiotic, stupid, foolish, silly, inane, imbecilic, insane, harebrained, cockamamie; unreasonable, irrational, illogical, nonsensical, incongruous, pointless, senseless;
informal: crazy, daft

What was absurd to Blake was that one could postulate a world based entirely on the senses and reason of man; that all the light and truth in the universe could be comprehended and explained in anthropomorphic terms.

Likewise to Hume it was absurd that the term imagination could refer to something outside of the limitations of reason and sensation. There are patterns of thinking which one learns through applying the familiar tools we have at our disposal, and there are epiphanies which occur uninvited.

Epiphany - definition 3
a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

Watching our US presidential debates I could see that the perception of the world comprehended by each of the two candidates is absurd to the other. Everything depends on the basic premise with which one starts. If the world is only the finite world of time and space and matter, the reasonable position is to use whatever force is necessary to acquire and dominate. If one allows the mind to search for a world which is invisible, infinite, inclusive, ineffable and beneficent, one comes out in a different place.

Blake associated "Hume, Gibbon and Voltaire" with a way of viewing history. "Bacon, Newton and Locke" represented to him empirical science. Your observation that Blake was replying to Hume's "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion" is perceptive.

MHH, Plate 8
"What is now proved was once, only imagin'd."