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ical series is subject only to the laws of force and motion.
If now we aim to make the physical series self-contained
and independent, we must deny that physical energy ever
becomes anything else. For if physical energy is really
spent in producing thought as thought, the continuity of
the physical series would be broken, and energy would dis-
appear from the physical into the mental realm. In that
case, either energy would be lost, or thoughts would be as
real and as active as things. The latter view cannot com-
mend itself to us as materialists, and hence we are shut up
to the view that the physical series is self-contained and
independent. It suffers no loss and no irruption. Both


energy and continuity are absolutely conserved. Each phys-
ical antecedent is entirely exhausted in its physical con-
sequent; and conversely each physical consequent is fully
explained by its physical antecedent. In the strictest sense,
the physical series goes along by itself, and subject only to
the laws of force and motion. But in such a view, thought
as such cannot be an effect of the physical series ; for under
the law of conservation there can be no effect which does
not in turn become a cause. If energy is expended, it pro-
duces some other form of energy either kinetic or potential,
and this new form possesses all the causal efficiency of the
old. Hence, as the physical series is assumed to be contin-
uous, and thought is powerless, thought is shut out from the
series of cause and effect. We must, then, hold that phys-
ical energy is never spent in producing thought as thought,
but only in producing those physical states which have
thoughts for their inner face. These thoughts, again, as
thoughts, are powerless. They affect the physical series not
as thoughts, but as having physical states for their outer
face. The thought -series as such is not the effect of the
physical series, but simply its attendant. "When the phys-
ical series is of a certain kind and intensity, it has a subjec-
tive side ; but the reality, the energy, the ground of move-
ment are entirely in the physical series, and this goes along
by itself. No study of this series as such would reveal the
thought-series which accompanies it.

The view thus presented is the current one among mate-
rialists. From fixing their thoughts exclusively on the phys-
ical series, and from their desire to avail themselves of the
doctrines of physics, they have been led to deny all energy
to thought as such, and to affirm the continuity and inde-
pendence of the physical series. Sometimes they will not
even allow thought to be a phenomenon of matter, but de-
grade it to an " epiphenomenon." This of course saves the


physical continuity, but at the expense of another order of
difficulty. Thought is reduced to a powerless attendant on
some phases of the physical series, or to a subjective aspect
of certain physical activities. But there is no assignable
ground for this subjective attendant in general, and of course
there is no ground why it should attend as and when it
does. If we could look into a brain, we should see on this
theory a great variety of molecules in various kinds of
movement. We might see right- or left-hand spiral move-
ments, or circular, or elliptical, or oscillatory movements.
Some of these movements would be attended by thoughts
and some not. But what is the ground of difference ? As-
sume that an elliptical movement of definite velocity is
attended by thought, while an oscillatory movement is not
so attended, there is still no reason why either movement
should be attended by thought, and also none why one
should be thus attended rather than the other. Both the
elliptical and the oscillatory movements confine themselves
strictly to being what they are ; and neither by hypothesis
loses anything which passes into the thought-realm. If we
might say that an elliptical movement is a thought, we might
get along ; but this view has been turned over to the savage.
But since the elliptical movement confines itself to moving,
and loses nothing for purposes of thinking, the thought-
series appears as a gratuitous and magical addition to the
thing-series. There is no reason why it should appear at
all, and none why it should appear where and when it does.
The most profound reflection upon molecular groups and
movements reveals no reason why any should be accom-
panied by an incommensurable attendant, thought, or why
one rather than another should be thus attended. If there
were a mental subject in interaction with the physical series,
it is easy to conceive that different states of that series might
be attended by different mental states ; but when this is not


the case, the connection is one of pure magic. The epiphe-
nomena, being nothing, may need no explanation ; but if
they should need an explanation, there is nothing in the
physical series to account for them.

Magic, however, is an evil word, and we must seek to es-
cape it. We recur, then, to the doctrine that matter has a
mental as well as a physical side, and that the former is as
original as the latter. But in order to explain the form and
peculiar character of any specific mental manifestation, we
must further allow that the mental side is in interaction
with the physical side. Without this admission, thought
might appear at one place as well as at another, and in one
form as well as in any other. The opposite faces in no way
remove the necessity and complexity of this interaction.
Thought in general is only a class-term ; the reality is al-
ways specific thoughts about specific things ; and in order
that these thoughts shall appear as, and where, and when
they do, it is necessary that the inner series and the outer
series shall be in mutual determination. But this necessi-
tates the further admission that the mental series is as real
a form of energy as the physical series ; and this raises the
question whether matter as moving or matter as thinking
and willing be the ultimate fact.

We are not at present seeking to disprove materialism,
but only to understand it; and the task is no easy one.
Into this discussion of the relation of the two series an am-
biguity and an unreal simplification have already crept. By
the mental series we may mean the thoughts and feelings
which we call ours, or we may mean the mystical endow-
ments, the subjective aspects, of the elements themselves.
For the sake of clearness these meanings must be kept dis-
tinct. But this complicates the matter most unpleasantly.
We have now three factors, the physical order, the sub-
jective aspects of the elements, and our own thoughts


and feelings; and we have to determine their mutual rela-

"When the materialist is pressed with these difficulties he
is apt to solve the problem by saying that the mental series
is an aspect, or phenomenon, or epiphenomenon of the phys-
ical series. Here the mental series means our thoughts
and feelings ; and phenomenon is the word which removes
all difficulties. Unfortunately, it is the most treacherous
ally the materialist can have ; for where there is no subject
there are no " aspects" and no "phenomena." Suppose n
atoms turn in a left-hand spiral, and love is an aspect of this
fact. But for whom? For the atoms? If so, for all, or
for each, or for only one ? If not for the atoms, for what
or for whom ? For the motion itself perhaps ! A phenom-
enon as such cannot exist apart from consciousness. Hence
a doctrine which would make thought phenomenal tacitly
assumes the very mental subject it aims to deny.

The same is true for a still more thoughtless doctrine
sometimes put forward, according to which the two series
are identical. They are the same thing viewed in different
ways. So far as this is intelligible it is absurd. The thing
series is a set of moving elements ; the thought series is a
group of mental states. That one should cause the other
is an intelligible proposition, however false ; that one is the
other is meaningless. Besides, the two ways of looking
which make the one double imply a mind outside of the
machine to make the notion possible.

We next need light on two other points of about equal
difficulty, the relation of the physical aspect to the mental
aspect of the elements themselves, and the relation of that
mental aspect to our thoughts and feelings.

The first point remains in profound obscurity. The ma-
terialist seldom troubles himself about matters so occult.
He knows that the inner aspect is there, and we know it


because he tells us. It does not seem to be a source of phys-
ical change, for that is provided for by the laws of force
and motion ; and we could not allow it to be such a source
without seriously affronting the law of physical continuity.
And, on the other hand, if we allow no dynamic relation
between the inner and the outer we are quite at a loss to
see, first, how the inner gets any hint how and when to
manifest itself ; and, secondly, how it can manifest itself in
any case, seeing that the physical order is closed against it.

The second question, the relation of the inner aspect to
our thought, is at once more intelligible and more difficult.
Here we come upon the unreal simplification mentioned a
page or so back. We speak of the aspect as one, whereas
it is many. The elements being many, so are the aspects.
Now what are these aspects ? Are they thoughts and feel-
ings? If so the elements are souls; and we are in the
extraordinary position of starting out to find a physical
explanation of our mental life, and coming back with a set
of hypothetical souls with which to explain away the onty
soul we know anything about. If the aspects are not
thoughts and feelings, what light do they throw upon our
conscious life ? There is no longer any thought in the case,
but only words.

But allowing the aspects to be true thoughts and feelings,
what is their relation to our thoughts and feelings? Are
they a kind of raw material out of which our thoughts are
made ? Such a notion could be entertained only by an un-
tutored imagination. Is there any way whereby these as-
pects may leave their respective subjects and congregate in
the void to form a compound mental state which passes for
me? Such a notion is as bad as the former. As well might
a series of motions break loose from moving things and
compound themselves in the void to form a new motion
which should be the motion of nothing. These mental as-


pects, supposing them to be there, are absolutely useless in
explaining our thoughts and feelings. They help the imag-
ination by making possible crude fancies about " mind-stuff."
They help the uncritical mind which has not learned the
distinction between formal logical manipulation and real,
concrete thinking. They make a show of satisfying the
demand for unity and continuity in the system, but it is a
false show. These notions are barely intelligible at their
best, and when taken in earnest they soon appear in their
utter worthlessness.

When matter is many the simple analysis of materialism
reveals its hopeless confusion. As long as we treat the
problem in a vague and superficial way, there is a kind of
plausibility to it, but as soon as we understand the problem,
materialism is with difficulty saved from perishing of its
own absurdity without any further argument. Like the
swine of the parable, it seems possessed to rush down steep
places of nonsense into abysses of fatuity. But possibly
we shall do better if we regard matter as one.

There is just vagueness enough in popular scientific
thought to make this notion acceptable. The frequent
use of such terms as monism, popular misunderstandings of
the doctrine of energy, its conservation and transformation,
and the growing tendency to regard the elements them-
selves as only functions of an energy beyond them, lend
favor to the view. Let us say, then, that matter is one ; is
materialism any more tenable ? Or, since monism is the
name preferred by the holders of the new view, is monism
any more successful than materialism in accounting for our
mental life ?



In this view we have one substance or energy with two
aspects, aft objective and a subjective one, or a physical and
a mental one. In Spinoza's system, which was "the earliest
specimen of monism of this type, the one substance had two
attributes ; in modern systems it is more common to speak
of two aspects, or faces, or modes of manifestation. Two
points must be considered, the metaphysics of the view and
its bearing on the question of the soul.

The first point is very obscure in the theory. Are the
two faces of the one only aspects, or properly objective
attributes? Spinoza himself was not certain. Commonly
they were objective attributes, but at times even he regard-
ed them as points of view, or ways of regarding the one
substance that is, as phenomena. The modern monist com-
monly views them as phenomena.

Supposing them mutually independent attributes, several
questions arise. First, what becomes of the unity of the
substance? Secondly, how is the parallelism of thought
and thing which knowledge presupposes secured ? Thirdly,
seeing that knowledge is a mode of thinking and falls with-
in the thought attribute, how can we admit a thing attri-
bute at all, except as a phenomenon or mode of thought ?

But supposing the faces to be only phenomenal, then the
question arises, whence the thought which is the condition
of all phenomena, and without which there could be no
faces, or aspects, or unity of any sort ? If it is our thought
which sees the one as double and gives it its attributes, then
that thought turns out to be the precondition of the monis-
tic system itself. If it is not our thought, it is nevertheless
thought ; and then our system involves the one substance
with the two aspects of thought and extension, and back of


these another order of thought as the condition of the as-
pects and their bond of union. Without this deus ex machina
the system is contradictory ; and with it the system is ab-

Again, the two attributes, whatever they may be, cannot
be conceived as passive qualities like extension, but rather
as forms of activity. Thought exists only in and through
thinking, and the physical world exists only through the
constant forthgoing of energy. In that case we have one
agent energizing in two entirely incommensurable forms,
and apparently in such a way that the left hand knoweth
not what the right hand doeth. Thought counts for noth-
ing in the physical ongoing ; and the physical ongoing has
no significance for thought. There is not even a strained
relation between them ; and yet knowledge is made possi-
ble by hypothesis.

That the metaphysics of this monism is pretty crude is
evident. Ajnonism of some kind we must have, but mon-
isms of this sort are such only in name. Active intelligence
is tbe^upr^niejsQjQdition of any real monism; and when we
seek it elsewhere and look for thought among the objects
of thought, we are sure to fall into such vagaries and cru-
dities as those we have been considering.

But supposing the metaphysics possible, does this view
help us to dispense with a real self in understanding the
mental life ? That it does not soon appears. Allowing all
these queer things about aspects and faces, our thought is
not explained. If we conceive the inner aspect of the one
substance to be other or less than thought, no thought is
explained. If we conceive it to be thought or thoughts,
our thoughts are not explained. If the one substance has
thoughts and feelings they belong to it and not to us ; and
they contain any account of our thoughts only for those
unhappy beings who believe in mind -stuff, or who fancy


that thought may be cut up and parcelled out, or that
thought is a material phenomenon which might conceivably
be seen, or which can exist in any other way than in and
through the act of the thinker. For all others it is plain
that this view begins, continues, and ends in hopeless super-
ficiality and confusion.

Thus far we have fteen mainly trying to understand the
metaphysics of materialism, and we find it shaky enough.
Our only interest in it is pathological. It is an instructive
illustration of the implicit working of speculative principles
in minds which have not risen above the sense plane. The
sense categories warp the higher principles to themselves,
producing the most fantastic results ; and meanwhile there
is not sufficient critical insight to detect the illusory nature
of the performance. "With our conviction of the phenomenal-
ity of matter and of all impersonal existence, and with the
further conviction that active intelligence is the only reality,
whether in the inner or in the outer world, materialistic
metaphysics from beginning to end is simply illusion and

But materialism is weaker in its psychology and episte-
mology than in its metaphysics. To this point a word must
be devoted.

Materialism has generally adopted the psychology and
epistemology of empiricism. To be sure, the two doctrines
are mutually destructive, but uncritical eyes are easily hold-
en. In this view particular sensitive states are produced in
or by the nerves, and out of these the higher contents of
consciousness are built by repetition and association, aided
and abetted by heredity.

In opposition to this view we recall the conclusions reach-
ed in the Theory of Thought and Knowledge. We saw that
thought is impossible except through a unitary, abiding and


active self, that this self has never been other than verbally
denied, and that when denied it is always forthwith reaf-
firmed in some figure of speech, or assumed in the language
employed. The very nature of thought and language makes
it impossible to maintain the denial without self-contradic-
tion. Metaphysics further has shown that the &blf is the
only reality of which we have any knowledge, and the only
thing which fills out the notion of reality in distinction
from phenomena.

As to the epistemology of materialism, it can hardly be
said to have any. It takes knowledge for granted and as a
matter of course. That knowledge is a problem, and that
not every speculative theory is compatible with knowledge,
are facts undreamed of. Nevertheless, while materialists
may have no theory of knowledge, materialism has a bear-
ing on knowledge. Its logical outcome is to make all
knowledge impossible. As a system of necessity it breaks
down on the problem of error, and reason collapses in hope-
less scepticism.

For the practised reader this point needs no further illus-
tration, but for the sake of the beginner we may be par-
doned for some repetition of matter which ought to be

We have previously pointed out that the materialistic
doctrine of the relation of the thought-series to the physical
series is essentially unclear. The materialist cannot allow
the mental series to be independent of the physical series ;
for this would be to abandon his monism and surrender his
own theory. No more can he allow the mind to be a real
and active something; for this also is contrary to the hy-
pothesis. In some way the mental series must be made
to depend on the physical series; and this can be done
only by teaching the materiality of thought, or by mak-
ing thought a powerless attendant upon the physical series.


The latter course is the one generally adopted. The phys-
ical series is viewed as going on by itself, and as subject
only to the laws of force and motionY and the mental series
is simply the subjective shadow which the physical series
casts. As such it contributes nothing and subtracts noth-
ing. A shadow effects nothing ; and, in turn, no energy is
expended in making it. The physical series is not affected
from without, and nothing is drawn off from it to make
thoughts and feelings. Hence, the presence and movement
of the mental series are determined by the physical series,
just as the presence, form, and movement of a shadow are
determined by the body which casts it. The existence of
any thought or feeling is due to the general form of nervous
action. The existence of this or that particular thought or
feeling is due to specific peculiarities of nervous action with-
in the limits prescribed by the general form.

The powerlessness of the mental series has been sharply
stated by Professor Huxley in his lecture " On the Hypoth-
esis that Animals are Automata," where he says that he
knows of no reason for believing that any mental state can
affect any physical state, and adds, " It follows that, to take
an extreme illustration, the feeling we call volition is not
the cause of a voluntary act, but the symbol of that state
of the brain which is the immediate cause of that act." The
general view has been wrought out at great length by Mr.
Spencer in his "Principles of Psychology," where, along
with many bewildering remarks about opposite faces of the
unknowable, he represents the mental face as completely
determined by the physical face, so that memory, reflec-
tion, reasoning, and consciousness in general are only the
subjective shadows of molecular changes in the brain, or of
what he calls nascent motor excitations. Mental movement
of every sort is due, not to any self-determination of reason,
but to the nervous mechanism ; and this, in turn, is subject


only to the laws of molecular mechanics. The coexistence
of ideas means the coexistence of the appropriate nervous
states. The comparison of ideas means the interaction
of these states. A conclusion, or a choice, means that
one nervous set has displaced another nervous set. The
processes of logic represent no fixed and necessary order
of reason, but only the subjective side of a conflict among
nervous states. A conclusion actually reached, or a view
actually held, represents no fixed truth, but only the su-
perior strength of the corresponding nervous combination.
Truth in any case is only a nervous resultant, and depends
upon the nerves. We now inquire into the bearing of
this view on knowledge.

We point out in the first plac^that wereach the thing-
series only through the thought-series. We know that there
are things and what they are only through thought. Hence,
while the thing-series may be first and fundamental in the
order of fact, in the order of knowledge the thought-series
is first. A first question, then, would be, What warrant is
there for affirming any thing -series? Why may not the
thing-series be after all only a phase of the thought-series ?
From Hume to Spencer, the thing-series has been defined
as a series of vivid states of consciousness, while the ego is
a series of faint states of consciousness. But, vivid or faint,
this definition makes both subject and object states of con-
sciousness; and, hence, both belong to the thought -series.
The ego, as a series of states of consciousness, can lead to
nothing beyond itself; and the object, as a series of con-
scious states, exists only in thought. Here is the place
where materialism always tumbles into nihilistic idealism
whenever it attempts to reason out a theory of perception.
It is well known that Spencer, at this point, when his theory
was about to collapse into nihilism, saved himself by rein-
stating the ego as a true agent. In his argument with the


idealist the ego acquires a new character. It is no longer
a series of faint impressions, or the inner side of nerve-
motions, but a true source of energy ; and the warrant for
affirming a thing -series, apart from the thought -series, is
found in the fact that our energy is resisted by an energy

not our own. This is excellent doctrine, but it does not


agree with the other doctrine, that the ego is only the sum
of mental states, and that mental states affect no physical
states; for it makes our own consciousness of effort and
energy the turning-point of the entire debate between the
nihilist and the realist. It saves realism by surrendering
materialism ; and nihilism can be escaped in no other way.
We pass to another point. All arguments^for the suffi-
ciency of matter assume a valid knowledge of matter. That
X is adequate or inadequate is a proposition which admits
of no discussion. It is, then, a matter of interest to know
what warrant there is for affirming that the thought-series
rightly represents the thing-series. The general fact that

Online LibraryBorden Parker BowneMetaphysics → online text (page 25 of 34)