L. T. (Leonard Trelawny) Hobhouse.

The theory of knowledge; a contribution to some problems of logic and metaphysics online

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to by the teim. The self, it will be seen from my account, is to me the subject,
together with all that I attribute to the subject (such as feeling), and all the
conditions (to be considered in the next section) forming that persistent whole
of which my consciousness is an element. Now, Mr. Bradley, in his searching
discussion of the claim of the subject to stand for the self {Appearaiice and
Reality, pp. 88 ff.), denies the possibility of finding any single element that can
consistently be called the subject, on the ground (if I understand him rightly)
that anything you like in the field of consciousness may in its turn become
object, and, "in that sense, a not-self." At anyrate, the residue which does
not become object is inconsiderable. But this does not seem to be the question.
Certainly, anything in consciousness may become object ; and for my own part
I do not see how we could know anything about it or say that it was there
unless it became object. But then, "object" and "not-self" are two very
different conceptions. There seems here to be the confusion on which we
touched above. It comes about in this way. Every subject is an activity ,_ a
thought of a self. And every object is distinct from and contrasted with its
own subject. Hence object and subject become contrasted as such, and,
subject being identified with self, object is contrasted with self. But, in fact,
a subject (this act of thought) may also be an object only in another relation,
i.e. to another act of thought. The contrast is not between object and subject
in general, but between the object of this subject and the subject of this object.
Hence, that any element alleged to belong to the self should become object to
some further thought is no argument against its belonging to self. Further,
the identification between self and subject is not complete. The subject is
always an act of self, but the self is not always a subjective act. It is subject ^ZiiS
whatever concrete character attaches to the subjective aatplTis whatever objects
are referred to the same totality as these acts as against other totalities.

What I call broadly "consciousness," then, seems to me the constant and
determining characteristic of myself. But when I ask why this consciousness
is " one," my second point of difference from Mr. Bradley emerges. He treats
the question of continuity (op. cit. chap, xxiii. p. 313 fiF.) as "quite unim-
portant." "Even apart from memory, if these divided existences showed the
same quality, we should call them the same." Perhaps we should ; but if that
was our only ground we should mean something quite dififerent by the word
' ' same " from that which we really do mean. We think of ourselves as con-
tinuous unities, not as multitudes resembling one another. And anybody who
can draw this elementary distinction must admit that, since consciousness as
such does not present this continuity, our conception, if justified, must rest on
some further reality which is continuous and in which consciousness is contained
as an element in a whole.

The notion that continuity is unessential to the self is parallel to the idea
of an identity as between all selves. This identity may mean one of three
things : (1) a partial resemblance, — this no one doubts ; (2) that all " persons"
belong to the one whole of reality and are so far interdependent, — this again
is obvious ; (3) that you and I are one just as I am one. And this is a sheer
confusion between two senses of identity. You might as well say that two
peas were one, or that two copies of a book were the same in the same sense aa
that in which this copy I hold in ray hand is the same one which I bought in
Oxford last year.



THE CONCEPTION OF SELF 567

of consciousness and its absence persists from beginning to end.
We come now to further characteristics of this whole. Kot
only does memory give us a certain continuity with a certain
permanence of character, but the very existence of memory
and the further activities of construction and inferences which
depend thereon postulate a direct causal connection between
different stages of this series, that is, between its states at
different times.

The memory-judgment is an assertion framed now about
a content which was given then. If memories arose with no
basis in past fact the memory -judgment would be false. When
■we rely on the truth of our judgment now framed about the
past, we imply tacitly that unless the past had been the present
judgment could not be. Without this postulate the remem-
brance would indeed remain as an assertion, which I am now
forced by psychological or other laws to make, hut which can-
not be trusted as of any logical value. It is a mere mode of
my present consciousness, and its reference to the past is as
valueless as that of the victim of hallucination to the outer
world. We do not in general go through any such process of
reasoning with regard to our memory ; the memory -judgment
has a force of its own which carries behef. Like all mental
processes it is originally spontaneous and unreflecting. But
what really makes it true must be a direct causal connection,
and this is in practice acknowledged when we are led by observ-
ing the workings of memory to distinguish the conditions under
which, the person in whom, or the ages when, memory is rela-
tively weak or strong.

But causal connection, as we have seen, involves continuity
of existence. The real cause of a result is that which be-
comes that result. That which apprehends then must become
that which remembers. There is the continuity of necessary
sequence in time to connect them. Thus, briefly to sum up
the position, we have now two features of the self — on the one
hand, the remembered series of the life of consciousness, with
its appearance and disappearance in rhythmical order, and with
all the variety of its concrete filling ; on the other hand, the
tie of connection between the temporally distinct stages in this
life, indicating that the one becomes the other in the fullest
sense. And experience of the interdependence of feelings and
actions of every sort enters in to this second conception to
define and amplify it.

3. Now, how far do these data take us towards the concep-
tion of the self as substance ? This will depend on two points
— (a) how far we can regard the self as a true self-determining



568 KNOWLEDGE

whole, and (6) how far there is an element of qualitative like-
ness persisting through its history.

It may be objected at the outset that a term like substance
applied to the mind is misleading. Substance, the crudest objector
will remark, is a term applied properly to material contents,
and in transferring it to the mind you are reviving the primi-
tive theory of the ghost or double, the thin vapoury substance
supposed to permeate the animal frame, and perhaps to issue
with tiie breath, if indeed the breath and soul be not identical.
This, however, is a purely verbal objection. By substance we
simply mean any form of existence which can perpetuate itself
without the aid of anything else. We have, and should have,
no prejudice as to the apprehensible nature of any content
which can perform this feat. But another difficulty remains.
No substance can propagate itself except continuously, and as
we have seen, and as Locke showed long ago, " We think not
always." These activities and states whose mutual relations
build up for us the idea of self, being from time to time sus-
pended, cannot be the whole which determines itself; they must
be elements in and modifications of some wider whole.

Here two alternative suggestions arise. This wider whole is
the body. This wider whole is the true ego which is in reality
distinct from all its states and activities. Now, first, let us bar
certain claims which either of these theories may make. Granted
that our known mental states are not the whole that is self-
determining, you have no right on that account to exclude them
from the whole altogether. Because they are not the whole,
it does not follow that they are not parts. This conclusion is
drawn by those who hold either the body or an unobservable
ego to be the true self. By both parties, that which really makes
us believe in a self, the tie observable in and implied by our
mental states, is excluded from the self, and a second tie is set
up outside our conscious states to bind them together. This is
the result of any theory which makes either the ego (under-
stood as something distinct from the series of conscious states),
or the body, the true subject of thought or feeling. The subject
we have always seen to be a state of consciousness, capable in its
turn of becoming object for our observation and our memory.
Any further subject standing behind this subject, and owning
it, is simply a superfluous assumption. Similarly, the notion
that the body can be subject is simply a confusion of the kind
which takes an undulatory movement to be red or blue. We
know what the subject is by observation and memory. It is
an act of consciousness. It is not a disturbance of equilibrium
in a pyramidal cell, or any number of cells. It may be con-



THE CONCEPTION OF SELF 569

nected with such disturbance, and that connection may be a
very important fact. But the scientific treatment of the relation
is put out of court from the outset if we begin by saying that
one of the related terms is the other. This simple " is " would
merely abolish the relation, and for two terms substitute one.
But if we reject this reasoning, we must at the same time admit
that the tie between the facts of consciousness, as we know them,
is incomplete. "We have not the totality of conditions in the
manifestations of psychic activities regarded alone. Eestating
the question, then, we have to find the residual conditions of
mental life, and for these either the body or the ego may stand
for the moment as expressions.

4. Meanwhile it will be useful to look at the matter from
another side. Taking the self as a continuous series partially
self-determining, we may ask whether there is in this series
any persistent qualitative character of the kind which leads us
to attribute substantial identity. We shall not for this pur-
pose require the unbroken presence of any assignable sense
attribute. "We shall expect to find changes, just as we find
them in the history of any self-determining continuum inter-
acting with other facts. But is there in the soul any element
which persists unaltered through change — any element present
in every conscious state, or any characteristic of the relation of
different states of consciousness ? At first sight there is differ-
ence everywhere ; the sensations of no two moments are alike.
Looking again, there seems much sameness under this diversity
— certain broad features of the mental life, the fundamental
activities of, e.g., perception, inference, feeling, willing, remain
unchanged, although that which is perceived, inferred, felt, or
willed may vary without limit. Again, the very changes intro-
duced into the self are permanent. The mere fact that appre-
hension must precede memory or idea is an instance of a
modification persisting in its results. Again, other changes
occur of the nature of development, — the character grows ; but
such developmental growth is quite consistent with a continued
identity. At most, it would indicate that in some respects the
self is a self-determining process as well as a self-determining
identity.

But now, considering the matter still further, these points
of likeness between different phases do not seem to be strictly
continuous. The breaks of psychical activity again come in to
mar our conclusions. "What is strictly permanent is not the
fact of wishing or thinking, not even the broad fact of con-
sciousness, but the rhythm of consciousness and unconscious-
ness, and within the former the reaction of consciousness in



570 KNOWLEDGE

this or that mode to this or that stimulus. Putting the result
thus, the self would be a process containing constantly recurring
points of resemblance. It would not be mere process, i.e. con-
tinuous change. We might even from a certain point of view
call it a persistent identity. For just as two undulations of one
wave resemble one another, if you take them as wholes, while
from part to part they differ, so a whole phase of the self — a
complete pulse of the psychic life, including sleeping and waking
hours — repeats itself in the broad features mentioned over and
over again. So far, then, the self appears as a stream of fact
presenting constantly recurring points of quahtative likeness,
causally interconnected throughout, and capable at any point
of viewing itself as a whole. But the qualitative likeness
is not unbrokenly continuous, nor is the causal connection com-
plete and unconditional. The search, then, for the true self
which will make good these two deficiencies, and so constitute
what we may call the soul, is a search for elements into which
the facts of consciousness may be understood to enter as factors,
and which with them make up a "self-determining," and there-
fore truly continuous, whole. Such a whole might maintain its
identity unconditionally, or only by the aid of certain external
circumstances. In the first case, the totality formed would
persist eternally ; in the second, it would be strictly continuous
through our remembered experiences, but not necessarily
beyond. What we want in any case is a body of persistent
conditions forming a whole, in which the facts of consciousness
can be intelligibly included as determined and determining
members.

5. Eeturning to our old suggestion for these conditions, the
ego strikes us at once as little more than a phrase. It stands
as an expression of the felt intellectual need for some permanent
condition of soul life, a " regulative principle " or hypothesis on
which we work ; ^ but any attempt to understand or define it
ends only in stripping it more and more bare of all content and
interest. Immortality, as a ghastly monad or "bloodless
category," would not be worth having— not even worth con-
troverting.

What the ego loses the body seems to gain. The body is a
reality ; we know what we mean by it ; and it is in our experi-
ence permanent. Here, then, it seems we get all that we want
— a set of conditions strictly permanent as long as our experi-

' This is its real position in the Kritik of Pure Reason. The soul of " Rational
Psychology" is an idea of the reason,— noi; an object, but the "schema of a
regulative principle." See Transcendental Dialectic (2nd ed.), bk. ii. pp. 235 236
(Meiklejohn's trans.), and Appendix, p. 417.



THE CONCEPTION OF SELF 571

ence lasts, and more than this we cannot properly require. In
the facts of body together with the facts of consciousness we
have a true substance, conditionally self-subsistent.

The positive side of this result we may clearly accept with-
out reserve. In the conscious physical organism we have an
empirical substance of the kind described in our last chapter,
which qua substance is much in the position of the ordinary
" things " of the outer world, but is distinguished from them in
its content and behaviour. The self, I should put it, is at
least a substance, so far as the living organism is so : in that
substance at least we find a home for consciousness or feeling.
The question is, whether this is the ultimate account of the
matter. Is the totaUty, in which body on the one side and
consciousness on the other are the apparent elements, really
composed of those elements alone, or are there in it further
conditions ? Again, are these known elements strictly inter-
dependent, or are there, again, further conditions maintaining
each of them and the observable relation between them ? In
a word, we have before us the relation of mind and body.

This question, we must say at once, is not strictly one for
logic or metaphysics. The result of the debate must interest
us and form a valuable datum for our investigations, but the
debate itself must for the most part be carried on by the
psychologist and the physiologist. All that our theory can do
in the matter is to point out one or two general considerations
to guide us in the uncertainty which must at present hang
about the whole matter.

The case stands briefly thus. It is in part known and in
part supposed on good ground that a molecular process of some
kind accompanies every act of consciousness. Of this process
itself very little is known, though we have some data for deter-
mining its speed, and we know that the propagation of its
effects along a nerve is accompanied by changes in the
electric state of the tissue affected. In man there is consider-
able reason to suppose that only such changes as take place in
the cortex of the hemispheres are accompanied by consciousness.
In the case of the lower animals this is far from certain.
Within the cortex certain areas appear to be specially con-
nected with definite psychical functions ; for example, the
occipital regions with sight, the temporal with speech and hear-
ing. But there is no evidence that these areas act inde-
pendently of the rest of the brain. Nor is there the slightest
indication of the point of the molecular process at which the
corresponding mental change begins.

Our actual knowledge, then, of the connection of mind and



572 KNOWLEDGE

body reduces itself to a probable concomitance, corresponding
detail for detail, of mental and physical changes. If we start
from either side of this process the question of how the other
side comes about is entirely unanswerable. There is nothing
to show what sort of molecular process brings consciousness
into existence, nor why it does so. It is impossible even to say
what processes are accompanied by consciousness and what are
not. If we take purposive action as our test, we must allow con-
sciousness to the spinal cord of a headless frog. If we reject
it, it seems impossible to draw the line at any point between the
headless frog and Isaac Newton. Again, the consciousness of
somnambulists, of the hypnotic trance, of " split off" selves, etc.,
presents the greatest possible obstacles to any assumption as to
the relation between physical and mental changes. The relation,
then, of the physical and the mental is one of probably constant
concomitance, not one in which the causal conTiection is as yet
fully analysed and understood.^

If, again, the object were to prove the independence of the
" soul " as the true vehicle of consciousness, the first requirement
would be that conditions other than physical states of the brain
should be assigned which remain strictly continuous through
experience. This done,^ to prove the soul's independence of the
body, we should have to go about just as we do in our attempt
to show any complete causal connection, and here we need not
dwell on the inadequacy of any arguments that could at present
be urged. We could only remark, that even if the soul were
proved a true self-determining whole into which no bodily
elements entered as positive conditions, it would not (in accord-
ance with the conclusions of our last chapter) follow that it is

^ I am not pretending to discuss the subject at second hand, but am merely
referring the reader to some of the well-known points of dilEculty given in full
in any psychological text-book ; see, for instance, the opening chapters of Professor
James' Psychology.

° The question of unconscious mental activity becomes important in this
connection, as affording a possible alternative hjfpothesis to the body as the
permanent element in the self. I do not wish to prejudge this question, but I wish
to advert to a distinction too often ignored between " content " and " activity."
(a) Every coutent of a mental state must sui'ely exist for a conscious state. Aud
thus the expression, an unconscious or subconscious feeling or idea seems almost
a contradiction in terms. A feeling that is not felt seems to me much like a
blow that is not struck, or General "Wade's roads before they were made. On
the other hand, (6) a mental act is always as such unconscious. When I judge
or infer, I am not necessarily conscious that I jud^e or infer. If I am conscious,
moreover, that involves, as we saw above, a second act of intelligence, for which
the first is now object. Any given mental activity, then, is conscious, not of
itself but of its own object. There is no difficulty at all in the mind's acting
without being conscious that it is acting. The question really is. Can there he
any mental act which is not a consciousness or assertion of something ? And
this question we may at present leave open.



THE CONCEPTION OF SELF 573

unconditionally persistent. Certain modifications of the external
order might act upon it in such a way as to modify or finally to
destroy it — that is, merge, or shall we say submerge, its
individual life in the greater stream of existence.

Failing any positive conclusion on either side, we may
say this much. What we call the body is a certain coherent
mass of attributes. No one, I suppose, imagines that the
attributes we know exhaust its whole nature. We do not
suppose this in the case of a piece of iron or stone. The true
stone includes the properties known to us, and much more. To
the universe the stone is much more than it is to us. We
know it only from certain aspects. So with our own bodies,
only that here the aspects are more varied. We know them
as ponderable, extended, and so on. We know them also as
feeling or thinking. These two sides seem leagues apart, and
the inference is that the total character of tliat in which they
are elements is very much richer than anything of which we
know. Body, then, as such is not soul ; nor, again, does body
" act on " soul, nor soul on body, as two separate " things " on
one another, but their changes are interwoven as connected
phases in the complex constitution of the greater whole
of which both are elements.^ And this whole is the real
self.

^ "We might help ourselves to conceive the relation by thinking again of the
combination of properties in the material things already referred to. A body
emits a red light "because" its molecules are vibrating 500 biUion times a
second. Physicists have become accustomed to "explain " this by treating the
vibrating molecules as the ' ' real, " i.e. external body, and the red light as a
"mere" sensation. But going back from this hypothesis to the facts as we
iirst find, or are led to believe, them, we have the whole reality, the luminous
body, with two very different characteristics — it is shim'ng with a red light, and
it consists of particles in vibration. And these two fundamentally different
elements of its content are inextricably bound up together. You could not say
that one acted on the other, for there is no before and after. As the vibration
begins, so the colour comes into existence ; as the rate of vibration rises, so the
colour changes to orange, yellow, etc.; as the amplitude of vibration alters, so
does the intensity of the light. You may say that the one " is " the other ; but
this solves nothing, for if you come to analyse your " is " you will find that it is
a mere expression for some such a relation as that already described. In short,
taking the results of the theory of colour, or heat, or sound just as you find
them, they lead you to the belief that in a concrete thing those of its character-
istics which we call its molecular condition on the one side, and its colour, etc.,
on the other, are universally connected. And this is a connection holding
within what appears to be one substance ; it is a connection of one attribute with
another.

Now, the relation of mind and body seems just parallel. A molecular change
in some portion of the brain is accompanied by a sensation or an act of thought,
just as the molecular change in a gas when it is lit wiU render it luminous.
The concrete reality which is the self presents, again, those characteristics
which we call the facts of consciousness on the one side and those which we
call molecular change on the other. And once again the relation between the



574 KNOWLEDGE

6. "We may put together the results which we may be fairly
said to know with the problem which directly arises out of
them, somewhat as follows. The material facts which we call
the body on the one side, and the facts of consciousness on the
other, along with further at present undefinable elements
which we are bound to infer, form together a "substantial"
reality of the empirical order. That is to say, the whole which



Online LibraryL. T. (Leonard Trelawny) HobhouseThe theory of knowledge; a contribution to some problems of logic and metaphysics → online text (page 63 of 69)