Michael Maher.

Psychology: empirical and rational online

. (page 11 of 63)
Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 11 of 63)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

up certain confused notions wliich have often obscured
and disfigured the treatment of the problem, not only
on the part of our opponents, but even in the hands
of some able and vigorous defenders of Immediate
Perception, especially among the Scotch school. The
exact meaning to be assigned to the terms. Ego and
Non-EgOf Self and Not-Self, Mind and External World,
in this controversy is of the very first importance ; or
rather the vital point is that whatever definite significa-
tions are attached to them be adhered to throughout.

Ego and Mind. — Now in the first place by the
term Ego is to be understood during the present dis-
cussion the entire person, the whole man made up of body
and soul. The Non-Ego is, therefore, whatever is not
part of my person. In strictness it includes God and
the universe of pure spirits ; but as the reality of
immaterial beings does not enter into our present
controversy, we may define the Non-Ego as, the Material
Universe distinct from my own animated organism. Self and
Not- Self are to be considered as synonymous with £^(7
and Non-Ego. The terms. Mind and External, or better,
Extra-Mental World, must be carefully distinguished
from the former pairs of words. Abstracting from all
questions as to the substance of the soul, by Mind we
here understand the unextended conscious subject, the unity
of m}'' psychical existence, viewed apart from my body.
By the External or Extra-Mental World, is meant all
material reality, including both my own body and the
extra-organic universe. Mind is thus narrower than
Self or Ego, and External World is wider than Not-Self
or Non-Ego.

Man not a Pure Spirit. — In the second place we
must make clear our starting-point. Some representa-
tionalists often argue as if the mind were de facto
completely separated from the body, or at any rate
standing out of all relations to the corporeal frame.
What would be the nature of perception in such a
situation we do not pretend to determine : it is not the
problem of Human Psychology. We take man as he
is ; one being made up of mind and body, endowed


with sensuous as well as intellectual faculties, and
possessed of a variety of extended sense-organs, the
natural instruments by which he acquires knowledge,
not only of the surrounding world, but of his own body.*
Two Questions. — Now in the problem of the
Perception of the Material Universe, two points connected
with the ambiguous terms just defined, and consequently
almost invariably confounded, have to be kept apart.
They are, in fact, two distinct questions — the one, my
apprehension of extension and extra-mental reality in
any form, the other, my cognition of the Non-Ego or
Extra-Organic portion of the material world. To begin
with the first : we hold it to be certain that at all
events in the case of its own organism the Ego has an
immediate perception of extension. In sensations of
sight and pressure there is directly revealed space of
two dimensions. Whether the cause of the sensation
is externalized, projected beyond the surface of the
extended organism, or not, the conscious state aroused
immediately presents extension. The proof of this lies
in the fact that if extension were not so given the
perceptions and conceptions of space of which in
mature life we are indubitably possessed could never
have been generated. If the mind knew only its own
simple subjective modifications, our present cognition
of material objects would be impossible. No aggrega-
tion, composition, or fusion of mental states which
individually do not present any element of extension,
could produce the notion of extension. If some of our
senses have directly revealed space to us, the repre-
sentations of material objects which we form can be
accounted for; if none of them had done so, these
representations could never have arisen. This argument
will be more fully developed when we come to criticize
in detail the theories advanced to explain the genesis
of an external world of three dimensions out of simple
conscious states.

4 It may be well to remind the student here that this assump-
tion of an extended human body does not involve us in any pet itio
principU. We are not now proving the existence of a material
world— that we have done some pages back— but we are explaining
Jww man perceives this world.



Immediate perception of Extension. — Next comes the
question : Do any of our percipient acts immediately
make known to us the existence of a reahty other than
ourselves? It is here precision and consistency in the
use of the terms Ego, External World, and the rest,
become vitally important for clearness of thought in the
present discussion. We have said that in certain
percipient acts, more particularly in those of sight and
touch, there is given an immediate presentation of
extension : Of what is this extension apprehended to
be an attribute ? To what is it cognized to belong ?
In mature life, undoubtedl}', we perceive in an
apparently instantaneous flash of cognition that the
object against which we press is a soft velvet cushion,
that what we see is a red-brick house at the far side
of a river. But this does not settle the question, for
in these acts there demonstrably are involved complex
processes of inference or association of ideas. Taking,
however, the sensations of vision and pressure in their
simplest form, do they immediately give, in addition to
the perception of extension, a knowledge of material
reality as distinct from the percipient agent ? The
solution of this question will be found in reverting to
our distinctions. In the simplest percipient act w-hich
directly reveals extension there is given an immediate
apprehension of "otherness," at least in the sense of
the extra-mental. Extension, whether it pertains to our
own sense-organs, or to objects outside of our body, is
at all events not an attribute of simple mental modifica-
tions. It is opposed to the subjective conscious act.
Consequently, aUhough in the earlier stages of life such
distinctions may not be explicitly realized, there is
given in the immediate presentation of extension —
whether this extension be referred to the Ego, to the
Non-Ego, or not determinately to either — an immediate
apprehension of what is not the Mind. There is thus
an ultimate duality in our consciousness at least in this
signification that some of our faculties are capable of
immediate]}'' apprehending extension, and extension
thus apprehended necessarily stands opposed to the
unextcnded mind.


Perception of extra-organic Objects. — But is Duality
immediately given in the wider sense ? Does the per-
cipient act not only directly manifest to me an extended
phenomenon irreducibly opposed to the simplicity of
the purely subjective state, but does it also immediately
reveal this extended phenomenon as other than my Ego,
other than my Self in the sense of my whole being, body
and soul ? or is my knowledge of the existence of a
Non-Ego in the strict sense — of a material world outside
of my own body — is this cognition of a more complex,
mediate, and possible inferential character? This is
certainly a more disputable point. The majority of
Natural Realists seem at times to imply that the
Non-Ego in the sense of Extra-organic material reality
is originally presented as extended, distinct from, and
opposed to my whole bodily self; but the distinction
between the two uses of the term Ego — as including
and as excluding the organism — is on such occasions
rarely kept clearly in view. The second, or qualified
form of Natural Dualism, would maintain that, whereas
extension, and therefore objective reality, standing in
opposition to the mind, is originally immediately given
in sensations of my own organism, yet cognition of
material reality as external to my organism is a result
of analysis, comparison, and inference. This view, in
fact, holds that our perception of the extra-organic
universe, although in tlie developed intelligence so easy
and rapid, is nevertheless a complex process.

It does not appear to us that this second form of
the doctrine of Presentative Perception is always
realized with sufficient distinctness. The Non-Ego
ma}^ indeed, be originally and immediately presented
in some of the infant's first percipient acts as extrinsic
to its organism. But this is not necessary tD account
for our later knowledge. Fortunately, however, this
second stage of the problem of Perception is of little or
no philosophical importance ; and at any rate the
line of demarcation between inference and immediate
judgment is not very well defined. It is essential
that extension, and consequently, a reality opposed to
the unextended subject of consciousness, be directly


presented, but granted such an immediate perception,
even limited to the spatial character of my own material
organism, our knowledge of the rest of the universe
would be easily developed.^ In the next chapter we
shall describe this process of development. Before
doing so, however, we shall insert a historical retrospect.

Historical Sketch of Modern Theories of External


The question of External Perception has played such a
large part in modern philosophical speculation that we deem
it expedient to attempt a brief sketch of the subject. And
we do this all the more willingly because experience has
assured us that here, as often elsewhere, the most convincing
proof of the true doctrine is to be found in a careful examina-
tion of the history of counter-hypotheses.

Descartes (1596 — 1650), whose philosophical speculations
start from the dictum that I have an immediate and infallible
knowledge of my own thought and of nothing more, may be
justly considered the author of the problem of the bridge
from the mind to the material world. It is to Locke (1632 —
1704), however, that the various forms of British scepticism,
together with the idealism of Kant, are to be traced. Know-
ledge, Locke repeatedly maintains, consists in the perception
of agreement or difference between our ideas. We thus
immediately apprehend, not an external reality, but our own
mental states. Nevertheless, Locke holds that a material
world does exist outside of the mind. He is thus a Hypo-
thetical Dualist. We only know psychical representations,
but we posit as their cause a physical universe.

Bishop Berkeley (1685 — 1753) soon made manifest the
inconsistencies of Locke's teaching. Berkeley is celebrated
chiefly for two contributions to the history of Philosophy,
his system of Phenomenalistic Idealism and the Theory of
Vision known by his name. The essence of the latter is
contained in the two tenets that the eye of itself can perceive
neither (a) distance, nor (b) surface extension. Visual sensa-
tions had originally as little reference to space as sounds or

^ Thus Hamilton justly observes: "It is sufficient to establish
the simple fact, that we are competent, as consciousness assures us,
immediately to apprehend the Non-Ego in certain limited relations;
and it is of no consequence whatever, either to our certainty of the
reality of the material world, or to our ultimate knowledge of its
properties, whether by this primary apprehension we lay hold, in
the first instance, on a larger or a lesser portion of its contents."
{On Rcid, p. 814.)


tastes. By experience and association, the sensations of the
eye grow to be symbols of tactual and motor sensations
which constitute our knowledge of solid bodies and of space
of three dimensions. From this account of the psychology
of perception the transition to his metaphysical theory of the
nature of the External World is easy. Locke's groundless
assumption that we can immediately perceive nothing but
our own mental states, is accepted without question. All
objects of knowledge are held to be reducible to ideas of
the senses (sensations), internal feelings such as emotions,
and acts of the imagination. Accordingly, we may not
assert the existence of an independent extra-mental world.
We can know or perceive only what is in the mind. The
esse of every knowable object is percipi. If material sub-
stances existed beyond consciousness, they could in no
way be like our ideas, and cognition of such things by
ideas would be impossible. Moreover, matter could not
act upon an unextended spirit. Therefore the hypothesis
of an inert corporeal world which has existed for a time
unperceived must be abandoned. Still, Berkeley vigorously
asserted that his theory is in complete harmony with
the belief of mankind. The table, chair, or fire, which
I perceive, he does not deny to exist ; but, adhering to
Locke's assumption, he calls whatever is apprehended an
idea, and going still further he repudiates the hypothetical
material cause supposed by his master to have awakened
these ideas. But whence then do these ideas come, and what
happens when I cease to perceive them ? Berkeley replies
that God, and He alone, is the cause of my ideas. By the
Divine agency, and not by any hidden inconceivable material
substance, the permanence, regularity, and orderliness of the
ideas are sustained. When I no longer think of ideas
(material objects) they still endure in the Divine mind, and
may be apprehended by other men. In Berkeley's system,
then, there are held to exist minds or spiritual substances,
ideas, and the Divine spirit.*^

^ Berkeley's theory may be objected to on various grounds, such
as his equivocal use of the terms idea and conceive, and his un-
questioning acceptance of Locke's assumption, but we have never
seen any experiential argument which, strictly speaking, disproves
the hypothesis of hyperphysical Idealism. God, without the inter-
vention of a material world, could potcntid absolutd immediately
produce in men's minds states like to those which they experience
in the present order. The only demonstrative argument against
the Theistic Immaterialist is, that such a hypothesis is in conflict
with the attribute of veracity which he must ascribe to the Deity.
God could not be the author of such a fraud.


David Hume (171 1 — 1776), similarly starting from Locke's
principles, pushed Berkeley's Idealism to the most absolute
scepticism. All cognitions, or all objects of cognition — for
with these writers the terms are interchangeable — are
reducible to impressions (sensations) and ideas, fainter copies
of the former. To explain our belief in a permanent external
reality, as well as to account for our other fundamental
convictions, Hume appeals to the laws ot the Association of
Ideas. Through '• custom " by the reiterated occurrence of
various impressions we grow to believe in the enduring
existence of material things when unperceived. Such belief
is, however, an illusion ; we only know the transient mental
impressions. There is no such thing anywhere as an abiding
substance, the substratum of changing qualities or accidents.
We have no "impression" of it, therefore it does not exist.
Berkeley got thus far as regards the notion of materird
substance; but Hume logically shows that by the same
reasoning the idea of a spiritual substance, of a permanent
mind amid changing states of consciousness is equally
fictitious and unreal. The mind, just as well as the material
world, is nothing more than a cluster of transitory impres-
sions. The persuasion that nothing can begin to exist
without a cause is also due to association. No single
experience could give us the idea of causation ; but the
frequent repetition of two successive impressions so welds
them together in our minds that we are deluded into the
belief of some mysterious causal knot binding them, while
there is really no connexion but that of succession. This
illusory belief in particular instances of causality is afterwards
gradually widened into the universal law, that every being
which begins to exist presupposes a cause.

We have here all the essentials of later associatiovdsm. The
substantial souls, retained by Berkeley, follow the material
world of Locke, and the Divine Spirit also becomes a useless
and inconceivable hypothesis. Hume, too, possessed the
merit of realizing clearly and frankly admitting, what sub-
sequent disciples of sensism either fail to see, or attempt to
ignore, that the groundwork of physical science, and the
certainty and exactness of mathematics are fatally destroyed
by consistently following out the assumptions of the school.
The conclusions of the Scotch sceptic thus constitute a
complete reductio ad absurdum of Locke's principles.

J. Stuart Mill and Dr. Bain. — The chief modifications
introduced into the general theory by more recent sensaticn-
alists, are the final dismissal of Berkeley's hypothesis of
the Divine action, the greater importance assigned to the
muscular sense, and a more elaborate attempt to harmonize


the new conception of the external world with ordinary
beliefs. However, the arguments are in the main similar
in kind to those urged by the earlier advocates. Thus, it
is asserted, that a world existing independently of the mind
is inconceivable. " To perceive is an act of the mind. . . .
To perceive a tree is a mental act; the tree is known as
perceived and not in any other way. There is no such thing
known as a tree wholly detached from perception, and we
can only speak of what we know." Consequently, the hypo-
thesis of an external world existing when unperceived is
absurd. " The prevailing doctrine is that a tree is something
in itself apart from all perception ; that by its luminous
emanations it impresses our minds, and is then perceived,
the perception being the effect of an unperceived tree the cause.
But the tree is known only through perception ; what it may
be anterior to or independent of perception we cannot tell ;
we can think of it as perceived but not as unperceived. There
is a manifest contradiction in the supposition, that we are
required at the same moment to perceive the thing and not to
perceive it."''

The ^^ Psychological'^ or Empiricist doctrine of our belief in
matter. — The chief strength, however, of the theory lies in the
asserted sufficiency of the account which it professes to give
of the material world apprehended by us. Assuming as
self-evident the axiom that we can know only our own ideas,
the external universe, it is alleged, really means to us nothing
more than certain sensations plus possibilities^ of other sensa-
tions. The most objective and real attributes of material
things are in common belief their extension and impenetrability.

"^ Dr. Bain, Mental Science, pp. 197, ig8. In Emotions and Will
(3rd Edit.), p. 578, he still denies that " the situation intimates
anything as an existence beyond consciousness." This argument in the
hands of Dr. Bain, as in those of Berkeley, is based on a deceptive
ambiguity in the terms "conceive" and "perceive." We cannot
of course /^/w/f^ an unperceived world, nor can we conceive a world
the conception of which is not in the mind ; but there is no contra-
diction or absurdity in the proposition: "A material world of
three dimensions has existed for a time unperceived and unthought
of by any created being, and then revealed itself to human minds."
Dr. Bain's description of the "prevailing doctrine" is only
applicable to the theory of mediate perception. It does not r^fer
to Natural Realism, which makes the external material reality the
perceived and not the 2/Hperceived cause of our cognitions.

* It should be carefully borne in mind that in the associationist
theory a "possibility of sensation" is not a real actual agent
existing out of consciousness. It is as such, non-existent. Its only
existence is in the idea or conception by which future experiences ars
represented. Mill seems frequently to forget this.


Nevertheless, these properties, it is asserted, are ultimately
reducible to groups of muscular feelings possible and actual.
" The perception of matter, or the object consciousness, is
connected with the putting forth of muscular energy as
opposed to passive feelings. . . . Our object consciousness
further consists of the uniform connection of Definite feelings
with Definite energies. The effect that we call the interior
of a room is in the final analysis a regular series of feelings
of sense related to definite muscular energies. A movement
one pace forward makes a distinct and definite change in the
ocular impressions ; a step backwards exactly restores the
previous impression. . . . All our so-called sensations are in
this way related to movenients. . . . On the other hand,
what in opposition to sensations we call the flow of ideas —
the truly mental or subjective life — has no connection with
our movements. We may remain still and think of the
different views of a room, of a street, of a prospect in any
order." ^

The apparently independent world of every-day experience
has not suddenly manifested itself to us after the manner of
a transitory hallucination. It is a gradual growth, and it is
in tracing the supposed genesis of this illusory belief that
Mill best exhibited his psychological and metaphysical
ingenuity. Starting with the postulates of expectation, the
occurrence of impressions, and the laws of mental associa-
tion, he professes satisfactorily to explain all our present
convictions. We experience, he says, various sensations, such
as those of colour, sound, and touch. After they have passed
away we conceive them as possible. These feelings usually
occur in groups, thus the consciousness of yellow is found in
combination with certain sensations of contact, of smell, and
of taste, which go to make up our perception of an orange.
Similarly, visual feelings precede the tactual sensations which
we have come in course of time to call the table. By associa-
tion the groups of states become so knotted together that one
of them by itself is able to awaken in idea the rest, and to
suggest them to us as possible experiences. A material object
is, in fact, to us at any time one or two actual feelings with
the belief in a suite of others as possible. The actual im-
pressions are transient ; the possibilities axe permanent.

In addition to the feature of permanence and fixity among
these groups of possible impressions there is the constant and
regular order which we observe among them. By association
this gives rise to the notions of causation, power, and activity ;
and we gradually come, on account of their permanent
character, to look upon the groups of possible sensations as
^ Bain, Mental Science, pp. 199, 200.


the cause of the actual feehngs. Moreover, finding changes
to take place among the possibilities of our impressions
independently of our consciousness, we are led by abstraction
to erect these possibilities into an entirely independent
material world. This operation is completed by the dis-
covery, that otJicy human beings have an experience similar
to our own, and ground their conduct on the same permanent
possibilities as ourselves. Besides the apparent permanence
and independence of the material world, its most striking
contrast with our sensations lies in its extension and impene-
trability. The latter property, however, is merely the feeling
of muscular action impeded. Space is similarly an abstrac-
tion from motor feelings. Muscular sensations differing in
duration "give us the consciousness of hnear extension
inasmuch as this is measured by a sweep of a limb moved
by muscles. . . . The discrimination of length in any one
direction includes extension in any direction." Not only is
the idea of space derived from non-spatial feelings successive
in time, but this mode, "in which we become aware of
extension is affirmed by the psychologists in question to be
extension." " We have no reason for believing that space
or extension in itself is anything different from that by which
we recognize it.''^" The synchronous character of space
receives its completion from sight, which presents to us
simultaneously a vast number of visual impressions associated
with possibilities of motor and tactual feelings. Such is the
empiricist theory of our belief in a material world.

Criticism.— Phenomenal Idealism as thus advocated has
been attacked from many different points of view, but we can
here afford space for only a few of the leading diflficuhies

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 11 of 63)