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which seem to us absolutely fatal to the hypothesis, (i) In
the first place, as we have already indicated. Idealism is
incompatible not only with vulgar prejudices, but with the
best estabhshed truths of science. Astronomy, Geology,
physical Optics, and the rest of the physical sciences, are
inseparably bound up with the assumption that matter which
is neither a sensation nor an imaginary possibility of a sensation
exists apart from observation. They teach that real, actual,
material bodies, of three dimensions, not only exist, but act
upon each other according to known laws whilst no human mind
is contemplating them. Possibilities enjoying no existence
beyond consciousness could not attract each other with a
force varying inversely as the square of the distance ; they
could not pass from green forests into coal beds, nor could
they refract or interfere with other phenomena so as to
determine the character of visual sensations independently of
^^ Mill's Exam, of Hamilton (2nd Edit.), pp 223, 229, 230.
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(( UNIVERSITY




114



SENSUOUS LIFE.



our wills. How, for instance, is the double discovery of the
planet Neptune from the simultaneous but independent calcu-
lations by Adams, and Leverrier, to be explained, if there are
not in the universe besides human minds extended agents
which retain and exert their influence when unthought of by
any created intelligence.

(2) This irreconcilability between phj^sical science and
phenomenal IdeaHsm results in a very noteworthy case of
felo de sc in the hands of Dr. Bain.' He commences his
works on Empirical Psychology with an elaborate account of
the brain, the nervous system, and the various sense-organs.
Later on in the same volumes he resolves the material world,
including, we presume, the aforesaid objects, into a collection
of mental states. Finally, in his book on Mind and Body, he
rec-olves the mind, that is, the total series of conscious states,
into subjective aspects or phases of neural currents. Now
obviously there is at least one absurdity here. What is the
exact meaning of the statement that a mental state is but the
subjective aspect of a nervous process, which is itself but a
group of sensations ? At one time the mind is alleged to be
a function of the brain, and elsewhere the brain, with the
rest of the physical universe, is analyzed into a plexus of
muscular feelings incapable of existing beyond consciousness.
These two mutually destructive tenets. Phenomenal Idealism
and Physical Materialism, are the logical outcome of the
sensist theory of cognition ; but unfortunately disciples of
that school do not usually reason out on both sides the
consequences of their assumptions with the clearness and
courage of Dr. Bain. The only subject for regret is that the
latter writer neither attempts to reconcile the two repugnant
theses, nor frankly avows that they form a reductio ad ahsurdnm
of his theory .1^

^^ The defence suggested by some writers, that the scientific
psychologist is no more bound to give a metaphysical account of
the materials with which he deals than the astronomer, or the
geologist, is a mere shallow evasion of the difficulty. Psychology
stands here in quite a different position from that of all the
physical sciences. Its first duty is to furnish such an exposition
of the nature of cognition as will secure an intelligible meaning to
the terms employed in all sciences including itself, and assuredly
it may not with impunity reduce its own statements to nonsensical
absurdities. If it resolves neural currents into modifications of
consciousness, it may not then turn round and resolve this con-
sciousness into aspects of the aforesaid currents. If it does so, it is
bound at all events to explain the precise significance of the out-
come of this interesting dialectical feat. Mill's very just contention
against Hamilton is very much to the point here. " When a thinker



MODERN THEORIES OF EXTERNAL PERCEPTION. 115.



(3) Again, the primary assumption on which all pheno-
menalistic theories since the days of Locke have been based
is false. That we can only know our own mental states, that
we cannot apprehend material reality as affecting us is'
neither an a priori nor a self-evident truth, and still less can
it be established from experience. The fact that we are
unable to imagine how matter can act upon mind, or how
mind can become immediately cognizant of something other
than itself, is no objection against the clear testimony of
consciousness, as manifested after the most careful intro-.
spection, that the mind does immediately perceive something
other than itself acting upon it. Moreover, from this first
illegitimate assumption flows the second error, that extension
is identical with that by which it is measured. The velocity of
a moving locomotive or of a flying swallow is not the same
thing as its force. Now, our knowledge of extension may
receive accurate definition and determination, mainly by
means of the muscular sensations, and yet what we call the
extension of objects may be not only something different
from these sensations, but it may also be immediately
apprehended in a less defined manner through some other
senses.

(4) Further, we must deny in toto that sensations, muscular
or any other, viewed in themselves as purely subjective, non-
spatial feelings, could ever by any process of addition or
transformation be worked up into an apparently extra-mental
world. It is only by the surreptitious introduction of
extended elements that an extended product can be effected ;
and the great use made of the muscular sensations in the
empiricist theory is due to the fact that the illicit transition
from the asserted originally subjective signification of motor
sensations to the objective meaning implied in ordinary
beliefs is liable to escape notice. If these feelings are
steadily remembered to be simple states of consciousness
varying only in duration and intensity, it will be seen that
they cannot, any more than sensations of sound or smell,
" consolidate " into extended objects. Duration — serial
length in time — belongs to all sensations, yet many of these
afford no knowledge of space, much less constitute it. Sensa-
tions may also vary in intensity without evoking the notion

is compelled by one part of his philosophy to contradict another
part, he cannot leave the conflicting assertions standing and throw
the responsibility of his scrape on the arduousness of his subject ;.
a palpable self-contradiction is not one of the difficulties which can
be adjourned as belonging to a higher department of science.*'
(Exam. pp. 122, 123.)



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of velocity ; this latter cognition, in fact, presnpposes the idea

of space.

In all associationalist accounts of the genesis of our
knowledge of an external world there is a continual equi-
vocation between strictly mental existence and that which is
intra-organic but not purely mental ; between the significa-
tion of the terms describing the organism legitimate on their
principles and the alleged erroneous meanings which these
words convey to the vulgar mind. Notwithstanding all lofty
disclaimers to the contrary, sensationalists when tracing the
gradual manufacture of the material universe out of simple
states of consciousness, really do assume the existence of
an extended organism, as known from the first. When
Mr. Bain, or Mr. Spencer, describes how muscular feelings,
varying in duration and velocity, give rise to the belief in
extended space, the explanation seems plausible because the
reader almost inevitably passes from the subjective inter-
pretation, which is all that is lawful to the writer, to the
objective realistic meaning embodied in common language.
The phrases, "range of an arm," "sweep of a limb," and the
like, employed by associationists in expounding the supposed
origin of the notion of extension, necessarily suggest to the
mind real extended objects known as such, and so con-
veniently hide the true difficulty. Commencing with a
knowledge of our own body as extended, the development
of our conviction of an independent material world might,
perhaps, even on sensationist lines, proceed tolerably enough;
but if our body and the rest of space are nothing more than
sensations, and if the mind can only apprehend its own
subjective feelings, then the first step is impossible. Suc-
cessive muscular or tactual feelings in the interpretation of
these sensations permissible to Mr. Spencer or Mill can no
more account for the present appearance of extended objects
than experiences of sound, of smell, or of toothache.

(5) The argument from the existence of other minds to which
we have before alluded may also be here urged with peculiar
force against Mill and Dr. Bain. Both of these writers lay
stress upon the value of the testimony of other minds in
establishing our belief in an independent world. Our know-
ledge, however, of other minds than our own is only gained
by an inference from changes in certain portions of the
physical world, assumed to have a real existence beyond our
consciousness. Now if the chief premiss is invalidated, if it
is demonstrated that we have, and can have no knowledge
of anything external to our consciousness, that the seemingly
independent human organisms around us are only modifica-
tions of our own mind, clusters of our muscular feelings



MODERN THEORIES OF EXTERNAL PERCEPTION. 117

actual and ideal, then assuredly it is an unworthy superstition
to continue to put faith in the external existence of other
minds, and still more ridiculous and absurd to invoke their
testimony as a leading agency in the generation of our belief
in the material world, including of course the bodies from
which their existence is inferred,

(6) There remains another fundamental difficulty which
goes to the very root of the sensationist philosophy. This
genesis of space out of time necessarily implies, at all events,
the existence of a. pennanent mind. Under the pressure of Dr.
W.Ward's severe criticism, Mill was obliged in addition to his
other assumptions to "postulate " memory. A mere succession
of disconnected feelings could never give rise to the notion
of tiine, and still less could the possibilities of such successive
sensations be condensed by themselves into the simultaneity
of space. But memory is precisely what the doctrine which
reduces the mind to a sei'ies of feelings has no right to postulate.
An abiding subject permanent among our changing states
is an essential requisite for the existence of memory. If,
however, the notion of time is impossible to the sensationalist,
a fortiori is that of space.

Emanuel Kant (1724 — 1804). — A theory of perception
equally erroneous with that of Hume's school, but starting
from an almost diametrically opposite conception of the
nature of the mind and of cognition, is that of Kant. Instead
of explaining all mental products as complex results arising
out of the aggregation, association, and coalescence of sensa-
tions passively received, Kant holds the mind to be endowed
from the beginning with certain a priori or innate subjective
" forms," by which all its experience is actively moulded or
shaped. Among the most important of these are the two
" intuitions " of Space and Time. The first is imposed on the
acts of external, the second on those of internal sensibility.
The sensations of our external senses are non-spatial in them-
selves, and they are awakened by a non-spatial cause. It is
the subjective co-efficient that shapes the mental act so as to
give rise to the perception by which we seem to apprehend
extended objects outside of the mind. Similarly our mental
states are presented to us by the internal sense — inner con-
sciousness — as occurring in time. This, too, is an illusion
due to a purely subjective factor in cognition. We have no
reason for supposing that these states are not timeless iti
themselves. We can only know phenomena, or the appearances
of things as shaped and coloured, by these subjective con-
ditions ; to noumena, or things-in-themselves, we can never
penetrate. Still the existence of a noiimcnon beyond con-
sciousness Kant maintains as requisite to account for our



Ii8 SENSUOUS LIFE.



cognitive acts. He is thus a Hypothetical Duahst, denying
an immediate apprehension of an external reality, but asserting
its existence as a necessary supposition.

Criticism. — Deferring to a later chapter the examination of
•Kant's system as a whole, we may here indicate a few of the
objections suggested against his treatment of the subject-
matter at present under discussion. In the first place, it has
been urged that Kant's attempted proof of the existence of
a priori ingredients in all our knowledge is invalid, (a) " Space,"
he argues, " is not a conception which has been derived from
outward experiences. For in order that certain sensations
may 'relate to something without me . . . and that I may
represent them not merely without and near to each other,
but also in separate places, the representation of space must
exist as a foundation. Consequently, the representation of
space cannot be borrowed from external phenomena through
experience, but, on the contrary, this external experience is
only possible through the said antecedent representation." ^'^
Space is, therefore, a purely subjective a priori form, inherent
in the constitution of the mind, and imposed on the raaterial
element given in sensation.

This method of reasoning was employed by Plato to show
that all knowledge is really innate. It sins by proving too
much. If it were true that we could not apprehend an object
as extended unless we had a previous representation of ex-
tension, then it would seem to follow that we could never
cognize a taste, sound, or smell, unless we had antecedently
a similar cognition of the nature of the taste, sound, or smell.
If there are in existence extended material bodies, and if we
are endowed with the faculties of touch and sight, there is no
reason why we should not immediately perceive the spatial
qualities of these bodies when they act upon our senses.
The perception may of course be at first vague, but frequent
experience can perfect it.^^

(b) " We never can imagine or make a representation to

^^ Critique, translated by Meiklejohn, p. 24.

^•^ In maintaining that our developed knowledge of space is a
result of experience, a distinction not always realized by Kant
should be made between the abstract concept or notion of space in
general and the concrete perception of an individual object as extended.
The former is an elaborate intellectual product reached by abstrac-
tion, reflexion, and generalization, and presupposes many individual
perceptions of concrete extension. The perception, on the other
hand, is given, vaguely indeed at first yet truly, in the immediate
experience of an extended surface affecting the sense of contact or
of sight.



MODERN THEORIES OF EXTERNAL PERCEPTION, iig



ourselves of the non-existence of space, though we may
easily enough think that no objects are found in it. It must,
therefore, be considered as the condition of the possibility
of phenomena, and by no means as a determination dependent
on them, and is a representation a priori, which necessarily
supplies the basis for external phenomena." (p. 25.) This
difficulty is solved by distinguishing between actual or real
space, and possible or ideal space. The former is identical
with the voluminal distance or interval enclosed by the
surface-limits of the entire collection of created material
objects, the latter is simply the possibility of extended
objects. Now, although all material things were annihilated,
the possibility of their existence, and therefore possible space,
would remain. Consequently, having once apprehended
the extension of existing bodies, we can never think them to
be impossible, although we may abstract from their existence.
The conception of ideal space, or the possibility of material
bodies, is thus indestructible, not because it is merely a con-
dition of thought, but because it is a condition of corporeal
being.

(c) " Space is no discursive or, as we say, general con-
ception of the relations of things, but a pure ifituition. For,
in the first place, we can only represent to ourselves one
space, and when we talk of divers spaces we mean only parts
of one and the same space. Moreover, these parts cannot
antecede this one all-embracing space, as the component
parts from which the aggregate can be made up, but can be
cogitated only as existing in it." Again, (d) " Space is repre-
sented as an infinite given quantity." To these arguments
we may again reply that a general conception of the relations
of material things, or an abstract notion of the possibility of
extended objects, may be formed from many perceptions
of diff'erent parts of space. The fact that such an idea of
possible space represents the latter as infinite, or rather
indefinite, one, and all embracing, in no way proves that this
representation is given a priori.

Kant further holds that the necessity and universality which
characterize geometrical judgments establish the subjective
origin of our cognition of space. This must be denied.
Objects without the mind may have certain modes or rela-
tions of a contingent and others of a necessary nature. But
if such were the case there can be no reason why the mind
should be incapable of apprehending both with equal truth.
The explanation put forward by Natural Realism is that there
are certain essential and certain other accidental conditions
of material being, and that these are reflected by necessary
and contingent features in our thought. This is a simple



l2o SENSUOUS LIFE.



and adequate account of the problem without the gratuitous
assumption of innate forms. ^*

Still even were it true that our knowledge of external
objects in no way represented them, the doctrine of Kant,
that our apparent cognition of otcr own mental states as they
are in-themselves is deceptive, would be erroneous. In this
region, at least, the distinction between phenomenal knowledge
and noumenal existence is utterly invalid. A conscious state
cannot have any existence-in-itself apart from what it is appre-
hended to be. lis esse is percipi. Since, then, mental states
are as they are apprehended, and since they are apprehended
as successive, they must form a real succession in-themselves.
They cannot be timeless as they are non-spatial. But if so
Kant's " form of the internal sense " — the intuition of time — is
extinguished. According to him time, like space, is merely a
subjective condition of our internal consciousness imposed on
realities timeless in themselves. As, however, there is a real
succession in our ideas, there is a true correlate to the notion
of time. A sequence of changes being once admitted in our
conscious states, an analogous succession of alterations cannot
be denied to the external reality which acts upon us, and so
we are justified in maintaining the objective validity of the
notion. The whole growth and evolution of each man's
mental life, and its connexion with the development of his
organic existence, affords the most cogent conceivable evidence
of the real truth of the conception of time.

Further, the arguments already put forward against Phe-
nomenal Idealism show that neither space nor time can be a
purely subjective /orm. Physics and astronomy, for instance,
are irreconcilable with such a view. Thus, the latter science
by a series of elaborate deductions from {a) ahstrsict geometrical
theorems dealing with the properties of pure space, and (6)
dynamical \a.ws describing the action of unperceived/oy



Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 12 of 63)