Michael Maher.

Psychology: empirical and rational online

. (page 24 of 63)
Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 24 of 63)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ourselves as something more than our transient states.
The teaching of the sensist school from Hume to Mill
is logical at least on this point. They fully admit that
if their assumption is true, if the only cognitive faculty
possessed by the mind is sensuous in character, then it
follows that the mind must be conceived as nothing
more than sensations and possibilities of sensations.

Intellect a spiritual faculty. — These various forms
of mental activity, attention, abstraction, the perception
of relations, comparison, judgment, the formation of
universal and abstract conceptions, the intuition of the
necessar}^ character of certain judgments, and reflexive
observation of our own states, demonstrate the existence
in the mind of a higher cognitive faculty than that of
sensuous knowledge. This superior aptitude of the
soul is what the scholastic philosophers styled the
intellect; and they described it as a spivitiial or non-
organic faculty in opposition to sense, which they affirmed
to be organic, corporeal, or material. By these latter
epithets, however, they did not mean to imply that
sensuous life is similar in kind to the forces or properties
of matter, or to the physiological functions of the
organism. They merely intended to teach that all
sensuous states have for their proper objects material
phenomena, and are exerted by means of a bodily
organ. External and internal sensibility, imagination,
and sensuous memory are ail essentially or intrinsically
dependent on the organism. Thus sensations of touch,
or phantasms of colour, are possible only to a soul that


informs a body, and can only be elicited by modifica-
tion of an animated system of nerves. It is, therefore,
legitimate to say that the eye sees, and the ear hears,
or better, that the soul sees and hears by means of
these instruments. On the other hand, by describing
the activity of intellect as spiritual or non-organic, the
scholastics implied that it is a function of the mind
alone ; that unlike sentiency it is not exerted by means
of any organ.

Unity of Consciousness. — It seems to us incontestible that
when properly understood this is the true doctrine. It is
false to say that the brain thinks, or even that the mind
thinks by means of the brain, although we may allow the
phrase that it sees by the instrumentality of the eye or hears
by that of the ear.'^ To establish this it is only necessary to
revert to the points already considered. First, as regards
self-consciousness, the subject of this activity must be of a
spiritual or incorporeal nature. For in such an operation
there is realized a species of perfect identity between agent
and patient which is utterly incompatible with any form of
action that pertains to a corporeal organ. Thus, I find that
I can not only think or reason about some event, but /, the
being who thinks, can reflect on this thinking; and, moreover,
/ can apprehend myself who am reflecting, and who know
myself as reflecting, to be absolutely identical with the being
who thinks and reasons about the given event. But, evidently,
such an operation cannot be effected by a faculty exerted by
means of a material organ. One part of matter may act
upon another, it may attract or repel it, it may be "reflected "
or doubled back upon it : but the same atom can never act
upon, or reflect upon itself. The action of a material atom
must always have for its object something other than itself.
This indivisible iiuity of consciousness, exhibited in the act of
knowing myself, is therefore possible only to a spiritual agent,
a faculty that does not operate by means of a material organ.

Apprehension of the abstract and universal. — Again, the
characteristic notes of the organic or sensuous state consist

^ " When organs of understanding or of reason, instruments 0/ Judging
and thinking are spoken of, we confess that we have no idea either
what end such theories can serve, or what advantage there could be
for the higher intellectual life in all this apparatus of instruments.
None of these relating energies (rational activities) from whose
inexhaustibly varied repetition all our knowledge is derived can be
in the smallest degree promoted by the co-operation of corporeal
force " Cf. Lotze, Miciocosmus (English Trans.), p. 323.


in its representing a concrete material phenomenon, and in
its being aroused by the impression of the object on the
organ. The intellectual act, on the contrary, whether it
manifests itself in the shape of the universal concept, of
attention to abstract relations, or in the apprehension of
necessity, does not represent an actual concrete fact, and is
not evoked by the action of a material stimulus. The
formal object of sense is the concrete individual : that of
intellect is the abstract and universal. An organic faculty can
only respond to definite corporeal impressions, and can only
represent individual concrete objects. But universal ideas,
abstract intellectual relations, and the necessity of axiomatic
truths do not possess actual concrete existence, and so cannot
produce an impression on any organ. Yet consciousness
assures us that they are apprehended by us ; consequently, it
must be by some supra-organic or spiritual faculty. We
have thus proved the existence of a supra-sensuous or
spiritual form of life in the cognitive region of the mind :
later on, when dealing with Free-will, we shall establish in
the sphere of appetency a similar truth.

Intellect mediately dependent on the brain. —

In asserting that the intellect is a spiritual faculty,
we do not of course imply that it is in no way
dependent on the organism, any more than in main-
taining the freedom of the will we suppose this latter
faculty to be uninfluenced by sensitive appetite.
It is indisputable that exhaustion of brain power
accompanies the work of thinking ; but the fact
that the exercise of imagination or of external
sense forms a conditio sine qua non of intellectual
activity, accounts for such consumption of cerebral
energy. Although intellect is a spiritual faculty of
the mind, it presupposes, so long as the soul informs
the body, the stimulation of the organic faculty of
sense. This was expressed in the language of the
schools by saying that intellectual activity depends
extrinsically or per accidens on the organic faculties.
The universal concept, the intellectual judgment,



the act of reflexion, are not, like sensation, the
results of the stimulation of a sense-organ, but
products of purely spiritual action. The inferior
mode of mental life is awakened by the irritation of
sentient nerves, the superior activity is due to a
higher reaction from the unexhausted nature of the
mind itself; and the ground for this reaction lies in
the fact that the same indivisible soul is the root of
both orders of faculties. Intellectual cognition
always involves self-action on the part of the mind,
but the conditions of such self-action are posited by
impressions in the inferior recipient faculties. The
nature of the process will be more fully described in
chapter xv.

Balmez and Lotze on Sensationism. — The doctrine ex-
pounded in the present chapter is of such vital importance,
yet so completel}^ unfamiUar to the student whose reading
has been confined to the current psychological text-books of
this country, that we deem it well worth while, for the better
enforcement of our teaching, to cite a few passages from
foreign philosophers of note. We shall select for our puirpose
Balmez, the brilliant and original Spanish metaphysician of
the first half of this century, and Lotze, the ablest recent
representative of the combined Hegelian and Herbartian
schools, who in addition holds high rank in physiological

In Chapter ii., Book iv., of his Fundamental Philosophy,
Balmez examines the sensational psychology of Condillac,
and his criticism of that author applies with equal justice to
the entire empirical school of this country from Hume and
Hartley to Bain and Sully. In the conception of the mind
held in common by all these writers sense is the sole parent
and source of all knowledge. There is no rational activity
essentially distinct from, and superior to, that of sense. The
formation of concepts, the operations of comparison and
judgment, and the application of thought in the act of
attention, are merely sensations coalescing or conflicting in a
fainter or more vivid stage. Balmez' observations on the
system of the original parent of French sensism will, conse-
quently, be very much to the Doint. After a brief account of


Condillac's hypothetical statue, which, at first endowed with
a single mode of sensibility, gradually developes higher forms
of mental power, the Spanish philosopher lays bare the
deficiencies of the sensist doctrine :

Attention. — " Condillac calls capacity of feeling, when applied
to an impression, attention. So if there be but one
sensation there can be but one attention. If various sensa-
tions succeeding each other leave some trace in the memory
of the statue, the attention will, when a new sensation is
presented, be divided between the present and the past. The
attention directed at one and the same time to two sensations
becomes comparison. Similarities and differences are per-
ceived by comparison, and this perception is a judgment. All
this is done with sensations alone ; therefore attention,
memory, comparison, and judgment are nothing but sensa-
tions transformed. In appearance nothing clearer, more
simple, or more ingenuous ; in reality nothing more confused
or false. First of all, this definition of attention is not exact.
The capacity of feehng, by the very fact of being in exercise,
is apphed to the impression. It does not feel when the
sensitive faculty is not in exercise, and this is not in exercise
except when applied to the impression. Consequently attention
would he nothing hut the act of feeling ; all sensation would he
attention, and all attention sensation ; a meaning which no one
ever yet gave to these words. Attention is the application of
the mind to something; and this apphcation supposes the
exercise of an activity concentrated upon its object. Properly
speaking, when the mind holds itself entirely passive it is not
attentive ; and with respect to sensations, it is attentive when
by a reflex act we know that we feel. Without this cognition
there can be no attention, but only sensation more or less
active, according to the degree in which it affects our
sensibility. If Condillac means to call the more vivid
sensation attention, the word is improperly used ; for it
ordinarily happens that they who feel with the greatest
vividness are precisely those who are distinguished for their
want of attention. Sensation is the affection of a passive
faculty; attention is the exercise of an activity.''

Judgment. — The difference between a sensation of more or
less vivacity and the intellectual act of attention is here
clearly exhibited, but the distinction between sense and
thought is made still more evident, when the Spanish
philosopher passes on to Comparison and Judgment : " Is the
perception of the difference of the smell of the rose and that o-t
the pink a sensation ? If we answer that it is not, we infer
that the judgment is not the sensation transformed ; for it is
not even a sensation. If we are told that it is one sensation,


we then observe that if it be either that of the rose or that of
the pink, it follows that with one of these sensations we shall
have comparative perception, which is absurd. If we are
answered that it is both together, we must either interpret
this expression rigorously, and then we shall have a sensation
which will at once be that of the pink and that of the rose,
the one remaining distinct from the other, so as to satisfy the
conditions of comparison ; or we must interpret it so as to
mean that the two sensations are united ; in which case we
gain nothing, for the difficulty will be to show how co-existence
produces comparison, and judgment, or the perception of the
difference. The sensation of the pink is only that of the pink,
and that of the rose only that of the rose. The instant you
attempt to compare them you suppose in the mind an act by
which it perceives the difference ; and if you attribute to it
anything more than pure sensation you add a facidty distinct
from sensation, namely, that of comparing sensations, and
appreciating their similarities and differences. This com-
parison, this intellectual force, which calls the two extremes
into a common arena without confounding them, discovers
the points in which they are alike or unlike each other, and,
as it were, comes in and decides between them, is distinct
from the sensation; it is the effect of an activity of a different
order, and its development must depend on sensations as
exciting causes, as a condition sine qua non; but this is all it
has to do with sensations themselves ; it is essentially distinct
from them, and cannot be confounded ivith them without destroying
the idea of comparison, and rendering it impossible. No judgment
is possible without the ideas of identity or similarity, and
these ideas are not sensations. Sensations are particular
facts which never leave their own sphere, nor can be applied
from one thing to another. The ideas of similarity and
identity have something in common applicable to many
facts. . . . Nor can memory, properly so called, of sensa-
tions be explained by themselves ; and here again Condillac
is wrong. The statue may recollect to-day the sensation of
the smell of the rose which it received yesterday, and this
recollection may exist in two ways : first, by the internal
reproduction of the sensation without any external cause, or
relation to time past, and consequently without any relation
to the prior existence of a similar sensation ; and then this
recollection is not for the statue a recollection properly so
called, but only a sensation more or less vivid; secondly, by
an internal reproduction with relation to the existence of the
same or another similar sensation at a preceding time, in which
Recollection essentially consists ; and here there is something
more than sensation— here are the ideas of succession, time,


priority, and identity or similarity, all distinct or separable
from sensations. Two entirely distinct sensations may be
referred to the same time in memory, and then the time will
be identical and the sensations distinct. The sensation may
exist without any recollection of the time it before existed, or
even without any recollection of having ever existed, conse-
quently sensation involves no relation to time." ''

Lotze. — We shall now turn to the German philosopher.
In one of the best pieces of Psychology which he has written
— the chapter on the " Mental Act of Relation," ^ Lotze
remarks : " The view which regards Attention as an activity
exercised by the soul and having ideas {i.e., sense-impressions,
images, &c.) for its objects, and not a property of which the
ideas are subjects, was right. The latter notion was the one
preferred by Herbart (and by the sensist school). According
to him (and them), when we say that we have directed our
attention to the idea b, what has really happened is merely
that b, through an increase of its own strength, has raised
itself in consciousness above the rest of the ideas. But even
were the conception of a variable strength free from difficulty
in its application to ideas, the task which we expect attention
to perform would still remain inexplicable. What we seek to
attain by attention is not an equally increasing intensity of
the represented content just as it is, but a grov/th in its
clearness; and this rests in all cases on the perception of
relations which obtain between its individual constituents.
Even when Attention is directed to a perfectly simple
impression, the sole use in exerting it lies in the discovery of
relations. ... If we wish to tune a string exactly, we
compare its sound with the sound of another which serves as
a pattern, and try to make sure whether the two agree or
differ. . . . On the other hand, there are moments when we
cannot collect ourselves, when we are wholly occupied by
a strong impression, which yet does not become distinct, because
the excessive force of the stimulation hinders the exercise of
the constructive act of comparison." ^

In an earlier part of the same chapter he establishes
still more clearly the supra-sensuous nature of Attention,
as manifested in comparison and judgment : " The con-
sciousness of the relations existing between various single
sensations (among which we reckon here the sum formed by
the sensations when united) is not given simply by the
existence of these relations considered simply as a fact. So
far we have considered only single ideas, and the ways in

' Fumiarncntal Philosophv, Vol. II. §§ 7 — 13.
** Metaphysics, Bk. III. » § 273.


which they either exist simultaneously in consciousness,
or else successively replace one another ; but there exists not
only in us this variety of ideas and this change of ideas, but
also an idea of this variety and change. Nor is it merely in
thought that we ought to distinguish the apprehension of
existing relations which arises from an act of reference and
comparison, from the mere sensation of the individual
members of the relation ; experience shows that the tivo are
separable in reality, and justifies us in subordinating the
conscious sensation and representation of individual contents
to the referring or relating act of representation, and in
considering the latter to be a higher activity, — higher in that
definite sense of the word according to ivhich the higher necessarily
presupposes tJie lower, but does not in its own nature necessarily
proceed from the lower. Just as the external sense-stimuli serve to
excite the soul to produce simple sensations, so the relations which
have arisen betiveen the many ideas, whether simultaneous or
successive, thus produced, serve the soul as a new internal stimulus
stirring it to exercise this new reacting activity. '^^ When two
ideas, a and b, have arisen as the ideas ' red ' and ' blue,' they
do not mix with one another, disappear, and so form the
third idea, c, of ' violet.' If they did so we should have
a change of simple ideas without the possibility of a com-
parison between them. This comparison is itself possible
only if one and the same activity at once holds a and b together
and holds them apart, but yet, in passing from a to b, is
conscious of the change caused in its state by these transi-
tions, and it is in this way that the new idea (concept), y,
arises, the idea of a definite degree of qualitative likeness
or unlikeness in a and b.

" Again : if we see at the same time a stronger light,
a, and a weaker light, b, of the same colour, what happens is
not that there arises in place of both the idea, c, of a light
whose strength is the sum of the intensities of the two.
If that did arise it would mean that the material to which the
comparison has to be directed had disappeared. The
comparison is made only because one and the same activity,
passing between a and b, is conscious of the alteration in its
state sustained in the passage ; and it is in this way that the
idea y arises, the idea of a definite quantitative difference.
Lastly : given the impressions a and a, that which arises from
them is not a third impression=2rt ; but the activity, passing
as before between the still separated impressions, is conscious
of having sustained no alteration in the passage : and in this

^^ Lotze's doctrine here is in strikingly close affinity to the
Bcholastic teaching on intellectual activity. Cf. also Microccsmus,
Bk. II. c. iv. § I. The italics throughout are our own.


way would arise the new idea y of identity. We are justified
in regarding all these different instances of y as ideas (concepts)
of a higher or second order. They are not to be put on a line
with the ideas (images) from the comparison of which they
arose." (§ 268.)

Again : " My immediate object is to indicate what
happens at least with such clearness that every one may
verify its reality in his own internal observation. It is quite
true that, to those who start from the circle of ideas common in
physical mechanics, there must be something strange in the
conception of an activity, or {it is the same thing) of an active
being, which not only experiences two states a and b at the
same time without fusing them into a resultant, but which
passes from one to the other and acquires the idea of a third
state y produced by this very transition. Still this process is
a. fact ; and the reproach of failure in the attempt to imagine
how it arises after the analogies of physical mechanics, falls
only upon the mistaken desire of construing the perfectly unique
sphere of mental life after a pattern foreign to it. That desire
I hold to be the most mischievous which threatens the
progress of Psychology." (§ 269.)

The Controversy concerning- Universals. — Different views
as to the nature of sensuous and intellectual cognition gave
rise to the great philosophical disputes as to the existence,
origin, and validity of General Concepts. These problems
ramify into Logic and Metaphysics as well as into Psychology.
The two former sciences are mainly concerned with deter-
mining the objective counterpart of such ideas ; the last with
their subjective reality and their origin. The solidarity of
these distinct questions, and the mutual interdependence of
the particular solutions advanced in regard to each, are,
however, only one more proof of the impossibility of isolating
psychology from philosophy. Modern writers often express
surprise at the intense interest these discussions once aroused.
But the reason is obvious to any one who understands their
real significance. They are of vital importance to epistem-
ology, or the theory of knowledge, and consequently to every
system of Metaphysics and Theology,

Extreme Realism.— One school, represented by Plato in
ancient Greece, taught that universals {unum in piuribus)
existed formally as universals outside of the mind; that corres^
ponding to every general idea, such as genus, species, triangle,
animal, man, truth, &c., there exists somewhere beyond
this world of changing phenomena, a reality which is
formally and actually abstract and universal — universalia
separata. This doctrine was refuted by Aristotle and rejected
by St. Thomas and the vast majority of the schoolmen. But


a kindred theory, maintaining that universals exist really in
things — formally as universals — antecedent to and independent
of our minds, was advocated by William of Champeaux
(died 1 121), and by a few other scholastic philosophers.
In this view, numerically one and the same essence is
common to all the individuals of a species — the humanity of
Peter is identical with that of Paul. This form of exaggerated
realism was seen to lead inevitably to Pantheism ; and so it
soon fell into disrepute. It has not been explicitly defended
by any school for some centuries past, yet certain forms of
modern German idealism have very close affinity to it.

Nominalism. — At the extreme opposite pole of philoso-
phical thought is Nominalism, the logical outcome of sensa-
tionism. For it the only universality lies in the word.
Outside of the mind there exists nothing but singular concrete
objects. Groups of these resemble each other in certain
qualities, and we ticket them with a common name. They
are apprehended in individual sense-impressions and repre-
sented by individual pictures of the imagination. These
latter vary in distinctness, but whether clear or obscure,
vague or definite, fluctuating or comparatively stable, each
such image at any given time is capable of representing but
one object. It is necessarily singular ; the word or common
name alone is universal in that it impartially stands for any
member of the class. This theory — that universals exist
neither in material things nor in the mind, that they are
mere words, flatus vocis — formulated in the eleventh century
by Roscellinus has been the common doctrine of sensationist
psychologists, from Hobbesto Bain and Sully.

Conceptualism. — In opposition to Nominalism, Conceptual-
ism maintains that the mind has the power of forming

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 24 of 63)