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"' Cf. Coconnier : " U operation suit I'etre et liii est proportionnee
. . . M. Biichner reconnait formellement la valeur de cette formule,
quand il ecrit : ' La theorie positiviste est forcee de convenir que
/ 'ejfet doit repondre a la cause, et qu'ainsi des effets compliques doivent
supposer, a un certain degre, des combinaisons de matieres com-
pliquees.' M. Karl Vogt . . . quand il dit : ' Kncore faut il pourtant
que la fonction soit proportionclle a Vorganisation et mesuree par clle.'
M. Wundt . . . quand il dit : ' Nous ne pouvons mesurer directe-
ment ni les causes productrices des phenomenes, ni les forces
productrices des mouvements, ?;/a?s nous pouvons les mesurer par leurs
effets.' C'est a dire qu'aujourd'hui comme autrefois tout le monde
reconnait qu'on peut juger de la nature d'un etre par son operation.
Telle operation, telle nature ; tel effet, telle cause ; telle fonction
tel organe ; tel mouvement, telle force; telle maniere d'agir, telle
maniere d'etre. Ainsi parlent, dans tons les siecles et par tout pays,
la raison et la science. Done, si un etre a une operation a laquelle
seul il s'eleve, a laquelle seul il puisse atteindre, qu'il accomplisse
comme agent isole, degage libre, transcendant, cet etre doit avoir
une existence transcendante libre degagee et qui appartienne en
propre a sa nature. Or, en regardant I'ame humaine, je lui trouve
une semblable operation ; je lui vois, a un moment, cette maniere
d'agir libre, transcendante degagee de la matiere. . . . C'est quand
I'ame humaine pense, et quand elle prend conscience d'elle-meme et
de sa pensee." (L'Aiue humaine, Existence et Nature, pp. 123 — 125.)


of God ; we can understand necessary truths ; we can
comprehend possibilities as such ; and we can perceive
the rational relations between ideas, and the logical
sequence of conclusion from premisses. But we have
shown that such operations as these are spiritual
phenomena, which must accordingly proceed from a
spiritual faculty. They could not be states of a faculty
exerted through, or intrinsically dependent on, a bodily
organ. A power of this kind can only react in response
to physical impressions, and can only form representa-
tions of a concrete character, depicting contingent
individual facts. But universality, possibility, logical
sequence, general relations, do not constitute such a
physical stimulus, and consequently could not be appre-
hended by an organic faculty. Accordingly, these
higher mental functions must be admitted to be of a
spiritual character ; they thus transcend the sphere of
all actions depending intrinsically or essentially by their
nature on a material instrument.

This same argument is recently adopted by as competent an
authority on cerebral physiology as Professor Ladd. He thus
writes : " The existence which we call ' the mind ' is never
known — even when observed in its most exalted states and in
the exercise of its most spiritual activities — as released
wholly from bodily functions. ... At the same time, in all
forms of knowledge, and especially in self-knowledge, with
its equipment of realized aesthetical and ethical sentiments,
and of self-conscious choices, the mind manifests and knows
itself as manifesting an existence in some sort independent of
the bodily organism. With no mere figure of speech we are
compelled to say, every mind thus transcends completely, not
only the powers of the cerebral mechanism by springing into
another order of phenomena, but also the very existence, as
it were, of that mechanism by passing into regions of space,
time, causality, and ideality, of various kinds, uiieie the terms
that apply to the existence and activity of the cere[)ral
centres have absolutely no meaning whatever. For example,
the human mind anticipates the future and predicts, on a
basis of experience in the past, the occurrences which lanll
be but are not now. Into this future, which is itself the
product of its own imagining and thinking, it projects its own
continued and yet characteristically altered existence, as well
as the continued similar existence of things. But the existence
of the brain, and of its particular forms of nerve commotion,



is never other than a purel}^ here-and-now existence. This
physical existence is, therefore, transcended in an absolnte
way by every such activity of the mind. Moreover, all supra-
sensuous knowledge, as such, enforces the same conviction as
to a potential independency of the mind, inferred upon the
basis of an actual experience with mental activities in the
way of transcending the sphere of the correlated being and
activities of the brain. For all (supra-sensuous ?) knowledge is
of the universaL In knowing, the mind moves in the sphere
of so-called ' law,' of ' genera,' and ' species,' of ' relations
common ' to many individuals, of the ' categories,' of the true
for all spaces and all times and all circumstances. But the
existence of the brain is never more than concrete and
individual ; its being is at every instant precisely such and
no other — so many countless atoms of oxygen, hydrogen,
nitrogen, &c., combined in precisely such proportions."^

2. Self-Consciousness. — The reflex operation exhibited in
the act of self-consciousness, is also of a spiritual or supra-
organic order, and cannot be the activity of a faculty
essentially dependent on a corporeal agent. The peculiar
nature of this aptitude, so fundamentally opposed in kind to
all the properties of matter, has been already gone into at
such length (pp. 23S — 242), that we can afford but little space
for the subject here. We shall, however, call attention to
that aspect of this familiar phenomenon which has often been
recognized by thoughtful minds to be the most wonderful fact
in the universe. In the act of self-consciousness there occurs
an instance of the complete or perfect reflexion of an indi-
visible agent back on itself. I recognize an absolute identitj'
between myself thinking about something, and myself
reflecting on that thinking Self. The Ego reflecting and the
Ego reflected upon is the same : it is at once subject and object.
An action of this sort is not merely nnlike the known qualities
of bodies : it stands in direct and open conflict with all the
most fundamental characteristics of matter. It is in absolute
contradiction with the essential nature of matter. One part
of a material substance may be made to act upon another,
one atom may attract, repel, or in various ways influence
another, but the assumption that one atom can act upon itself
— that precisely the same portion of matter can be agent and
patient in its own case — is repugnant to all that either
common experience or physical science teaches us. If then
this unity of agent and patient, of subject and object, is so
contrary to the nature of matter, assuredly an activity every
element of which is intrinsically dependent on a corporeal
organ cannot be capable of self-reflexion.

8 Philosopliy of Mind, pp. 400, 401.


_ . . . _ _^

3. The Will. — The interest attached to the discussion
of the freedom of the will is chiefly due to the bearin.i^
of that doctrine on the nature of the human mind. If
any of man's vohtions are free, if tlie}' are not the out-
come of the forces playing upon him, then there must
be within him an inner centre of causahty, an internal
agent, a nucleus of energy, enjoying at least a limited
independence of the organism. The argument based
on voluntary action may, however, start from two dis-
tinct points of view :

(a) A merely sentient agent — one whose whole
being is immersed in material conditions — can onl}'"
desire sensible goods. It can only seek what is pro-
portioned to its nature, and this is always reducible to
organic pleasure or avoidance of pain. On the other
hand, to a spiritual creature which is endowed also
with inferior faculties, both sensuous and supra-
sensuous good is adapted. Therefore, the aspirations
of the latter are unlimited, while those of the former
are confined within the sphere of material well-being.
But our own consciousness, history, biography, and the
existence of poetry and romance, all overwhelm us with
evidence of the fact that man is moved by supra-
sensible good. Love of justice, truth, virtue, and right
for its own sake, are motives and impulses which
have inspired some of the greatest and noblest works
chronicled in the narrative of the human race. Con-
sequently, there must be in man a principle not
completely subject to material conditions.

(/;) Again : we are free ; we are capable of self-
determination ; but no organic faculty can determine
itself. Such an action, as we have already insisted,
is repugnant to the essential nature of matter. On the
other hand, were our volitions not spiritual, were they,
as our opponents allege, merely subjective phases or
mental states inseparably bound up with organic pro-
cesses ; did they not proceed from a principle in some
degree independent of matter, their moral freedom would
be impossible ; and man would be devoid of responsi-
bility and incapable of moralit}'.



Since the unity of consciousness exhibited in the
mind's reflex cognition of itself as a real abiding
indivisible being plays so important a part in the
theses which we have just estabhshed concerning
the nature of the soul, this seems to be the most
appropriate place to examine some of the chief
attacks which have been made in modern times
upon the doctrine which we defend.

Kant's Theory of the Ego.— We have already (pp. 267—
269) indicated and criticized the nature of Kant's attack on
rational psychology — his attempted distinction between a
noumenal and phenomenal Ego, his doctrine that we have
no knowledge of the mind as a thing-in-itself, that we are
merely aware of the formal unity of consciousness, and that
this phenomenal Ego is not a real subject, certainly not a
substance subsisting in itself. Here we have space to make
but one or two additional observations. The appUcation to
the mind's perception of itself of the hypothesis of an illusory
subjective formal element in cognition, and the attempt to
distinguish the empirical Ego of conscious experience from a
supposed unknowable noumenal Ego, are untenable. Even
were the Kantian distinction between noumenon 2ind phenomenon
valid with respect to objects of the extra-mental world, it is
only by misconceiving the character of the knowledge derived
from self-consciousness that this distinction can be extended
to the mind's cognition of itself or of its states. The external
thing, which is different in kind from the mind, is known
by the latter through a mental modification which might
conceivably mislead as to the nature of its cause. But con-


scionsness affords at all events an immediate knowledge both
of my states and of myself in those states. There is no room
for appearances or phenomena here ; the mind, the object
of knowledge, is really immediately /'r^s^n^ to itself. I do not
merely apprehend transitory mental states which I am led
to ascribe to an unknown substance or cause. I am conscious
that I originate, direct, and inhibit my mental activity.
I am immediately cognizant of my own causality — of my
concrete self as energizing or suffering in my thought. More-
over, although I never can have an intuition of a naked
" pure Ego " stripped of all particular forms of behaviour,
yet by careful repeated internal observation of how the
concrete self behaves, combined with rational deduction from
evident principles, I can establish certain truths concerning
the nature of this self of which I am directly cognizant in
the concrete. I can, for instance, prove — under the sanction
of scepticism — that it must be a real, abiding, indivisible
being, not wholly evanescent ; that some of its activities
cannot have their ultimate source in an extended material
thing, and the like. I do not pretend to demonstrate any-
thing, nor do I feel much concern, about any unknowable
noumenon which never reveals itself in my consciousness.
If there be in existence an inscrutable " transcendental Ego "
eternally screened from my ken by this self-asserting
" empirical Ego," I confess I feel very little interest either in
the nature or the welfare of the former. The only soul about
which I care is that which immediately presents itself in its acts,
which thinks, wills, remembers, believes, loves, repents, and hopes.^

Empiricist Theory. — The chief assault, however, on
the conscious unity of the mind, as a real abiding being,
especially in English philosophical literature, is that of
Hume and the Associationist school. Moreover, since
the doctrine of these writers in a slightly modified form
has been recently adopted by Professor James, at least,
as an adequate psychological account of the facts,
and then converted into a metaphysical basis of opera-
tions whence to attack the traditional belief in a sub-
stantial spiritual soul, it is incumbent on us to examine
these views at some length.

Hume, having reduced all known reality to a
succession of transitory feelings, was logically forced to
deny the presence of any real abiding mind, persisting

1 For some useful criticism of Kant's theory, of. Balmez, op. cit.
Book IX. CO. 9 — 12 ; and Lotze, Metaphysic, § 244.


the same amid varying states. The idea of a permanent
self, he argues, is not derived from any sensuous
impression, therefore it is a "fiction" of the imagi-
nation ; for, on Sensist principles, the only ideas which
can pretend to any validity are those derived from
impressions : '* I venture to affirm of the rest of mankind
that they are nothing but a bundle or collection ot
different perceptions which succeed each other with an
inconceivable rapidity and are in a perpetual flux and
movement. The mind is a kind of theatre where
several perceptions successively make their appearance.
. . . There is properly no simplicity in it at one time,
nor identity in different ; whatever natural propension
we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity.
The comparison of the theatre must not mislead us,
they are the successive perceptions only that constitute
the mind."- Hume is the frankest as well as the
ablest representative of sensationalist phenomenism ;
but Mill, Bain, Ribot, Taine, and the rest of the school
accept this conclusion, and are unanimously agreed
that the mind is nothing more than a succession of
conscious states.

Criticism. — That this dissolution of the Ego into
a procession or series of phenomena constitutes a
nductio ad ahsnrdiim of Sensism, will, we trust, be evident
to the reader who has followed our reasoning in the
last chapter. The argument may be summarized in
a few words. If the mind were but a succession of
evanescent states, judgment, reasoning, self-conscious
reflexion would be absolutely impossible. The judicial
act requires the indivisible unity of the agent who
juxtaposes the terms; reasoning is not possible unless
the premisses successively apprehended be combined
by one and the same simple energy ; and lastly, self-
conscious reflexion and rational memory impl}- the
persistence of a real abiding subject which can compare
the past state with the present. (See pp. 464 — 466.)

Mill felt this difficulty. He saw that in rejecting
the doctrine that the Ego is something more than a
succession of states he was forced to accept "the

- Treatise op Human Nature, Part IV. § 6.


paradox that something which ex hypothesi is but a series
of feehngs is aware of itself as a series.'''^ He, however,
abandons the hopeless attempt to remove the "■ paradox,"
naively counselling us that " by far the wisest thing we
can do is to accept the fact."

Criticism. — The term " paradox " is here abused,
''paroxysmal unintelligibility " — the phrase in which
Professor James so energetically describes another
theor}^ — is scarcely too strong for the doctrine that
the mind is merely a series of feelings which are aware
of themselves as a series. We must not deceive our-
selves with words. What is a series ? It is a succession
of distinct events, or several separate events succeeding
each other. The terms, a " thread of consciousness,"
and a " series " of mental states, seem to indicate a
unity of some sort to which, loose though it be, the
self of the Empiricist Psychology has no claim. The
moment we attempt to conceive accurately what is
meant by a mere succession of conscious states, we
perceive that a conviction of personal identity, and a
memory of past actions, such as each man's own
experience assures him he is possessed of, is absolutely
impossible to it.-^ On the other hand. Mill is again
wrong in representing his opponents as teaching that
" the mind or Ego is something different from any
series of feelings or possibilities of them," if by
" different " is meant that the Ego is something
separate, standing out of all relation to its states.
The states are nothing but modifications of the Ego ;
and the true mind is the subject plus its states ; or the
subject present in its states. It is " an abiding exist-
ence with a series of feelings."^

W. James's Theory. — Though characterizing
Mill's treatment of the subject as "the definitive bank-

'^ Exam, cxxii. ad fin.

■* As Mr. Courtney urges, "Such a series could never be summed."
{Metaphysics of Mill, p. 70.) Similarly Professor Knight, " A succes-
sion of states of mind has no meaning except in relation to the
substrate of self that underlies the succession, giving it coherence,
identity, and intelligibility. The states are different, but the self —
whose states they are — is the same." {Hume, p. 177.)

^ Cf. M'Cosh's Exam, of Mill, c. v.


ruptcy of the associationist description of the con-
sciousness of self," "^ Professor James advocates the same
doctrine in but sHghtly modified shape. He disapproves
of the associationist account, which represents personal
identity, as formed " by successive thoughts and feelings
in some inscrutable way ' integrating ' or gumming
themselves together on their own account."" Instead,
he teaches that the Self consists of " a stream of con-
sciousness," in which each " section " knows the pre-
vious section, and in it all which went before. He
summarily discards the notion of an abiding indivisible
substantial soul connecting past states with present, as
needless and useless to the Psychologist.^ For him
" The passing Thought is itself the thinker, and
psychology need not look beyond." " The I or Self
is a Thought at each moment different from the last
moment, but appvopviative of the latter, together with all
the latter, called its own."^ It is true, that " common
sense insists there must be a real proprietor in the case
of these selves (successive thoughts), or else their actual
accretion in a personal consciousness would never take
place. . . . This proprietor is the present, remembering
'judging thought' or the identifying 'section' of the
stream. . . . This is what collects and owns some
of the facts which it surveys and disowns the rest."
To help us to understand how this interesting " appro-
priation " of the past self or total collection of thoughts
by the present Thought is effected in the absence of any
real connecting being, he continues : " We can imagine
a long succession of herdsmen coming rapidl}' into pos-
session of the same cattle by transmission of an original
title by bequest. May not the ' title ' of a collective
self be transmitted from one Thought to another in
some analogous way ? It is a patent fact of conscious-
ness that a transmission like this actually occurs. . . .
Each Thought dies away and is replaced by another.
The other knows its own predecessor. Each later
Thought, knowing and including thus the Thoughts
which went before, is the final receptacle — and appro-
priating them is the final owner — of all they contain and
« Principles, vol. i. p. 359. ' P. 338. ^ pp ^j^._^^,^^ y p ^qi.


own. Eacli Thought is thus born an owner and dies
owned, transmitting whatever it reahzed as its Self to
its later proprietor." ^^

Criticism. — The suggested emendations on the associ-
ationist " gumming " hypothesis are : (i) The likening of
conscious life to a " stream " rather than to " a series of
states;" (2) the substitution of the statement that "the last
section of consciousness cognizes its predecessor, and in that
predecessor every previous cognition," instead of the state-
ment that the " series is aware of itself as a series ; " (3) the
suggested method of " inheritance " or " appropriation " of
past selves or states by the present state, instead of their
gumming themselves by association.

As regards (i), it may be fairly objected from the stand-
point of experience, on which Mr. James himself insists so
much, that the representation of conscious life as " a series of
states " is, in one important respect, more accurate than the
conception of it as a " stream." It is not continuous, but
interrupted by periods of unconsciousness. (See p. 366.) This
objection is not merely verbal : its force will become more
evident as we proceed. But we maintain that actual psycho-
logical experience presents to us more than thoughts or states of
consciousness, whether as a series or as a stream — that we
have an immediate apprehension of a real self in some
thoughts and states which is not those thoughts or states.
(See pp. 463, 464.)

(2) The assertion that "the present Thought knows and
appropriates its predecessor," is more plausible at first sight
than the proposition that " the series knows itself as a series."
For a series evidently has not the unity needful to a Knower
or an Owner ; whilst the Thought possesses the unity of a
single act by which an agent ma}^ cognize a previous thought.
(a) Still, even supposing that the present thought could,
without a connecting subject or agent, cognize in some degree
its predecessor, it is not true that that predecessor really
knew and included all that went before. It can hardly be
maintained — especially by Mr. James, who is so emphatically
opposed to the admission of any unconscious state of mind —
that every mental state can really know a vast multitude of
things of which it is absolutely unconscious. In what
intelligible sense can it be alleged that the section of the
" stream " of my consciousness extending back over the last
half-minute really contained The Charge of the Six Hundred,
which I possibly could now repeat, though I have not recited


Pp- 3^8. 339.


it for ten years past ? Were my present passing Thought the
only thinker within me, even if it could apprehend and
appropriate all contained " in the pulses of my cognitive
consciousness " for the last three months, the Greek and
Mathematics I learned in early life would be lost for ever.

(b) But the statement that the mere " present Thought "
is the Thinker, the Owner who recognizes identity between
the present state of consciousness and its ininiediate but
extinct predecessor is also exposed to all the main difficulties
which have proved fatal to Hume and Mill. " Pulses of
cognitive consciousness " as like as successive images of a
man in a lookmg-glass might follow one after another in the
same brain without one state being able to identify itself
with the antecedent state. Whether they succeed each other
immediately like passengers in an omnibus, or at intervals like
lodgers in the same bed of a hotel, makes no difference. In
order that any one " pulsation '' be recognized as like or
unlike even its immediate predecessor, the two pulsations
must be apprehended by one indivisible agent, who abiding
the same, cognizes both, and assimilates or dissociates them.
The necessity of this permanent subject for even the simplest
acts of intellectual judgment has been shown already (p. 465). ^^

(c) The insufficiency of this theory which claims to " find
place for all the experiential facts unencumbered by any
hypothesis save that of passing states of mind," becomes
still clearer when brought face to face with the " experiential
fact " of periods of sleep, swooning, epileptic attacks, and
the like. When I av/oke this morning, the last previous
" pulse of my cognitive consciousness " in possession of

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 48 of 63)