Thomas Henry Huxley.

Critiques and Addresses online

. (page 20 of 25)
Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyCritiques and Addresses → online text (page 20 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Now, we assert that possession in perfection of all the first
four _(presentative)_ kinds of action by no means implies
the possession of the last two _(representative)_ kinds.
All persons, we think, must admit the truth of the following
proposition: -

"Two faculties are distinct, not in degree but _in kind_,
if we may possess the one in perfection without that fact
implying that we possess the other also. Still more will
this be the case if the two faculties tend to increase in
an inverse ratio. Yet this is the distinction between the
_instinctive_ and the _intellectual_ parts of man's nature.

"As to animals, we fully admit that they may possess all the
first four groups of actions - that they may have, so to speak,
mental images of sensible objects combined in all degrees of
complexity, as governed by the laws of association. We deny to
them, on the other hand, the possession of the last two
kinds of mental action. We deny them, that is, the power of
reflecting on their own existence, or of inquiring into the
nature of objects and their causes. We deny that they know
that they know or know themselves in knowing. In other words,
we deny them _reason_. The possession of the presentative
faculty, as above explained, in no way implies that of the
reflective faculty; nor does any amount of direct operation
imply the power of asking the reflective question before
mentioned, as to 'what' and 'why.'" _(Loc. cit_. pp. 67, 68.)

Sundry points are worthy of notice in this remarkable account of the
intellectual powers. In the first place the Reviewer ignores emotion
and volition, though they are no inconsiderable "kinds of action to
which the nervous system ministers," and memory has a place in his
classification only by implication. Secondly, we are told that the
second "kind of action to which the nervous system ministers" is "that
in which stimuli from without result in sensations through the agency
of which their due effects are wrought out. - Sensation." Does this
really mean that, in the writer's opinion, "sensation" is the "agent"
by which the "due effect" of the stimulus, which gives rise to
sensation, is "wrought out"? Suppose somebody runs a pin into me. The
"due effect" of that particular stimulus will probably be threefold;
namely, a sensation of pain, a start, and an interjectional expletive.
Does the Quarterly Reviewer really think that the "sensation" is the
"agent" by which the other two phenomena are wrought out?

But these matters are of little moment to anyone but the Reviewer
and those persons who may incautiously take their physiology, or
psychology, from him. The really interesting point is this, that when
he fully admits that animals "may possess all the first four groups
of actions," he grants all that is necessary for the purposes of
the evolutionist. For he hereby admits that in animals "impressions
received result in sensations which give rise to the observation
of sensible objects," and that they have what he calls "sensible
perception." Nor was it possible to help the admission; for we have
as much reason to ascribe to animals, as we have to attribute to our
fellow-men, the power, not only of perceiving external objects as
external, and thus practically recognizing the difference between the
self and the not-self; but that of distinguishing between like
and unlike, and between simultaneous and successive things. When a
gamekeeper goes out coursing with a greyhound in leash, and a hare
crosses the field of vision, he becomes the subject of those states
of consciousness we call visual sensation, and that is all he receives
from without. Sensation, as such, tells him nothing whatever about
the cause of these states of consciousness; but the thinking faculty
instantly goes to work upon the raw material of sensation furnished to
it through the eye, and gives rise to a train of thoughts. First comes
the thought that there is an object at a certain distance; then arises
another thought - the perception of the likeness between the states of
consciousness awakened by this object to those presented by memory,
as, on some former occasion, called up by a hare; this is succeeded
by another thought of the nature of an emotion - namely, the desire
to possess the hare; then follows a longer or shorter train of other
thoughts, which end in a volition and an act - the loosing of the
greyhound from the leash. These several thoughts are the concomitants
of a process which goes on in the nervous system of the man. Unless
the nerve-elements of the retina, of the optic nerve, of the brain, of
the spinal chord, and of the nerves of the arms went through certain
physical changes in due order and correlation, the various states
of consciousness which have been enumerated would not make their
appearance. So that in this, as in all other intellectual operations,
we have to distinguish two sets of successive changes - one in the
physical basis of consciousness, and the other in consciousness
itself; one set which may, and doubtless will, in course of time,
be followed through all their complexities by the anatomist and the
physicist, and one of which only the man himself can have immediate

As it is very necessary to keep up a clear distinction between
these two processes, let the one be called _neurosis_, and the other
_psychosis_. When the gamekeeper was first trained to his work, every
step in the process of neurosis was accompanied by a corresponding
step in that of psychosis, or nearly so. He was conscious of seeing
something, conscious of making sure it was a hare, conscious of
desiring to catch it, and therefore to loose the greyhound at the
right time, conscious of the acts by which he let the dog out of the
leash. But with practice, though the various steps of the neurosis
remain - for otherwise the impression on the retina would not result
in the loosing of the dog - the great majority of the steps of the
psychosis vanish, and the loosing of the dog follows unconsciously, or
as we say, without thinking about it, upon the sight of the hare.
No one will deny that the series of acts which originally intervened
between the sensation and the letting go of the dog were, in the
strictest sense, intellectual and rational operations. Do they cease
to be so when the man ceases to be conscious of them? That depends
upon what is the essence and what the accident of those operations,
which, taken together, constitute ratiocination.

Now ratiocination is resolvable into predication, and predication
consists in marking, in some way, the existence, the co-existence,
the succession, the likeness and unlikeness, of things or their ideas.
Whatever does this, reasons; and if a machine produces the effects of
reason, I see no more ground for denying to it the reasoning power,
because it is unconscious, than I see for refusing to Mr. Babbage's
engine the title of a calculating machine on the same grounds.

Thus it seems to me that a gamekeeper reasons, whether he is conscious
or unconscious, whether his reasoning is carried on by neurosis alone,
or whether it involves more or less psychosis. And if this is true
of the gamekeeper, it is also true of the greyhound. The essential
resemblances in all points of structure and function, so far as they
can be studied, between the nervous system of the man and that of the
dog, leave no reasonable doubt that the processes which go on in the
one are just like those which take place in the other. In the dog,
there can be no doubt that the nervous matter which lies between
the retina and the muscles undergoes a series of changes, precisely
analogous to those which, in the man, give rise to sensation, a train
of thought, and volition.

Whether this neurosis is accompanied by such psychosis as ours, it is
impossible to say; but those who deny that the nervous changes, which,
in the dog, correspond with those which underlie thought in a man, are
accompanied by consciousness, are equally bound to maintain that those
nervous changes in the dog, which correspond with those which underlie
sensation in a man, are also unaccompanied by consciousness. In other
words, if there is no ground for believing that a dog thinks, neither
is there any for believing that he feels.

As is well known, Descartes boldly faced this dilemma, and
maintained that all animals were mere machines and entirely devoid of
consciousness. But he did not deny, nor can anyone deny, that in this
case they are reasoning machines, capable of performing all those
operations which are performed by the nervous system of man when he
reasons. For even supposing that in man, and in man only, psychosis is
superadded to neurosis - the neurosis which is common to both man
and animal gives their reasoning processes a fundamental unity.
But Descartes's position is open to very serious objections, if the
evidence that animals feel is insufficient to prove that they really
do so. What is the value of the evidence which leads one to believe
that one's fellow-man feels? The only evidence in this argument of
analogy, is the similarity of his structure and of his actions to
one's own. And if that is good enough to prove that one's fellow-man
feels, surely it is good enough to prove that an ape feels. For the
differences of structure and function between men and apes are utterly
insufficient to warrant the assumption, that while men have those
states of consciousness we call sensations, apes have nothing of the
kind. Moreover, we have as good evidence that apes are capable of
emotion and volition as we have that men other than ourselves are. But
if apes possess three out of the four kinds of states of consciousness
which we discover in ourselves, what possible reason is there for
denying them the fourth? If they are capable of sensation, emotion,
and volition, why are they to be denied thought (in the sense of

No answer has ever been given to these questions. And as the law of
continuity is as much opposed, as is the common sense of mankind, to
the notion that all animals are unconscious machines, it may safely be
assumed that no sufficient answer ever will be given to them.

There is every reason to believe that consciousness is a function
of nervous matter, when, that nervous matter has attained a certain
degree of organization, just as we know the other "actions to which
the nervous system ministers," such as reflex action and the like, to
be. As I have ventured to state my view of the matter elsewhere, "our
thoughts are the expression of molecular changes in that matter of
life which is the source of our other vital phenomena."

Mr. Wallace objects to this statement in the following terms: -

"Not having been able to find any clue in Professor Huxley's
writings to the steps by which he passes from those vital
phenomena, which consist only, in their last analysis, of
movements by particles of matter, to those other phenomena
which we term thought, sensation, or consciousness; but,
knowing that so positive an expression of opinion from him
will have great weight with many persons, I shall endeavour
to show, with as much brevity as is compatible with clearness,
that this theory is not only incapable of proof, but is also,
as it appears to me, inconsistent with accurate conceptions of
molecular physics."

With all respect for Mr. Wallace, it appears to me that his remarks
are entirely beside the question. I really know nothing whatever, and
never hope to know anything, of the steps by which the passage from
molecular movement to states of consciousness is effected; and I
entirely agree with the sense of the passage which he quotes from
Professor Tyndall, apparently imagining that it is in opposition to
the view I hold.

All that I have to say is, that, in my belief, consciousness and
molecular action are capable of being expressed by one another, just
as heat and mechanical action are capable of being expressed in terms
of one another. Whether we shall ever be able to express consciousness
in foot-pounds, or not, is more than I will venture to say; but
that there is evidence of the existence of some correlation between
mechanical motion and consciousness, is as plain as anything can be.
Suppose the poles of an electric battery to be connected by a platinum
wire. A certain intensity of the current gives rise in the mind of a
bystander to that state of consciousness we call a "dull red light" - a
little greater intensity to another which we call a "bright red
light;" increase the intensity, and the light becomes white; and,
finally, it dazzles, and a new state of consciousness arises, which we
term pain. Given the same wire and the same nervous apparatus, and the
amount of electric force required to give rise to these several states
of consciousness will be the same, however often the experiment
is repeated. And as the electric force, the light-waves, and the
nerve-vibrations caused by the impact of the light-waves on the
retina, are all expressions of the molecular changes which are taking
place in the elements of the battery; so consciousness is, in the same
sense, an expression of the molecular changes which take place in that
nervous matter, which is the organ of consciousness.

And, since this, and any number of similar examples that may be
required, prove that one form of consciousness, at any rate, is, in
the strictest sense, the expression of molecular change, it really
is not worth while to pursue the inquiry, whether a fact so easily
established is consistent with any particular system of molecular
physics or not.

Mr. Wallace, in fact, appears to me to have mixed up two very distinct
propositions: the one, the indisputable truth that consciousness is
correlated with molecular changes in the organ of consciousness;
the other, that the nature of that correlation is known, or can be
conceived, which is quite another matter. Mr. Wallace, presumably,
believes in that correlation of phenomena which we call cause and
effect as firmly as I do. But if he has ever been able to form the
faintest notion how a cause gives rise to its effect, all I can say is
that I envy him. Take the simplest case imaginable - suppose a ball in
motion to impinge upon another ball at rest. I know very well, as a
matter of fact, that the ball in motion will communicate some of its
motion to the ball at rest, and that the motion of the two balls after
collision is precisely correlated with the masses of both balls and
the amount of motion of the first. But how does this come about? In
what manner can we conceive that the _vis viva_ of the first ball
passes into the second? I confess I can no more form any conception
of what happens in this case, than I can of what takes place when the
motion of particles of my nervous matter, caused by the impact of a
similar ball, gives rise to the state of consciousness I call pain. In
ultimate analysis everything is incomprehensible, and the whole object
of science is simply to reduce the fundamental incomprehensibilities
to the smallest possible number.

But to return to the Quarterly Reviewer. He admits that animals
have "mental images of sensible objects, combined in all degrees of
complexity, as governed by the laws of association." Presumably, by
this confused and imperfect statement the Reviewer means to admit
more than the words imply. For mental images of sensible objects,
even though "combined in all degrees of complexity," are, and can be,
nothing more than mental images of sensible objects. But judgments,
emotions, and volitions cannot by any possibility be included under
the head of "mental images of sensible objects."

If the greyhound had no better mental endowment than the Reviewer
allows him, he might have the "mental image" of the "sensible
object" - the hare - and that might be combined with the mental images
of other sensible objects, to any degree of complexity, but he would
have no power of judging it to be at a certain distance from him; no
power of perceiving its similarity to his memory of a hare; and no
desire to get at it. Consequently he would stand stock still, and the
noble art of coursing would have no existence. On the other hand,
as that art is largely practised, it follows that greyhounds alone
possess a number of mental powers, the existence of which, in any
animal, is absolutely denied by the Quarterly Reviewer.

Finally, what are the mental powers which he reserves as the especial
prerogative of man? They are two. First, the recognition of "ourselves
by ourselves as affected and perceiving. - Self-consciousness."

Secondly. "The reflection upon our sensations and perceptions, and
asking what they are and why they are. - Reason."

To the faculty defined in the last sentence, the Reviewer, without
assigning the least ground for thus departing from both common usage
and technical propriety, applies the name of reason. But if man is not
to be considered a reasoning being, unless he asks what his sensations
and perceptions are, and why they are, what is a Hottentot, or an
Australian black fellow; or what the "swinked hedger" of an ordinary
agricultural district? Nay, what becomes of an average country squire
or parson? How many of these worthy persons who, as their wont is,
read the _Quarterly Review_, would do other than stand agape, if you
asked them whether they had ever reflected what their sensations and
perceptions are, and why they are?

So that if the Reviewer's new definition of reason be correct, the
majority of men, even among the most civilized nations, are devoid of
that supreme characteristic of manhood. And if it be as absurd as I
believe it to be, then, as reason is certainly not self-consciousness,
and as it, as certainly, is one of the "actions to which the nervous
system ministers," we must, if the Reviewer's classification is to be
adopted, seek it among those four faculties which he allows animals
to possess. And thus, for the second time, he really surrenders, while
seeming to defend, his position.

The Quarterly Reviewer, as we have seen, lectures the evolutionists
upon their want of knowledge of philosophy altogether. Mr. Mivart
is not less pained at Mr. Darwin's ignorance of moral science. It is
grievous to him that Mr. Darwin (and _nous autres_) should not
have grasped the elementary distinction between material and formal
morality; and he lays down as an axiom, of which no tyro ought to be
ignorant, the position that "acts, unaccompanied by mental acts
of conscious will directed towards the fulfilment of duty," are
"absolutely destitute of the most incipient degree of real or formal

Now this may be Mr. Mivart's opinion, but it is a proposition which,
really, does not stand on the footing of an undisputed axiom. Mr. Mill
denies it in his work on Utilitarianism. The most influential writer
of a totally opposed school, Mr. Carlyle, is never weary of denying
it, and upholding the merit of that virtue which is unconscious; nay,
it is, to my understanding, extremely hard to reconcile Mr. Mivart's
dictum with that noble summary of the whole duty of man - "Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and
with all thy strength; and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
According to Mr. Mivart's definition, the man who loves God and his
neighbour, and, out of sheer love and affection for both, does all he
can to please them, is, nevertheless, destitute of a particle of real

And it further happens that Mr. Darwin, who is charged by Mr. Mivart
with being ignorant of the distinction between material and formal
goodness, discusses the very question at issue, in a passage which
is well worth reading (vol. i.p. 87), and also comes to a conclusion
opposed to Mr. Mivart's axiom. A proposition which has been so much
disputed and repudiated, should, under no circumstances, have been
thus confidently assumed to be true. For myself, I utterly reject
it, inasmuch as the logical consequence of the adoption of any such
principle is the denial of all moral value to sympathy and affection.
According to Mr. Mivart's axiom, the man who, seeing another
struggling in the water, leaps in at the risk of his own life to save
him, does that which is "destitute of the most incipient degree of
real goodness," unless, as he strips off his coat, he says to himself,
"Now mind, I am going to do this because it is my duty and for no
other reason;" and the most beautiful character to which humanity
can attain, that of the man who does good without thinking about it,
because he loves justice and mercy and is repelled by evil, has no
claim on our moral approbation. The denial that a man acts morally
because he does not think whether he does so or not, may be put upon
the same footing as the denial of the title of an arithmetician to the
calculating boy, because he did not know how he worked his sums. If
mankind ever generally accept and act upon Mr. Mivart's axiom, they
will simply become a set of most unendurable prigs; but they never
have accepted it, and I venture to hope that evolution has nothing so
terrible in store for the human race.

But, if an action, the motive of which is nothing out affection or
sympathy, may be deserving of moral approbation and really good, who
that has ever had a dog of his own will deny that animals are capable
of such actions? Mr. Mivart indeed says: - "It may be safely affirmed,
however, that there is no trace in brutes of any actions simulating
morality which are not explicable by the fear of punishment, by the
hope of pleasure, or by personal affection" (p. 221). But it may
be affirmed, with equal truth, that there is no trace in men of any
actions which are not traceable to the same motives. If a man does
anything, he does it either because he fears to be punished if he
does not do it, or because he hopes to obtain pleasure by doing it, or
because he gratifies his affections[1] by doing it.

[Footnote 1: In separating pleasure and the gratification of
affection, I simply follow Mr. Mivart without admitting the justice of
the separation.]

Assuming the position of the absolute moralists, let it be granted
that there is a perception of right and wrong innate in every man.
This means, simply, that when certain ideas are presented to his
mind, the feeling of approbation arises; and when certain others, the
feeling of disapprobation. To do your duty is to earn the approbation
of your conscience, or moral sense; to fail in your duty is to feel
its disapprobation, as we all say. Now, is approbation a pleasure or
a pain? Surely a pleasure. And is disapprobation a pleasure or a pain?
Surely a pain. Consequently all that is really meant by the absolute
moralists is that there is, in the very nature of man, something which
enables him to be conscious of these particular pleasures and pains.
And when they talk of immutable and eternal principles of morality,
the only intelligible sense which I can put upon the words, is that
the nature of man being what it is, he always has been, and always
will be, capable of feeling these particular pleasures and pains. _A
priori_, I have nothing to say against this proposition. Admitting its
truth, I do not see how the moral faculty is on a different footing
from any of the other faculties of man. If I choose to say that it is
an immutable and eternal law of human nature that "ginger is hot
in the mouth," the assertion has as much foundation of truth as the
other, though I think it would be expressed in needlessly pompous
language. I must confess that I have never been able to understand why
there should be such a bitter quarrel between the intuitionists and
the utilitarians. The intuitionist is, after all, only a utilitarian
who believes that a particular class of pleasures and pains has an
especial importance, by reason of its foundation in the nature of man,
and its inseparable connection with his very existence as a thinking
being. And as regards the motive of personal affection: Love, as
Spinoza profoundly says, is the association of pleasure with that
which is loved.[1] Or, to put it to the common sense of mankind,
is the gratification of affection a pleasure or a pain? Surely a
pleasure. So that whether the motive which leads us to perform
an action is the love of our neighbour, or the love of God, it is
undeniable that pleasure enters into that motive.

[Footnote 1: "Nempe, Amor nihil aliud est, quam Laetitia, concomitante
idea causae externae." - _Ethices_ III. xiii.]

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyCritiques and Addresses → online text (page 20 of 25)