Copyright
W. (Wilhelm) Windelband.

An introduction to philosophy online

. (page 14 of 32)
Online LibraryW. (Wilhelm) WindelbandAn introduction to philosophy → online text (page 14 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and metaphysics. It is the hypothesis that, as a matter
of fact, each of these worlds, the psychic and the physical,
is complete in itself, and there is no influence from one
to the other, but that events in the two worlds proceed
step by step in complete agreement with each other,
since the same primary reality evolves, expresses itself,
and appears in each series. This we call psycho-physical
parallelism. Perhaps it would have been better to call
it ps3^cho-physical correspondence. Many of our modern
men of science cautiously regard it as merely a working
hypothesis, useful in investigating the facts of the psycho-
physical connection and not implying anything further,
but it naturally, in the course of research, becomes a
metaphysical theory which makes the same claim to
interpret the world as Spinozism once did. This theory
is that each of the two worlds, that of cogitatio and that of
extensio, the psychic and the corporeal, passes through



THE PSYCHO-PHYSICAL EVENT 157

various stages, in accordance with its geitcral laws, with-
out being influenced by the other ; in other words, that it
would develop just the same as it does even if the other
world did not exist at all. The appearance of psycho-
physical causality, therefore, is merely due to the fact
that each modus of one world is exactly correlated to a
modus of the other. This is supposed to be true of the
relation of soul and body from the point of view of reality,
and the relation of consciousness and movement from the
point of view of function.

From the extensive discussions of this theory which
have taken place during the last few decades — so extensive
that it is impossible to suggest any new philosophical
consideration — it will suffice here to quote the main
argument that has been used in favour of the metaphysical
soundness of psycho-physical parallelism. It at the same
time introduces us to the most general correlations, and
leads from the anthropological impulses which lay, and
lie, at the root of the problem to the ultimate metaphysical
consequences on which it is to be decided whether the
hypothesis is to be accepted or rejected. It is a question
of its relation to that supreme postulate of modern science
which goes by the name of the Conservation of Energy ;
though its special scientific meaning is not always correctly
understood. From the point of view of this principle the
theory of psj^cho-physical parallelism seems to be quite
impossible. For if, according to the principle of the
conservation of energy in the physical world as a self-
contained whole of material reality, the distribution of
kinetic and potential energy is plainly determined from
moment to moment according to the direction and inten-
sity of movements, and is regulated by mechanical laws,
it is certainly unthinkable that these physical movements
should have other causes than physical movements,
or that they could be caused by psychic states. And if
the processes of organic life, in which, on the theory of
psycho-physical causality, there seems to be a reciprocal
change of designs into movements and movements into
sensations, constitute an infinitesimal part in proportion
to the enormous mass of inorganic events, we should have



158 GENETIC PROBLEMS

here, if we admit psycho-physical causality, a transgres-
sion of the principle of the conservation of energy which
deprives it of its axiomatic validity. Hence theoretical
physicists naturally have a strong bias for parallelism.

We do not get rid of these difficulties by pretending
that there is no danger to the conservation of the quantum
of energy as long as we confine psycho- physical causality
to its distribution. The sensory processes and the inner
processes of the nervous system have, it is argued, stored
a sum of energy in the brain, and this is converted by
the motor processes into purposive movements. We must
bear in mind that the psychic states which we call pur-
poses, and which consist of ideas of the future and functions
of the will directed thereto, decide in what direction this
potential energy is guided in order to be converted into
motor functions and therefore definite actions ; and,
on the other hand, that the vital force which is released
by the stimuli in the sensory nervous system is directed
by psychic elements along the paths by which it accumu-
lates in central nervous states. The principle of the con-
servation of energy is not called into question if the
distribution which they experience in the brain is
ascribed to psychic causes. But this is certainly not the
case. In its mathematical-physical sense the principle
of the conservation of energy applies plainly and inexor-
ably to its distribution, its division into potential and
kinetic energy, from moment to moment, and it there-
fore leaves no room for any other principle. It is only
the vague popular idea or formulation of the principle
that makes possible dilettante arguments of this sort.
The exact mathematical-physical definition absolutely
excludes them.

Still more childish is the attempt at evasion once made
by Robinet and repeated by many in recent times : the
mind is supposed to play the part of a special form of
energy. Just as movement is converted into heat and
heat into movement, so the energy of the stimulation of
the sensory nerves is supposed to pass into consciousness,
and, as psychic energy, to undergo all sorts of changes
until at last it is, in the final form of a purpose, recon-



THE PSYCHO PHYSICAL EVENT 159

verted into movement. The organism is thus supposed
to be really a grave of physical energy and a cradle of its
rebirth. The various types of organisms are distinguished
from each other in the greater or less quantity of energy
which undergoes this occasional conversion from the
physical form to the psychic ; but in the last resort the
loss and gain are always equal, so that the integrity of
the principle of the conservation of energy is preserved.
We need, however, little penetration to see that in argu-
ments of this sort we have, once more, a metaphysical
dilettantism playing with the various meanings of the
word " energy." Psychic reality can never be described
as substance or function in the same sense as physical
reality in our formulation of the principle of the conserva-
tion of energy.

The strict definition of the great physical principle
forbids dialectical performances of this sort, and it is no
less irreconcilable with the idea that consciousness is a
by-product of the physical process, an epiphenomenon,
as is said. By this is meant that the conversion of the
sensory energy into motor, which is the chief performance
of the organism, and especially of its nervous system,
may very well take place in accordance with the principle
of the conservation of energy ; that the peculiarity of
the organic world is merely that these movements in the
brain have, besides their physical causal relations, states
of consciousness, from sensation and perception to purpose
and volition, as accessoiy phenomena. But from the
point of view of the conservation of energy even this
means an unthinkable and impossible release of force ;
and this weak compromise is not more fitted to meet the
need of a recognition of the psychic activity. An accom-
panying consciousness of this sort, not itself a cause,
but merely a continuous mirror of an active and inde-
pendent causal series of bodily states, is one of the most
superfluous and tedious things in the world. It would
be condemned to be a sinecure, in flat contradiction to
the most valuable witness to the physical in our experi-
ence ; for the psychic is to us the active, the very principle
of movement in the world — viens agitat molem. What



160 GENETIC PROBLEMS

is called Monism, which often tries to make capital out of
this epiphenomenal idea of consciousness, is merely
concealing with it its Materialistic tendency.

None of these subterfuges helps us. We must grant
that, if the principle of the conservation of energy is
affirmed as a metaphysical principle of reality, if it^ is
regarded as really valid for the world of material reality,
psycho-physical causahty is inconsistent with it, and there-
fore psycho-physical parallelism is the simplest and best
substitute for it. But, on the other hand, what mon-
stro'sTties arise when one attempts to take this theory
seriously and think it out in detail ! In the first place,
the course of physical events, all the movements that
occur in the body, must be regarded as entirely inde-
pendent of any psychic cause, and the course of the psychic
life must be equally independent of any causes in the
material world ; and their complete and invariable
correspondence, in spite of their utter heterogeneity, has
then to be explained in some way or other.

In regard to the corporeal processes it is sought to
make this view plausible and attractive by referring us
to reflex movements, which are well known as functions
of all organisms, especially the human organism, and
which occur, with fine shades of transition, either without
consciousness or with that " epiphenomenon." To an
astonishing, and sometimes alarming, extent we have
the experience of processes, which properly and originally
had the character of conscious, voluntary movements,
and were therefore ascribed by the plain mind to psycho-
physical causes, so changing in certain circumstances
that they are no longer accompanied by consciousness,
and could not possibly be attributed to psycho-physical
causality. Purposive movements like writing, shooting,
piano-playing, etc., which have been learned and prac-
tised, are accomplished in such a way that consciousness
needs only to give the initial impulse and does nothing
more ; in some cases, indeed, it seems to be absolutely
excluded as the cause. We know quite well that we can
at times make quite coherent and satisfactory speeches
while our mind is taken up with something quite different.



THE PSYCHO-PHYSICAL EVENT 161

To many questions we give, as we say, purely mechanical
answers, the contents of which, however relevant to
the question, do not seem to be in the least dictated by
consciousness. Facts of this sort may be interpreted in
the sense of the general possibility that the physiological
process which takes place between the states of stimula-
tion of the sensory and motor nerves takes the same
course, in the same sense and with the same results,
as the psychic process whicti simultaneously goes on
in the mind. But that process does not help us out
of the difficulty. On the one hand, we cannot
confidently show to what extent half-conscious, to
say nothing of unconscious, psychic processes, which
determine these physiological processes, may accom-
pany those which are in the foreground of conscious-
ness and seem to occup}^ it exclusively. It is, on the
contrary, a fact that different ideas may be at work in
different strata of consciousness at the same time, without
interfering with each other. We can simultaneously
dictate and read a letter, play the piano and listen to a
conversation. It is not necessary to assume that we have
here a jumping backward and forward of the mind from
one activity to another ; each train of thought goes its
own way, uninterrupted by the others. That may hold
good for unconscious processes as well as conscious, and
in the above cases it is always possible that we have the
psycho-physical causality of conscious or half-conscious
functions. Moreover, in all these instances there is
question of acquired movements which owe their appear-
ance of reflection to laborious practice, and every such
act of practice had to involve a conscious relation of
stimulus and reaction. Hence these automatic pro-
cesses presuppose an initial performance in which there
is no room for the theory of the accompanying action of
consciousness, and it is repeated in virtue of an idea of
which we are conscious as a psychic act. All these argu-
ments, therefore, do not get over the fact that in these
purposive bodily movements we have physical processes
v.'hich, if not at the time they are performed, at all events
in their remoter causes, compel us to assume conscious

11



162 GENETIC PROBLEMS

functions amongst their causal elements. Wherever in
the material world organic beings, especially human beings,
are at work, the purely mechanical-physical process is
interrupted by psychic functions.

It is all very well to urge against us the inexpressible
fineness and the unimaginable intricacy of the structures
which the organic elements exhibit, particularly in the
brain, and say that these seem to make an explanation
of purposive movements as reflex actions not impossible.
In this we are simply once more taking the intricate
structure of the brain as an asylum ignoranticB to which
we can always retreat and bury ourselves under sugges-
tions of possibilities which no man can get to the bottom
of. It remains, however, extremely probable that the
bodily mechanism, in the sense-stimulations which need
a psychic interpretation, accomplishes the purposively
adapted movements only in virtue of its reflex habits,
its associative connections, and its differentiated reactions.
All these intricate arrangements of the nervous system
itself are best understood as an outcom.e of psycho-
physical causes. When, in the " telegram " argument
which was first advanced by Albert Lange, the purposive
reaction to the reading of the words is supposed to be
explained in the sense that this releases all the connections
in the brain which are, in their corresponding psychic
forms, meanings, recollections, considerations, and resolu-
tions, it is unintelligible how all these states of the brain
themselves could come into being without the action
of the psychic states, merely by spatial storing and in
accordance with physico-chemical laws. But however
improbable the Materialistic interpretation may be, we
have to admit that in view of the unlimited possibilities
of the cerebral structure it can never be proved to be
wholly impossible.

Much more grotesque are the demands on our credulity
of the hypothesis of parallelism if we start from the con-
sideration of the internal life and psychic causality.
This internal life seems to proceed in its own inevitable-
ness as if it were not accompanied by or dependent upon
any bodily process. Our imagination, our thinking,



THE PSYCHO-PPIYSICAL EVENT 163

our practical reflections, go on with a certain continuity
of purely psychic causality. In this it is to be noted
that the psychic elements which are found in such a move-
ment are, as to their origin, only intelligible as a reaction
upon the external world. Apart from this, however, we
have the difficult question : When these processes are
suddenly interrupted by a pain, for instance, which the
plain mind traces to a knock or a blow as its cause, what
is the psychic cause of the pain and the interruption ?
The discontinuity which characterises the psychic event
as distinguished from the spatial, the intermittence and
recommencement of the course of the psychic life, is never
intelligible in itself ; it needs always to be explained by
influences from the external world — that is to say, by
psycho-physical causes. This is at all events true of the
inner life-process in the individual consciousness, and it
is true of this especially in view of those influences which
it experiences from the mental life of other persons. These
are always brought about by psycho-physical processes.
Of any direct causal relation between different persons
without corporeal mediation, of a psychic causality that
works purely internally and without a physical medium
between soul and soul, of any telepathic possibilities of
this kind, we may hear from poets and visionaries, but
we learn nothing whatever from experience. This shows
us that all the recommencements of which we are indi-
vidually conscious are connected with influences of the
physical world. If, in spite of this, we regard the psychic
process as purely immanent and self-contained, we have,
in the case of those interruptions which naive thought
attributes to psycho-physical causality, to assume un-
conscious psychic causes corresponding to the bodily
processes which psycho-physical causality regards as the
cause of the discontinuity.

The hypothesis of parallelism, therefore, would have to
be developed, not merely as a psychological or anthropo-
logical theory, but, as in its original Spinozistic form, as
a metaphysical philosophy, universal Panpsychism. It
must be assumed that to the entire system and course of
spatial-corporeal states there corresponds an equally



164 GENETIC PROBLEMS

continuous system and an equally uninterrupted series
of psychic states — of which our consciousness knows
nothing whatever ! That is making a very large demand
on our credulity. A psychic causality of meanings,
values, and purposes, and parallel with it a physical
causality of position and direction, with their various
forms of motion ; and the two supposed to correspond
at every step ! That is the strangest adventure we were
ever asked to believe ; indeed, to believe it would be an
act of despair. Hence it is the lesser evil, the smaller
miracle, to admit the common causality of the dissimilar
in the action of body on soul and soul on body.

The Monistic defenders of Parallelism cannot concede
that for them the physical and psychic systems are two
separate realities, in some inexplicable^ correspondence
to each other. They say that the two systems^ are merely
parallel phenomena of the primary reality, and in this
we are supposed to find precisely the reason for their
invariable correspondence. In opposition to this we irray
observe, first, that we by no means get rid of the-para-
dox of the hypothesis. by removing^Jt fnouLthe realm of
primary reality to derivative reality, from the essence to
the appearance. On the contrary, we are now confronted
with the very serious question why the one reality develops
in two entirely different modes of appearance^ This
question is for parallelistic Monism just as prejudicial and
insoluble whether we take the idea of " appearance "
in an objective or a subjective sense. If the two realms
are conceived, as two sorts of derived reality proceeding
from the one pfinrary^ realtty — which is then incompre-
hensible—all the difficulties return which we saw pre-
viously in the discussion of ontic problems ; and if the
appearance of the psycho-physical duality is restricted
to human consciousness it is not one whit more intel-
ligible, as we also saw previously.

The most important point in these problems, however,
is that here again we find ourselves compelled to assume
unconscious states which are not physical, yet are not
in the proper sense of the word of a psychic character —
in the sense in which the idea of the soul has come to be



THE PSYCHO-PHYSICAL EVENT 165

identified with that of consciousness. In modern thought
this has had the pecuHar result of interpolating a third
realm, the realm of the unconscious, between the realms
of cogitatio and extensio, into which the Cartesian school
distributed reality. However, the fact that all the argu-
ments in favour of this intermediate realm are derived
from psychology and its attempts to explain conscious
phenomena necessarily implies that this unconscious
must be more closely related to the psychic world than
to the physical. The hypothesis of psycho-physical
parallelism therefore combines the unconscious and the
conscious in a unity which is independent of the physical
world. All these problems, in fine, are metaphysical
problems, and the difficulties which were experienced by
the hypothesis of parallelism that was based upon the
older metaphysics merely show that the ultimate solution
depends upon the question how far human knowledge
can be confident of passing beyond the two kinds of
experience, the external and the internal, and attaining
to the nature of reality.



CHAPTER III

NOETIC PROBLEMS

The obvious postulate for all ontic and genetic problems,
from the simple assumptions of the untrained mind to
the mature theories of science, is that our ideas must
be knowledge, and at the same time true knowledge.
This postulate is so obvious that it does not always,
especially in the beginning, come into consciousness at
all, yet it is the driving force in the progress of thought.
For the element of dissatisfaction in, our first impressions,
which is always the stimulus to the formulation of prob-
lems, is the feeling, or even the fear, that these immediate
ideas, which we regard as knowledge, may not be true.
From this we understand how it is that we have at first
very inadequate and in part untenable ideas as to the
meaning of that feeling, the meaning of the value of
truth. Yet these ideas are amongst the last to be un-
settled and called into question. Rational reflection turns
last of all upon itself. The Greeks called this rational
reflection voeXv, and we therefore call these problems,
which arise from the direction of knowledge to its own
task and the means of fulfilling this task, noetic.



§9

Truth. — Theories of knowledge — Science and knowledge — The judg-
ment — Transcendental, immanent, and formal truth — Truth as
value — Pragmatism — Opinion, belief, and knowledge.

The first of these problems is the definition of truth
itself. Unsettlement on this point occurs only in a
mature stage of mental life, and the questions which it

166



TRUTH 167

suggests are therefore the latest in historical development.
At first we are content with the simple confidence, the
" courage of truth," which accompanies our mental
operations : we simply think, ask, inquire, investigate.
In the course of time the inevitable antitheses and failures
bafiie our mind, and we ask whether we can accomplish
the task of attaining real knowledge. As soon as this
stage is reached, our intellectual conscience feels that
it must settle the question of the possibility of know-
ledge before acquiring anything further. It is as well
that the sciences have generally accomplished, and
to-day accomplish, their work before asking this prelim-
inary question, as it is these sciences themselves which
must provide the material for answering it. As a subse-
quent question, however, the noetic problem is quite
inevitable.

The necessity of it is so obviously based upon the nature "^
of things that it is quite independent of the question
what position is assigned in the system of sciences to the
solution of these noetic problems. As a special and
coherent inquiry it is now often called " the theory of
knowledge " or Epistemology (or, sometimes, Noetics),
and it is assuredly the final science in the sense that it
presupposes all the others. There must be knowledge
before it can be the object of a theory. Thus, in the
history of philosophy noetic questions were first raised..-
by the Sophists, and then by Socrates and Plato, and |
they had been preceded by a long and fruitful develop- /
ment of scientific knowledge which had at length turned I
upon itself. This beginning led to the Aristotelic logic, [
which is the culmination of the self-consciousness of
Greek science.

The starting-point was the Platonic distinfction between
knowledge and opinion, imcFT-qfxr) and 86^a. It contains
a first glimpse of the various kinds of verification ; and
the more proudly knowledge opposed itself to opinion
in this distinction, the more confident science became
as to its own nature and procedure. From that time
onward there has been included in the inventory of every
complete philosophical theory a discussion of the nature



168 NOETIC PROBLEMS

of knowledge, its vindication, range, and limitations ;
and in most cases the views on this subject were the
final result, in a certain sense even the crowning test,
of the whole philosophical system. The renewal of the
conflict of metaphysical systems in modern times has
thrust the question of the theory of knowledge into the
foreground. Locke demanded that, before any discussion
of the difficult problems of metaphysics, the range of
the instrument with which we hoped to solve them
should be investigated — that is to say, the human faculty
of knowledge. Then Kant claimed that this inquiry
into the possibility of knowledge should precede all
knowledge, at least metaphysical knowledge, and therefore
be the first science.

We will not go further into the question whether the
theory of knowledge should be the test or the foundation



Online LibraryW. (Wilhelm) WindelbandAn introduction to philosophy → online text (page 14 of 32)