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cases of mental content, it is the poorest method of defining their nature.
84. When I attempt to discover the generic character of the contents revealed by introspection, I meet at once The Neutral
with a most significant fact. Distributively, Elements of these contents coincide with other manifolds, Mental Content. such as nature, history, and the contents of Unifying other minds. In other words, in so far as I Relation
divide them into elements, the contents of my mind exhibit no generic character. I find the quality 'blue,' but this I ascribe also to the book which lies before me on the table; I find 'hardness, but this I ascribe also to the physical adamant; or I find number, which my neighbor finds also in his mind. In other words, the elements of the introspective manifold are in themselves neither peculiarly mental nor peculiarly mine; they are neutral and interchangeable.
It is only with respect to their grouping and interrelations that the elements of mental content exhibit any peculiarity.' When my attention is directed to this, I find that mental contents, as compared, for example, with physical nature, possess a characteristic fragmentariness. Not all of physical nature, nor of any given natural body, is in my mind. And the particular abstract that is in my mind does not exactly coincide with the particular abstract that is in my neighbor's mind. Furthermore, the fragments of nature that find their way into my mind acquire thereby a peculiar interrelation and compose a peculiar pattern.
The so-called "relational theory of consciousness” has emphasized this fact that mental content is distinguished, not by the stuff or elements of which it is composed, but by the way in which these elements are composed; in other words, by the composing relation. “In consciousness,"
· For a more ample treatment of this matter, cf. my article, “Conceptions and Misconceptions of Consciousness,” Psychological Review, Vol. XI, 1904.
says Professor Woodbridge, "we have simply an instance of the existence of different things together, . . . consciousness is only a form of connection of objects, a relation between them.” As James expresses it, "consciousness connotes a kind of external relation, and does not denote a special stuff or way of being."1 Neither of these authors, however, offers a clear account of what this peculiar relation or form of connection is. James at times identifies it with “the function of knowing.” When one thing means or represents another, and thus assumes the status of idea, it becomes a conscious element. But, as Professor Woodbridge points out, this relation can scarcely be the generic relation of consciousness, because the terms between which it holds are already 'experienced.' And James himself explicitly recognizes the possibility of immediately experiencing, without the mediation of ideas at all. ‘Meaning' would seem to be the relation characteristic of discursive consciousness, rather than of consciousness in general. As respects such a general type of relationship, the results are on the whole negative. James shows that it is different from the physical type of relationship (“mental fire is what won't burn real sticks”). Professor Woodbridge "lays greater stress on what consciousness does not appear to be than on ... that type of connection which it constitutes between objects.” 2
Now what light do such results throw on the nature of mind? It seems to me clear that they contribute only a preliminary induction. They doubtless afford unmistakable evidence of a special and important grouping of objects; but they do not reveal the principle which defines the group. It is admitted that contents of mind coincide
· F. J. E. Woodbridge: “The Nature of Consciousness,” Jour. of Phil., Psych., and Scientific Methods, Vol. II. 1905, pp. 120, 125; James: “Does Consciousness Exist,” in the same Journal, Vol. I, 1904, p. 486. Cf. also B. H. Bode: “Some Recent Definitions of Consciousness," Psychological Review, Vol. XV, 1908.
: Woodbridge: loc. cit.; James. op. cit., pp. 478, 489. For the pragmatist view of discursive consciousness, above, pp.200 ff. For James's more complete view, cf. below, pp. 350-354.
distributively, or element for element, with parts of nature. It is important, then, to show how parts of nature become contents of mind. Natural objects do not enter wholly into mind. Then what determines their foreshortening and abridgment? An individual mind gathers into itself a characteristic assemblage of fragments of nature. Under what conditions does this occur? When things are in mind, one may mean or represent another. What constitutes being in mind ?
Until such questions are answered realism cannot boast of having greatly improved upon idealism. “Consciousness," says Professor Natorp, "is inexplicable and hardly describable, yet all conscious experiences have this in common, that what we call their content has this peculiar reference to a center for which ‘self' is the name, in virtue of which reference alone, the content is subjectively given, or appears." It is as important for the realist to show what he means by his “form of connection as it is for the idealist to show what he means by "this peculiar reference to a center.”ı
8 5. We shall find that it is impossible to find the common bond of things mental, until we abandon the introMental Action. spective method and view mind as it operates The Alleged
in the open field of nature and history. But Self-intuition of a Pure Spirit- before adopting this course we have two other ual Activity alternatives.
In the first and more popular of these alternative views, it is admitted that it is impossible to find a unique quality in mental contents, or even a unique interrelation among them. It is maintained that things derive their mental character from that which acts on them. My contents are the passive objects of my active perceiving, thinking, or willing. This action of mind is not itself content, but is the common and unifying correlate of all content. So far this view is, I think, substantially correct. The defining relation of mind is a kind of action, and it will not be found
Paul Natorp: Einleitung in die Psychologie, pp. 14, 112; quoted by James, op. cit., p. 479.
amidst the content which it defines. But in the present view it is further maintained that the action of mind is nevertheless introspectively accessible in a peculiar way.
I refer to the time-honored theory that the action of mind is revealed to the agent himself in an immediate intuition. “Such is the nature of Spirit, or that which acts,” says Berkeley, "that it cannot be of itself perceived ... though it must be owned at the same time that we have some notion of soul, spirit, and the operations of the mind." The inner activity of consciousness is that "life-form of immediate reality” which “is lost if the psychological abstractions make it a describable object.” 1
Berkeley's view met its classic refutation in Hume. He showed that the most exhaustive introspective analysis reveals no such creative power,' but only a manifold and nexus of contents. Taken "psychologically,” says Mr. Bradley,“the revelation is fraudulent. There is no original experience of anything like activity.” The supposition that there is such a revelation is possible only provided one refuses to analyze a certain experience into its elements, When the so-called experience of mental activity is so analyzed, no activity-element is found. The refusal to analyze what can be and has been analyzed cannot be justified by any canon of rigorous theoretical procedure.? In other words, the intuitionist theory of mental activity is an instance of the fallacy of 'pseudo-simplicity.' "The simplicity, however, of the representation of a subject is not therefore a knowledge of the simplicity of the subject," says Kant. The intuitionist argument rests upon a confusion between the lack of complexity in the knowledge of the subject matter, and a lack of complexity in the subject matter itself.:
Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge, Fraser's edition, Vol. I, p. 272; Münsterberg: The Eternal Values, p. 393.
• Hume: Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Section VII, Part I, passim; Bradley: Appearance and Reality, p. 116.
• Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, trans. by Max Müller, Second Edition, pp. 289-290. Cf. above, pp. 261-264.
Philosophy is peculiarly liable to this fallacy in the case of self-knowledge, because of the extraordinary familiarity of 'self.' No one is so well acquainted with me as I am with myself. Primarily this means that whereas I have known myself repeatedly, and perhaps for considerable intervals continuously, others have known me only intermittently or not at all. To myself I am so much an old story that I may easily weary of myself. I do weary of myself, however, not because I understand myself so well, but because I live with myself so much. I may be familiar to the point of ennui with things I understand scarcely at all. Thus I may be excessively familiar with a volume in the family library without having ever looked between the covers. Indeed, degrees of knowledge are as likely to be inversely, as directly, proportional to degrees of familiarity. Familiarity is arbitrary like all habit, and there is nothing to prevent it from fixing and confirming a false or shallow opinion. The man whom we meet daily on the street is a familiar object. But we do not tend to know him better. On the contrary, our opinion tends to be as unalterable as it is accidental and one-sided. Everyone is familiar with a typical facial expression of the President, but who will claim that such familiarity conduces to knowledge of him? Similarly my familiarity with myself may actually stand in the way of my better knowledge. Because of it I may be too easily satisfied that I know myself, and will almost inevitably believe that my mind as I commonly know it is my mind in its essence. It cannot be said, then, that the individual mind's extraordinary familiarity with itself necessarily means that its knowledge of itself is exclusive or even superior. On the contrary, it means that in respect of knowledge of itself every mind is peculiarly liable to over-simplification — to the assumption that knowledge is complete when, as a matter of fact, it has not yet begun.
These considerations also discredit, I think, the virtue so frequently attributed to self-consciousness. I am in