Page images

The same general consideration will apply also to thought. When I am thinking abstractions, the contents of my mind, namely the abstractions themselves, are such as you also may think. They are not possessed by me in any exclusive sense. And the fact that they are my contents means that they are somehow bound up with the history of my nervous system. The contents, and the linkage which makes them mine, are alike common objects, lying in the field of general observation and study.

$ $11. When mental content is thus arrived at by general observation rather than by introspection, the

action which is correlative to it, which inThe Alleged Impossibility vests it with a new status and brings it of Observing

together in a new way, is revealed at the Mental Action

same time. You observe the contents of my mind by following my glance or my words; so that at the same time that you observe the contents, you may also observe the action, namely my visual or verbal response to these contents. But we must deal here with the traditional objection that it is paradoxical or contradictory to suppose that mental action can be observed, as other things are observed. Mental action, it is argued, is active; and to be observed it would have to become passive, and so lose its distinctive nature. Or, mental action is subject, and so can never be object without forfeiting its identity.

The objection rests obviously upon the error of 'exclusive particularity.' It presupposes that what is active cannot also be passive, or that what is subject cannot also be object. Knowledge, it is asserted, always assumes the form (S) R (0) (subject-knowing-object). And in this abstract scheme, S cannot change its place without forfeiting its nature, since, like the hypothenuse of a right-angle triangle, its nature is its place. But it does not follow that the same concrete entity may not change its place, and having once been S now become 0; as the same straight line, having been the hypothenuse of one triangle may become

[ocr errors]

the side of another. The same soul or nervous system, or whatever was filling the office of subject, might come to fill also the office of object. Or, while a given entity was filling the office of subject in relation to an object, it might at the same time be itself filling the office of object in relation to a second subject. And the nature of the office of subject, as exemplified in the first subject, could thus be known in the ordinary way by the second subject. Thus there is nothing whatsoever to stand in the way of the supposition that the bodily action wherewith I deal with things and make them my objects, may itself be similarly dealt with and made object by another bodily agent; or in supposing that the bodily process which in my own experience functions as mental action, and does not appear as content, should be the content of another mind. And on this supposition, it would naturally be agreed that the person best qualified to report on the nature of my mental action would be not myself, the user of it, but the physiologist or moralist who is the beholder of it.

§ 12. We are now prepared for a statement of the nature of mental action in terms of general observaMental Action

tion. And in the first place, it is to be obas Nervous served that mental action is a property of the System

physical organism. This view is contained in principle in Mach's notion that an element is mental in so far as it stands in a relation of functional dependence to a certain specific set of elements, which he calls the elements KLM ...; these elements corresponding to what is generally known as the nervous system. To this notion of Mach's must be added the so-called "motor theory" of consciousness, which is steadily winning a general acceptance among psychologists. “We are compelled to believe,” says Professor McDougall, “that the nervous processes of the brain are of the type of the reflex processes of the spinal cord, and consist in the transmission of physical impulses through channels of great complexity from the sensory to, or towards, the motor nerves, and to believe that all psychical processes are accompanied by nervous processes of this character.”1 We are thus led to the view that elements become mental content when reacted to in the specific manner characteristic of the central nervous system.?

1 Cf. above, pp. 78–79.

This conclusion is approximated by at least two recent writers of wide influence. Richard Avenarius, the founder of the so-called “Immanence School” in Germany, employs a peculiar terminology of his own. The central nervous system he terms "system C.” This system he conceives, after the naturalistic fashion, as situated in an environment from which it receives stimulations (“R-values”), and to which it gives back a characteristic response (E-values”). Experience or mental content consists of these E-values, or responses of system C. Avenarius, however, leaves us in doubt whether the reaction of system C does not create contents. It would appear that the “E-values” are more than actions; that they embrace mental constructs not given in the environment.

The correct view is more closely approached in Bergson's theory of pure perception. This writer concludes that "the living body in general, and the nervous system in particular, are only channels for the transmission of movements, which, received in the form of stimulation, are transmitted in the form of action, reflex or voluntary. That is to say, it is vain to attribute to the cerebral substance the property of engendering representations.Its function is selective; and those parts of the environment which it selects by its action, whether virtual, nascent, or actual, are the content of perception. “If we suppose an extended continuum, and, in this continuum, the center

1 W. McDougall, Physiological Psychology, p. 7 (italics mine). Cf. also H. Münsterberg: Grundzüge der Psychologie, pp. 525-562.

See note on p. 305. : Cf. W. T. Bush: Avenarius and the Stand point of Pure Experience, pp. 39 sq.; Avenarius: Der Menschliche Weltbegrif, passim. The present leader of the “Immanence School” is Joseph Petzoldt; cf. his Einführung in die Philosophie der reinen Erfahrung.

[ocr errors]

as Interest

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

of real action which is represented by our body, its activity will appear to illumine all those parts of matter with which at each successive moment it can deal.” In other words, mental content consists of portions of the surrounding environment “illumined” by the action of the organism.'

$ 13. Bergson's view does not suffice as a thoroughgoing theory of mind, because it is limited to perception.

A creative function is reserved for mind in its

other operations. But he states with admirable clearness a principle which can readily be extended to the higher functions of mind. And furthermore his statement of the principle possesses the additional advantage of emphasizing the essentially teleological character of mental action. “Conscious perception,” he says, “does not compass the whole of matter, since it consists, in as far as it is conscious, in the separation, or 'discernment,' of that which, in matter, interests our various needs."3 The action of the nervous system is a function of the organism, and like the organism it exhibits the control of interest. So that a physiological account of the action of mind must be supplemented by a moral account. And content of mind must be defined as that portion of the surrounding environment which is taken account of by the organism in serving its interests; the nervous system, physiologically regarded, being the mechanism which is employed.

As mind appears in nature and society, it consists primarily in interested behavior. Such behavior is promptly and almost unerringly distinguished by all save the most rudimentary intelligences. Indeed, the capacity of making such a distinction is one of the conditions of survival. Upon the lowest plane of social intercourse a mind is a potentiality of bodily contact, and is marked and dealt

i Bergson: Matter and Memory, trans. by Paul and Palmer, pp. 81, 309 (first italics mine). Cf. Ch. I, passim.

Cf. op. cit., Ch. II, III; and above, pp. 239-240, 261–265.

Op. cit., p. 78 (italics mine). A similar idea is contained in Avena. rius's conception of the “E-values” as determined by the endeavor of "system C” to maintain its equilibrium. Cf. Bush, op. cit., pp. 40-41.


with accordingly. But even upon a comparatively low plane there is recognition of a characteristic difference between minds and other bodily things. Minds exhibit spontaneity and waywardness, a certain isolation of control in their own interest. Individually they manifest persistent hostility, which is feared in them, or persistent friendliness, which is courted in them. Such a recognition of mind is already present in a mind's discriminating reaction to anger, or to a hereditary foe, as denoting a marked or constant source of danger.

Where social relations are more subtle and indirect, the element of interest tends to supplant the merely physical and mechanical element of mind altogether. In my dealings with my neighbor I am most concerned with his desires or his consistent plan of action. I can injure him by checkmating his interests, or profit by him through combining my interests with his. It is most important for me to know what he consistently seeks. He is a living policy or purpose of which I must obtain the key-motive if I would make either peace or war.

I am also familiar with my own propensities. In so far as I am reflective, my impulses and ideals are repeatedly the objects of my contemplation and scrutiny. They are defined, adopted, rejected, or reaffirmed in every moral crisis. But if be true that my interests are myself, in the deepest sense, it is no less true that they are evident to any intelligent observer. They are the defining forms of my life. In so far as they move me they cannot be hidden away within me. They mark me among my fellows, and give me my place, humble or obscure, in the open field of history. It is possible, doubtless, to emphasize the introspective factor of desire. But desire in so far as content, merely, is not desire at all. Desire as moral, as a form of determination, belongs not to the domestic mind, but to mind at large in nature and society.

$ 14. And precisely as a mind's interests are evident to general observation, so are the objects on which it acts

« PreviousContinue »