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83. Let us now look at mind from a somewhat different angle. If its operations are selective rather than creative it follows that The Relational it derives its content from its environment, and or Functional adds nothing to that content save the circumstance Theory of
of its selection. If the term 'consciousness' be Consciousness
used to designate the mind's content, that manifold, namely, which can be held in view and examined by introspection, then consciousness is not a distinct substance, or even a distinct quality; but a grouping, exclusive and inclusive, of characters borrowed from the environment. James first offered this account of the matter in the article entitled, “Does Consciousness Exist?” published in 1904. But he then wrote: “For twenty years past I have mistrusted 'consciousness' as an entity; for seven or eight years past I have suggested its non-existence to my students.” 1 This theory is therefore both closely related to his other theories, and also of long standing
In suggesting the non-existence of consciousness, James meant, of course, to prepare the way for an account of its true character. This turn of thought may perhaps be paraphrased as follows. If by a thing's existence you mean its separate existence, its existence as wholly other than, or outside of, other things, as one planet exists outside another, then consciousness does not exist. For consciousness differs from other things as one grouping differs from another grouping of the same terms; as, for example, the Republican party differs from the American people. But this is its true character, and in this sense it exists. One is led to this conclusion if one resolutely refuses to yield to the spell of words. What do we find when we explore that quarter to which the word 'consciousness' directs us? We find at first glance some particular character, such as blue; and at second glance another particular character, such as roundness. Which of these is consciousness? Evidently neither. For there is no discoverable difference between these characters, thus severally regarded, and certain parts of nature. Furthermore, there is no discoverable community of nature among these characters themselves. But continue the investigation as long as you please, and you simply add content to content, without
1 Journal of Phil., Psych., and Sc. Methods, Vol. I, 1904, p. 477. The article has been reprinted in Essays in Radical Empiricism, I.
finding either any class of elements that belong exclusively to consciousness, or any conscious “menstruum" in which the elements of content are suspended. The solution of the riddle lies in the fact that one term may be called by several names corresponding to the several relationships into which it enters. necessary only to admit that "every smallest bit of experience is a multum in parvo plurally related, that each relation is one aspect, character, or function, way of its being taken, or way of its taking something else; and that a bit of reality when actively engaged in one of these relations is not by that very fact engaged in all the other relations simultaneously. The relations are not all what the French call solidaires with one another. Without losing its identity a thing can either take up or drop another thing, like the log . . . which by taking up new carriers and dropping old ones can travel anywhere with a light escort.” 1
I have quoted this passage in full because of its far-reaching importance. But we have to do here only with the application to the question of consciousness. The elements or terms which enter into consciousness and become its content may now be regarded as the same elements which, in so far as otherwise related, compose physical nature. The elements themselves, the "materia prima" or "stuff of pure experience,” are neither psychical nor physical. A certain spatial and dynamic system of such elements constitutes physical nature; taken in other relations they constitute “ideal” systems, such as logic and mathematics; while in still another grouping, and in a specific functional relation, they make up that process of reflective thought which is the subject under discussion in the author's theory of ideas and of truth. The grouping or pattern which is most characteristic of the individual consciousness as such, is best described in connection with "the experience of activity.”
But before turning to this topic it is important to call attention to a further corollary which is capable of a very wide application. The common or ‘neutral' elements of pure experience serve not only to connect consciousness with the various objective orders of being, but also to connect different units of consciousness with another. Two or
more minds become
· Pluralistic Universe, pp. 322—323. Cf. Essays in Radical Empiricism, p. 140. · Cf. below, pp. 364-365.
co-terminous and commutable through containing the same elements. We can thus understand "how two minds can know one thing.".
In precisely the same way the same mind may know the same thing at different times. The different pulses of one consciousness may thus overlap and interpenetrate. And where these pulses are successive, the persistence of these common factors, marginal in one and focal in the next, gives to consciousness its peculiar connectedness and continuity. There is no need, therefore, of a synthesis ab extra; there is sameness and permanence and universality within the content itself. Finally, just as several individual minds, and the several moments of one individual mind, are “co-conscious," so there is no reason why human minds should not be confluent in a higher consciousness.” 2
$ 4. A certain grouping of the elements of experience, a grouping in which activity and affectional states are the most marked The Experi
characteristics, constitutes “the individualized ence of self.” “Simon pure activity,” or “activity an Activity
sich," is a fictitious entity. But we are not on that account to banish the word 'activity' from our philosophical vocabulary, since there is a specific experience-complex for which it may be rightly and profitably used. "If the word have any meaning it must denote what there is found.
The experiencer of such a situation possesses all that the idea contains. He feels the tendency, the obstacle, the will, the strain, the triumph, or the passive giving up, just as he feels the time, the space, the swiftness or intensity, the movement, the weight and color, the pain and pleasure, the complexity, or whatever remaining factors the situation may involve." ; This specific train or pattern of experiences being taken to constitute activity, it will constitute “my” activity in so far as it is accompanied by certain affectional states; in other words, in so far as it centres in certain experiences of my own body. For affectional states are quasi-bodily. They do not belong
i Op. cit., pp. 123 sq.
· Pluralistic Universe, p. 290, cf. Lecture VII, passim. For the de velopment of James's view concerning the “compounding of consciousness," cf. Principles of Psychology, Vol. I, pp. 160, 161; "The Knowing of Things Together," Psych. Rev., Vol. II, 1895; Pluralistic Universe, Lecture V.
; "The Experience of Activity,” in Pluralistic Universe, pp. 380, 376
exclusively either to the mental or to the physical order. That which is attractive or repugnant stirs the body as well as the mind. “The interesting' aspects of things "rule the consecution of our several conscious streams; but they are "not wholly inert physically, though they be active only in those small corners of physical nature which our bodies occupy.” The individualized self is thus a peculiar assemblage or field of elements, which “comes at all times with our body as its centre, centre of vision, centre of action, centre of interest. . . . The body is the storm centre, the origin of coördinates, the constant place of stress in all that experience-train. Everything circles round it, and is felt from its point of view. The word 'I,' then, is primarily a noun of position, just like 'this' and 'here.' Activities attached to 'this position have prerogative emphasis. . . . The ‘my' of them is the emphasis, the feeling of perspective-interest in which they are dyed.”,
Precisely as there is no consciousness an sich, and no activity an sich, so there is no mental power or "effectuation" an sich. The causality of mind lies in the drama, train, conjunction, or series, which is peculiar to the mind-complex. "Sustaining, persevering, striving, paying with effort as we go, hanging on, and finally achieving our intention - this is action, this is effectuation in the only shape in which, by a pure experiencephilosophy, the whereabouts of it anywhere can be discussed. ... Real effectual causation ... is just that kind of conjunction which our own activity-series reveal.”: We meet here with a type of process that is sui generis. Whether human action is determined primarily by this process, or by the elementary processes of the nerve-cells, James does not attempt to decide. It is essentially a question between the activities of longer and of shorter span; "naïvely, we believe, and humanly and dramatically we like to believe,” that the two are at work in life together.
If we assemble these various aspects of mind, we can picture it in its concrete wholeness. The organism operates interestedly and selectively within its natural environment; and the manifold of elements thus selected compose the mind's content. But this content, when viewed by itself, exhibits certain characteristic groupings, patterns, and conjunctions. Of these the knowledge process is the most striking But as the body is the original instrument of selection and the source of individual bias, so bodily states and bodily orientation will be the nucleus of each individual field of content.
1 "The Place of Affectional Facts in a World of Pure Experience," Essays on Radical Empiricism, pp. 150–151, and passim.
• Pluralistic Universe, p. 380, note.
• Ibid., pp. 390, 392. For the be of this on the tion of freedom, see below, p. 373.
• Ibid., p. 387.
II. THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE $5. To understand the originality and value of James's contributions to this subject, it is indispensable that one should
see his problem. One must respect the difficulty The Function
before one can appreciate his solution of it. James's of Cognition
problem can perhaps be formulated as follows: How can idea and object be two, and yet one be knowledge of the other, and both fall within the same individual conscious field? And this problem James proposes to solve empirically, that is, by an examination of cognition in the concrete. Just what is it that takes place, just what is found, when I have an idea of an object?
Although James's discussions of knowledge relate mainly to this dual or mediated type, to knowledge about the thing b, which I have by virtue of the idea a, he does not regard this as the only type or as the standard type. “Knowledge about” is a derivative of "direct" knowledge, or "knowledge of acquaintance,” and is never more than a provisional substitute for it. Representation is cognitive only in so far as it is a virtual presentation. In direct knowledge, or knowledge of acquaintance, “any one and the same that in experience must figure alternately as a thing known and as a knowledge of the thing, by reason of two divergent kinds of context into which, in the general course of experience, it gets woven.”ı In knowledge of this type, in other words, the thing itself is acted on and felt about in the manner characteristic of an individual conscious field. The most notable case of this is sense-perception. In so far as there is here any difference between the knowing and
1 “Essence of Humanism,” in The Meaning of Truth, p. 127. Cf. passim, and “Function of Cognition," ibid., pp. 1-42.