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CHAPTER XII: The Psychological Theory of the Belief in Matter, How Far Applicable to Mind - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IX - An Examination of William Hamilton’s Philosophy 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IX - An Examination of William Hamilton’s Philosophy and of The Principal Philosophical Questions Discussed in his Writings, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alan Ryan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979).
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The Psychological Theory of the Belief in Matter, How Far Applicable to Mind
if the deductions in the preceding chapter are correctly drawn from known and admitted laws of the human mind, the doctrine which forms the basis of Sir W. Hamilton’s system of psychology, that Mind and Matter, an ego and a non-ego, are original data of consciousness, is deprived of its foundation. Although these two elements, an Ego and a Non-ego, are in a(what we call)a our consciousness now, and are, or seem to be, inseparable from it, there is no reason for believing that the latter of them, the non-ego, was in consciousness from the beginning; since, even if it was not, we can perceive a way in which it not only might, but must have grown up. We can see that, supposing it absent in the first instance, it would inevitably be present now, not as a deliverance of consciousness in Sir W. Hamilton’s sense, for to call it so is to beg the question; but as an instantaneous and irresistible suggestion and inference, which has become by long repetition undistinguishable from a direct intuition. I now propose to carry the inquiry a step farther, and to examine whether the Ego, as a deliverance of consciousness, stands onb firmer ground than the Non-ego; whether, at the first moment of our experience, we already have in our consciousness the conception of Self as a permanent existence; or whether it is formed subsequently, and admits of a similar analysis to that which we have found that the notion of Not-self is susceptible of.
It is evident, in the first place, that our knowledge of mind, like that of matter, is entirely relative; Sir W. Hamilton indeed affirms this of mind, in can evenc more unqualified manner than he believes it of matter, making no ddistinction between Primary and Secondaryd Qualities.
In so far as mind is the common name for the states of knowing, willing, feeling, desiring, &c., of which I am conscious, it is only the name for a certain series of connected phænomena or qualities, and consequently expresses only what is known. But in so far as it denotes that subject or substance in which the phænomena of knowing, willing, &c., inhere—something behind or under these phænomena—it expresses what, in itself, or in its absolute existence, is unknown.*
We have no conception of Mind itself, as distinguished from its conscious manifestations. We neither know nor can imagine it, except as represented by the succession of manifold feelings which metaphysicians call by the name of States or Modifications of Mind. It is nevertheless true that our notion of Mind, as well as of Matter, is the notion of a permanent something, contrasted with the perpetual flux of the sensations and other feelings or mental states which we refer to it; a something which we figure as remaining the same, while the particular feelings through which it reveals its existence, change. This attribute of Permanence, supposing that there were nothing else to be considered, would admit of the same explanation when predicated of Mind, as of Matter. The belief I entertain that my mind exists when it is not feeling, nor thinking, nor conscious of its own existence, resolves itself into the belief of a Permanent Possibility of these states. If I think of myself as in dreamless sleep, or in the sleep of death, and believe that I, or in other words my mind, is or will be existing through these states, though not in conscious feeling, the most scrupulous examination of my belief will not detect in it any fact actually believed, except that my capability of feeling is not, in that interval, permanently destroyed, and is suspended only because it does not meet with the combination of econditionse which would call it into action: the moment it did meet with that combination it would revive, and remains, therefore, a Permanent Possibility. Thus far, there seems no hindrance to our regarding Mind as nothing but the series of our sensations (to which must now be added our internal feelings), as they actually occur, with the addition of infinite possibilities of feeling requiring for their actual realization conditions which may or may not take place, but which as possibilities are always in existence, and many of them present.f
In order to the further understanding of the bearings of this theory of the Ego, it is advisable to consider it in its relation to three questions, which may very naturally be asked with reference to it, and which often have been asked, and sometimes answered very erroneously. If the theory is correct, and my Mind is but a series of feelings, or, as it has been called, a thread of consciousness, however supplemented by believed Possibilities of consciousness which are not, though they might be, realized; if this is all that Mind, or Myself, amounts to, what evidence have I (it is asked) of the existence of my fellow-creatures? What evidence of a hyperphysical world, or, in one word, of God? and, lastly, what evidence of immortality?
Dr. Reid unhesitatingly answers, None.[*] If the doctrine is true, I am alone in the universe.
I hold this to be one of Reid’s most palpable mistakes. Whatever evidence to each of the three points there is on the ordinary theory, exactly that same evidence is there on this.
In the first place, as to my fellow-creatures. Reid seems to have imagined that if I myself am only a series of feelings, the proposition that I have any fellow-creatures, or that there are any Selves except mine, is but words without a meaning. But this is a misapprehension. All that I am compelled to admit if I receive this theory, is that other people’s Selves also are but series of feelings, like my own. Though my Mind, as I am capable of conceiving it, be nothing but the succession of my feelings, and though Mind itself may be merely a possibility of feelings, there is nothing in that doctrine to prevent my conceiving, and believing, that there are other successions of feelings besides those of which I am conscious, and that these are as real as my own. The belief is completely consistent with the metaphysical theory. Let us now see whether the theory takes away the grounds of it.
What are those grounds? By what evidence do I know, or by what considerations am I led to believe, that there exist other sentient creatures; that the walking and speaking figures which I see and hear, have sensations and thoughts, or in other words, possess Minds? The most strenuous Intuitionist does not include this among the things that I know by direct intuition. I conclude it from certain things, which my experience of my own states of feeling proves to me to be marks of it. These marks are of two kinds, antecedent and subsequent; the previous conditions requisite for feeling, and the effects or consequences of it. I conclude that other human beings have feelings like me, because, first, they have bodies like me, which I know, in my own case, to be the antecedent condition of feelings; and because, secondly, they exhibit the acts, and other outward signs, which in my own case I know by experience to be caused by feelings. I am conscious in myself of a series of facts connected by an uniform sequence, of which the beginning is modifications of my body, the middle is feelings, the end is outward demeanour. In the case of other human beings I have the evidence of my senses for the first and last links of the series, but not for the intermediate link. I find, however, that the sequence between the first and last is as regular and constant in those other cases as it is in mine. In my own case I know that the first link produces the last through the intermediate link, and could not produce it without. Experience, therefore, obliges me to conclude that there must be an intermediate link; which must either be the same in others as in myself, or a different one: I must either believe them to be alive, or to be automatons: and by believing them to be alive, that is, by supposing the link to be of the same nature as in the case of which I have experience, and which is in all other respects similar, I bring other human beings, as phænomena, under the same generalizations which I know by experience to be the true theory of my own existence. And in doing so I conform to the legitimate rules of experimental enquiry. The process is exactly parallel to that by which Newton proved that the force which keeps the planets in their orbits is identical with that by which an apple falls to the ground. It was not incumbent on Newton to prove the impossibility of its being any other force; he was thought to have made out his point when he had simply shown, that no other force need be supposed. We know the existence of other beings by generalization from the knowledge of our own: the generalization merely postulates that what experience shows to be a mark of the existence of something within the sphere of our consciousness, may be concluded to be a mark of the same thing beyond that sphere.
This logical process loses none of its legitimacy on the supposition that neither Mind nor Matter is anything but a permanent possibility of feeling. Whatever sensation I have, I at once refer it to one of the permanent groups of possibilities of sensation which I call material objects. But among these groups I find there is one (my own body) which is not only composed, like the rest, of a mixed multitude of sensations and possibilities of sensation, but is also connected, in a peculiar manner, with all my sensations. Not only is this special group always present as an antecedent condition of every sensation I have, but the other groups are only enabled to convert their respective possibilities of sensation into actual sensations, by means of some previous change in that particular one. I look about me, and though there is only one group (or body) which is connected with all my sensations in this peculiar manner, I observe that there is a great multitude of other bodies, closely resembling in their sensible properties (in the sensations composing them as groups) this particular one, but whose modifications do not call up, as those of my own body do, a world of sensations in my consciousness. Since they do not do so in my consciousness, I infer that they do it out of my consciousness, and that to each of them belongs a world of consciousness of its own, to which it stands in the same relation in which what I call my own body stands to mine. And having made this generalization, I find that all other facts within my reach gaccordg with it. Each of these bodies exhibits to my senses a set of phænomena (composed of acts and other manifestations) such as I know, in my own case, to be effects of consciousness, and such as might be looked for if each of the bodies has really in connexion with it a world of consciousness. All this is as good and genuine an inductive process on the theory we are discussing, as it is on the common theory. Any objection to it in the one case would be an equal objection in the other. I have stated the postulate required by the one theory: the common theory is in need of the same. If I could not, from my personal knowledge of one succession of feelings, infer the existence of other successions of feelings, when manifested by the same outward signs, I could just as little, from my personal knowledge of a single spiritual substance, infer by generalization, when I find the same outward indications, the existence of other spiritual substances.
As the theory leaves the evidence of the existence of my fellow-creatures exactly as it was before, so does it also with that of the existence of God. Supposing me to believe that the Divine Mind is simply the series of the Divine thoughts and feelings prolonged through eternity, that would be, at any rate, believing God’s existence to be as real as my own. And as for evidence, the argument of Paley’s Natural Theology, or, for that matter, of his Evidences of Christianity, would stand exactly where it does.[*] The Design argument is drawn from the analogy of human experience. From the relation which human works bear to human thoughts and feelings, it infers a corresponding relation between works, more or less similar but superhuman, and superhuman thoughts and feelings. If it proves these, nobody but a metaphysician needs care whether or not it proves a mysterious substratum for them. Again, the arguments for Revelation undertake to prove by testimony, that within the sphere of human experience works were done requiring a greater than human power, and words said requiring a greater than human wisdom. These positions, and the evidences of them, neither lose nor gain anything by our supposing that the wisdom only means wise thoughts and volitions, and that the power means thoughts and volitions followed by imposing phænomena.
As to immortality, it is precisely as easy to conceive that a succession of feelings, a thread of consciousness, may be prolonged to eternity, as that a spiritual substance for ever continues to exist: and any evidence which would prove the one, will prove the other. Metaphysical theologians may lose the à priori argument by which they have sometimes flattered themselves with having proved that a spiritual substance, by the essential constitution of its nature, cannot perish. But they had better drop this argument in any case. To do them justice, they seldom insist on it now.
The notion that metaphysical Scepticism, even at the utmost length to which it ever has been, or is capable of being, carried, has for its logical consequence atheism, is grounded on an entire misapprehension of the Sceptical argument, and has no locus standi except for persons who think that whatever accustoms people to a rigid scrutiny of evidence is unfavourable to religious belief. This is the opinion, doubtless, of those who do not believe in any religion, and seemingly of a great number who do: but it is not the opinion of Sir W. Hamilton, who says that “religious disbelief and philosophical scepticism are not merely not the same, but have no natural connexion;”* and who, as we have seen, makes use of the veracity of the Deity as his principal argument for trusting the testimony of consciousness to the substantiality of Matter and of Mind, which would have been a gross petitio principii if he had thought that our assurance of the divine attributes required that the objective existence of Matter and Mind should be first recognised.
The theory, therefore, which resolves Mind into a series of feelings, with a background of possibilities of feeling, can effectually withstand the most invidious of the arguments directed against it. But, groundless as are the extrinsic objections, the theory has intrinsic difficulties which we have not yet set forth, and which it seems to me beyond the power of metaphysical analysis to remove. Besides present feelings, and possibilities of present feeling, there is another class of phænomena to be included in an enumeration of the elements making up our conception of Mind. The thread of consciousness which composes the mind’s phænomenal life, consists not only of present sensations, but likewise, in part, of memories and expectations. Now what are these? In themselves, they are present feelings, states of present consciousness, and in that respect not distinguished from sensations. They all, moreover, resemble some given sensations or feelings, of which we have previously had experience. But they are attended with the peculiarity, that each of them involves a belief in more than its own present existence. A sensation involves only this: but a remembrance of sensation, even if not referred to any particular date, involves the suggestion and belief that a sensation, of which it is a copy or representation, actually existed in the past: and an expectation involves the belief, more or less positive, that a sensation or other feeling to which it directly refers, will exist in the future. Nor can the phænomena involved in these two states of consciousness be adequately expressed, without saying that the belief they include is, that I myself formerly had, or that I myself, and no other, shall hereafter have, the sensations remembered or expected. The fact believed is, that the sensations did actually form, or will hereafter form, part of the self-same series of states, or thread of consciousness, of which the remembrance or expectation of those sensations is the part now present. If, therefore, we speak of the Mind as a series of feelings, we are obliged to complete the statement by calling it a series of feelings which is aware of itself as past and future; and we are reduced to the alternative of believing that the Mind, or Ego, is something different from any series of feelings, or possibilities of them, or of accepting the paradox, that something which ex hypothesi is but a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series.
The truth is, that we are here face to face with that final inexplicability, at which, as Sir W. Hamilton observes, we inevitably arrive when we reach ultimate facts; and in general, one mode of stating it only appears more incomprehensible than another, because the whole of human language is accommodated to the one, and is so incongruous with the other, that it cannot be expressed in any terms which do not deny its truth. The real stumbling block is perhaps not in any theory of the fact, but in the fact itself. The true incomprehensibility perhaps is, that something which has ceased, or is not yet in existence, can still be, in a manner, present: that a series of feelings, the infinitely greater part of which is past or future, can be gathered up, as it were, into a single present conception, accompanied by a belief of reality. I think, by far the wisest thing we can do, is to accept the inexplicable fact, without any theory of how it takes place; and when we are obliged to speak of it in terms which assume a theory, to use them with a reservation as to their meaning.
I have stated the difficulties attending the attempt to frame a theory of Mind, or the Ego, similar to what I have called the Psychological Theory of Matter, or the Non-ego. No such difficulties attend the theory in its application to Matter; and I leave it, as set forth, to pass for whatever it is worth as an antagonist doctrine to that of Sir W. Hamilton and the Scottish School, respecting the non-ego as a deliverance of consciousness.*
h APPENDIX TO THE TWO PRECEDING CHAPTERS
This attempt to bring out into distinctness the mode in which the notions of Matter and Mind, considered as Substances, may have been generated in us by the mere order of our sensations, has naturally received from those whose metaphysical opinions were already made up, a much greater amount of opposition than of assent. I think I have observed, however, that the repugnance shown to it by writers has been in tolerably correct proportion to the evidence they give of deficiency in that indispensable aptitude of a metaphysician, facility in placing himself at the point of view of a theory different from his own: and that those who have ever (if the expression may be pardoned) thought themselves into the Berkeleian or any other Idealistic scheme of philosophy, however little favourable towards other parts of the present volume, have either let this part of it alone, or expressed more or less approbation of it. Those who are completely satisfied with the popular every-day notion of Matter, or whose metaphysics have been adopted from any of the Realistic thinkers who undertake to legitimate that common notion, are usually content with going round the counter-theory on the outside, and seldom place themselves sufficiently at the centre of it to perceive what a person ought to think or do, who occupies that position. They no longer, indeed, commit so gross a blunder as that which, not very long ago, even Reid, Stewart, and Brown rushed blindly into—that of charging a Berkeleian with inconsistency if he did not walk into the water or into the fire. Acquaintance with the German metaphysicians, and (it is but just to add) the teachings of Sir W. Hamilton, have had that much of beneficial result. But if such thinkers as these three could pass judgment on Berkeley’s doctrine while showing by such conclusive proof that they had never understood its very alphabet—that, however much consideration they may have given to the mere arguments of Berkeley, they had not begun to realize his doctrine in their own minds—to look at the sensible universe as he saw it, and see what consequences would follow; it is not wonderful that those who have got on a few steps further than this, have still much to do, before they are able to accommodate their conceptive faculties to the conditions of what I have called the Psychological Theory, and follow that theory correctly into the ramification of its applications.
In principle, I must admit that my opponents, as a body, have referred the Psychological Theory to the right test. They have aimed at showing that its attempt to account for the belief in Matter (I say Matter only, because I do not profess to have adequately accounted for the belief in Mind) implies or requires that the belief should already exist, as a condition of its own production. The objection, if true, is conclusive; but they are not very particular about the proof of its truth. They, one and all, think their case made out, if I employ, in any part of the exposition, the language of common life—a language constructed on the basis of the notions into the origin of which I am inquiring. If I say, that after we have seen a piece of paper on a table, our belief that it is still there during our absence means a belief that if we went again into the room we should see it, they cry out, Here is belief in Matter already assumed; the idea of going into a room implies belief in matter. If, as a proof that modifications may take place in our possibilities of sensation while the sensations are not in actual consciousness, I say that whether we are asleep or awake the fire goes out, I am told that I am assuming a knowledge of ourselves as a substance, and of the difference between being asleep and awake. They forget that to go into a room, to be asleep or awake, are expressions which have a meaning in the Psychological Theory as well as in theirs; that every assertion that can be made about the external world, which means anything on the Realistic theory, has a parallel meaning on the Psychological. Going into a room, on the Psychological theory, is a mere series of sensations felt, and possibilities of sensation inferred,* but distinguishable from every other combination of sensations and possibilities, and which, with others like to itself, forms as vast and variegated a picture of the universe as can be had on the other theory; indeed, as I maintain, the very same picture. The Psychological theory requires that we should have a conception of this series of actual and contingent sensations, as distinct from any other; but it does not require that we should have referred these sensations to a substance ulterior to all sensation or possibility of sensation. To suppose so, is to commit the same kind of misapprehension, though in a less extreme degree, which Reid, Stewart, and Brown committed.
When, in attempting an intelligible discussion of an abstruse metaphysical question, I have occasion to speak of any combination of physical facts, I must speak of it by the only names there are for it. I must employ language, every word of which expresses, not things as we perceive them, or as we may have conceived them originally, but things as we conceive them now. I was addressing readers, all of whom had the acquired notion of Matter, and nearly all of them the belief in it: and it was my business to show, to these believers in Matter, a possible mode in which the notion and belief of it might have been acquired, even if Matter, in the metaphysical meaning of the term, did not exist. In endeavouring to point out to them, by what facts the notion might have been generated, it was competent to me to state those facts in the language which was not only the most intelligible, but, to the minds I was addressing, the truest. The real paralogism would have been, if I had said anything implying, not the existence of Matter, but that the belief in it or the notion of it was part of the facts by which I was maintaining that this belief and notion may have been generated. But in no single instance have any adversaries whom I am aware of, been able to show this: and if they fairly placed themselves at the point of view of the Psychological explanation, they would see that I could not, in any circumstances whatever, have been reduced to this necessity: because there is, as I have said, for every statement which can be made concerning material phænomena in terms of the Realistic theory, an equivalent meaning in terms of Sensation and Possibilities of Sensation alone, and a meaning which would justify all the same processes of thought.[*] In fact, almost all philosophers who have narrowly examined the subject, have decided that Substance need only be postulated as a support for phænomena, or as a bond of connexion to hold a group or series of otherwise unconnected phænomena together: let us only, then, think away the support, and suppose the phænomena to remain, and to be held together in the same groups and series by some other agency, or without any agency but an internal law, and every consequence follows without Substance, for the sake of which Substance was assumed. The Hindoos thought that the earth required to be supported by an elephant; but the earth turned out quite capable of supporting itself, and “hanging self-balanced” on its own “centre.”[†] Descartes thought that a material medium filling the whole space between the earth and the sun, was required to enable them to act on one another;[‡] but it has been found sufficient to suppose an immaterial law of attraction, and the medium and its vortices dropped off as superfluities.
To dispel some of the haze which seems still to hang about the data assumed by the Psychological theory of the belief in Matter, it will be well that, as I have stated what laws and capacities, in one word what conditions, that theory postulates in the mind itself, I should also state what conditions it postulates in Nature; in that which, to use the Kantian phraseology, is given to the mind, as distinguished from the mind’s own constitution.
First, then, it postulates Sensations; and a certain Order among sensations. And the Order postulated, is of more kinds than one.
In the first place, there is the mere fact of succession. Sensations exist before and after one another. This is as much a primordial fact as sensation itself; it is a feature always present in sensation, and we have the strongest ground that can ever be had for regarding it as ultimate, because every genesis we assign to any other fact of perception or thought, includes it as a condition. I shall be told, that this is postulating the reality of Time: and it is so, if by Time be understood an indefinite succession of successions, unequal in rapidity. But an entity called Time, and regarded as not a succession of successions, but as something in which the successions take place, I do not and need not postulate.* Neither do I decide whether this inseparable attribute of our sensations is annexed to them by the laws of mind, or given in the sensations themselves; nor whether, at this great height of abstraction, the distinction does not disappear. Let me say also, that I have never pretended to account by association for the idea of Time. It is the seeming infinity of Time, as of Space, which, after Mr. James Mill,[*] I have tendered that explanation of: and that of this it is the true and sufficient one, is to me obvious.
Sensations are not only successive, they are also simultaneous: it often happens that several of them are felt, apparently at the same instant. This attribute of sensations is not so evidently primordial as their succession. There are philosophers who think that the sensations deemed simultaneous are very rapidly successive, their distinction from other cases of succession being that they may succeed one another in any order. I do not agree in this opinion; but, even supposing it correct, we should equally have to postulate the distinction. We should have to assume that plurality of sensations exists in two modes, one consciously successive, the other felt as simultaneous, and that the mind is able to distinguish between the one sort and the other.
Besides this twofold order inherent in sensations, of being either successive or simultaneous, there is an order within that order: they are successive or simultaneous in constant combinations. The same antecedent sensation is followed by the same consequent sensation; the same sensation is accompanied by the same set of simultaneous sensations. I use these expressions for shortness, for the uniformity of order is not quite so simple as this. The consequent sensation is not always actually felt after the antecedent, nor are all the synchronous sensations actually felt whenever one of them is felt. But the one which is felt gives us assurance, grounded on experience, that each of the others, if not felt, is feelable, i.e., will be felt if the other facts be present which are the known antecedent conditions of such a sensation as it is. For example, I have the sensations of colour and of a visible disk, which are parts of our present conception of a cast-iron ball. I infer that there are, now or presently to be had by me, simultaneously with those visual sensations, another feeling, called the sensation of hardness. But I do not have this last sensation inevitably and at once. Why? Because (as I also know by experience) no sensation of hardness is ever felt unless preceded by a condition, the same in all cases, but itself sensational, the sensations of muscular exertion and pressure. The visual sensation is synchronous, not necessarily with the actual sensation of hardness, but with a present possibility of that sensation. When we feel the one, we are not always feeling the other, but we know that it is to be felt on the ordinary terms: we know that so soon as the muscular sensations take place which are the observed preliminary to every sensation of hardness, that particular sensation of hardness will certainly be had, simultaneously with the visual sensation. This is what is meant by saying that a Body is a group of simultaneous possibilities of sensation, not of simultaneous sensations. It rarely happens that the sensations which enter into the group can all be experienced at once; because many of them are never had without a long series of antecedent sensations, including volitions, which may be incompatible with the sensations and volitions necessary for having others. The sensations which we receive when we study the internal structure of a closed body, are not to be obtained without having previously the complex series of sensations and volitions concerned in the operation of opening it. The sensations we receive from the complicated process by which food nourishes us, must be long waited for after our first sight of the food, and many of them are not even then to be had without our being led up to them through a long series of muscular and other sensations. But the very first sensations we have, that are sufficient to identify the group, guarantee to us the possibility or potentiality of all the others. The potentiality becomes actuality on the occurrence of certain known conditions sine quâ non of each, which are conditions not of having that particular sensation at a given moment, but of having any sensation of that kind; conditions which, when analysed, are themselves also merely sensational. Any one who had thrown his mind, by an act of imagination, into the Psychological theory, would see at a glance all these applications and developments of it, even if he did not follow them out into detail. But men will not, and mostly cannot, throw their minds into any theory with which they are not familiar; and the bearings and consequences of the Psychological theory will have to be developed and minutely expounded innumerable times, before it will be seen as it is, and have whatever chance it deserves of being accepted as true.
I have postulated, first, Sensations; secondly, succession and simultaneousness of sensations; thirdly, an uniform order in their succession and simultaneousness, such that they are united in groups, the component sensations of which are in such a relation to one another, that when we experience one, we are authorized to expect all the rest, conditionally on certain antecedent sensations called organic, belonging to the kind of each. This is all we need postulate with regard to the groups, considered in themselves, or considered in relation to the perceiving Subject. Let us examine whether it is necessary to postulate anything additional respecting the groups considered in relation to one another.
In Dr. M‘Cosh’s opinion, the Psychological theory overlooks this part of the subject.* In quoting the analysis of our conception of Matter into Resistance, Extension, and Figure, together with miscellaneous powers of exciting other sensations, he observes, “There is a palpable omission here, for it omits those powers by which one body operates upon another; thus the sun has a power to make wax white, and fire to make lead fluid.”[*] If Dr. M‘Cosh had entered even a very little way into the mode of thought which he is combating, he must have seen that after mentioning the attribute of exciting sensations, it could not be necessary to add that of making something else excite sensations. If Body altogether is only conceived as a power of exciting sensations, the action of one body upon another is simply the modification by one such power, of the sensations excited by another; or, to use a different expression, the joint action of two powers of exciting sensations. It is easy for any one competent to such enquiries who will make the attempt, to understand how one group of Possibilities of Sensation can be conceived as destroying or modifying another such group.
Let there be granted a synchronous group, connected by the contingent simultaneousness already described, which renders each of the component sensations a mark of the possibility of having all the others; while each, independently of the others, has conditions sine quâ non of its own, also sensational, but of the kind which, in common language, we call organic, and refer to an internal sense. Let us suppose that these organic conditions, instead of existing for one or more sensations of the group and not for the rest, do not at present exist for any of them. The whole of the possibilities of sensation which form the group, and which mutually testify to each other’s presence, are now dormant: but they are ready to start into actuality at any moment, when the conditions sine quâ non which belong to them separately are realized: and whenever any of them thus starts up, it informs us (so far as our experience happens to have reached) what others are ready to do so in the same manner. This dormancy of all the possibilities, while, as real possibilities guaranteeing one another, they continue to exist, constitutes, on the Psychological theory, the fact which is at the bottom of the assertion that the body is in existence when we are not perceiving it. This fact is all that we need postulate to account for our conceiving the groups of Possibilities of Sensation as permanent and independent of us; for our projecting them into objectivity; and for our conceiving them as perhaps capable of being Possibilities of Sensation to other beings in like manner as to ourselves, as soon as we have conceived the idea of other sentient beings than ourselves. And since we do actually recognise other sentient beings as existing, and receive impressions from them which entirely accord with this hypothesis, we accept the hypothesis as a truth, and believe that the Permanent Possibilities of Sensation really are common to ourselves and other beings.
Having thus arrived at the conception of an absent group of Possibilities, there is surely no more difficulty in conceiving the annihilation or alteration of the Possibilities while absent, than of the sensations themselves when present. The log which I saw on the fire an hour ago, has been consumed and has disappeared when I look again; the Possibilities of Sensation which I called by that name, are possibilities no longer. The ice which I placed in front of the fire at the same time, is now water; such Possibilities of Sensation as form part of the groups called ice and not of the groups called water, have ceased and given place to others. All this is intelligible without supposing the wood, the ice, or the water, to be anything underneath or beyond Permanent Possibilities of Sensation. Why, then, when I ascribe the disappearance of the wood, and the conversion of the ice into water, to the presence of the fire, must I suppose the fire to be something underneath a Possibility of Sensation? My experience informs me that those other Possibilities of Sensation do not vanish or change in the manner mentioned, unless another Possibility of Sensation known by the name of fire, has existed immediately before, and continued to exist simultaneously with the change. Changes in the Permanent Possibilities I find to have always for their antecedent conditions, other Permanent Possibilities, and to be connected with them by an order or law, as uniform as that which connects the elements of each group with one another; indeed by a still stricter order, for the laws of succession, those of Cause and Effect, are laws of more rigid precision than those of simultaneousness. But the facts, between which the observed uniformities of succession exist, are facts of sense; that is, either actual sensations, or possibilities of sensation inferred from the actual. Thus the whole variety of the facts of nature as we know it, is given in the mere existence of our sensations, and in the laws or order of their occurrence.*
I have now given an exposition of the Psychological Theory, and of the mode in which it accounts for what is supposed to be our natural conviction of the existence of Matter, from the objective point of view, as I had previously done from the subjective; and I think it will be found that the exposition does not presuppose anything which I have not expressly postulated, and that I have not postulated any of the facts or notions which I undertake to explain. It may be said that I postulate an Ego—the sentient Subject of the sensations. I have stated what subjective, as well as what objective data I postulate. Expectation being one of these, in so far as reference to an Ego is implied in Expectation I do postulate an Ego. But I am entitled to do so, for up to this stage it is not Self, but Body, that I have been endeavouring to trace to its origin as an acquired notion.†
I now pass to this very subject, the Ego, and to the objections which have been made against the manner in which it is treated in the preceding chapter.
Having shown that in order to account for the belief in Matter, or, in other words, in a non-ego supposed to be presented in or along with sensation, it is not necessary to suppose anything but sensations and possibilities of sensation connected in groups; it was natural and necessary to enquire whether the Ego, supposed to be presented in or along with all consciousness whatever, is also an acquired notion, explicable in the same manner. I therefore stated this phænomenal theory of the Ego; freed it from the prejudice which attaches to it on the score of consequences to which it does not lead, the non-existence, first, of our fellow-creatures, and secondly, of God;* but showed that it has intrinsic difficulties, which no one has been able to remove; since certain of the attributes comprised in our notion of the Ego, and which are at the very foundation of it, namely Memory and Expectation, have no equivalent in Matter, and cannot be reduced to any elements similar to those into which Matter is resolved by the Psychological theory. Having stated these facts, as inexplicable by the Psychological theory, I left them to stand as facts, without any theory whatever: not adopting the Permanent Possibility hypothesis as a sufficient theory of Self in spite of the objections to it, as some of my critics have imagined, and have wasted no small amount of argument and sarcasm in exposing the untenability of such a position: neither, on the other hand, did I, as others have supposed, accept the common theory of Mind, as a so-called Substance. Since the state in which I profess to leave the question has been so ill understood, it is incumbent on me to explain myself more fully.
Since the fact which alone necessitates the belief in an Ego, the one fact which the Psychological theory cannot explain, is the fact of Memory (for Expectation I hold to be, both psychologically and logically, a consequence of Memory), I see no reason to think that there is any cognizance of an Ego until Memory commences. There seems no ground for believing, with Sir W. Hamilton and Mr. Mansel, that the Ego is an original presentation of consciousness; that the mere impression on our senses involves, or carries with it, any consciousness of a Self, any more than I believe it to do of a Not-self. Our very notion of a Self takes its commencement i(there is every reason to suppose)i from the representation of a sensation in memory, when awakened by the only thing there is to awaken it before any associations have been formed, namely, the occurrence of a subsequent sensation similar to the former one. The fact of recognising a sensation, of being reminded of it, and, as we say, remembering that it has been felt before, is the simplest and most elementary fact of memory: and the inexplicable tie, or law, the organic union (as Professor Masson calls it)[*] which connects the present consciousness with the past one, of which it reminds me, is as near as I think we can get to a positive conception of Self. That there is something real in this tie, real as the sensations themselves, and not a mere product of the laws of thought without any fact corresponding to it, I hold to be indubitable. The precise nature of the process by which we cognise it, is open to much dispute. Whether we are directly conscious of it in the act of remembrance, as we are of succession in the fact of having successive sensations, or whether, according to the opinion of Kant, we are not conscious of a Self at all, but are compelled to assume it as a necessary condition of Memory,* I do not undertake to decide. But this original element, which has no community of nature with any of the things answering to our names, and to which we cannot give any name but its own peculiar one without implying some false or ungrounded theory, is the Ego, or Self. As such, I ascribe a reality to the Ego—to my own Mind—different from that real existence as a Permanent Possibility, which is the only reality I acknowledge in Matter: and by fair experiential inference from that one Ego, I ascribe the same reality to other Egoes, or Minds.
Having thus, as I hope, more clearly defined my position in regard to the reality of the Ego, considered as a question of Ontology, I return to my first starting point, the Relativity of human knowledge, and affirm (being here in entire accordance with Sir W. Hamilton) that whatever be the nature of the real existence we are compelled to acknowledge in Mind, the Mind is only known to itself phænomenally, as the series of its feelings of consciousnesses. We are forced to apprehend every part of the series as linked with the other parts by something in common, which is not the feelings themselves, any more than the succession of the feelings is the feelings themselves: and as that which is the same in the first as in the second, in the second as in the third, in the third as in the fourth, and so on, must be the same in the first and in the fiftieth, this common element is a permanent element. But beyond this, we can affirm nothing of it except the states of consciousness themselves. The feelings or consciousnesses which belong or have belonged to it, and its possibilities of having more, are the only facts there are to be asserted of Self—the only positive attributes, except permanence, which we can ascribe to it. In consequence of this, I occasionally use the words “mind” and “thread of consciousness” interchangeably, and treat Mind as existing, and Mind as known to itself, as convertible: but this is only for brevity, and the explanations which I have now given must always be taken as implied.h*
[b]651, 652 any
[c-c]651, 652, 67 a much
[d-d]651, 652, 67 reservation of any Primary
[* ]Lectures, Vol. I, p. 138.
[e-e]651, 652 outward circumstances
[f]651, 652 [paragraph] The Permanent Possibility of feeling, which forms my notion of Myself, is distinguished, by important differences, from the Permanent Possibilities of sensation which form my notion of what I call external objects. In the first place, each of these last represents a small and perfectly definite part of the series which, in its entireness, forms my conscious existence—a single group of possible sensations, which experience tells me I might expect to have under certain conditions; as distinguished from mere vague and indefinite possibilities, which are considered such only because they are not known to be impossibilities. My notion of Myself, on the contrary, includes all possibilities of sensation, definite or indefinite, certified by experience or not, which I may imagine inserted in the series of my actual and conscious states. In the second place, the Permanent Possibilities which I call outward objects, are possibilities of sensation only, while the series which I call Myself includes, along with and as called up by these, thoughts, emotions, and volitions, and Permanent Possibilities of such. Besides that these states of mind are, to our consciousness, generically distinct from the sensations of our outward senses, they are further distinguished from them by not occurring in groups, consisting of separate elements which coexist, or may be made to coexist, with one another. Lastly (and this difference is the most important of all) the Possibilities of Sensation which are called outward objects, are possibilities of it to other beings as well as to me: but the particular series of feelings which constitutes my own life, is confined to myself: no other sentient being shares it with me.
[[*] ]See, e.g., On the Intellectual Powers, pp. 426-34.
[[*] ]William Paley, Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the existence and attributes of the Deity (London: Faulder, 1802); A View of the Evidences of Christianity, 3 vols. (London: Faulder, 1794).
[* ]Lectures, Vol. I, p. 394.
[* ]Mr. Mansel, in his Prolegomena Logica, shows a perception of the difference here pointed out between the character of the Psychological explanation of the belief in Matter, and that of the belief in Mind; and he resolves the question by drawing a distinction between the two Noumena, not often drawn by philosophers posterior to Berkeley. He considers the Ego to be a direct presentation of consciousness, while with regard to the Non-ego he is not far from adopting the Berkeleian theory. The whole of his remarks on the subject are well worth reading. See Prolegomena Logica [: An inquiry into the psychological character of logical processes (Oxford: Graham, 1851)], pp. 123-35.
[* ] This particular series includes volitions in addition to sensations; but the difference is of no consequence; and the theory would stand if we suppose ourselves carried into the room instead of walking into it.
[[*] ]See, e.g., pp. 182-3 and 192 above.
[[†] ]Milton, Paradise Lost, in Works, p. 186 (VII, 242).
[[‡] ]See Descartes, Principia Philosophiæ, pp. 48ff. (III, xxvff.)
[* ] This objective conception of Time, as holding the successions instead of being them, is probably suggested by our being able to measure time, and number its parts. But what we call measuring Time is only comparing successions, and measuring the length or rapidity of one series of successions by that of another. Rapidity of succession, indeed, is a phrase which derives all its meaning from such a comparison. I say that the words of a person to whom I am listening succeed one another more rapidly than the tickings of a clock, because, after I have heard a word and a ticking simultaneously, a second word occurs before a second ticking. The only ultimate facts or primitive elements in Time are Before and After; which (the knowledge of opposites being one) involve the notion of Neither before nor after, i.e. simultaneous.
[[*] ]See Analysis, Vol. II, pp. 100-19 (Chap. xiv, §5).
[* ] M‘Cosh, [Examination,] p. 118. The same observation applies to another of my critics, the writer in Blackwood’s Magazine, who says “The qualities by which they [Things] act upon each other, cannot be resolved into any receptivity or subjectivity of mine.” ([W. H. Smith, “J. S. Mill on Our Belief in the External World,”] p. 28.)
[[*] ]McCosh, ibid.; the concluding clauses derive from Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Works, Vol. I, p. 236 (Bk. II, Chap. xxi, §1).
[* ] Mr. O’Hanlon, in his little pamphlet puts his difficulty on this subject in the following terms: “Your permanent possibilities of sensation are, so long as they are not felt, nothing actual. Yet you speak of change taking place in them, and that independently of our consciousness and of our presence or absence. . . . If the fire, apart from any consciousness, be some positive condition or conditions of warmth and light, if the corn be some positive condition or conditions of food, my thesis is made out, and your Pure Idealism falls to the ground. If, on the other hand, the fire be nothing positive apart from any consciousness, then, since it is nothing at all when so apart, you can have no right to speak of modifications taking place in it whether we are asleep or awake, present or absent.” ([A Criticism of John Stuart Mill’s Pure Idealism,] pp. 12 and 14.)
[† ] Mr. O’Hanlon says: “Conceding the entire truth of the position, that there are associations naturally and even necessarily generated by the order of our sensations, and of our reminiscences of sensation, which, supposing no intuition of an external world to have existed in consciousness, would inevitably generate the belief, and would cause it to be regarded as an intuition;—conceding, I say, for argument’s sake, the entire truth of this position, it may still be true that though we have no intuition of the external world, the inference that such a world exists is a legitimate one.” (P. 14.) Undoubtedly it may. Malebranche, for instance, according to whose system Matter is not perceived, nor in any way cognised, nor capable of being cognised, by our minds, all the things that we see or feel existing only as ideas in the Divine Mind, nevertheless fully believed in the reality of this superfluous wheel in the mechanism of the universe, which merely revolves while the machinery does its work independently of it—because he thought that God himself had asserted its existence in the Scriptures: and whoever agrees with Malebranche in his premises is likely to agree with him in his conclusion. [See Nicolas de Malebranche, Recherche de la vérité, Vol. II of Œuvres, ed. Jules Simon, 2 vols. (Paris: Charpentier, 1842), pp. 253ff. (Bk. III, Pt. 2, Chap. vi).] But with most people, whether philosophers or common men, the evidence on which Matter is believed to exist independently of our minds, is either that we perceive it by our senses, or that the notion and belief of it come to us by an original law of our nature. If it be shown that there is no ground for either of these opinions—that all we are conscious of may be accounted for without supposing that we perceive Matter by our senses, and that the notion and belief in Matter may have come to us by the laws of our constitution without being a revelation of any objective reality, the main evidences of Matter are at an end; and though I am perfectly willing to listen to any other evidence, Malebranche’s argument is, I must confess, quite as conclusive as any that I expect to find.
[* ] Some of my critics have impugned the arguments of the preceding chapter on this particular point. They have said (Mr. O’Hanlon [p. 10] is the one who has said it with the greatest compactness and force) that persons, equally with inanimate things, may be conceived as mere states of my own consciousness; that the same processes of thought which, according to the Psychological theory, can generate the belief in Matter even if it does not exist, must be equally competent to engender the belief of the existence of other Minds: and that the principles of the theory require us, under the law of Parcimony, to conclude that if the belief may have been, it has been, thus generated: consequently the theory takes away all evidence of the existence of other minds, or of other threads of consciousness than our own.
[i-i]67 , there . . . suppose,
[[*] ]Recent British Philosophy, p. 335.
[* ] Mr. Mahaffy thinks that the question may be decided in favour of Kant on the evidence of consciousness itself. “Are you,” he asks, “conscious of being presented with yourself as a substance? or are you only conscious that in every act of thought you must presuppose a permanent self, and always refer it to self, while still that self you cannot grasp, and it remains a hidden basis upon which you erect the structure of your thoughts? Which of these opinions will most men adopt? After all, Kant’s view is the simpler, and the more consistent with the ordinary language.” (P. lvi.)
[* ] Dr. M‘Cosh has renewed his attack upon the doctrine of Permanent Possibilities. [“Mill’s Reply to his Critics,” pp. 340-7; the earlier attack is in McCosh’s Examination, pp. 112-21.] But I cannot find in his later remarks, so far as they are to the purpose, much more than a repetition of his earlier. On some minor points he does present some novelties. He is severe upon me for hesitating to decide whether the attribute of succession as between our sensations is given in the sensations themselves, or annexed to them by a law of the mind. The first supposition he characterizes as a mere verbal generalization like those which I have laid to the charge of Condillac [see Mill’s “Coleridge,” in Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society, Collected Works, Vol. X (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), p. 129]; forgetting the opinion held by some acute metaphysicians, and which is no mere verbal generalization, that to have sensations in succession is only the same thing as having more sensations than one. The other supposition, that the attribute of succession is annexed to our sensations by a law of the mind, he says is giving to the mind the “power of generating in the course of its exercise a totally new idea,” an opinion, he says, utterly inconsistent with my “empirical theory;” he does not say with what theory. [“Mill’s Reply,” p. 343.] In any scheme of human knowledge that I am able to form, the resemblances and the successions and coexistences of our sensations are real facts, and objects of direct apprehension. Whether we are said to apprehend them by our senses or by our minds (which is the real meaning of the alternative I have left open) affects no theory of mine, and is to me a matter of indifference.