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Even Mathematics , Natural Philosophy , and Natural Religion are in some measure dependent on the science of MAN; since they lie under the cognizance of men, and are judged of by their powers and qualities. To me it seems evident that the essence of mind being equally unknown to us with that of external bodies, it must be equally impossible to form any notion of its powers and qualities otherwise than from careful and exact experiments, and the observation of those particular effects which result from its different circumstances and situations.

None of them can go beyond experience, or establish any principles which are not founded on that authority. Moral philosophy has, indeed, this peculiar disadvantage, which is not found in natural, that in collecting its experiments, it cannot make them purposely, with premeditation, and after such a manner as to satisfy itself concerning every particular difficulty which may arise. When I am at a loss to know the effects of one body upon another in any situation, I need only put them in that situation, and observe what results from it.

Where experiments of this kind are judiciously collected and compared, we may hope to establish on them a science which will not be inferior in certainty, and will be much superior in utility, to any other of human comprehension. All science starts with hypotheses — in other words, with assumptions that are unproved, while they may be, and often are, erroneous; but which are better than nothing to the seeker after order in the maze of phenomena.

And the historical progress of every science depends on the criticism of hypotheses — on the gradual stripping off, that is, of their untrue or superfluous parts — until there remains only that exact verbal expression of as much as we know of the fact, and no more, which constitutes a perfect scientific theory. Philosophy has followed the same course as other branches of scientific investigation. The memorable service rendered to the cause of sound thinking by Descartes consisted in this: that he laid the foundation of modern philosophical criticism by his inquiry into the nature of certainty.

It is a clear result of the investigation started by Descartes, that there is one thing of which no doubt can be entertained, for he who should pretend to doubt it would thereby prove its existence; and that is the momentary consciousness we call a present thought or feeling; that is safe, even if all other kinds of certainty are merely more or less probable inferences. Berkeley and Locke, each in his way, applied philosophical criticism in other directions; but they always, at any rate professedly, followed the Cartesian maxim of admitting no propositions to be true but such as are clear, distinct, and evident, even while their arguments stripped off many a layer of hypothetical assumption which their great predecessor had left untouched.

No one has more clearly stated the aims of the critical philosopher than Locke, in a passage of the famous Essay concerning Human Understanding , which, perhaps, I ought to assume to be well known to all English readers, but which so probably is unknown to this full-crammed and much examined generation that I venture to cite it:.

We should not then, perhaps, be so forward, out of an affectation of universal knowledge, to raise questions and perplex ourselves and others with disputes about things to which our understandings are not suited, and of which we cannot frame in our minds any clear and distinct perception, or whereof as it has, perhaps, too often happened we have not any notion at all. Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads and employ their hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own constitution and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with because they are not big enough to grasp everything.

We shall not have much reason to complain of the narrowness of our minds, if we will but employ them about what may be of use to us: for of that they are very capable: and it will be an unpardonable, as well as a childish peevishness, if we under-value the advantages of our knowledge, and neglect to improve it to the ends for which it was given us, because there are some things that are set out of the reach of it.

It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant who would not attend to his business by candlelight, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The candle that is set up in us shines bright enough for all our purposes. Our business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our conduct. Hume develops the same fundamental conception in a somewhat different way, and with a more definite indication of the practical benefits which may be expected from a critical philosophy.

The imagination of man is naturally sublime, delighted with whatever is remote and extraordinary, and running, without control, into the most distant parts of space and time in order to avoid the objects which custom has rendered too familiar to it. A correct judgment observes a contrary method, and, avoiding all distant and high inquiries, confines itself to common life, and to such subjects as fall under daily practice and experience; leaving the more sublime topics to the embellishment of poets and orators, or to the arts of priests and politicians.

Those who have a propensity to philosophy will still continue their researches; because they reflect, that, besides the immediate pleasure attending such an occupation, philosophical decisions are nothing but the reflections of common life, methodised and corrected. But they will never be tempted to go beyond common life, so long as they consider the imperfection of those faculties which they employ, their narrow reach, and their inaccurate operations.

While we cannot give a satisfactory reason why we believe, after a thousand experiments, that a stone will fall or fire burn; can we ever satisfy ourselves concerning any determination which we may form with regard to the origin of worlds and the situation of nature from and to eternity? But further, it is the business of criticism not only to keep watch over the vagaries of philosophy, but to do the duty of police in the whole world of thought. Chased from the open country, these robbers fly into the forest, and lie in wait to break in upon every unguarded avenue of the mind and overwhelm it with religious fears and prejudices.

The stoutest antagonist, if he remits his watch a moment, is oppressed; and many, through cowardice and folly, open the gates to the enemies, and willingly receive them with reverence and submission as their legal sovereigns. Is it not proper to draw an opposite conclusion, and perceive the necessity of carrying the war into the most secret recesses of the enemy?

The only method of freeing learning at once from these abstruse questions, is to inquire seriously into the nature of human understanding, and show, from an exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects.

1.1 Parmenides (540 - 480 BC)

We must submit to this fatigue, in order to live at ease ever after; and must cultivate true metaphysics with some care, in order to destroy the false and adulterated. Like other campaigns, it long languished for want of a good base of operations. Hartenstein, p. Of these functions, some, such as sensation, are supposed to be merely passive — that is, they are called into existence by impressions, made upon the sensitive faculty by a material world of real objects, of which our sensations are supposed to give us pictures; others, such as the memory and the reasoning faculty, are considered to be partly passive and partly active; while volition is held to be potentially, if not always actually, a spontaneous activity.

Very little attention to what passes in the mind is sufficient to show, that these conceptions involve assumptions of an extremely hypothetical character. And the first business of the student of psychology is to get rid of such prepossessions; to form conceptions of mental phenomena as they are given us by observation, without any hypothetical admixture, or with only so much as is definitely recognised and held subject to confirmation or otherwise; to classify these phenomena according to their clearly recognisable characters; and to adopt a nomenclature which suggests nothing beyond the results of observation.

Thus chastened, observation of the mind makes us acquainted with nothing but certain events, facts, or phenomena whichever name be preferred which pass over the inward field of view in rapid and, as it may appear on careless inspection, in disorderly succession, like the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope.

He may be right or wrong; but the most he, or anybody else, can prove in favour of his conclusion is, that we know nothing more of the mind than that it is a series of perceptions. Whether there is something in the mind that lies beyond the reach of observation; or whether perceptions themselves are the products of something which can be observed and which is not mind; are questions which can in nowise be settled by direct observation.

Elsewhere, the objectionable hypothetical element of the definition of mind is less prominent:—. In this respect I cannot compare the soul more properly to anything than a republic or commonwealth, in which the several members are united by the reciprocal ties of government and subordination, and give rise to other persons who propagate the same republic in the incessant changes of its parts.

But, leaving the question of the proper definition of mind open for the present, it is further a matter of direct observation, that, when we take a general survey of all our perceptions or states of consciousness, they naturally fall into sundry groups or classes. Of these classes, two are distinguished by Hume as of primary importance.

Both impressions and ideas may be either simple , when they are incapable of further analysis, or complex , when they may be resolved into simpler constituents. All simple ideas are exact copies of impressions; but, in complex ideas, the arrangement of simple constituents may be different from that of the impressions of which those simple ideas are copies. Thus the colours red and blue and the odour of a rose, are simple impressions; while the ideas of blue, of red, and of rose-odour are simple copies of these impressions.

But a red rose gives us a complex impression, capable of resolution into the simple impressions of red colour, rose-scent, and numerous others; and we may have a complex idea, which is an accurate, though faint, copy of this complex impression. Once in possession of the ideas of a red rose and of the colour blue, we may, in imagination, substitute blue for red; and thus obtain a complex idea of a blue rose, which is not an actual copy of any complex impression, though all its elements are such copies.

Hume has been criticised for making the distinction of impressions and ideas to depend upon their relative strength or vivacity. Yet it would be hard to point out any other character by which the things signified can be distinguished. Even healthy persons are much more liable to both visual and auditory spectra — that is, ideas of vision and sound so vivid that they are taken for new impressions — than is commonly supposed; and, in some diseased states, ideas of sensible objects may assume all the vividness of reality. If ideas are nothing but copies of impressions, arranged, either in the same order as that of the impressions from which they are derived, or in a different order, it follows that the ultimate analysis of the contents of the mind turns upon that of the impressions.

According to Hume, these are of two kinds: either they are impressions of sensation, or they are impressions of reflection. The former are those afforded by the five senses, together with pleasure and pain. The latter are the passions or the emotions which Hume employs as equivalent terms. Thus the elementary states of consciousness, the raw materials of knowledge, so to speak, are either sensations or emotions; and whatever we discover in the mind, beyond these elementary states of consciousness, results from the combinations and the metamorphoses which they undergo.

His baggage train is bigger than his army, and the student who attacks him is too often led to suspect he has won a position when he has only captured a mob of useless camp-followers. In his Principles of Psychology , Mr. It appears to me that this sensation, red, is a something which may exist altogether independently of any other impression, or idea, as an individual existence. It is perfectly conceivable that a sentient being should have no sense but vision, and that he should have spent his existence in absolute darkness, with the exception of one solitary flash of red light.

That momentary illumination would suffice to give him the impression under consideration; and the whole content of his consciousness might be that impression; and, if he were endowed with memory, its idea. Such being the state of affairs, suppose a second flash of red light to follow the first.

If there were no memory of the latter, the state of the mind on the second occasion would simply be a repetition of that which occurred before. There would be merely another impression. But suppose memory to exist, and that an idea of the first impression is generated; then, if the supposed sentient being were like ourselves, there might arise in his mind two altogether new impressions.

The one is the feeling of the succession of the two impressions, the other is the feeling of their similarity. Yet a third case is conceivable. Suppose two flashes of red light to occur together, then a third feeling might arise which is neither succession nor similarity, but that which we call co-existence. These feelings, or their contraries, are the foundation of everything that we call a relation.

They are no more capable of being described than sensations are; and, as it appears to me, they are as little susceptible of analysis into simpler elements. But it must be remembered, that they differ from the other impressions, in requiring the preexistence of at least two of the latter. Though devoid of the slightest resemblance to the other impressions, they are, in a manner, generated by them. In fact, we may regard them as a kind of impressions of impressions; or as the sensations of an inner sense, which takes cognizance of the materials furnished to it by the outer senses.

Hume failed as completely as his predecessors had done to recognise the elementary character of impressions of relation; and, when he discusses relations, he falls into a chaos of confusion and self-contradiction. In the Treatise , for example, Book I. Here is a kind of attraction , which, in the mental world, will be found to have as extraordinary effects as in the natural, and to show itself in as many and as various forms.

Its effects are everywhere conspicuous; but, as to its causes they are mostly unknown, and must be resolved into original qualities of human nature, which I pretend not to explain. These complex ideas may be resolved into relations , modes , and substances. To the reader of Hume, whose conceptions are usually so clear, definite, and consistent, it is as unsatisfactory as it is surprising to meet with so much questionable and obscure phraseology in a small space.

Moreover, since, as Hume is never weary of reminding his readers, there is nothing in ideas save copies of impressions, the qualities of resemblance, contiguity, and so on, in the idea, must have existed in the impression of which that idea is a copy; and therefore they must be either sensations or emotions — from both of which classes they are excluded.

In fact, in one place, Hume himself has an insight into the real nature of relations. That is to say, when two impressions of equal figures are present, there arises in the mind a tertium quid , which is the perception of equality. However, as we have seen, he expressly excludes everything but the emotions and the passions from this group. It follows, that neither simple sensation, nor simple emotion, constitutes knowledge; but that, when impressions of relation are added to these impressions, or their ideas, knowledge arises; and that all knowledge is the knowledge of likenesses and unlikenesses, coexistences and successions.

For example, on this view, pain, so violent and absorbing as to exclude all other forms of consciousness, is not knowledge; but becomes a part of knowledge the moment we think of it in relation to another pain, or to some other mental phenomenon. Surely this is somewhat inconvenient, for there is only a verbal difference between having a sensation and knowing one has it: they are simply two phrases for the same mental state.

For, starting with the assumption that all knowledge is the perception of relations, and finding themselves, like mere common-sense folks, very much disposed to call sensation knowledge, they at once gratify that disposition and save their consistency, by declaring that even the simplest act of sensation contains two terms and a relation — the sensitive subject, the sensigenous object, and that masterful entity, the Ego.

From which great triad, as from a gnostic Trinity, emanates an endless procession of other logical shadows and all the Fata Morgana of philosophical dreamland. I have elsewhere proposed psychoses as a substantive name for mental phenomena. Admitting that the sensations, the feelings of pleasure and pain, and those of relation, are the primary irresolvable states of consciousness, two further lines of investigation present themselves.

With respect to the origin of impressions of sensation, Hume is not quite consistent with himself. In one place I. The first are those of the figure, bulk, motion, and solidity of bodies. The second those of colours, tastes, smells, sounds, heat, and cold. The third are the pains and pleasures that arise from the application of objects to our bodies, as by the cutting of our flesh with steel, and such like. Both philosophers and the vulgar suppose the first of these to have a distinct continued existence. The vulgar only regard the second as on the same footing. Both philosophers and the vulgar again esteem the third to be merely perceptions, and consequently interrupted and dependent beings.

So strong is the prejudice for the distinct continued existence of the former qualities, that when the contrary opinion is advanced by modern philosophers, people imagine they can almost refute it from their reason and experience, and that their very senses contradict this philosophy. For as they are confessed to be, both of them, nothing but perceptions arising from the particular configurations and motions of the parts of body, wherein possibly can their difference consist?

Upon the whole, then, we may conclude that, as far as the senses are judges, all perceptions are the same in the manner of their existence. But, instead of following Berkeley in his deductions from the position thus laid down, Hume, as the preceding citation shows, fully adopted the conclusion to which all that we know of psychological physiology tends, that the origin of the elements of consciousness, no less than that of all its other states, is to be sought in bodily changes, the seat of which can only be placed in the brain. And, as Locke had already done with less effect, he states and refutes the arguments commonly brought against the possibility of a causal connexion between the modes of motion of the cerebral substance and states of consciousness, with great clearness:—.

Place it in any figure, nothing ever results but figure, or the relation of parts. Move it in any manner, you still find motion or a change of relation. Now, as all objects which are not contrary are susceptible of a constant conjunction, and as no real objects are contrary, I have inferred from these principles Part III. This evidently destroys the precedent reasoning, concerning the cause of thought or perception. For though there appear no manner of connection betwixt motion and thought, the case is the same with all other causes and effects.

Place one body of a pound weight on one end of a lever, and another body of the same weight on the other end; you will never find in these bodies any principle of motion dependent on their distance from the centre, more than of thought and perception. If you pretend, therefore, to prove, a priori , that such a position of bodies can never cause thought, because, turn it which way you will, it is nothing but a position of bodies: you must, by the same course of reasoning, conclude that it can never produce motion, since there is no more apparent connection in the one than in the other.

And should it be said that this depends on the union of soul and body, I would answer, that we must separate the question concerning the substance of the mind from that concerning the cause of its thought; and that, confining ourselves to the latter question, we find, by the comparing their ideas, that thought and motion are different from each other and by experience, that they are constantly united; which, being all the circumstances that enter into the idea of cause and effect, when applied to the operations of matter, we may certainly conclude that motion may be, and actually is, the cause of thought and perception.

Hume, however, treats of this important topic only incidentally. He seems to have had very little acquaintance even with such physiology as was current in his time. At least, the only passage of his works, bearing on this subject, with which I am acquainted, contains nothing but a very odd version of the physiological views of Descartes:—. But though I have neglected any advantage which I might have drawn from this topic in explaining the relations of ideas, I am afraid I must here have recourse to it, in order to account for the mistakes that arise from these relations.

I shall therefore observe, that as the mind is endowed with the power of exciting any idea it pleases; whenever it despatches the spirits into that region of the brain in which the idea is placed; these spirits always excite the idea, when they run precisely into the proper traces and rummage that cell which belongs to the idea. But as their motion is seldom direct, and naturally turns a little to the one side or to the other; for this reason the animal spirits, falling into the contiguous traces, present other related ideas, in lieu of that which the mind desired at first to survey.

This change we are not always sensible of; but continuing still the same train of thought, make use of the related idea which is presented to us and employ it in our reasonings, as if it were the same with what we demanded. This is the cause of many mistakes and sophisms in philosophy; as will naturally be imagined, and as it would be easy to show, if there was occasion. Surely no one who is cognisant of the facts of the case, nowadays, doubts that the roots of psychology lie in the physiology of the nervous system. What we call the operations of the mind are functions of the brain, and the materials of consciousness are products of cerebral activity.

Cabanis may have made use of crude and misleading phraseology when he said that the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile; but the conception which that much-abused phrase embodies is, nevertheless, far more consistent with fact than the popular notion that the mind is a metaphysical entity seated in the head, but as independent of the brain as a telegraph operator is of his instrument. It is hardly necessary to point out that the doctrine just laid down is what is commonly called materialism. But it is, nevertheless, true that the doctrine contains nothing inconsistent with the purest idealism.

For, as Hume remarks as indeed Descartes had observed long before :—. Therefore, if we analyse the proposition that all mental phenomena are the effects or products of material phenomena, all that it means amounts to this; that whenever those states of consciousness which we call sensation, or emotion, or thought, come into existence, complete investigation will show good reason for the belief that they are preceded by those other phenomena of consciousness to which we give the names of matter and motion.

All material changes appear, in the long run, to be modes of motion; but our knowledge of motion is nothing but that of a change in the place and order of our sensations; just as our knowledge of matter is restricted to those feelings of which we assume it to be the cause. It has already been pointed out, that Hume must have admitted, and in fact does admit, the possibility that the mind is a Leibnitzian monad, or a Fichtean world-generating Ego, the universe of things being merely the picture produced by the evolution of the phenomena of consciousness.

On the other hand, it must no less readily be allowed that, for anything that can be proved to the contrary, there may be a real something which is the cause of all our impressions; that sensations, though not likenesses, are symbols of that something; and that the part of that something, which we call the nervous system, is an apparatus for supplying us with a sort of algebra of fact, based on those symbols.

A brain may be the machinery by which the material universe becomes conscious of itself. But it is important to notice that, even if this conception of the universe and of the relation of consciousness to its other components should be true, we should, nevertheless, be still bound by the limits of thought, still unable to refute the arguments of pure idealism.

The more completely the materialistic position is admitted, the easier is it to show that the idealistic position is unassailable, if the idealist confines himself within the limits of positive knowledge. Hume deals with the questions whether all our ideas are derived from experience, or whether, on the contrary, more or fewer of them are innate, which so much exercised the mind of Locke, after a somewhat summary fashion, in a note to the second section of the Inquiry :—.

For what is meant by innate? If innate be equivalent to natural, then all the perceptions and ideas of the mind must be allowed to be innate or natural, in whatever sense we take the latter word, whether in opposition to what is uncommon, artificial, or miraculous. If by innate be meant contemporary with our birth, the dispute seems to be frivolous; nor is it worth while to inquire at what time thinking begins, whether before, at, or after our birth. Again, the word idea seems to be commonly taken in a very loose sense by Locke and others, as standing for any of our perceptions, our sensations and passions, as well as thoughts.

Now in this sense I should desire to know what can be meant by asserting that self-love, or resentment of injuries, or the passion between the sexes is not innate? It would seem that Hume did not think it worth while to acquire a comprehension of the real points at issue in the controversy which he thus carelessly dismisses. Yet Descartes has defined what he means by innate ideas with so much precision, that misconception ought to have been impossible.

But it is true that observing that there are certain thoughts which arise neither from external objects nor from the determination of my will, but only from my faculty of thinking; in order to mark the difference between the ideas or the notions which are the forms of these thoughts, and to distinguish them from the others, which may be called extraneous or voluntary, I have called them innate. His troublesome disciple, Regius, having asserted that all our ideas come from observation or tradition, Descartes remarks:—. For example, it is experience alone which causes us to judge that such and such ideas, now present in our minds, are related to certain things which are external to us; not in truth, that they have been sent into our mind by these things, such as they are, by the organs of the senses; but because these organs have transmitted something which has occasioned the mind, in virtue of its innate power, to form them at this time rather than at another.

Or, to state the matter in accordance with the views previously expounded, that they are products of the inherent properties of the thinking organ, in which they lie potentially, before they are called into existence by their appropriate causes. It is the conversion, by unknown causes, of these innate potentialities into actual existences.

The organ of thought, prior to experience, may be compared to an untouched piano, in which it may be properly said that music is innate, inasmuch as its mechanism contains, potentially, so many octaves of musical notes. A note so produced is the equivalent of a single experience.

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All the melodies and harmonies that proceed from the piano depend upon the action of the musician upon the keys. There is no internal mechanism which, when certain keys are struck, gives rise to an accompaniment of which the musician is only indirectly the cause. According to Descartes, however — and this is what is generally fixed upon as the essence of his doctrine of innate ideas — the mind possesses such an internal mechanism, by which certain classes of thoughts are generated, on the occasion of certain experiences. Such thoughts are innate, just as sensations are innate; they are not copies of sensations, any more than sensations are copies of motions; they are invariably generated in the mind, when certain experiences arise in it, just as sensations are invariably generated when certain bodily motions take place; they are universal, inasmuch as they arise under the same conditions in all men; they are necessary, because their genesis under these conditions is invariable.

Similarly, when we affirm that it is impossible that one and the same thing should exist and not exist at the same time; that that which has been created should not have been created; that he who thinks must exist while he thinks; and a number of other like propositions; these are only truths, and not things which exist outside our thoughts. And there is such a number of these that it would be wearisome to enumerate them: nor is it necessary to do so, because we cannot fail to know them when the occasion of thinking about them presents itself, and we are not blinded by any prejudices.

Or, are new elements of consciousness, products of an innate potentiality distinct from sensibility, added to these? Hume affirms the former position, Descartes the latter. If the analysis of the phenomena of consciousness given in the preceding pages is correct, Hume is in error; while the father of modern philosophy had a truer insight, though he overstated the case.


For want of sufficiently searching psychological investigations, Descartes was led to suppose that innumerable ideas, the evolution of which in the course of experience can be demonstrated, were direct or innate products of the thinking faculty. As has been already pointed out, it is the great merit of Kant that he started afresh on the track indicated by Descartes, and steadily upheld the doctrine of the existence of elements of consciousness, which are neither sense-experiences nor any modifications of them. We may demur to the expression that space and time are forms of sensory intuition; but it imperfectly represents the great fact that coexistence and succession are mental phenomena not given in the mere sense experience.

Cousin, x. Nun sind alle unsere Anschauungen sinnlich, und diese Erkenntniss, so fern der Gegenstand derselben gegeben ist, ist empirisch. Empirische Erkenntniss aber ist Erfahrung. Elementarlehre , p. If, as has been set forth in the preceding chapter, all mental states are effects of physical causes, it follows that what are called mental faculties and operations are, properly speaking, cerebral functions, allotted to definite, though not yet precisely assignable, parts of the brain.

These functions appear to be reducible to three groups, namely: Sensation, Correlation, and Ideation. The organs of the functions of sensation and correlation are those portions of the cerebral substance, the molecular changes of which give rise to impressions of sensation and impressions of relation. The changes in the nervous matter which bring about the effects which we call its functions, follow upon some kind of stimulus, and rapidly reaching their maximum, as rapidly die away.

The effect of the irritation of a nerve-fibre on the cerebral substance with which it is connected may be compared to the pulling of a long bell-wire. The impulse takes a little time to reach the bell; the bell rings and then becomes quiescent, until another pull is given. So, in the brain, every sensation is the ring of a cerebral particle, the effect of a momentary impulse sent along a nerve-fibre. If there were a complete likeness between the two terms of this very rough and ready comparison, it is obvious that there could be no such thing as memory.

A bell records no audible sign of having been rung five minutes ago, and the activity of a sensigenous cerebral particle might similarly leave no trace. Under these circumstances, again, it would seem that the only impressions of relation which could arise would be those of coexistence and of similarity. For succession implies memory of an antecedent state. But the special peculiarity of the cerebral apparatus is, that any given function which has once been performed is very easily set a-going again, by causes more or less different from those to which it owed its origin.

During our waking, and many of our sleeping, hours, in fact, the function of ideation is in continual, if not continuous, activity. Trains of thought, as we call them, succeed one another without intermission, even when the starting of new trains by fresh sense-impressions is as far as possible prevented.

The rapidity and the intensity of this ideational process are obviously dependent upon physiological conditions. The widest differences in these respects are constitutional in men of different temperaments; and are observable in oneself, under varying conditions of hunger and repletion, fatigue and freshness, calmness and emotional excitement.

The influence of diet on dreams; of stimulants upon the fulness and the velocity of the stream of thought; the delirious phantasms generated by disease, by hashish, or by alcohol; will occur to every one as examples of the marvellous sensitiveness of the apparatus of ideation to purely physical influences. The succession of mental states in ideation is not fortuitous, but follows the law of association, which may be stated thus: that every idea tends to be followed by some other idea which is associated with the first, or its impression, by a relation of succession, of contiguity, or of likeness.

Thus the idea of the word horse just now presented itself to my mind, and was followed in quick succession by the ideas of four legs, hoofs, teeth, rider, saddle, racing, cheating; all of which ideas are connected in my experience with the impression, or the idea, of a horse and with one another, by the relations of contiguity and succession. No great attention to what passes in the mind is needful to prove that our trains of thought are neither to be arrested, nor even permanently controlled, by our desires or emotions.

Nevertheless they are largely influenced by them. In the presence of a strong desire, or emotion, the stream of thought no longer flows on in a straight course, but seems, as it were, to eddy round the idea of that which is the object of the emotion.

René Descartes

Few can have been so happy as to have escaped the social bore, whose pet notion is certain to crop up whatever topic is started; while the fixed idea of the monomaniac is but the extreme form of the same phenomenon. And as, on the one hand, it is so hard to drive away the thought we would fain be rid of; so, upon the other, the pleasant imaginations which we would so gladly retain are, sooner or later, jostled away by the crowd of claimants for birth into the world of consciousness; which hover as a sort of psychical possibilities, or inverse ghosts, the bodily presentments of spiritual phenomena to be, in the limbo of the brain.

The faculty by which we repeat our impressions in the first manner, is called the memory , and the other the imagination. The latter statement of the difference between memory and imagination is less open to cavil than the former, though by no means unassailable. This led to ardent discussion,— the opening of men's minds to the deepest questions,— the beginning, in a word, of free thought. And there was also the practical result, that the fifteenth-century philosopher denied what he as a Churchman professed to believe, or rather did not dare to disavow.

It was obvious that the course of thinking could not rest here. It must pass beyond this, urged alike by the demands of reason and the interests of conscience. But the inner spirit of scholasticism had pretty well worked itself out. It was a body of thought remarkable for its order and symmetry, well knit and squared, solid and massive, like a mediaeval fortress. But it was inadequate as a representation and expression of the free life that was working in the literature, and even in the outside nascent philosophy, of the time.

It was formed for conservation and defense, not for progress. New weapons were being forged which must inevitably prevail against it, just as the discovery of gunpowder had been quietly superseding the heavy panoply of the knight.

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Several thoughtful men were already dissatisfied alike with the Aristotle of the schoolmen and the manuscripts. Edition: current; Page: [ 8 ] Opportunely enough, the circumstances which led to the discovery of the original Aristotle led also to the revelation of the original Plato. Some thinkers fell back on the earlier philsopher, stimulated to enthusiasm by the elevation of his transcendent dialectic. Notably among these were Pletho born about , and died about ; his pupil, Bessarion or — ; Giovanni Pico della Mirandola the nephew of Francisco, born , died ; Ficino, tutor to Lorenzo de Medici — ; Patrizi — Influenced a good deal by the spirit of mediaeval mysticism, these thinkers for the most part clothed their Plato in the garb of Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists.

Others were led to the still earlier Greek philosophers. The newly-awakened spirit of experience in Telesio — and in Berigard — found fitting nourishment in the Ionian physicists; and, later in the same line, Gassendi — revived Epicurus. All this implied the individual right of selecting the authority entitled to credence, and was a protest against scholasticism, and a step toward free inquiry. The men of letters also helped to swell the tide rising strong against scholasticism. The abstract and often barbarous language of the schools appeared tasteless and repulsive alongside the rhythmic diction of Cicero, and the polished antitheses of Seneca.

The spirit of imagination and literary grace had been repressed to the utmost in the schools. It now asserted itself with the intensity peculiar to a strong reaction. And in the knowledge and study of the forms of the classical languages, the mind is far beyond the sphere of mere deduction. It is but one remove from the activity of thought itself. Mysticism, always operative in the middle ages, and indeed involved in the Neo-Platonism already spoken of, came to its height in the period of the Renaissance — especially under Paracelsus, — and Cardan — — and then under Boehm — and the Van Helmonts father, —, and son, — The principle of transcendent vision by intuition was in direct antagonism with the reasoned authority of scholasticism.

Boehm's philosophy on its speculative side was an absolutism which anticipated Schelling, and Hegel himself. The self-diremption of consciousness is Boehm's favorite and fundamental point. The superstition which lay at the Edition: current; Page: [ 9 ] heart of the mysticism of the time, and which showed itself practically in alchemy, led men by the way of experiment to natural science, especially chemistry. At length in the sixteenth century, and, as if to show the extreme force of reaction, in Italy itself before the throne of the Pope and the power of the Inquisition, there arose in succession Bruno b.

Bruno in the spirit of the Eleatics and Plotinus, proclaimed the absolute unity of all things in the indeterminable substance, which is God; Vanini carried empiricism to atheism and materialism; and Campanella united the extremes of high churchman and sensationalist, mystical metaphysician and astrologist.

The principal figures we can discern in it seem to move amid smoke and turmoil, and to pass away in flame. The tragic fate of Bruno in the fire at Rome, and that of Vanini in the fire at Toulouse — both done to death at the instance of the vulgar unintelligence of the Catholicism of the time — form two of the darkest and coarsest crimes ever perpetrated in the name of a Church. The Church, which claims to represent the truth of God, dare not touch with a violent hand speculative opinion. It is then false to itself. In France, and in the university of Paris, the stronghold of Peripateticism, Ramus — attacked Aristotle in the most violent manner.

In Ramus was concentred the spirit of philosophical and literary antagonism to the schoolmen. It was wholly unmodified by judgment or discrimination, and it did not proceed on a thorough or even adequate acquaintance with the object of its assault. Ramus is remarkable chiefly for the extreme freedom which he asserted in oratorically denouncing what he considered to be the principles of Aristotle; but he made no real advance either in the principles of logical method which he professed, or in philosophy itself.

At the same time, the rude intensity and the passionate Edition: current; Page: [ 10 ] earnestness of his life were not unworthily sealed by his bloody death on the Eve of St. The death of Ramus, though attributed directly to personal enmity, was really a blow struck alike at Protestantism and the freedom of modern thought. Bruno, Vanini, Campanella, and Ramus foreshadowed Descartes and the modern spirit, only in the emphatic assertion of the freedom, individuality, and supremacy of thought.

What in thought is firm, assured, and universal, they have not pointed out. They were actuated mainly by an implicit sense of inadequacy in the current principles and doctrines of the time. It was not given to any of them to find a new and strong foundation whereon to build with clear, consistent, and reasonable evidence. Alongside of those more purely speculative tendencies, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Bacon represented the new spirit and theory of observation applied to nature.

The formalism of the Schools had abstracted almost entirely from the natural world. Bacon had given to the world the Novum Organum in , seventeen years before the Method of Descartes, but his precept was as yet only slightly felt, and he had but little in common with Descartes, except an appeal to reality on a different side from that of the Continental philosopher.

Descartes had not seen the Organum previously to his thinking out the Method. He makes but three or four references to Bacon in all his writings. If to these influences we add the spirit of religious reformation, the debates regarding the relative authority of the Scriptures and the Church, and mainly as a consequence of the chaos and conflict of thought in the age, the course of philosophical scepticism initiated by Cornelius Agrippa — , and made fashionable especially by Montaigne — , and continued by Charron — , with its self-satisfied worldliness and its low and conventional ethic, we shall understand the age in which the youth of Descartes was passed, and the influences under which he was led to speculation.

We shall Edition: current; Page: [ 11 ] be able especially to see how he, a man of penetrating and comprehensive intelligence, yet with a strong conservative instinct for what was elevating in morals and theology, was led to seek for an ultimate ground of certainty, if that were possible, not in tradition or dogma of philosopher or churchman, but in what commended itself to him as self-verifying and therefore ultimate in knowledge—in other words, a limit to doubt, a criterion of certainty, and a point of departure for a constructive philosophy. The man in modern times, or indeed in any time, who first based philosophy on consciousness, and sketched a philosophical method within the limits of consciousness, was Descartes; and since his time, during these two hundred and fifty years, no one has shown a more accurate view of the ultimate problem of philosophy, or of the conditions under which it must be dealt with.

The question with him is — Is there an ultimate in knowledge which can guarantee itself to me as true and certain? In the settlement of these questions, the organon of Descartes is doubt. This with him means an examination by reflection of the facts and possibilities of consciousness. Of what and how far can I doubt. I can doubt, Descartes would say, whether it be true, as my senses testify, or seem to testify, that a material world really exists.

I am not here by any necessity of thought shut within belief. I can doubt, he even says, of mathematical truths — at least when the evidence is not directly present to my mind. At what point then do I find that a reflective doubt sets limits to itself? This limit he finds in self-consciousness, implying or being self-existence. It will be found that this method makes the least possible postulate or assumption.

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It starts simply from the fact of a conscious questioning; it proceeds to exhaust the sphere of the doubtable; and it reaches that truth or principle which is its own guarantee. If we cannot find Edition: current; Page: [ 12 ] a principle or principles of this sort in knowledge, within the limits of consciousness, we shall not be able to find either ultimate truth or principle at all.

Philosophy is impossible. But the process must be accurately observed. There is the consciousness — that is, this or that act or state of consciousness — even when I doubt. This cannot be sublated, except by another act of consciousness. To doubt whether there is consciousness at a given moment, is to be conscious of the doubt in that given moment; to believe that the testimony of consciousness at a given time is false, is still to be conscious — conscious of the belief.

This, therefore, a definite act of consciousness, is the necessary implicate of any act of knowledge. The impossibility of the sublation of the act of consciousness, consistently with the reality of knowledge at all, is the first and fundamental point of Descartes. The act and the Ego are the two inseparable factors of the same fact or experience in a definite time.

It is not cogitatio ergo ens , or entitas , but cogito ergo sum; that is, the concrete fact of me thinking. That this is so, can be established from numerous statements. From this it follows that the principle does not tell us what consciousness is; it knows nothing of an abstract consciousness, far less of a point above consciousness; but it is the knowledge and assertion of consciousness in one or other of its modes—or rather it is an expression of consciousness only as I have experience of it—in this or that definite form.

Arnauld and Mersenne in their criticism of Descartes were the first to point out the resemblance of the cogito ergo sum. Descartes himself had not previously been aware of these. The truth is, he belonged to the school of the non-reading philosophers. He cared very little for what had been thought or said before him. The passage from Augustin which has been referred to as closest to the statement of Descartes is from the De Civitate Dei , 1.

Nulla in his veris Academicorum argumenta, formido dicentium: Quid, si falleris? Si enim fallor, sum. Nam qui non est, utique nec falli potest: ac per hoc sum, si fallor. Quia ergo sum, qui fallor, quomodo esse me fallor, quando certum est me esse si fallor? On this passage Descartes himself very properly remarks, that while the principle may be identical with his own, the consequences which he deduces from it, and its position as the ground of a philosophical system, make the characteristic difference between Augustin and himself.

The specialty of Descartes is that he reached this principle of self-consciousness as the last limit of doubt and made it then the starting-point of his system. There is all the difference in his case, between the man who by chance stumbles on a fact, and leaves it isolated as he found it, and the man who reaches it by method—and, with a full consciousness of its importance, develops it through the ramifications of a philosophical system. To him the fact when found is a significant truth as the limit of restless thought; it is not less significant and impulsive as a new point of departure in the line of higher truth.

But what precisely is the relation between the cogito and the sum? Is it, first of all, a syllogistic or an Edition: current; Page: [ 14 ] immediate inference?

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Is the cogito ergo sum an enthymeme or a proposition? There can be no doubt that Descartes himself regarded it as a form of proposition, an intuition, not a syllogism. Pre-judgment there is none, when the cogito ergo sum is duly considered, because it then appears so evident to the mind that it cannot keep itself from believing it, the moment even it begins to think of it.

But the principal mistake here is this, that the objector supposes that the cognition of particular propositions is always deduced from universals, according to the order of the syllogisms of logic. He thus shows that he is ignorant of the way in which truth is to be sought. For it is settled among philosophers, that in order to find it a beginning must always be made from particular notions, that afterward the universal may be reached; although also reciprocally, universals being found, other particulars may thence be deduced.

Whereas, on the contrary, this is rather taught him, from the fact that he experiences in himself that it cannot be that he thinks if he does not exist. For it is the property of our mind to form general propositions from the knowledge of particulars. It also points to the guarantee of the principle — the experiment of not being able to suppose consciousness apart from existence — or unless as implying it.

This and other passages might have saved both Reid and Kant from the mistake of supposing that Descartes inferred self-existence from self-consciousness syllogistically or through a major. We easily, however, discover substance itself from any attribute of it, by this common notion, that of nothing there are no attributes, properties or qualities. In fact, the second statement that substance or being is not cognizable per se , disposes of any apparent ground for the syllogistic character of the inference.

For this implies that the so-called major, as by itself incognizable, is not a major at all. What Descartes points to here, and very properly, is the original synthesis of the relation of quality and substance. He here approximates very nearly to a distinct statement of the important doctrine that in regard to fundamental principles of knowing, the particular and the universal are from the first implicitly given, and only wait philosophical analysis to bring them to light. But misrepresentation of the true nature of the cogito ergo sum still continues to be made.

It cannot be doubted, for the very doubt is an existent thought. But the first and third, whether true or not, may be doubted, and have been doubted; for the asserter may be asked, how do Edition: current; Page: [ 16 ] you know that thought is not self-existent, or that a given thought is not the effect of its antecedent thought or of some external power?

There are not three distinct assertions first, which have been rolled into one. It is not a distinct proposition. The thought is me thinking. Thought, divorced from me or a thinker, would be not so much an absurdity as a nullity. And as to some external power, I must wait for the proof of it, and if I ever get it, it must be because I am there to think the proof, and distinguish it from myself as an external Edition: current; Page: [ 17 ] power. And further, this external power can only be known, in so far as I am conscious of it.

Its known existence depends on my consciousness, as one factor in it, and therefore my consciousness could never be absolutely caused by it. The cogito ergo sum is thus properly regarded by Descartes as a propostion. It is in fact, what we should now call a proposition of immediate inference,—such that the predicate is necessarily implied in the subject. The requirements of the case preclude it from being advanced as a syllogism or mediate inference. For in that case it would not be the first principle of knowledge, or the first stage of certainty after doubt.

The first principle would be the major— all that thinks is, or thinking is existing. To begin with, this is to reverse the true order of knowledge; to suppose that the universal is known before the particular. It is to suppose also, erroneously, a purely abstract beginning; for if I am able to say, I am conscious that all thinking is existing , the guarantee even of this major or universal is the particular affirmation of my being conscious of its truth in a given time; if I am not able to say this, then I cannot assert that all or any thinking is existing, or indeed assert anything at all.

In other words, I can connect no truth with my being conscious. I cannot know at all.

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But what precisely is the character of the immediate implication? What is implied? There are four possible meanings of the phrase. My being or existence is the effect or product of my being conscious. My being conscious creates or produces my being. Here my consciousness is first in order of existence. My being conscious implies that I am and was, before and in order to be conscious. My being conscious is the means of my knowing what my existence is, or what it means. Here my consciousness is identical with my existence. My consciousness and my being are convertible phrases.

My being conscious informs me that I exist, or through my being conscious I know for the first time that I exist. Here my being conscious is first in order of knowledge. With regard to the first of these interpretations, it is Edition: current; Page: [ 18 ] obviously not in accordance with the formula. Implication is not production or creation. But, further, it does not interpret the sum in consistency with the cogito. If I am first of all supposed to be conscious, I am supposed to be and to exercise a function or to be modified in a particular form.

This interpretation may be taken as a forecast of the absolute ego of Fichte, out of which come the ego and the non-ego of consciousness. There is no appearance of this having been the meaning of Descartes himself. And, indeed, it is not vindicable on any ground either of experience or reason. With regard to the second interpretation, nothing could be further from the meaning of Descartes. I am conscious; therefore, I must be before I am conscious, or I must conceive myself to be before I am conscious.

The inference in this case would be to my existence from my present or actual consciousness, as its ground and pre-rcquisite, as either before the consciousness in time, or to be necessarily conceived by me as grounding the consciousness. There are passages which seem to countenance this interpretation — e.

This rather points to the view that the I am of the formula is simply another aspect of the I am conscious — not really independently preceding it in time or in thought, but found inseparable from it in reality, though distinguishable in thought. That my existence preceded my consciousness, Descartes would be the last to maintain; that I was before I was conscious, he would have scouted as an absurdity. That another Ego — viz, Deity — might have been, even was, he makes a matter of inference from my being, revealed to me even by my being.

But existence in the abstract, or existence per se as preceding me in any real sense, either as a power of creation or self-determination — whether in time and thought, or in thought only—he would have probably looked on as the simple vagary of speculation. He was opposed to the absolute ego as a beginning— the starting-point of Fichte—which as above consciousness Edition: current; Page: [ 19 ] is above meaning.

He was opposed equally to abstract or quality-less existence as a starting-point, which is that of the Logic of Hegel, whatever attempts may be made to substitute for it a more concrete basis — viz, consciousness. But for the intuitional knowledge of myself revealed in a definite act, it is obviously the doctrine of Descartes, and of truth, that I could not even propose to myself the question as to whether there is either knowledge or being; and any universal in knowledge is as yet to me simply meaningless.

With regard to the third interpretation, it seems to me not to be adequate to the meaning of Descartes, or the requirements of the case. It either does not say so much as Descartes means, or it says more than it professes to say. If it be intended to say my consciousness means my existence in the proper sense of these words,— i. We have but compared two expressions, and said that the one is convertible with the other. But we may do this whether the expressions denote objects of experience or not.

This is a mere comparison of notions; and Descartes certainly intended not to find a simple relation of convertibility between two notions but to reach certainty as to a matter of experience or fact — viz, the reality of my existence. This interpretation, therefore, does not say so much as Descartes intends. But further, if instead of a statement of identity or convertibility between two notions it says that the one notion — viz, my being conscious—is found or realized as a fact, this is to go beyond the mere conception of relationship between it and another notion or element, and to allege the reality of my being conscious in the first instance, and secondly, its convertibility with my being.

But in that case the formula of Descartes does not simply say my consciousness means my being. This interpretation might be stated in the form of a hypothetical proposition. If I am conscious, I am existing. But Descartes certainly went further than this. He made a direct categorical assertion of my existence. The decision of the question as to what my existence is may be involved in the assertion that it is, but this is secondary, and, it may be, immediately inferential, but still inferential.

We are thus shut up to the fourth interpretation which, with certain qualifications, is, it seems to me, the true one. My being conscious is the means of revealing myself as existing. In the order of knowledge, my being conscious is first; it is the beginning of knowledge, in time and logically. But it is not a single-sided fact: it is twofold at least.

No sooner is the my being conscious realized than the my being is realized. In so far at least as I am conscious, I am. This is an immediate implication. But it should be observed that this does not imply either the absolute identity of my existence with my momentary consciousness, or the convertibility of my existence with that consciousness.

All, therefore, that can be said, or need be inferred, is that my existence, or the me I know myself to be, is revealed in the consciousness of a definite moment; but I am not entitled to say from that alone that the being of me is restricted to that moment, or identified absolutely with the content of that moment. Nay, I may find that the identity and continuity of the momentary ego are actually implied in the fact that this experience of its existence is not possible except as part of a series of moments or successive states.

In this case, there would be added to the mere existence of the ego its identity or continued existence through variety or succession in time. Thus understood, the cogito ergo sum.

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It is a real basis, the basis of ultimate fact; it provides for the reality of my conscious life as something more than a disconnected series of consciousnesses or a play of words; it opens up to me infinite possibilities of knowledge; the reality of man and God can now be grasped by me in the form of the permanency of self-consciousness. It has been objected to the formula of Descartes, that it does not say what the sum or existo means; and further, that existence per se is a vague, even meaningless expression, and that to become a notion at all, existence must be cognized in, or translated into, some particular attribute, to which the term existence adds no further meaning than the attribute already possesses.

This twofold objection seems to me to be unfounded. When it is said I am , it is not meant that I am indefinitely anything, but that I am this or that, at a given time. In consciously asserting that I am, I am consciously energizing in this or that mode. I am knowing, or I am feeling and knowing, or I am knowing and willing.

This is a positive form of being. I am not called upon to vindicate the reality of existence as an abstract notion or notion per se , or even in its full extension. I merely affirm that in being conscious, I am revealed or appear as an existence or being,— a perfectly definite reality, but not all reality,—all possible or imaginable reality, though participating in a being which is or may be wider than my being. Nor are the attempts that have been made to find the express form of existence, which Descartes is held necessarily to mean, more successful than the general criticism.

But Descartes's answer to this would be very much what he said in reply to Gassendi, who, following precisely the same line of thought, suggested ambulo ergo sum. Unless the living or the walking be a fact of my consciousness, it is nothing to me, and is no part of my existence or being. Life is wider than consciousness,— at least if it is to be in any form identical with my being, it must be conscious life, just as it must be conscious walking.

But the second suggested interpretation is still worse. Nothing could be Edition: current; Page: [ 22 ] further from the meaning of Descartes than this, as is indeed admitted, or from the truth of the matter. I am not something , that is, a wholly indefinite. I am as I think myself to be, as I am conscious in this or that definite mode, as I feel, apprehend, desire, or will. Being thus definitely conscious, I am not a mere indeterminate something. I am something simply because in the first place I know myself to be definitely this thing — myself.

And as I know myself to be cognizant, I know myself to be definitely the knower, or, if you will, the subject. But the only object necessary to my knowledge in this case is a subject-object, or one of my own passing states. I require nothing further in the form of a not-self, in order to limit and render clear my self-knowledge.

A mere sensation or state of feeling apprehended by me as mine is enough to constitute me a definite something. Besides the alleged vagueness or emptiness of the term sum in the formula, there is a twofold objection,— one that it is not a real inference; the other that it is not a real proposition. It seems odd that it can be supposed possible for the same person to object to it on both of these grounds.

It may be criticised as a syllogism, and it may be criticised as a proposition; but surely it cannot be held to admit of both these characters. If it can be proved to be not a real proposition to begin with, it is superfluous to seek to prove it an unreal inference. But the statement would neither be tautological nor useless: it would be a proposition of immediate certainty, in which the subject explicated involved a definite being as another aspect of itself. And this meets the objection to the formula as a proposition. It is said to be not a real proposition, seeing that the predicate adds nothing to the subject.

This, in the first place, is not the test of a real Edition: current; Page: [ 23 ] proposition, or of what is essential to a proposition. A proposition may be simply analytic, and yet truly a proposition. All that is necessary to constitute a proposition is that it should imply inclusion or exclusion, attribution or non-attribution.

When I explicate four into the equivalent of i i i i , I have not added to the meaning of the subject, but I have identified a whole and its parts by a true prepositional form. I have analyzed no doubt merely, but truly and necessarily, and the result appears in a valid proposition. But I do more, for I assert definitude of being in the thinking or consciousness,— and this, though inseparable from it in reality, is at least distinguishable in thought. It excludes, in fact, Hume on the one hand and Fichte on the other.

The proposition is therefore merely verbal or analytic. By some test or other—by some form of experience. And what is this but falling back upon the principle of the cogito ergo sum as the ultimate in knowledge? This would give the formula importance and validity. Surely there is a misconception here of what Descartes aimed at, or ought to have aimed at. This must guarantee itself to me in some way; that is the question which must be settled first; that is the question regarding the condition of the knowledge alike of feeling and Edition: current; Page: [ 24 ] willing.

It was nothing to the aim of Descartes what was associated in experience; he sought the ultimate form, or fact, if you choose, in experience itself, and his principle must be met, not by saying that it only gives certain real inferences through subsequent association and experience, but by a direct challenge of the guarantee of the principle itself—a challenge which indeed is incompatible with its being the basis of any real inference. To the cogito ergo sum of Descartes it was readily and early objected, that if it identified my being and my consciousness, then I must either always be conscious, or, if consciousness ceases, I must cease to be.

Descartes chose the former alternative, and maintained a continuity of consciousness through waking and sleeping. As a thinking substance, the soul is always conscious. Through feebleness of cerebral impression, it does not always remember. What wonder is it, he asks, that we do not always remember the thoughts of our sleep or lethargy, when we often do not remember the thoughts of our waking hours?

Traces on the brain are needed, to which the soul may turn, and it is not wonderful that they are awanting in the brain of a child or in sleep. Whether consciousness be absolutely continuous or not — whether suspension of consciousness in time be merely apparent, — is a mixed psychological and physiological question. But it is hardly necessary to consider it in this connection; and Descartes probably went too far in his affirmative statement, and certainly in allowing it as the only counter-alternative.

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