Philosophy against Misosophy



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From Contemporary American Philosophy, Second Series, J. E. Smith, ed., London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1970, 21-53. 

As this paper, which displays Blanshards style at its logical and lyrical best, was formative of my intellectual development, I cannot account for why I have not gotten around to posting its text until now.  I’ve been especially indebted to its critique of epiphenomenalism (scroll to the diagram).  Its relevance to such disparate interests of mine as praxeology and panexperientialism is obvious, at least to me. 

The 16th reference note, which cites a 1967 debate between Blanshard and B. F. Skinner, links to a page on this site.   

To use David Ray Griffins terminological distinction, the “naturalism” criticized below is naturalismsam (scientistic, atheistic, materialistic), not Griffin’s naturalismppp (prehensionistic, panentheistic, pan-experientialistic).

In the published version, the numbering of the 27 reference notes restarted at the foot of each page, but for this posting I have numbered them serially and placed them at the end.

Anthony Flood

April 22, 2009


The Limits of Naturalism

Brand Blanshard

I. The Issue

II. The Earlier Behaviourism

III. Physicalism

IV. The Behaviourism of Skinner

V. The Failure of Behaviourism

VI. The Identity Hypothesis

VII. Soft Materialism

VIII. The Failure of Epiphenomenalism

IX. Consciousness Not Expendable


I. The Issue

The purpose of this paper is to consider whether science, as currently conceived, is adequate to the study of the mind.  The claim of natural science to cover the whole field of knowledge has been stated often and confidently.  Bertrand Russell has remarked that what is knowledge is science, and what is not science is not knowledge.  This is a very large claim, but even doubters are commonly reluctant, in view of the imposing success of science, to suggest any limits to its advance.  Its standing in the eyes of learned and laymen alike has never been higher.  In physics, in biology, in astronomy, in medicine, it has achieved one impressive breakthrough after another, with resulting advances in technology that have transformed our way of life.  Since I am going to venture presently on some questions about its adequacy, let me say at once that I think these achievements of science should be met with unqualified gratitude and admiration.  If one compares the progress made in the past century in natural science with that made in other intellectual disciplines—in humanistic scholarship, for example, or history or theology—the achievement of science seems unique.  It is the most impressive intellectual fact of our age.

Nevertheless thoughtful humanists have begun to raise questions about the current pretensions of science.  Is it truly justified in claiming all knowledge as its province?  Is it really qualified to take over the domain of the historian, the moralist and the critic?  Jacques Barzun1 and Joseph Wood Krutch,2 Douglas Bush3 and Floyd Matson4 have offered sharp strictures on these claims.  They have protested that to carryover the methods of physical science into the study of man and his works is to beg some very important questions about human nature.  These men, who are all humanists, hold that science, as now conceived, is unqualified in principle to deal with the set of activities with which humanists are concerned, and that any attempt to deal with them in a purely scientific way is bound either to bypass them or to distort them.  In this not very popular view I think the humanists are right, and I shall devote this paper to the attempt to say why I think so.

lf the issue is to be argued profitably, we must know at the outset what “the humanities” and “scientific method” are to mean.  By a humanistic study I shall mean in what follows an attempt to understand or appraise any conscious and purposeful human activity.  History and biography are obvious examples of such study.  So is the study of literature in all its forms—fiction, drama, poetry, and the rest; indeed, it is doubly so, for it involves studying not only the creative activities of the writer but also the activities of the creatures of his imagination.  Studies of the religions and cultures of mankind would also be humanities, though not so far as they are mere transcriptions of fact, for a mere transcription of fact is not an attempt either to understand or to appraise. Studies of art, morality, humour, music and sport are likewise humanities.  Philosophy and science hold ambiguous positions.  Both are purposive activities of the human spirit, and the study of them as such would therefore rank among the humanities.  But these activities themselves, so far as they are concerned with the structure of the physical world, would not be humanistic, for while they are attempts to understand, they are not attempts to understand human activity.

Next, when it is claimed that science can provide us with such understanding, what is meant by “science”?  No one would claim that science has achieved such understanding already.  But many would say that if it has not, this is a failure in fact rather than in principle; there is nothing in human conduct that falls beyond the scope of scientific method, ideally employed.  It is important, then, to see what such ideal employment requires.  I call in aid here the words of some respected exponents of scientific method.  In a list of “criteria of the scientific method,” Herbert Feigl puts in the first place “intersubjective testability,” remarking: “this is only a more adequate formulation of what is generally meant by the “objectivity” of science.” It is “the requirement that the knowledge claims of science be in principle capable of test (confirmation or disconfirmation, at least indirectly and to some degree) on the part of any person equipped with intelligence and the technical devices of observation and experimentation.  The term intersubjective stresses the social nature of the scientific enterprise.”5  This requirement is further explained by Gustav Bergmann and Kenneth Spence as follows: Such terms as “sensation,” “consciousness,” and “image” are not necessarily meaningless, but “it is the methodological ideal of the sciences of behaviour to use such mentalistic terms only after they have been introduced by (operational) definitions from a physicalistic meaning basis.”  These terms are properly used only when “every statement which contains such terms can be tested by the scientist’s observations (unquantified) and measurements (quantified) of physical objects.”  All such terms, when used by scientists, “should be behaviouristically defined.”6

This preliminary comment on terms sharpens the issue.  The question before us now is: Can conscious and purposive human activity be dealt with by a scientific method in which mind is conceived in terms of physical behaviour and whose statements are tested by the common observation of such behaviour?  There are naturalists, indeed, who would not accept this “reductionist” view of scientific method, who would hold that mental activity is distinct from physical, even though all control of behaviour is exerted from the bodily side.  We shall deal with this softer naturalism in the concluding part of this paper.  But first regarding the more extreme form.

I begin on a note that is perhaps querulous.  It is distressingly difficult to get from the harder naturalists a simple, straightforward statement of what they mean.  Take the statements we have just been quoting.  We are told that “it is the methodological ideal of the sciences of behaviour to use such mentalistic terms only after they have been introduced by (operational) definitions from a physicalistic meaning basis.”  What does this ponderous pronouncement mean?  If a “definition from a physicality meaning basis” is a statement that consciousness is physical, why not say so?  On the other hand, if consciousness is not physical, not capable of being publicly observed, then to define it, in the interest of scientific convenience, as really being so is to begin with a manifest untruth which will vitiate everything that is later said about the conscious realm.  It is as if these philosophers had an obscure sense that if their theory were put quite simply it would lack plausibility, and were trying to shield it unawares by a cover of thick magisterial prose.

Philosophers of science who are also humanists often write as if, for them, there were really no problem here at all.  Thus Mr Feigl who is a distinguished example of both types, writes an article contending that every kind of knowledge that a reasonable humanist can ask is provided for him by science.  At the same time he says that if knowledge is to be scientific it must be “intersubjectively testable” through observation or experiment.  But take this at face value and the science he is offering the humanist is one from which the entire range of humanistic experience is excluded at the outset.  Suppose Professor Lowes wants to study what went on in Coleridge’s mind in writing Kubla Khan, or what goes on in your mind when you read it.  Mr Feigl would agree, I think, that one cannot observe by the naked eye or any conceivable instrument either Coleridge’s consciousness or yours, and it follows that the study of this sort of object is off bounds for science. Mr Feigl lists twelve of the most important criticisms of science offered by the humanist, but for some reason this fundamental objection is not discussed.  And surely it is fundamental.  The scientist says to the humanist, “You have nothing whatever to fear from me; every legitimate field of study is still left open to you by science as I conceive it,” and then adds by implication: “Of course the world of feelings and purposes and memories and imagination and reflection in which you live is for science non-existent or inaccessible.”  On which my comment would be: Science cannot have it both ways.  If it is what the scientist here says it is, then the humanist world is off limits.  If he is to include that world in his study, then his science cannot be confined to observable behaviour; its province and its methods must be radically reconceived.

Scientists have naturally been uneasy about such wholesale exclusions from their province. They are sure that if mental facts are facts at all science can deal with them.  But if it is to deal with them they must be intersubjectively observable and confirmable, and that means that they must be movements in space.  This is the conviction that lies behind the long series of behaviourisms of the past half-century.  Three of them seem to me particularly revealing of scientific struggle and frustration in dealing with mental facts.


II. The Earlier Behaviourism

Of these my favourite is the first.  There was nothing mealy-mouthed about John Watson.  He hesitated for a time over whether his behaviourism should be merely a method of study, with the existence of mental facts left doubtful, or whether he should deny them altogether.  But he came to see that for a behaviourist to admit such facts was to admit the incompetence of his science in its own special field, and he therefore decided “either to give up psychology or else make it a natural science.”7  If the behaviourist disregarded con-sciousness, he held, it was for the same reason that the chemist disregarded alchemy and the astronomer astrology, namely that he wished no longer to deal in fictions.  “If behaviourism is ever to stand for anything (even a distinct method) it must make a clean break with the whole concept of consciousness.”  For this concept, like that of the soul, is a relic of medieval superstition. “The behaviourist cannot find consciousness in the test-tube of his science.  He finds no evidence anywhere for a stream of consciousness, not even for one so convincing as that described by William James.”8 Science has moved beyond it.  It must be dismissed like the other myths that survive from the childhood of the race.

Did this mean that Watson waved aside the whole humanist range of experience?  Would he deny that there was any such thing as what Shakespeare meant by “imagination” when he said that “imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown”?  Would he deny what Hood meant by memory when he said, “I remember, I remember the house where I was born”?  Would he exclude what the Prayer Book means when it speaks of “envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitable-ness”?  Would he say that Carlyle was using words without meaning when he remarked that “literature is the thought of thinking souls”?  The answer to all these questions is Yes.  Of course, nothing is clearer than that the persons who said these things were talking about conscious experiences, and it is hard to believe that Watson, when out of his white coat and his laboratory, would find any difficulty in following them.  Yet his view of science required him to say that these words meant nothing.  If such terms are to be retained by science, they must be equipped with a new set of meanings.  Thus we may still use the word “memory” if we mean by it “the resumption of a habit after a period of no practice”; “emotion” will refer to certain massive responses in the autonomic nervous system; and the philosopher will at last realize that “thinking is merely talking, but talking with concealed musculature.”  Images remained a puzzle to Watson; he did not know what in the nervous system to reduce them to, and being deficient in imagery, he hardly knew what he had to reduce. He was thus able, as some critic has noted, to elevate a personal defect into an ontological unreality.

I do not intend to enter here upon an appraisal of Watson’s behaviourism.  I did that in some detail and with no effect some thirty years ago.9  Two remarks must suffice.  First, it is obvious that no humanist could be a Watsonian behaviourist, or such a behaviourist a humanist, except by virtue of a gargantuan muddle.  What goes on in the mind of anyone who thinks he is both, it is hard to say; he is probably misreading behaviourism as meaning only that brain and consciousness are intimately connected causally.  But this is not at all what the theory means; indeed, it is a denial of behaviour-ism, for it holds that cause and effect are distinct, and the distinctness of consciousness from the physical is just what Watson will not accept. Secondly, though many psychologists still call themselves behaviourists, few would admit that they are Watsonians.  Even when they are reductionists, their reduction is more elaborate and sophisticated, less naIve and less interesting.  With Watson you knew where you were.  For courageous, dogmatic, forthright, Philistine obtuseness, he stands out like a monument on a plain.


III. Physicalism

Our second type of behaviourism is the physicalism of the logical empiricists.  Its motives were in part similar to Watson’s.  It wanted to make psychology a natural science, and this could not be done so long as entities were given entrance that were neither observable nor measurable by the methods of the other sciences.  But the logical empiricists had a wider ambition than Watson. They had a programme for the unification of all the sciences and for the reduction of all other ways of knowing, philosophy for example, to the position of handmaids of science.  The instrument by which both ends were to be effected was a new theory of meaning, formulated by Moritz Schlick.  This laid it down that the meaning of any factual statement was its mode of verification.  Make any statement of fact you wish, for example that it is snowing. Then ask yourself what would serve to assure you of its truth.  You would presumably answer in this case, “Going to the window and seeing snowflakes falling,” or “Going out and feeling them on head and hands.”  Very well, Schlick would say, the meaning of your statement, “It is snowing,” is that if you went to the window or outdoors you would perceive falling snow.  The statement has a meaning because it is verifiable, and the way of verifying supplies that meaning.  But suppose there is no way of verifying it.  Then there is no meaning in it either.  Kant said that an unknowable exists which is not in time.  Is there any observation by which you could assure yourself that this statement is true?  None.  Then it is neither true nor false; it is meaningless; it says nothing.  According to the logical empiricists, most of the statements of traditional metaphysics were of this kind, and the verifiability theory of meaning was the tool on which they relied for exposing such pseudo-knowledge.

Many persons who had been frustrated and repelled in their attempts to penetrate Teutonic metaphysics greeted this demand for clarity with acclaim.  At first sight it seemed remarkably simple and compelling.  But soon doubts developed.  What about statements regarding the remote past or future?  We cannot verify them; are they therefore meaningless?  What about statements regarding photons and electrons, which are unobservable, or regarding tables and chairs at times when nobody observes them?  Above all, what about other minds?  Historians and biographers are largely concerned with what goes on in other minds, but they obviously cannot observe these as they can the movements of other bodies.  No statements they make about other people’s thoughts or feelings are verifiable in their own perception, and therefore if the test is rigorously applied they must all be set down as meaningless.

Note that the physicalists did not deny that these thoughts and feelings existed, for to deny their existence would be as meaningless as to affirm it.  What they did was to introduce the notion of multiple languages, and then raise the question whether a sentence in the mental language was translatable into a sentence of the physical language, which was accepted as a meaningful question.  It was the physical language that was fundamental, not that of psychology or the social sciences, for if “mental” terms were introduced they could always be translated into the physical language, while the reverse process was not generally possible.  If a man is said to be “angry” or “in pain,” for example, there will always be some statement about the occurrence of a process in his body that will also be true.  In accordance with the logic accepted by these theorists, two propositions will be technically equivalent to each other if both are always true or false together.  By an inference of a very curious kind they seem to have passed from the plausible assertion that the mental and physical sentences are in this technical sense equivalent to the totally different and quite implausible assertion that the mental sentence can be translated into the physical one without change of content, in short that they say the same thing.  If that is so, when I use the sentence “You are in pain,” my sentence can be translated without loss of meaning into “You are now holding your head and grimacing.”  Indeed, this is the only sort of meaning that a scientist may entertain.  As Professor Feigl put it, “to ascribe to our fellow men consciousness in addition to overt behaviour with discoverable physiological processes implies a transcendence, an introduction of unverifiable elements”11; and such transcendence must be avoided if one is to avert the ultimate ignominy of talking metaphysics.  Professor Ayer, writing about the same time, said that “each of us must define the experience of others in terms of what he can at least in principle observe.”  “I must define other people in terms of their empirical manifestations-that is, in terms of the behaviour of their bodies, and ultimately in terms of sense contents.”12

It is curious how little awareness these positivists betrayed of what their doctrine implied for the humanities.  Almost all of them had come into philosophy from science; they were evangelists of science; if their doctrine was destructive of speculative philosophy, they took that as good riddance; and in the implications of the doctrine for the study of literature and history they took little or no interest.  These implications, however, were essentially the same as those of “Watson’s behaviourism.  What, for example, would a physicalist make of Boswell?  The biographer could indeed observe his subject’s puffing and blowing, his sitting at his desk and his walking abroad, his avoidance of cracks in the pavement and his collecting of orange peel; and these, of course, have their interest.  But the instant Boswell went beyond these bodily acts into Johnson’s ideas and arguments, his feelings about Scots and Whigs, his fear of death, his affection for his Tetty, his wit and humour, his rages and his depressions, he was literally talking nonsense.  But take all this away and what is left of Boswell’s account?  Virtually nothing at all, since then even Johnson’s bodily oddities would have lost most of their significance for us.  It is interesting to reflect that at the very time when the physicalists were propounding their doctrine Collingwood was writing a famous essay to show that the subject-matter of history was self-conscious and purposive activity.12  On positivist premisses any attempt to discuss activity of this kind must be meaningless, and hence, so far as Collingwood is right, the historian is disinherited of his kingdom.  To venture again at random, what would a physicalist make of James’s Varieties of Religious Experience?  Two generations of readers have found in it vivid descriptions of the experience of mystics, of divided selves and their unification, of conversion, of religious morbidity and healthy-mindedness. About these things James, as a scientific psychologist, presumably had no right to speak at all, and he was indulging in something like metaphysics when he did so.

We may be reminded that it is one thing to deny that someone else is conscious and another to deny the meaningfulness of saying that he is.  But in a question of such practical importance as this the distinction is a quibble.  Presumably one’s action should accord with one’s belief, and if one’s belief is that to ascribe pain to a man with a broken leg is nonsense, one should act accordingly.  There is clearly no reason to relieve a pain that one does not believe to exist.  It may be said, again, that the implications we have just noted, even if all are accepted and put together, do not constitute a logical refutation of physicalism.  This is true.  It remains a logical possibility that one’s friends are all automata, bodies to which no thought or feeling is to be ascribed, which have no memory or recognition of the person who greets them, and are as free from fear or pain as an IBM computer.  This view was accepted by some of the seventeenth-century Cartesians regarding dogs and cats and led to irresponsible treatment of these animals.  But that theory rested on a medieval theology which held that in the creation of animals, immortal souls had been denied them.  This the positivists would rightly decry as mythology.  At the same time they accepted a theory which made it illegitimate not only to ascribe pain to animals but also to ascribe it to their fellow human beings.  I am not, of course, attacking anyone’s character.  Many of these writers I knew, and found them invariably kindly, thoughtful and sensitive persons who would not wish to hurt an earthworm.  They would not dream of practising their theory, and those of them who are still living have all, I think, given it up.  But physicalism remains an instructive episode in human thought.  It shows that when one tries to make a philosophy out of the logic and method of natural science, without taking due heed of the rest of human experience, one is likely to wind up in absurdity.  The positivists no doubt regarded such philosophers as the Cairds, A. E. Taylor and Bosanquet as victims of metaphysical superstition, but can one imagine any of these humane and civilized minds committing itself to anything as incoherent with general human experience and as barbaric in its larger implications, as physicalism was?


IV. The Behaviourism of Skinner

It may be well to look at one other attempt to deal with human experience in accordance with the demands of physical science, and one which, unlike the other two, is flourishing today.  Professor B. F. Skinner, like Watson, denies the distinct existence of sensation and thought, feeling and purpose.  His chief difference from Watson is this: that whereas Watson was much concerned to identify the processes in the nervous system in terms of which sensation, thought and emotion were now to be defined, Skinner bypasses this endeavour as being, at the present stage of science, unprofitable.  We know comparatively little about the chemistry and physics of brain cells and of the conduction of nervous impulses through them, and the growth of such recondite knowledge is likely to be slow.  But the study of behaviour, which is the proper business of psychology, need not wait upon such knowledge, for we may study the connection of stimulus and response independently of it.  We can vary indefinitely the situations in which the organism is placed and note how the response varies with each change.  We may expose a pigeon to a black, a white, and a red disc, of which it can get food only by pecking the white one, and observe how many mis-pecks it makes before learning to peck at the white disc only.  Here we are studying the connection between observable stimuli and observable responses without any regard to the changes that may go on in the pigeon’s nervous system.  That is the way we should study human behaviour.

Suppose one replies to Skinner: Surely it is what happens between the stimulus and the response, the part you are leaving out, that is psychologically of most interest to us.  Present those discs to a man and he may do anyone of a hundred things because he has the power, which the pigeon has not, of taking thought.  He can consider, deliberate, entertain purposes, plan, and hence respond, in a way you cannot foresee.  Skinner would reply in three steps.  First, if you mean by such terms as “deliberating” and “planning” a set of conscious processes distinct from what goes on in the body, they are fictions; there are no such events.13 Secondly, since they are fictions, they cannot affect the responses that actually occur, and hence are of no value in explaining those responses. Thirdly, though they do not exist, the physical changes that we ought to mean by these names do exist and do make a difference, but it is a difference that it is needless at present to take into account. Suppose you have a series of events A, B, C, and that A is the sufficient cause of B, and B of C.  Then if you know that A occurs, you know that C will occur, and you can connect A and C by a perfectly reliable causal law in which B does not figure at all. B here stands for events internal to the organism, the “intervening variables” as the psychologists call them, between the observable stimuli and the observable responses.  We have no doubt that Cs, forms of behaviour exhibited by the organism, issue from Bs, changes within the organism, and we have no doubt that the Bs are all ultimately due to changes occurring outside the organism.  The two extremes are physical events that are within the present range of our observation.  Most of the intervening variables are not.  What is proposed is that, without denying the existence of these variables, we proceed to establish connections directly between the several forms of A—A1, A2, A3—and the several forms of C—C1, C2, C3.  We shall then have a set of causal laws whose components are as truly observable as anything in physics.

Now there is no objection to seeking such linkages, and the method has been applied with success, particularly to lower animals.  But certain comments should be made about what is distinctive in it. (1) It denies the existence of consciousness as flatly as Watson did.  The classical works on psychology are full of discussions of sensation, imagery, emotion, the association of ideas, and the processes of thought. Professor Skinner tries hard to eliminate such misleading terms from his writing.  The result is that for a humanist it makes curiously difficult reading.  It is as if someone had taken a chapter of Proust or Henry James and attempted to rewrite it entirely in terms of the movements of muscle and limb on the part of the characters, with no mention of anything that went on in their minds.  That thoughts and emotions do commonly express themselves in such motions seems clear enough, but an account of them exclusively in terms of these motions gives the impression of elaborate indirection or evasion, a continuous, gratuitous missing of the point.

(2) The fact that one can link directly the stimulus and the response, without mention of the intermediate links, does not imply that those links are absent.  They are there and performing their function, whether we take note of them or not. Would Professor Skinner agree?  Yes, if by these intermediate links we mean changes in the nervous system; No, if they mean thoughts, choices or purposes.  When we say, for example, that what a man says is “disorganized because his ideas are confused,” or that he pauses because he is trying to make up his mind, “it is obvious that the mind and the ideas, together with their special characteristics, are being invented on the spot to provide spurious explanations.”14  If Professor Skinner omits talk about intervening mental variables, it is because they never do intervene. His “purpose” to sit down at his desk and write makes no difference to what he does; he never “chooses” to write one sentence rather than another because its “meaning” is relevant to his “end”; indeed, he never chooses to do anything if that means that his “choice” appoints what he does.  You can never explain an action, even in part, by saying that the man who did it “intended” or “preferred” or “decided” or “wished” or “thought he ought” to do it.

What are we to say of these programmes to make of psychology a science like physics or chemistry?  We must be clear what they are proposing to us.  Sometimes this is represented not as a denial of consciousness but as a study of its physical aspects and connections.  If mind is stimulated into action by physical events, expresses itself in physical events, and is intimately and manifoldly connected with events in the nervous system, is it not possible to confine oneself to the study of these events?  The strict answer is No.  How is one to choose, for example, which events in the nervous system to study except by noting which are correlated with mental events?  And then one is not confining oneself to physical events only.  Behaviourists have frequently put their position as if they were not concerned with ontology but only with method. Professor Skinner writes: “The objection to inner states is not that they do not exist but that they are not relevant in a functional analysis.”15  This sounds as if desires and purposes in the traditional sense were admitted to exist, but were being ignored because they fell outside the scientific province.  But such language is misleading.  If these psychologists were asked whether science, as they conceive it, is adequate to the study of mind, they would undoubtedly say Yes, and add that science is the best means we have of dealing with any facts.  If mental events are ignored, then, it is not for methodological reasons only.  Science ignores mental facts, because these “facts” are not genuine facts.  The words that seem to refer to them refer to physical facts or else to nothing.  To talk about a non-physical purpose or intention is for Watson like talking astrology; for the physicalists, it is talking metaphysics; for Skinner it is a surrender to the “fictional”; for Ryle it is the superstition of a “ghost in the machine.”


V. The Failure of Behaviourism

To me there is something grotesque in a solemn argument about whether consciousness, the pains and pleasures, fears and desires that we commonly mean by these words exist.  If a person insists that all he means by a toothache, for example, is a movement of some kind in his nervous system, he must be no doubt allowed the last word, for he is in a privileged position to know.  But then so are the rest of us about our own meanings.  I remember vividly an evening at Swarthmore when G. E. Moore was holding a conference hour for undergraduates. Only one student turned up that night, and he was a student in physics.  The conversation began with his remarking that by his sensation of blue he meant a physical change in his optical nerve.  Moore explained that he could understand this if what was meant was that such a change occasioned the sensation, but “surely you don’t mean,” he went on, “that the movement of particles in the nerves is your sensation of blue?”  “Yes,” the student insisted, that was exactly what he did mean, and he held to it despite Moore’s expostulation.  The veins began to stand out on Moore’s forehead.  He must have been through this countless times, and he apparently felt that a man who could believe that sort of thing could believe anything.  The weariness and futility of the discussion overcame him, and he fell obstinately silent.  After a time I led him away.

Argument about the point is not, however, necessarily futile.  It did, after all, persuade the physicalists to change their view.  But the arguments that are likely to be effective here are not technical; it is indeed the technical people, who approach the problem from an ideal language or from a preconceived notion of what is required by science, who seem most confused, and who most need to be brought back to common sense again.  It is curiously easy to be mistaken about one’s own meaning, and I can only think that behaviourists are the victims of this kind of confusion.  There are many ways of showing this, though nearly all of them are variations of one general argument—that behaviourists cannot conform their intellectual practice to their reported meaning, that is, they cannot hold it consistently.

1. Consider the behaviourist who has a headache and takes aspirin.  What he means by his “headache” is, if he belongs to one school, a set of motions among the molecules that form the cells in his brain, or if he belongs to another, the grimaces or claspings of the head that an observer might behold.  Since these are the headache, it must be these that he finds objectionable.  But it is absurd to say that a set of motions in his head that he could not distinguish from a thousand others are objectionable; it would never occur to him to find them so except as they are associated with the conscious pain.  In denying the pain, therefore, he is denying the only feature that makes the situation objectionable.  Suppose, again, that he identifies the pain with the grimaces and outward movements.  Then all he would have to do to banish the pain would be to stop these movements and behave in normal fashion.  But he knows perfectly well that this is not enough; that is why he falls back on aspirin.  In short, his action implies a disbelief in his own theory.

2. The characters he assigns to physical events are different from and incompatible with those he assigns to mental events.  Physical changes are ultimately motions, and it is commonly assumed that what moves has mass, is governed by gravitational law, and moves in a certain direction with a certain velocity.  But it would be nonsense to say that a pain or a memory has mass, gravity, direction or velocity.  Again, we speak of a pain as sharp or dull, intense or mild, excruciating or easy to bear, and such terms are meaningless as applied to motions.  Professor Skinner, when confronted with this consideration, agrees that “a motion is not likely to be dull or excruciating.  But things are. Indeed, these two adjectives are applied to pain just because they apply to the things which cause pain.  A dull pain is the sort of pain caused by a dull object, as a sharp pain is caused by a sharp object. The term “excruciating” is taken from the practice of crucifixion.”16  But (a) Dull toothaches or headaches are not normally caused by dull objects, or sharp ones by sharp objects.  (b) Even when the term “sharp” is used both of a physical thing and of a pain, it is used in wholly different senses.  The sharpness or dullness of a thing is a matter of its shape; a pain has no shape.  (c) When Professor Skinner says that we call a pain sharp because the physical thing that causes it is sharp, he seems to admit the difference between the conscious process and its physical cause.  He may say that he means here the cause outside the body, and that the sensation is a change within the body and presumably in the brain.  But then he arrives at the same paradox as before, since a molecular thing or movement can no more be identified with a sensation than a molar thing or movement.

3. The implausibility of identifying the conscious event with a change in the brain may be seen in another way. When we refer to a conscious experience we may be perfectly clear what we mean, though if asked what brain change we were referring to we should not have the faintest notion how to answer. Plato could discuss with precision the varieties of pleasure, and Aristotle the varieties of inference, without knowing that these psychical processes were connected with the brain at all. Even when we do learn that these processes are causally correlated with changes in the brain, we may not know which brain changes are involved. We made a distinction a moment ago between the sharpness of a tool and the sharpness of a pain; the making of that distinction was a mental act which we can now recall.  What exactly is the brain process that in our new way of thought we are supposed to be recalling?  Not even Adrian or Penfield would attempt to specify the correlate of that act in the brain.  Now, if we can specify clearly the mental act that we mean while quite unable to specify the physical change we are supposed to mean, to say that the two meanings reduce to one is most implausible.17

4. Even when we do know approximately what physical change is correlated with a given psychical change, there may be an extreme qualitative difference on one side which, so far as we know, corresponds to nothing on the other side.  We know that when an impulse from the eye reaches a point in the back of the brain a sensation of colour normally arises, and that when an impulse from the ear reaches a point at the side of the brain a sensation of sound normally arises.  No two experiences differ from each other more completely than one of sound and one of colour. But the nervous impulses that are the correlates of these sensations seem to be the same in structure and movement.  As Lord Adrian says, “the surprising thing is that a disturbance of this kind in one part of a sheet of nerve cells [the cortex] should make us see a light, and that the same kind of disturbance in another part should make us hear a sound.”18  If the sensations are entirely different while the nervous changes, so far as we know, are entirely alike, what we mean by the sensations must be distinct from what we mean by the physical changes.

5. The attempt at identification cannot get under way without the implicit admission of its untruth.  You want to know, for example, what brain change is now to be identified with “a sensation of colour” and what with “a sensation of sound.”  The test whether you have found the cerebral equivalent of a sensation of colour is whether, when you alter or remove that cerebral process, the sensation is affected.  On that ground you eliminate everything in the brain but a small area in the occipital lobe as the basis of the colour sensation, and everything but a small area in the temporal lobe as the basis of the sound sensation. But the assumption of this procedure is that you have definite knowledge of the colour and sound sensations before you know what their physical correlations are.  It is only because you have definite antecedent knowledge of these sensations that you can hunt for their correlates, or check your hypotheses as to what these are.  If all you meant by sensation was its physical correlate, the search could not begin, for you would have no means of recognizing which of a million physical processes filled the bill.  It is only if sensation and physical process are distinct that you ever reach the terminus of the search, a terminus which, once reached, is then incoherently identified with the starting-point.

6. The language used by behaviourists, despite their efforts to avoid compromising terms, continually betrays their position.  Psychologists used to say that a response was confirmed or “stamped in” if it was pleasurable, and inhibited or discouraged if it was disagreeable.  But “plea-surable” and “disagreeable” clearly refer to qualities of conscious experience, and Professor Skinner reminds us that science therefore does not use such terms or any equivalents for them.19 What we should say instead, for example, is that the response of eating is “reinforced” by one sort of food and “extinguished” by another; these words are innocent of mentalist connotations.  But he finds it impracticable to keep to this rule.  He writes: “. . . Though we have been reinforced with an excellent meal in a new restaurant, a bad meal may reduce our patronage to zero,” and again, on the next page, that in extinguishing a response, “the currently preferred technique is punish-ment.”20  Now, when we refer to an “excellent” meal, is there no connotation of pleasantness? When we refer to a “bad” meal or to punishment, is there no connotation of disagreeableness?  Would an “excellent” meal reinforce our tendency to repeat it if it were not pleasant?  Would punishment be punishment if it were not disagreeable?  It seems clear here that Professor Skinner, despite his gallant efforts to free his usage from the mentalistic blight, is not only reintroducing it but relying on it to make reinforcement and extinction intelligible.

However desperately the behaviourist tries to exclude these connotations of consciousness, they keep pouring in through the cracks of every wall he builds to keep them out.  Strictly speaking, we should never say of Jones that he ran because he was afraid or because he wanted to catch a train, for these words attribute to him unobservable states with which science has nothing to do.  But suppose Jones says, “I am scared half to death” or “I am frantic to catch that train.”  It is perfectly legitimate to take such an “observation report” into account because it is itself an observable part of Jones’s behaviour.  But is it?  No doubt an external observer can hear a succession of sounds emitted by Jones’s body, but is the emission of these sounds all we mean by Jones’s saying something?  Clearly not.  The point has been made by Professor E. M. Adams in an article in which a large variety of these unnoticed but illicit usages by behaviourists are catalogued and analysed.  “In what sense,” he asks, “is “said” a pure observation term?  Is it meaningful to ask, Does what he said make sense?  Is what he said consistent?  Can you put what he said differently?  Can you translate what he said into French?  Does he literally mean what he said?  Is what he said supported by evidence?  Was he justified in saying what he did? Is what he said true?”21  These questions are clearly in order if “say” is used as we all do in fact use it.  But they are both irrelevant and unanswerable if the term is used strictly as an “observation term.”  A mere series of heard sounds could not be “justified” or “supported by evidence” or “said differently” or “translated into French”; such expressions assume that the speaker was using the sounds to convey conscious meanings and that the hearer can apprehend those meanings.  They must be used in this way by the behaviourist also if they are to do the work he asks of them.  But he cannot in consistency use them so, since, for him, to apprehend the meanings of another mind would be to leap out of the physical world into forbidden territory.  In short, he finds it impracticable to conform to his own requirements even in the use of so simple a word as “say.”

7. These requirements he believes to be imposed on him by science, and in the interest of science, as he conceives it, he is quite ready to part company with common sense.  But in other places he clings to common sense in a manner that places him in clear conflict with science.  When Professor Skinner talks about stimuli he does not ordinarily mean the impact of micro-waves on nerve ends; he means observable things or changes such as coloured discs or the sounds of a voice or the impact of a hard object.  Since these are observable, they are assumed to be physical. But would a physicist of sophistication take them to be physical, just as presented?  Would he accept the colour of a disc as something spread out in physical space over the surface of the disc?  Would he take the sounds that are heard, as distinct from waves in air, to be physical existents?  Having explained to us that a football consists of millions of micro-particles in motion, would he add that this aggregate is hard?  Most philosophers since Locke have held that the “secondary qualities” belong in consciousness, not in the physical world, and reflective physicists have thought likewise.  There is no doubt that we experience them, and they must, therefore, have lodgement in some recognized realm of being.  But Professor Skinner has no room for them in any realm of being.  If he puts them in physical space, as he seems inclined to do, he loses the much-coveted support of natural science.  He cannot put them in consciousness, for there is no consciousness to put them in.  Nor would he identify them, as Watson tried to do, with nervous changes in the body; to hunt for a sound in the nervous system he would consider absurd.  In our conscious experience of nature these qualities are almost everywhere, but in the world of the behaviourist they are without a home.

8. Consider but one more paradox, which, if possible, is more striking still.  In the round terms of traditional philosophy, the intrinsic values of life were often said to be truth, beauty and goodness. Whether we accept this thesis or not, the old terms are still of importance and in constant use.  What meaning can the behaviourist attach to them? Take first the meaning of “truth.”  What is true is a proposition, a belief or an assertion, but these are not observable entities unless identified with movements of the lips or with other bodily move-ments.  But it is meaningless to say that move-ments are true or false.  There is nothing more true or false about any movement in the universe than any other.  And since there are no events in the behaviourist universe except the motions of matter, it has no room for truth either.

Again, what would the term “beauty” stand for in such a world?  Is it a scientifically observable property?  Hume imagines a geometer gloating over the beauty of one of his figures, say a five-pointed star.  He proceeds to indicate its properties to an observer-the uniform structure of its five triangles, the equal length of their sides and of their bases, and so on.  His companion then asks him to point out the quality of beauty that he has been speaking of.  Could he do it?  Hume rightly answers that it would be impossible, that beauty is not something that can be observed like a line or a shape.  Still less is it something that could belong in a wholly physical world.  Strictly speaking there is no beauty apart from the enjoyment of it, and the enjoyment of it is a form of consciousness.  In a behaviourist world, a necessary condition of beauty would thus be lacking.

What about moral goodness?  Moralists have commonly held that this depends either on the motive of an act or on the intrinsic values of its consequences.  Sceptics regarding these positions have argued that “good” and all other value terms are the expressions of emotions or attitudes in the minds of those who use them.  No one of these theories of goodness could be restated in behaviourist terms without eviscerating them of their meaning.  In short, the world of the behaviourist is one in which neither truth, beauty nor goodness, as traditionally understood, can consistently be given a place.

I have argued the case at wearisome length because behaviourism is not a historic curiosity merely, as by this time it ought to be, but is very much alive.  Indeed, with the help of the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Federal Government, Professor Skinner has recently produced a book on The Technology of Teaching which offers a programme for making education entirely a matter of physical condi-tioning.  Such a work, with such support, lends some colour to Count Keyserling’s acid comment that behaviourism is the natural psychology of a people without inner life.  Furthermore, the movement has received encouragement, strangely enough, from that traditional seat of the humanities, Oxford, in Professor Ryle’s brilliant and wayward book, The Concept of Mind.  I have not dealt with that book, partly because its account of the mind is not, like our three American behaviourisms, an attempt from within the circle of science to draw psychology back into the fold, partly because it has been so effectively dealt with in its own country.  I have in mind particularly Professor C. A. Campbell’s essay, Ryle on the Intellect, in which the difficulty, even for a skillful dialectician, of holding consistently to the behaviourist thesis, is convincingly shown.22


VI. The Identity Hypothesis

But materialism dies a lingering death.  In recent years a number of philosophers have been exploring whether the identity of mind and matter cannot be rehabilitated, and to that end they have been examining anew the notion of identity.  The word “is,” they point out, is ambiguous.  There is the “is” of definition and the “is” of composition. The “is” of definition means a logical identity, as when we say that a square is an equilateral rectangle.  Here the identity is such that neither side would be conceivable in the absence of the other.  We also use an “is” of composition, as when we say that a cloud is a mass of droplets in suspension, or that lightning is a motion of electric charges.23

Here there is no identity of concept between subject and predicate, for either could be conceived without the other.  Most holders of the identity hypothesis are reluctant to say that consciousness and bodily change are the same in the logical sense.  They have given up the view, which never was plausible, that the distinction between mind and matter is a merely linguistic affair, and that when a man says he has a toothache he is referring in a different language to precisely what he means when he speaks of an injury to his dental nerve, or to grimaces and gestures that would be observable from without.  It is only too obvious that the one language is not translatable into the other.  If the identity hypothesis does claim identity in the extreme or logical sense, then the arguments already adduced against behaviourism are in order again.

But in spite of the sophistication of the identity philosophers, some of them are advancing a theory that is hard to distinguish in principle from extreme behaviourist reductionism, apparently denying, for example, that there is any such thing as sensation, as distinct from bodily response.  Thus Professor J. J. C. Smart imagines a group of congenitally blind men in the company of normal men who are sorting wools of different colours into piles.  These piles are arranged in a series in which each pile is barely discriminable from its neighbours.  The blind man knows that a tomato is called red, and lemons yellow, and he knows that when wool from a certain pile is dropped into a bowl of tomatoes the sighted people around him find it especially hard to pick it out, and when the wool from a certain other pile is dropped into a bowl of lemons it, too, becomes hard to pick out.  The blind men thus coordinates the colour words for the various piles with the colour words used for objects he knows otherwise, such as tomatoes, lemons, and lettuce.  Would the blind men use colour words in the same way that we do?  Professor Smart replies that they would, and that “the objective criteria for the redness of an object are exactly the same with them as with us.  These objective criteria are the discriminatory responses of normal percipients.  As against the common view that colour words are meaningless to the congenitally blind I would rather say, therefore, that the congenitally blind can understand the meaning of colour words every bit as well as sighted people can.”24   He concludes: “the idea that a congenitally blind man cannot understand colour words is connected, I suspect, with a pre- Wittgensteinian view of meaning not as “use” but as a mental experience which evokes and is evoked by a word.”

Here I am hopelessly pre-Wittgensteinian.  To say that a blind man who learned to imitate the physical and verbal responses of normal men “can understand the meanings of colour words every bit as well as sighted people can” implies that there is nothing in the colour discrimination of even normal men beyond their physical responses.  The example surely gains such plausibility as it has through confusing two quite different kinds of discrimination.  When the normal man discrimin-ates red from yellow, he is distinguishing the content of two conscious sensory experiences. When the blind man responds “correctly” with “red” to one pile of wool in a series and “yellow” to another, these vocal responses are not discrim-inations between colours at all.  To say that they are is to return to Watson and Skinner with their attempt at literal conceptual identification of two things—a conscious experience and a physical response, which are as different in kind as any two things in the world.  Does the normal man have no advantage over the blind man?  Obviously he has. In what does it here consist?  In this, that he can see or experience or be aware of colours, that he can imagine them, and distinguish them consciously.  The blind man, having never experienced them, has not the slightest idea what these phrases mean to the man with sight.

Most defenders of the identity theory, however, are not reductionists of this type.  They would prefer the other kind of identity, that of composition.  The best analogy of the sense in which consciousness is brain process is to be found, in the opinion of Mr Place, in the statement that lightning is the motion of electric charges.  The meaning of “a flash of lightning is occurring” is clearly different from “a motion of electric charges is occurring,” as is evidenced by their being verified in totally different ways.  Yet plain man and scientist alike are content to say that the lightning is the motion of electric charges.  Why?  Because the motions observed by the scientist “provide an immediate explanation of the observations made by the man in the street.  Thus we conclude that lightning is nothing more than a motion of electric charges, because we know that a motion of electric charges through the atmosphere, such as occurs when lightning is reported, gives rise to the sort of visual stimulation which would lead an observer to report a flash of lightning.”25  If it is permissible to use “is” in this case, there is no reason why we should not use it also in the case of consciousness and brain process.  Suppose a scientist feels an acute pain.  He is no more thinking of the motions in his nervous system than in seeing a flash of lightning he is thinking about the movements of electric charges.  But he can perfectly well say, in the same sense of “is,” that the pain is the motion of particles in his brain.

I may have missed some link in the argument, but I must confess that I can see nothing in it that tends to show even the second type of identity, let alone the first.  The seen flash, which is a conscious event, does not consist of the motion of charges in the atmosphere; the two are entirely different and temporally distinct events.  If we follow the analogy through, we shall have to deny that the conscious pain either is or consists of the change in the nerve; the most we can say is that the two events are connected.  What sort of connection is this?  Mr Place has suggested the answer when in discussing the lightning case he says that the motion of electric charges “provides the immediate explanation” of the visible flash.  And what does “explanation” mean?  It means what scientific explanation generally means—explanation through causal law.  But such explanation, far from supporting the identity hypothesis, is incompatible with it.  For if the nervous events and the pain are connected as cause and effect, their identity is out of the question.  They are two events, not one.


VII. Soft Materialism

The attempt to establish identity appears to end, then, with a notion of consciousness not as identical with events in the nervous system but as their result or effect.  We are thus carried on to epiphenomenalism.  This, I suspect, is the position really implicit in the thought of most physiologists and psychophysicists of the day, whether they have heard the name or not.  They would certainly not swallow the notion that consciousness does not exist, nor would they be prepared to equate it with physical motions, which amounts to the same thing.  If they were to set out their position, it would probably run as follows: Sensations, emotions, recollections, judgments, acts of reasoning, desires, purposes, choices, are mental events, to which physical attributes like volume, mass and motion plainly do not belong.  But there is the best of reasons to believe that, though not physical events themselves, they are always causally dependent on physical events, whose location in the cortex we are able to specify more and more definitely.

Does causation run in the opposite direction also, that is, from mind to brain?  If causation means only correlation, we should be justified in saying Yes; we could say, as common sense does unhesitatingly, that if the dentist’s injuring the nerve end causes the pain, it is also true that the patient’s resolution to bear the pain stoically makes him sit still and restrain his outcry.  But I do not think that most physiologists or psychologists really accept the correlation theory.  Though they would say without hesitation that the injury to the nerve produces the pain, they would hesitate, long and probably in the end decline, to say that the resolution caused anything to happen in the body. As at least would-be natural scientists, they would say that physical events must have physical causes.  Speaking strictly, therefore, a mental resolution or decision can never so much as divert the course of a nervous impulse as it passes across a synapse.  What really produces the bodily change is not the mental event but the physical coun-terpart of that mental event, which is, of course, always present and available as the true cause.  In this way we confine causal agency to events in the natural order and resist unwanted intrusions from a supernatural order, whether psychical or supersti-tious.

And if we deny causal efficacy to the psychical events, we may as well take the further step of denying them agency even in their own realm. Suppose we find our thoughts to have been following a line of “free association” and passing idly from the blue sky to the blue Danube and thence to the St Louis blues.  Has one associate given rise to another?  In appearance Yes, in reality No.  What has actually occurred is that the cortical basis of the first thought has given rise to the cortical basis of the second, and that of the second to that of the third.  The succession of ideas is thus explained without yielding the claim of the physical order to be the exclusive source of all events, mental as well as physical.  The theory is sometimes diagrammed as follows:

There is a series of cortical events, A, B, C, with a series of corresponding psychical events, a, b, c. The order of executive causality runs horizontally from A to B to C, and also upward from A to a, from B to b, and from C to c.  But it does not run horizontally from a to b to c, nor downward from these to anything in the physical succession.

Stated thus in the abstract, the theory is neat and plausible, and as defended by such persuasive writers as T. H. Huxley and Santayana, it is more plausible still.  C. D. Broad has said of it: “Unless there be reason to believe that minds can survive the death of their bodies, I should consider that some form of epiphenomenalism was the most reasonable view to take of the nature of mind and its relation to the body.”26  It is not strictly a naturalist theory if that means one that remains within the limits of physical science, since it admits that consciousness is not physical in composition or attributes.  But it is naturalistic in the sense that matter is regarded as the only agency in nature, the sole determinant of events, and the basis of all causal explanation.  It seems to be the most plausible of those theories that by any stretch of the term can be called naturalistic.  I suspect that many men of science accept it for this reason without giving much thought to its implications regarding human nature and practice.  We shall do well, therefore, before commenting on its validity, to draw out some of these implications, so that if we are inclined to accept it we shall at least know to what we are committing ourselves.

The view implies that no volitions, purposes or desires ever influence behaviour.  When one sits down at a desk in order to write a letter, one’s intention makes no difference to one’s sitting down or writing.  No decision made by Eisenhower in Europe, or Mac Arthur in Korea or Westmoreland in Vietnam made the slightest difference in the conduct of their various wars.  The purpose of Albert Schweitzer to serve the African needy had nothing causally to do with his going to Africa, any more than the purpose of Hitler to liquidate the Jews had any effects in the way of death or misery. Schweitzer did not do right, nor Hitler wrong; nor has anyone ever done anything good or bad, if that means that what he did issued out of his choice. The desire of a youth for an education never leads him to go to college, or his desire for a girl to propose to her, or his desire to win a race to enter a contest or to run faster.  Again, our thoughts make no difference to what we do or say.  There is nothing in Russell’s fifty volumes that was written because he had one conviction rather than another. When a debater argues a case, his interest in proving that case never makes any difference to the words or sentences he uses.  No student sitting for an examination will ever write a better paper because he thinks more clearly or recalls more completely the relevant facts.  Shakespeare’s conception of Lear or Cordelia had no influence on what he wrote in the play, nor did Coleridge’s imagination make him set down or delete anything in The Ancient Mariner.  Euclid’s seeing that the angles of a triangle must equal two right angles, Aristotle’s seeing that a Barbara syllogism is valid, had no effect on what they taught.  Again, feeling and sensation are without influence on conduct. The pain of getting burnt has no part in leading the child to avoid the fire.  No one ever stops his car at a cross-road because he sees a red light rather than a green one.  No one ever swears because he is angry, or sends a Valentine out of affection, or pays a debt from a sense of duty, or bundles up from fear of a cold.  Again, no thought or purpose ever accounts for any mental event that comes after it.  No one ever accepts a conclusion because he sees that the evidence demands it, or, for that matter, because he wants to believe it; rationalization in the Freudian sense is as impossible as it is to be rational, if that means being guided by what one takes to be the demands of reason.  Nor does any idea ever give rise to another through resemblance or relevance or association.  Beethoven never added one bar to another because of what aesthetic requirements demanded or seemed to demand.  Consciousness, in short, is an impotent observer from the sidelines in the conduct of life.

What, then, is the real executive agent in biography and history?  It is the body.  It was Russell’s durable and efficient body that wrote that row of volumes, with never an assist from his thought.  The body is the only saint or sinner, for motives have nothing to do with what it does. There once was a body that, unprompted by its mind, made the set of marks on paper called King Lear, and another that rose to its feet and gave Churchillian speeches, while the consciousness of each of these bodies, like the fly that rode the elephant, no doubt took a pathetic satisfaction in its own performance.  Of course, the brain of a man is an unimaginably complex apparatus, composed of billions of cells, each of which has countless components.  Still the components are all physical, and the natural scientist believes that the laws governing their behaviour are in the end exclusively those of physics and chemistry.


VIII. The Failure of Epiphenomenalism

Does our budget of paradoxes disprove the theory?  No, I think not.  It involves a prodigious change in our view of human nature, and, I think, a high degree of improbability, but not a decisive disproof.  It is hard to set clear limits to what an apparatus as complex as the human body can do without purposive guidance.  Fortunately we do not have to rely on probability only.  There are other considerations that seem to me to defeat the theory decisively.

First there is a consideration drawn from the nature of inference.  I have several times made this point in print, and have been fortified by finding that the fire it drew seemed to leave it intact. Epiphenomenalists commonly hold that the laws of science are empirical laws, and therefore without logical necessity.  In explaining why brain state B should follow brain state A, one cannot resort to any necessity linking the character or the content of these states.  Nor can one resort to such necessity in explaining why the conscious state b follows the conscious state a, since in the realm of consciousness nothing exerts causal constraint on anything else.  Now, I think this is false and can be shown to be so.  Take any case of valid inference, “Either the death of President Kennedy was the work of a group, or Oswald was the assassin.  But no group was involved.  Therefore Oswald was the assassin.”  The inference here is a psychological succession, ending with the thought of the conclusion.  Why did this terminal thought pop into mind instead of anyone of a thousand others?  The natural answer is that a moment before we had laid hold in thought of the premisses, and that we went on to the thought of the conclusion because it was entailed by these premisses.  I think that this natural answer is correct, though it is not the whole of the answer.  And it is quite inconsistent with epiphenomenalism, since it implies that one conscious event determines through its content or character (or more precisely through the logical relation of its content to another content) the emergence of a later event.

Let us move cautiously here.  Implication and inference are, of course, not to be confused; implication is a timeless relation between characters; inference is a succession of events in time.  What I am maintaining is that the timeless relation of implication which links the contents of the successive events plays a part in explaining why the inference took the course it did.  Again, I am not maintaining that this relation of implication is the sole condition of the conscious passage, for there are many other conditions, such as an interest in knowing, being in normal health, perhaps having had a cup of coffee and not being at the moment distracted.  But if one asks oneself why, with these premisses in mind, one leaped to this conclusion rather than to the thought of cherry trees in May, one surely cannot disregard the fact that it is the conclusion required by the premisses we just had in mind.

Indeed, we must note that the kind of explanation we are offering is doubly inconsistent with the epiphenomenalist account.  That account holds, first, that the character of event a makes no difference to the occurrence of event b.  But we can see in retrospect that unless an event having the character of a, that is, of being an apprehension of these premisses, had occurred, there is no reason whatever to believe that the event b would have occurred.  We can only believe, therefore, that the character of a did make a difference.  Secondly, our explanation involves a type of causation of which epiphenomenalism knows nothing.  We ordinarily think of the cause as preceding the effect.  The entailment of the conclusion by the premisses is neither before nor after the conclusion, because it is timeless.  But since it does clearly contribute to the course of the inference, we must concede that causal influence is not confined to antecedents in time.  Some critics, thinking this incredible, have insisted that the emergence in thought of the conclusion is rather due to a particular psychological event, the event of seeing that the premisses entail the conclusion.  This is both inconsistent with epiphenomenalism and logically circular.  For what we have to explain is the emergence of the conclusion in the thinker’s consciousness, and when he has seen that the conclusion is entailed, that conclusion is, of course, already before him.  The critic is thus explaining the emergence by assuming that it has already occurred.  What we must say, strange as it is from the naturalist point of view, is that it is not the thought of the entailment that contributes to the emergence of the conclusion, but the actual entailment itself.  A. E. Taylor once wrote, in language alien to present ways of speech, of “the initiative of the eternal.”  That, to be sure, is metaphysics.  It is none the worse for that. Indeed, I would suggest that when empirical and natural science reaches the level of human thinking it must either incorporate metaphysics or go bankrupt.

A theory that allows no influence of thought on behaviour has another consequence, which to some will be more disturbing.  It is self-contradictory, in the sense in which it is self-contradictory to deny the Cartesian cogito; the thesis is inconsistent with its own enunciation and defence.  When one states the thesis, it is with the intention of reporting one’s belief to others; we assume that this intention will affect what we say, and without that assumption we should not have been so foolish as to entertain the intention at all. Again, we assume that it is possible, when considering whether a thesis is true, to order our thought about it with reference to our purpose, inhibiting ourselves from wandering off into irrelevance, dwelling specially on matters of greater importance, and moving on to a conclusion appointed by the weight of the evidence.  If this process were not possible, there would be no point in thinking at all.  Eminent present-day philoso-phers of science, following Santayana, whether knowingly or not, describe what happens in a course of thinking as follows.  “the dark engine of nature,” as Santayana calls the process in the brain, grinds along a track of purely physical causality.  There is presumed to be no such thing as purpose or relevance or evidence or necessity among the neurones of the cortex.  Nevertheless, these churnings of the dark engine have a surprising way of pushing up into consciousness at the end conclusions that have every appearance of having been reached by the consideration of, and constraint by, relevant evidence.  Since the working of the machine has been unguided by the purpose of the thinker, this happy ending is, relatively to that purpose, a piece of pure luck. Surely if our naturalistic psychologists really believed this about their own thinking, they would lack the heart to launch themselves on the process. If this process takes its course unaffected by considerations of relevance, and if the seen weight of evidence can make no difference to one’s acceptance of a thesis, why think?  Similarly, if the argument, transmitted to another mind, can make no difference to his conclusions, why try to communicate?  The constant conduct of the naturalist in presenting and defending his theory is inconsistent with the truth of that theory.

Consider, thirdly, the moral aspect of this sort of naturalism.  A moral choice commonly involves the contemplation of two or more courses of action and the election of one as the right one.  There is much difference of opinion as to what makes a course right, but we do not need at the moment to raise that thorny question.  Most of us would probably agree that there is some course of action that would be the right one to take, and that we should find and do it if we can.  We should probably agree, further, that if we see or believe a course to be right, we ought to take it, and that in taking it because we do see or believe it to be right lies the highest form of moral goodness, even if not the only one, as Kant supposed.  Now, the interesting thing is that for the kind of naturalism before us there is no such thing as a good action in this sense.  No one ever chooses anything because he sees that he ought to, for one psychical event never causes another.  No choosing or deciding to act in a certain way ever causes us to behave in that way, since that would be an action of the mental on the physical.  Moral goodness in this sense ceases to be.

Indeed, the ethical consequences go far beyond this.  On the theory, how could we even be egoists? The egoist is the man who habitually chooses his own good in preference to that of others.  But to act with reference to one’s own good once more assumes the possibility of the mental controlling the physical.  Again, there can be no moral responsibility, since if nothing one’s body does springs out of one’s own volition, how could one be held accountable for it?  Rewards and punishments would be pointless.  They could not be justified retributively for the reason just given; they could not be justified as encouragement or deterrence, since that assumes that the anticipation of results may affect behaviour.

It seems fair to say that if no one ever acts as he does because he sees, or thinks he sees, one action to be better than another, ethics is being ruled off the board.  It is true, however, that this type of naturalism has one advantage over behaviourism.  It can recognize intrinsic values, even though it has no place for the pursuit of them. Pleasure and affection, knowledge and the experience of beauty, lie in consciousness, and for this sort of naturalism consciousness at least exists.  On the other hand, for a consistent behaviourist there are no values, since there is no place for them in this universe.  When Mr Rogers objected to Mr Skinner that science could decide questions of means but not of ends, Mr Skinner replied: “Whether we like it or not, survival is the ultimate criterion.”27  This reduction of value to fact, reminiscent of Herbert Spencer, is the inevitable behaviourist reply.  It is perhaps enough to point out regarding it (1) that in some cases (extreme agony and helplessness, for example) survival is an evil not a good, and (2) that survival may have various forms, in which some are obviously better than others. In neither case could survival be the ultimate test.

There is one other consideration that should be mentioned if we are to see in perspective the attempt of natural scientists to deal with the mind. It is the extraordinary oscillation in their thought as to the meaning of “physical.”  In the usage of Professor Skinner, the term seems to mean what it does for common sense; physical objects are such things as tables, chairs, and one’s body, which are all on a common footing in public space; and their shapes and sizes, weights and colours, belong to them in their own right.  This thought of the body as a solid independent thing has also been standard among epiphenomenalists.  Huxley, who invented the name, took this view for granted until he read Hume.  From then on he was in trouble.  Hume’s thesis about the sensible order seemed irrefutable, namely that everything we immediately experience belongs in the realm of consciousness.  But if you combine this with the common-sense view of the body, as Huxley tried to do, you end in a never-never land in which the universe has all but vanished.  First you hold that the body, the solid observable thing, has a mind connected with it which is a useless by-product or shadow.  You then find that this body, which is basic to mind, is itself a set of characters and relations all of which belong within consciousness.  Hence the body, the basic reality for Huxley the biologist, becomes for Huxley the philosopher the fragment of a shadow.

Now, it is notorious, natural, and probably right that scientists should not concern themselves much with philosophy.  In the common-sense view of the body they feel themselves, as Professor Skinner does, to be secure and with their feet on the ground.  But this common-sense body, is of course, very far from that of the physicist, whose views of matter are taken by other scientists, at least in their professional moments, as authoritative.  And if these others did think of the body as the physicist does, the mind-body problem would be transformed for them.  It is instructive to see what has happened in the thought of that wonderful old man, Lord Russell.  In his youth he was the leader of the extreme realists, holding that every quality of physical things, including one’s own body, existed independently of its being experienced.  In his last important work, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, he comes round to the view that everything we immediately experience lies in the realm of consciousness.  The body is not now a solid object among others in public space, but a boiling mass of unobserved and unobservable particles in a space of their own.  And the mind is not a set of shadowy processes, but the whole “choir of heaven and furniture of earth” that forms one’s experienced world.

Russell the ancient sage is nearer the truth, I think, than Russell the bright young man.  And if so, the place of consciousness in the scientific scheme of things is transformed.  For consciousness is then no longer a tenuous shadow whose very existence is doubtful, but our base and starting point, the region of greatest certainty, while the realm of the physical becomes a twilight zone of inference, of hypotheses about the invisible and impalpable, of flights of metaphysical speculation.  Matter has become, says Russell with a dash of his pleasant hyperbole, “a wave of probability undulating in nothingness.”  No one knows much about it; Bohr’s model of the atom was outdated a decade or two later.  Meanwhile both the values and the certainties of life, which lie in the sphere of consciousness, are much the same as they were thousands of years ago.


IX. Consciousness Not Expendable

It is time scientists ceased to downgrade consciousness, without which they would have no starting-point and no verification for their theories, and, of course, no theories either.  Is there not something grotesque in the sight of psychologists, literally the scientists of the mind, denying that they have any distinct subject-matter, and insisting that even in this denial they are only talking?  Why do they sacrifice their own discipline in this manner?  Primarily because of a misplaced notion of rigour.  Because thoughts and feelings are not public and measurable, they are not quite respectable as objects of study.  If the inner life were accepted on its own terms as permeated by purpose, oriented toward values and striving to realize them, the purity of strictly natural science would be contaminated.  True research and the hope for significant advance lie in turning away from teleology towards purpose-free physical science.  And all this in spite of the fact that the one first-rate contribution to psychology in this century, that of Freud, sprang from a precisely opposite assumption.

If we may hope for the time when physical scientists will no longer down-grade the mind, we may perhaps also hope for the day when psychologists will cease to apologize for their minds.  When they write an article or an argument, they are surely aware that their purpose has determined the course of their thought, and this knowledge is more certain than any theory that would make their thought the mirror or by-product of a hypothetical and purposeless process in their brains.  When they find themselves acting for the good or the hurt of another, they may be more certain that they are acting for some purpose—even if they may be mistaken as to what it is—than they are of any theory of the conservation of energy or matter (assuming these still to be distinct) that would veto this kind of action.  In holding to the existence and efficacy of consciousness they are not being naive or rash; the rashness belongs rather to those who would deny the obvious in the interest of a speculative theory. A generation ago G. E. Moore, in his “Defence of Common Sense,” brought the metaphysicians up short by asking them whether they were more certain that time and space were unreal than that they were writing a sentence on paper spread out in space before them and taking a minute or two to do it.  Have we not a similar right to ask the metaphysicians of science whether they are really more certain that the energy in the physical universe remains in exact balance than that they have sometimes decided successfully to stand up or sit down.  Such questions tend to put our “certainties” in a better order of priority.

I am not, of course, opposing metaphysics; far from it.  But I follow Hume in thinking that human nature is the best launching pad for metaphysics, and that we should not, in the interest of ulterior conclusions, distort the facts about it at the outset. And those facts are not what scientific naturalism would have us think they are.  In human nature as we know it at first hand, our thinking, feeling, and acting are suffused with purpose; our reasoning at its best is under controls of which empirical science knows nothing; our processes of creation in art and literature are, so to speak, Aristotelian processes, not Newtonian, in which that which is coming to be somehow determines the course of its own fulfilment; actions may be genuinely obligatory, and our sense of this may bring them about.  These processes cannot be understood, or even properly studied, by a science whose model is physics.

In short, as was suggested at the beginning, science is at a crossroads. Either it should recon-ceive its programme so that it can deal with the facts of mind, or, admitting that these facts fall beyond its province, it should cheer the birth of a more humane and sensitive discipline that can deal with them as they are. 



1 Science the Glorious Entertainment.

2 The Measure of Man.

3 Engaged and Disengaged.

4 The Broken Image.

5 Readings in the Philosophy of Science, ed. Feigl and Brodbeck, 11.

6 Ibid., 104-5; italics in text.

7 Behaviorism, 6.

8 J. B. Watson and W. McDougall, The Battle of Behaviorism, 26.

9 The Nature of Thought, I, Ch. 9·

10 Philosophy of Science, I, 4 (1936).

11 Language, Truth and Logic, 1st edn, 202, 203.

12 The Idea of History, 308 ff. (1935).

13 Science and Human Behavior, 30.

14 Ibid., 30.

15 Ibid., 35.

16 B. Blanshard and B. F. Skinner, “The Problem of Consciousness: A Debate,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, March 1967, 329.

17 Cf. the following from Lord Brain:  “. . . As regards the physical events occurring in the nervous system we have at present only the most elementary knowledge of them at comparatively simple levels of organization, and none at all of the ultimate physical basis of thinking, willing and remembering.”  J. R. Smythies (ed.), Brain and Mind, 54.

18 Body, Mind, and Death, ed. A. Flew, 234.

19 Science and Human Behavior, 81.

20 Ibid., 70, 71.

21 “Mind and the Language of Psychology,” in Ratio, Vol. IX, No.2, Dec. 1967, 127.

22 See his In Defence of Freedom, 243-75.

23 U. T. Place, “Consciousness is Just Brain Processes,” in Body, Mind, and Death, ed. A. Flew, 278.

24 In an article “Colours” in Philosophy, Vol. XXXVI, No. 137, Apr.-July 1961, 141.  I have abbreviated the illustration in a way that I hope does not obscure the principle.

25 Op. cit., 283.

26 Mind and Its Place in Nature, 476.

27 Cumulative Record, 34.

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