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Lecture VIII: The Realm of Minds

So far we have dealt with what appeared to be the most solid phenomena of the human cave, the bodies that stood before us in the infinite medium of space, that displayed themselves to us and affected our sensibility in countless ways, that endured in time, and that were in the main opposed to us in their simple integrity and persistence and imperviousness to environmental variation, including the variations in our own concern with them, and our accessibility to their influence. That they are in the main such integral, persistent, self-contained, self-sufficient realities is not primarily brought home to us by their palpable appearances: it is what we feel or know to be true of them, what we recognize in them when they silently confront us. Though lacking gross visibility or what in German is called Anschaulichkeit, all this is as much given, as much ‘there’, as much part of the phenomena, as are the grossly palpable features which traditional empiricism alone feels justified in recognizing. This great solid mass of bodies seems to provide a point of attachment, of constancy, to all the looser elements that drift about it, the erratic living bodies that make strange uses of themselves and of their inert neighbours, the floating thoughts, dreams, personal feelings and longings that circulate among bodies and colour them, the stable ideal meanings and values that enable us to classify them or to grade them. All these are like the multiform marine shapes that float among the coral and sand of the sea-bottom, and that would seem phantasmagoric without the latter.

Now, however, the solid stuff of the world has betrayed us, and has shown itself to be quite as phantasmagoric as the subtler things hovering about it. It has ceased to stand in a firm relation of contrast to the spatio-temporal emptiness which served as its background, it has neither been combined into firm unities nor dissolved into such, it has not been firm in its inertia, its integrity, its insensitiveness to the environment and to the ideally possible, it has not even been true to the independence which appears its proudest distinction, revealing itself as deeply adapted and accommodated to the minds that study it, and not even capable of being torn from their personal sensibility. Matter in short has shown itself to be a fraud, and not merely a change in descriptive orientation but a quest for logical stability turns our gaze in another direction. We have been reduced to the absurd, and must now follow another path that will lead away from our absurd outcome to something less infected with absurdity. An age-old philosophical tradition tells us that it is in the realm of minds and their thoughts, their cogitations, that this less absurd thing may perhaps be found.

It will be profitable here to dwell on the remarkable argumentation with which, in his Second Meditation, Descartes ascends from the ruins of his first extended world of nature to a second, unextended world of thoughts and thinkers. The First Meditation has cast doubt on all the solid objects encountered by the senses, as well as on their possession of the properties that the senses reveal: doubt has also been cast on the less solid but more shiningly evident relationships of numbers, which do not, however, concern us at present. The shifts and changes of sensible aspect, the deceptions of dreams, as well as the haunting suggestion of a possible diabolism which has rigged the whole natural scene, have all eaten away that native confidence which Descartes will later call the teaching of nature. The mind, formerly so full of faith, now verges towards the nihilistic conclusion that none of these things, in fact nothing whatever in nature, may really be at all. ‘I suppose, then, that all the things that I see are false; I persuade myself that nothing has ever existed of all that my fallacious memory represents to me. I consider that I possess no senses; I imagine that body, figure, extension, movement and place are but the fictions of my mind. What then can be esteemed as true? Perhaps nothing at all, unless that there is nothing in the world that is certain.’1

Now, however, when all is at such a desperate ebb, there is a strange revolution in our cognitive fortunes, and everything suddenly appears in a novel, positive light. The non-existence of the natural world, including the unreality of our own bodily presence in it, suddenly serves as the ground for a new, positive affirmation: we become assured of the existence of something else, of a thought, a belief, even if deceived, or of a disbelief or doubt which supersedes our original belief, and the existence of the thought instantly points to the existence of a thinker who thinks it. What is remarkable in this cognitive revolution is its strange mixture of congruity and incongruity. We have jumped from universal non-existence, or near-universal, merely possible nonexistence, to absolute assured existence, and we have jumped from one order of being to another, quite different, antithetically opposed order of being: no case can be cited in which premisses and conclusion are more disparate and unrelated in content, more unfitted to allow the spark of inference to leap between them, and yet such a leap is precisely what we do have, and a very shining and conspicuous leap at that. The canons of inference have been flouted, and yet an inference, or something better than an inference, has been consummated. This remarkable Cartesian argument is of course the same argument which Husserl employs in his Ideen, where, practising a universal εποχη or suspension in regard to all the beliefs characteristic of the natural attitude, he finds it impossible to practise such a suspension in regard to the existence of thought or consciousness itself. This, he argues, must be held to exist absolutely and without qualification, and not merely ‘intentionally’, or as an object of thought or consciousness.

The argument of Descartes has been inadequately and confusedly set forth by Descartes himself, and it is doubtful whether he was fully conscious of its many-sided profundity. He saw that it was no ordinary syllogism, complete with major, minor and middle terms and other formal machinery, but he was inclined to construe it as a simple intuition of a necessary connection between thinking and being: something that thinks is also something that must be held to be. This view of the argument is reflected in the unfortunate formula Cogito ergo sum, which, we can say, does not represent the true course of the Cartesian argument, and which, so far from expressing a worth-while intuition, really makes the emptiest of assertions, a mere application of the tautological transformation of ‘Something is X’ into ‘An X exists’. The vast literature that has spread like an Indo-Chinese forest to enwrap this silly formula is not one that I can contemplate with patience: if Descartes merely wished to inform us that thought is not predicable of non-existent thinkers, his Meditations might very well be consigned to the flames.

Some brooding on the actual argument in the Meditations reveals, however, that it involves two quite different steps, the first stated at length but very misleadingly, the second rather muffed and taken by implication: the first is a step from the non-existence of the world to the existence of a thought about that world, the second is a step from the existence of this thought to the existence of a thinker of it. We shall for the time being ignore the latter step. Why the first step in this momentous argument is so thoroughly masked is that words like ‘doubt’, ‘delusion’, ‘deceit’, etc, have two quite different uses, themselves related by a Cartesian transition: they can be used to undermine an assertion about some objective thing or matter or fact, and they can be used to assert the existence of a correlated psychological reality. ‘There is doubt as to whether the election will be carried’ represents one use of the word ‘doubt’, where the focus is on the election and its outcome: ‘Doubt is spreading among the election-workers’ represents the other use, where the focus is not on the election and its outcome, but on the shaken interior state of the election-workers. Now most of Descartes' First Meditation, though it may bring in psychological matters, e.g. dreams, by way of evidence for or against, is concerned, not with such psychological matters, but with the natural, bodily world whose existence and properties seem so certain: what emerges from that Meditation is not the psychological fact that toe are doubtful as to the existence and character of that world, but that there may not be a natural world at all, or at least not such a natural world as we suppose there to be. There may be no sun, no moon, no animate or inanimate bodies, none of the things, in short, which we say enter into nature. It is, then, when doubt in this undermining sense is at its greatest, that we switch to the other kind of doubt in which unqualified existential assertion replaces undermining; the non-being of the natural world which has been becoming increasingly likely suddenly points to the being of the psychological processes, the doubts, in which that possible non-being has made itself felt. And the being of these psychological doubts is as much assured as the being of their objects was in doubt. From the fact that I am doubting I now go on to make the more general assertion that I am thinking, since to doubt is to be capable, not only of doubting, but also of believing, disbelieving, entertaining, wishing, willing, etc., all those other activities, in short, which do not make sense unless one can also doubt, and without which doubting does not make sense at all. This Descartes does not explicitly say, but it is implied by his further treatment of an activity like doubting as inevitably pointing to a thinking substance, to one, that is, that is capable of doing a great number of other things besides doubting.

The step we are considering conforms to a pattern which Hegel would have called ‘dialectical’. It does not arise as long as we stay in the phase of consciousness represented by our premisses and merely develop its content mechanically: it arises only when we stand aside from the first consciouness in question and become aware of its covert implications. Thus the thought of the whole world as non-existent neither contains nor straightforwardly entails the thought of an existent thought about that world, but it none the less rationally prompts it: it may not prompt it in virtue of its ‘content’, of what it lays before us, but it prompts it in virtue of its own existence as a thought and of the nature it therein exhibits. This brings us to dwell on the whole character of what is called ‘reflection’, the mind's passage from the consideration of this or that thing or situation, to the consideration of its own consideration of that thing or situation. There is, on the one hand, a tendency to feel that this represents a remarkable, empirical discovery: a man turns his gaze away from the material world that has at some point deceived and betrayed him, and becomes aware of something else, standing modestly in the wings, that is not capable of deceit or betrayal. There has been a momentous, non-logical leap from matter to spirit, and from unreality to reality. This view is obviously unacceptable. When a man reflects, he obviously does not merely encounter some new irrelevant thing or matter of fact: reflection is only by a gross distortion to be likened to a sense-encounter, and spoken of as ‘inner sense’. Obviously what is occurring is in some way an understandable transformation of the previous situation. It is more like passing from the recognition that X is not present, to the slightly different recognition that there is a specific gap, an absence in the situation before us: it is not like passing from the recognition that X is not present to the recognition that his aunt is.

From a purely empirical inner-sense view of reflection one is then inclined to swing over to the view that the change does not really represent an alteration at all. Every awareness of anything is at the same time, εν παρεργω, an awareness of itself, as Aristotle and Brentano argue, and as Sartre maintains in his doctrine of the pre-reflexive Cogito. The logical difficulties of something which, in being an awareness of A, is also an awareness of an awareness of A, are, however, not such as to be welcomed even in a pure phenomenology: appearances into which such an infinitely proliferating virus is injected cannot achieve stability. Possibly the best way of holding that the transformation is empty and trivial is the modern way: to regard it as an unimportant linguistic transformation. Language, we may smoothly say, subserves two functions: it serves primarily to point to some thing or character or circumstance in the world that is being spoken of, and it also serves secondarily to evince a state of the speaker, a state which reveals itself in a great number of other ways besides the use of the words that the speaker is using. And we shift very readily from the primary to the secondary use when it seems that the primary use involves a confusion or a mistake. From saying confidently ‘There is cheese in the larder’ we pass to saying ‘I think there is cheese in the larder’. A man ready to make an utterance soon learns to use this language of thinking, more readily where the situation that would validate an utterance is in doubt, but also in cases where no such doubt exists. The emergence of innumerable new parenthetic uses of ‘I think’ suggests, however, the existence of a whole new queer medium of mind, in which ordinary objects are glassily inexistent. It suggests the existence of a wholly new kind of observation bringing to light a quite new set of findings, which have, moreover, a superior certainty to the findings which concern the realm of bodies. Really, however, the new mode of speech introduces us to no novel entities, but merely to more cautious speech-habits, which can be used even in the absence of their normal occasions. These new habits cannot discredit as absurd the whole realm of bodies, since the things they deal with are securely moored to the bodily realm, and can only be pinned down in discourse because they are so.

I shall not here discuss the background and origin of this deep trivialization of the inner life of experience, this astonishing attempt to divest us of the most uniquely precious of all our possessions. Undoubtedly it builds on an important truth, that there are a large number of cases in which the words ‘I think’, or other apparently reflex forms, represent nothing genuinely reflex, but are merely a more elaborate or politely qualified way of saying what we should otherwise say. ‘I believe that a storm is blowing up’ often says no more than ‘A storm is blowing up’, ‘I wish you would cut your hair’ often says much the same as ‘Cut your hair’, and ‘I am astonished to hear that this is the case’ often says no more than ‘This, which is improbable, also is true’. Obviously, too, there is no necessary reference to something non-physical and interior in such statements as ‘He thought a storm was blowing up’, etc. But that these blunted cases are the paradigms on which talk of thought is, or should be, based is greatly to be questioned. It is more than merely arguable that we only speak of such blunted cases as we do speak of them because they resemble fully-formed, unblunted cases, cases which bring out fully what is in the blunted cases merely rudimentary. There is an interior understanding and grasp of things from which, in an understandable manner, varied linguistic and other behaviour flows, and it is because men and animals often act as if they had such an interior understanding and grasp, even when they do not have it, that we pin down their outer acts as cases of understanding. It is likewise because from an inner resolution, clearly oriented to certain ends, certain acts understandably issue, that we can gather those acts together as if flowing from an inner resolution. In all this we are adopting the Platonic principle of understanding the blunted, impoverished, inexplicit case in terms of the rich, full explicit one.

The Cartesian passage from the non-being or possible non-being of something in the natural world does not therefore represent a mere empirical discovery nor a trivial verbal transformation. It represents, if one likes, a logical transformation that is not at all trivial, but which does not reveal itself fully till we have gone another step up the ladder. The passage from a thought of X to the reflex thought of this thought is, as an experience, very like a surprising discovery, in which something wholly new ‘swims into our ken’. For how should X mediate a conclusion involving matters not entering into the description of X at all? But when we go one stage further, and reflect on our previous reflection, we at once feel an intrinsic naturalness in passing from a thought of a thought of X to a thought concerning that thought of a thought. The parity of subject-matter which is, as it were, hidden in the former case, lies exposed in the latter: we see something understandable in our previous unconscious passage from the thought of X (in which X only was present to us) to the thought of the thought of X (in which the new dimension of thought came before us), now that we are standing outside of both and seeing both as cases of thought. Even so the transition has no strict necessity, for quite obviously a sufficiently deep absorption in X means that X alone, not one's thought of it, appears before one, whereas, from the other side, the thought of one's thought of X does not mean that one's primary thought of X is actual any longer, nor that what one did think was quite the same as what one now thinks that one thought. Only those little versed in reflection will doubt the experimental genuineness as well as the symbolic expressibility of the above possibilities.

What appears in all this is the entirely higher-order character of states of mind. They are not of the same logical or phenomenological type as bodies or anything bodily, and the most diligent scanning of the material world and its properties, relations and facts will not suffice to reveal them. Mental states may be of bodies and their states, but they cannot be in them or among them or made up of them. Being of a different logical or phenomenological type, they also exemplify peculiar categories. Relations there may be among them, and between them and other things, but their dominant and peculiar category is not relational at all. For being of something, or directed upon something, is precisely what is possible even if what one is of, or what one is directed to, does not exist anywhere, and this is just what cannot be the case in a truly relational situation. One cannot sit on a nonexistent chair or marry a non-existent wife, but this is precisely what one can do, and without mystery, in the case of thinking, or even of some sorts of ‘seeing’. Intentionality, the mind's specific directedness to this or to that, is therefore, only quasi-relational: it is, as it were, one-sided, and, while depending on some real center of experience, points outwards towards things that may not have being anywhere. The logical situation we are describing is of course puzzling and irritating to all lowest-level thinkers, and hence if materialism is avoided, its categories and treatments tend to recur in the treatment of mind. Mind is conceived in terms of thing-like elements of various sorts variously qualified and related. All these confusions are the fruits of category-mistakes, of an inability to rise to the peculiar level of mind and mental activity, and of a retention of forms of discourse and analysis which no longer have application.

All this has been set forth in Brentano's doctrine of intentionality, or directedness to objects, as the basic character of ‘psychic’ or mental phenomena, a view which also underlies all phenomenology. We accept the view and reject the exceptions and qualifications that some have sought to make in it, as confusing its valuable ειδος. The most salient apparent exception lies in the region of mere sentience and feeling, where it seems untrue to the phenomena to say that there is anything like an object before us. A passing visceral twinge, a vague tiredness in the limbs or heavy-heartedness in the soul, a sense of ease or difficulty in thinking, or of shock in passing from one perception to another: all these are cases which tempt us to employ a grammar or mere quality, in which there is no vestige of a reference to anything. Even in the visual and auditory sphere there are things like light falling on closed eyelids, or vague head-buzzings, which approximate to mere sentience. But the second-order character even of these undoubted phenomena is betrayed by the word ‘of’ used in talking of them. Even if they may not actually lay anything before us, they intrinsically have an outward-turned, referential use: they have a facultative objectivity which is not a merely associative, empirical matter. A twinge of pain, e.g., can by a simple transformation become a merely observed phenomenon going on like forked lightning somewhere in our bodies: as opposed to this objectivity we recognize the deeply personal undergoing of the pain which it would be absurd to conceive of as broken up into parts or pinned down in space. In the same way, in the case of felt ease and difficulty in thinking, the feeling is intrinsically adjusted to, of a complex situation involving matters spread over a lapse of time, in opposition to which spead-outness and dispersal it manifests a characteristic present reality and unity: it is the feeling now of all those realities and possibilities, and readily leads to an awareness of all that it is. We could not, without absurdity, imagine a physical stream feeling its own current in the same manner. Many cases of undirected mood are likewise undirected only in virtue of being of highly indefinite objects, which, from a phenomenological point of view, do not differ from wholly definite ones. There is, accordingly, no reason why we should make an exception to the second-order view of mind and mental activities: mental activities are of matters which, in the last resort, are not of anything, and so not mental at all. Of course it may be held that there are things other than mental activities having the ‘ofness’, the reference, which we have found characteristic of the mental. Thus absences and potentialities are essentially the absences and potentialities of something or other, etc. It may, however, be doubted—though we shall not argue the point—whether any of these abstract cases of ‘ofness’ are not disguised cases of mental ‘ofness’.

The frontal ascent to the mental is the Cartesian ascent by way of deception or unreality: there are, however, countless subsidiary ascents, of varying ease or difficulty, which involve the manner of consciousness, the variable way in which the same objective content can be brought home to the mind. Obviously there is, as we have said, that sort of facultative, purely sentient intentionality, in which the materials, the conscious imprint of some bodily or other situation are lived through, without being used to present the situation in question, as when a deeply absorbed man stares at the paving-stones on his way home, as opposed to enjoying a fully percipient view of the same paving-stones. Obviously again there are all degrees of illustrative fulfilment in the percipient view in question, according as the object is seen more or less fully or closely, and from this or that angle. Obviously again there is the deep difference between a percipient and an imaginative awareness of a body or bodily situation, and the difference between either and an awareness mediated by models or symbols, as when we study a map or a description of a region. And different from all are the undoubtedly existent cases of pure noesis in which nothing lends conscious concreteness to a pure awareness of what may be a highly complex situation, as where we realize, e.g., that there was something rather like this present a little while ago. There is likewise the variation in conscious experience represented by seeing an object in this or that ‘light’; as the next thing in order, as a chandelier, a chairman, etc. And there are also differences in nearness to actuality as when some percept trembles on the verge of arousal, or lies more or less deeply buried. And there is, of course, the centrally important phenomenological difference between what lies in the clear focus of consciousness and what lies on its blurred margin. It is not possible in this lecture to argue for the reality of all these conscious differences, nor to demolish the specious analyses which would reduce them to ways in which existent contents are arranged or follow upon one another, analyses which are always attempts to apply the logic of the bodily world to what are essentially phenomena of higher order. What we may here generally maintain is that consciousness reveals itself by variations in the manner in which phenomena are phenomena, in which they are given or appear, much as a more or less translucent medium reveals its presence by the blurring, discoloration, dislocation, obscuration and distortion of the objects seen through it. The analogy is only an analogy: conscious manners have a much profounder invisibility than translucent media.

If we have followed a Cartesian pathway in ascending from the bodily to the mental world, we may now briefly consider some dialectical continuations of that pathway: the dualism which Descartes himself sponsored so warmly, the idealism towards which his scepticism has pushed modern philosophy, and the solipsism which represents its last refinement. As regards the first, the higher-order character of mental phenomena, their essential ofness, sets an immense gulf between them and bodily phenomena, the partial justification of all forms of dualism. And, with this higher-order status, goes an incapacity, long recognized in philosophy, for the extendedness, the partes extra partes, of space, and even for the protendedness, the partes post partes, of time. A state of mind may be intimately of an extended phenomenon, but it has a unity, an overallness, which is quite alien to what it is of. Space may not properly be resoluble into a dust of points or a mosaic of regions, as some have wrongly conceived it, but there is a sense in which whatever is in it has a local loyalty, whereas the experience which is of it, or of any part of it, has none. Our sense of a complex, angular configuration resists the parcelling which is proper to the configuration. And in the case of time, a state of mind certainly changes and develops and is in flux as all things do or are, and many of its properties require a period for their full manifestation. None the less there is a sense in which all such periodicities only have relevance at the mental level in so far as they are also concentrated into each moment of the whole process. Each point in an enduring mental state must be somehow represented in every other, whether in the manner of mere felt continuity or of overt retention or anticipation. And this concentrated, unitary character of the mental becomes ever more marked as we rise from the richly perceptual to the schematically imaginative, and end up in the purely and emptily noetic, as when we have, without words or images, consciousnesses expressible only in the most complex phrases and pictures. Here it is not merely spatial and temporal apartness that vanishes, but any sort of internal differentiation. Everything, as we say, is present in a nutshell, and the nutshell may be of an immensely differentiated subject-matter, though remaining itself without inner difference. This sort of situation is shocking and incredible only to those who have not accepted the essential ofness of mental states, their power to intend the complex without being themselves complex.

A certain dualism of ειδος, of essence, between bodily and mental phenomena, is therefore evident. But the feature which establishes the dualism also enables us to transcend it. For it is the ofness, the reference, which distinguishes states of mind from bodily phenomena, which also ties the former to the latter, since all mental references must, after a finite number of steps, be of things that are not references, nor subjects of references, and of these we know only bodies. It is a respectable opinion that the dissipated life of body, not only external to mind but also external to itself, is a natural antithesis and foil to the concentrated life of mind, and that what the latter concentrates the former dissipates and disperses. Certainly the phenomena do much to justify such a mode of treatment. Thus if we consider the series: bodily situation—bodily situation observed—bodily situation shown in a model or diagram—bodily situation imagined—bodily situation spoken of internally—bodily situation put before us in nutshell fashion—we have a series of states of affairs which move further and further away from bodiliness towards concentration and unity, while yet covering the same content throughout. In all these cases the language which serves to describe something physical also serves to describe many interior derivatives from it. It is as if a line ran off from the physical world in a direction of increasing privacy and concentration. And it is easy to reverse the series we have been considering, and to consider the opposed series in which a nutshell consciousness gradually unpacks itself ever more fully, until at last it discharges itself in some concrete, showable fulfilment. Our life of practice shows similar serial chains from the obscure velleity which expands itself into imagined acts and goals, until at length it issues in overt bodily movement, and from the overt bodily movement which, if checked, passes over into the realms of imagery, and collapses finally into an obscure velleity. Our emotional life shows a similar gradation, and even an activity like speaking exhibits a series from the unuttered, unphrased inner judgement to the deliberate public pronouncement and vice versa. It is easy to treat all these stages as senseless verbal tropes, not descriptive of actual experience, and so no doubt they often are. But the terms ‘concentration’ and ‘dispersion’ none the less stand for frequently exhibited phenomenological characteristics, the most fundamental of any in the realm of mind.

Phenomenologically, therefore, the idea of the mental is not inherently dualistic, though the idea of pure body may well be. From the mental point of view, we may very well regard our outer bodily life as continuous with our inner life of concentrated experience, as a continuation of the same in another medium. And we may well accept the amphibious conception of our conscious life that the appearances continuously suggest, that man is a being who passes to and fro from a medium of interior concentration to a medium of external deployment and vice versa, sometimes entirely losing himself in speech, action and emotional overtness, sometimes retreating into meditation, deliberation and emotional inferiority. The two sides of this amphibious existence obey something like a law of inverse variation, interior concentration being at its richest when overtness is inhibited, and vice versa. If what we say is familiar and obvious, it is none the less true and important. The only surd elements in this happy psychophysical picture are the brain and nervous system, which have a physical importance that phenomenologically they do not seem to enjoy. But if the brain is what research sees it as being, a centre which somehow repeats the pattern or possible pattern of outer stimuli, as well as foreshadowing the pattern or possible pattern of our responses to them, then there is no reason why the inferiorities of the mind may not come to be given as having the same sort of genuine notional affinity with the brain and nervous system and their changes, that they have with remoter bodily realities and with the bodily movements which the brain initiates.

From the issue of dualism we therefore pass to the issue of idealism, into which a Cartesian suspension of faith readily passes, as is shown in the mental development of the great modern Cartesian, Edmund Husserl. Husserl, as is well known, begins by suspending faith in the world of our natural naïveté, the world of objects as revealed to the senses, as well as the more sophisticated world set behind this world by the natural scientists. The world is treated as an object of varied experiences, believing and unbelieving, but the full assent to its reality is, for the time being, ‘put out of action’. In this suspension it at once becomes evident to Husserl, as it did to Descartes, that a similar suspension cannot be practised on the experiences in which the world is given, in bracketed fashion, as it were, as the mere object of certain experiences. To suspend faith in the world is to conserve faith in at least some experiences of the world, those at least in which the suspended world is now appearing. From this somewhat obscure position—for Husserl does not make quite clear what may be involved in his putting of belief ‘out of action’, nor what is involved in a thetic or believing attitude at all, especially as applied to the whole world of nature—he slides to the position that what is not an experience can have being only in the sense that it is intended or given in some experience, that there are or may be experiences of it, whereas an experience itself need not have this merely intended status. If we wish to draw a distinction between natural things which exist in full reality and not merely in thought, then we can draw such a distinction only in terms of a certain adequate or fully reasonable state of mind, or of a sufficient approximation to it, in which an object itself can be said to stand before us, and to be given as it itself is. But the assumption of such a limit of adequate self-givenness does not, for Husserl, involve any concession of unintended, unbracketed being to all that is thus evidently apprehended. Bodies and their states can never enjoy a position outside of mental brackets, whereas minds and their states may.

What it is important here to argue is that there is nothing in the notion of conscious reference as such, as phenomenologically given, which entails the impossibility of what we may call a coincidence, a total Deckung, between what the reference is given as being of, its ‘intentional’ or ‘inexistent’ object, and some object which is also an object simply and in its own right, and not in the framework of any conscious reference, an object which is a genuine subject of predications, and which can be held to have the attributes which in the mental reference it is merely thought of as having. It is, in fact, part of the idea of a conscious reference that this may be the case, that the reference may be to something which also independently is, and that it may be characterized in the reference just as it in fact independently is. So much is plainly involved in Husserl's own view that there are, or ideally should be, in every field, limiting states where an object intended will be fully and adequately given, where the thing itself will stand before us, and be fully given to us in at least some of its features, where our grasp of it will be intuitive, seeing, ‘fulfilled’ rather than ‘empty’ and notional, and where, in the face of such completely evident self-givenness no further advance in clarity or certainty can have the slightest meaning. In the case of material objects, such complete, seeing, self-givenness is held by Husserl to be only a ‘transcendental idea’, a goal that we can approach as we observe and manipulate bodies but can never hope to achieve completely, whereas, in the case of the reflex givenness of at least certain features of states of mind and their intended objects, or of certain purely eidetic relations, there can be no question that such self-givenness is achieved fully, and that things as they are given to us coincide absolutely with things as they are.

Whether or not we agree with Husserl that such complete self-givenness ever is or can be a finished achievement, both it and the coincidence that it posits certainly enter as an ideal, a goal, into the very idea of mental reference: what a reference is of may also independently be, and may be as it is referred to. This coincidence may be brought to light in some suitable ‘confrontation’ which sets all doubts to rest, but even if it is not thus brought to light, and perhaps cannot, on a priori grounds, ever be so, it is still given as something that may obtain, and for whose obtaining there may be valid reasons. To speak of a ‘coincidence’ in this context is somewhat misleading, since an ‘intentional object’, an object as given or intended, is not as such anything that could ‘coincide’, or could be the same as or be different from any actual object. An intentional object is really only an item in the description of a mental reference, an index of its directedness: to speak of it is to speak of a mental reference, and it is only by a convenient courtesy that it can be talked of as having properties or as being a genuine subject of predications. It is, in fact, categorically different from any such subject, since it cannot, in strictness, be taken out of its object-place in a statement after a mental verb and put in the place of a logical subject. (The last sentence does not violate this rule, since it is not strictly phrased.) An intentional object may be said to be a phantasm, an Unding, a mere point towards which a mental intention tends, whether or not there is anything there, but the very fact that it is thus said to be a phantasm or Unding enables us also to see it as losing itself without trace in some object that ‘conforms’ to it. The relation of an object of mental reference to a corresponding genuine subject of predications, may, by a figure which perhaps sheds more darkness than light, be compared to the relation of a coloured and patterned beam of a magic-lantern to some surface on which it falls. When the surface happens to be patterned and coloured just as the beam would pattern and colour it, then there is a complete ‘coincidence’ between the surface as lit by the beam and the surface as it independently is: they are one phenomenon, capable of being seen in two regards, in which a surface may be said to show itself in its true form and colours.

The idea of a mental reference may be said, therefore, to have, even in a phenomenological perspective, realistic rather than idealistic implications. What a state of mind is given as being of is also as such something that could be given in ‘unbracketed’ form, and in the state of mind in question is actually given as such. When our mind is intentionally directed, we do not think of its term as an intentional object. We only do so when we think of our prior intention. But such general phenomenological realism does not, of course, mean that we may not, in a specific case, refuse to acknowledge a possible coincidence between objects conceived as intentional objects and objects conceived simpliciter. The possibility of permanently putting certain objects into mental cages, treating them as mere fictions, is certainly part and parcel of the phenomenological picture, and is not absurd, as long as all objects are not thus locked up and bracketed. But if Husserl and other idealists are to be allowed to put the whole realm of nature into intentional brackets, this must be on grounds of some all-pervasive absurdity or inherent dubiety in the whole realm in question, and not on grounds of some inherent general impossibility of intending objects that are also objects simpliciter and genuine subjects of predications. That such a general bracketing of the natural world can have its deep reasons, has been argued in a previous lecture: it is not open to the charges of incoherence and emptiness generally made against it, since it leaves us free to pass inside and outside of the brackets at will, to forget or remember their existence, and since in either case there remains a contrast between things given as in mental brackets and things not so given. But without arguments more specific than any given by Husserl, the way is not open to his general phenomenological idealism.

If the intentional, second-order character of mental life does not commit us to any general form of idealism, it will, a fortiori, not commit us to the peculiarly extreme form of idealism known as solipsism, let alone to what is called the solipsism of the passing experience. It is open to us, therefore, to treat a society of minds as an elementary datum, without becoming involved in all the difficulties of Husserl who, in his Cartesian Meditations obviously does not mean to be a solipsist, and yet advances no compelling reason for distinguishing the unbracketed monads that he postulates from the physical things that he only admits in brackets. It is to the difficult phenomenology of a society of minds and of their mode of communication that we must accordingly turn.

In the present lecture there is only time left for a few preliminary reflections, and we may here merely stress the presence ‘in the phenomena’ of a certain elementary form of separateness or exclusiveness, not identical with the separateness and exclusiveness of things in space and in time though connected with both these forms of separateness, and which may best be referred to as ‘mental separateness’. It is only because this notion is so elementary and so pervasive that we can with such supreme ease discern mental states in connection with bodies remote from our own and from each other, or refer separated mental states to various stages of our own or other people's pasts or futures, thereby supplementing the separatenesses of space and time with another sort of separateness. It is likewise because we dispose of this original, not further reducible notion, that we can become aware, by contrast, of the non-separateness or mutual togetherness of all the states that, as we say, are our own, and that declare themselves in self-awareness or introspection. The intimate unity of consciousness, the interpenetration of diverse directions of feeling and interest in a single embracing reference, in one ‘many-rayed’ intention (to borrow Husserl's pregnant phrase), may be an elementary phenomenon, but it is so only in antithesis to a mental separateness and exclusiveness which are equally elementary and which lend significance to it. Experience, in the sense of encounter with individual things and events, can obviously create neither the idea nor the certainty nor the probability of such separated states: the idea, the certainty and the probability are, as we have said, all-pervasive and fundamental, and detailed experience can only serve to restrict or localize them. In insanity the idea finds unrestricted application, and presences and voices are encountered everywhere.

Some of the detailed experience which gives concreteness to the notion of separated states is of the kind called ‘introspective’ or ‘reflective’, where a mental intention comes to be given directly—whether at the time or some moments after is not inportant—through that mere transformation of its actual existence which, as we have seen, is the step studied by Descartes in the Cogito. Other forms of that detailed experience are of the kind called divinitory or interpretative, where a separated state appears in and through certain bodily movements, and where a certain indirectness and imperfect givenness is part of the phenomenon itself, whether or not the notion of a ‘sign’ or an ‘evidence’ is explicitly entertained. Experience cannot create the idea of mental separateness, since, as is plain, it never lays separated states of mind side by side, so as to show us the nature of their separation. The states of mind given by a direct transformation of their own existence are all necessarily given together and given as together: they are not, and cannot be, given as separated from other states that are not thus reflectively given. The states of mind given in and through behaviour are all only indirectly and surrogatively given, and given as so given, so that their separateness from each other, and from states given by direct transformation of their own existence, can itself only be indirectly and surrogatively given. Other minds, it is perfectly plain, come before us as having a ‘core of ultimate mystery’, this ‘ultimate mystery’ being itself, paradoxically, a revealed datum and part of the actual phenomenon before us. A true positivism must be metaphysical: what is here given is no less than the impossibility that something should be adequately given.

Traditional empiricism, with its determination to ascend from the individual to the general and categorial, has misunderstood and misrepresented all these varied and subtle data. We do not first know of mental states through introspection or behaviour-study, nor through any form of individual acquaintance: our knowledge of them is general and categorial, and we know of their existence, and of their general role in the economy of the world, long before we engage in the introspective or interpretative ventures which such background knowledge alone makes possible. Hence the supreme ease with which men learn the grammar of mental states and subjectivity, and the profound difficulty of practising detailed introspection or interpretation of behaviour, which has led to so many simple-minded behaviouristic theories. We live, as it were, in a theatre or auditorium, where there are seats for others all facing the same stage: we may at times be alone in this theatre, but we can only be alone because we can also be, and indeed normally are, in company. That the phenomenon of being in company involves much ‘looking through a glass darkly’, and is indeed given as so doing, and as doing so of necessity, must not be taken as telling against its conceptual genuineness and meaningfulness, but only against views of meaning-fulness which lay too much stress on full illustration and adequate fulfilment. For we have the clearest possible understanding of the separateness in question, and it is in virtue of this wholly clear understanding that we perceive its complete illustration to be excluded. The proof of what we are saying lies not, however, in the lucidity that it enjoys at its own level, but in the tangled difficulty of its empiricistic and verificationistic alternatives, of which the last decades have furnished many tortured instances. It is they that have really provided the apagogical background that has made my whole task easy this evening. Their revenge may, however, be at hand. For, if they fail to account for the clear certainty of many ordinary phenomena, they may none the less serve to bring out the ultimate paradox which hides behind all this clearness: the absurdity of an unsupplemented world of separate persons and their mutual knowledge. I shall, in my next lecture, turn to the difficult problems of an egology or theory of personal conscious minds. For this our references to Descartes and Husserl will have prepared us.

  • 1.
    Philosophical Works of Descartes, trans. by Haldane and Ross, vol. I, p. 149.