Very closely bound up with any general statement of the dualist position is the problem of personal identity. This was not excluded from my discussion in The Elusive Mind. It could not be as the two issues are so closely linked especially today when the misgivings of most of the more eminent opponents of dualism centre on the difficulty of giving an account of personal identity including of course continued identity apart from bodily continuity. These were the themes which I took up more expressly in two interim volumes The Self and Immortality and Persons and Life after Death. They were also discussed in a publication printed for private distribution by Emory University Mind and Nature which contains papers by gifted members of the advanced seminar I conducted there as visiting Professor and some replies to criticism by me. It is with the question of personal identity rather than the general issue of dualism that I shall be concerned in this volume although the two cannot be kept altogether apart. In this chapter I set out again the main features of the position I try to maintain.
1. Dualism Restated
In the first volume of my Gifford Lectures entitled The Elusive Mind I set out to show how radical is the difference we must draw between mental states or processes on the one hand and material or physical states on the other including one’s own bodily states. These two processes if I may for convenience retain the one term here are in my view quite distinct in nature; and the finality of this distinction seems to me to be the essence of what is usually understood by the term dualism. This is what we find in notable presentations of dualism as in the work of Plato or Descartes. I shall not be committed in all respects to the ways these or similar thinkers handle the problem — there are important ways in which the two I have mentioned differ but I shall be found to be again following Descartes more closely than others of like stature.
My first observations refer to a very elementary matter though one about which it is also very important to be clear. In its most downright or unambiguous form materialism means that we just cannot recognise any reality which cannot be exhaustively described in material or bodily terms. This was the view defended in a very uncompromising form by the late J. B. Watson whose book Behaviourism became somewhat celebrated for some time after its publication. It has the considerable merit of being unambiguous. On this view my thoughts just are the processes that go on in my body including my observable behaviour; and if I sit quietly to ponder as I am doing now to consider a philosophical question this can be described exhaustively in terms of incipient movements of my vocal cords; my anger is the tension in my breast my shyness the blush on my cheek. The story can be told entirely in these terms and there is no need to refer at all to any further life of the mind or any inner or private experience.
Few thinkers have the boldness to subscribe openly to this position today. But whether others have managed to avoid it as completely as they thought remains a moot point as I tried to show in The Elusive Mind. Professor Gilbert Ryle was as firm in his rejection of materialism as of dualism. ‘A plague on both your houses’ was his strain. The great mistake was to try to take sides on this issue of materialism versus dualism. We need neither -ism. We can dissolve the difference between them by adopting a completely different approach. Whether he succeeds is another matter; admirers of Ryle’s work and adherents to his view are apt to stress the innocuousness of it in relation to our main concerns. He was not saying anything that should worry us. Of course they say we think and become pleased or angry and enjoy works of art and fine friendships. It is not disputed that we have intelligence and that there are standards of excellence to be striven after. Was not Ryle a master of English style himself and how could this be and how could he have been one of the most famous editors of our time if he did not have exacting standards of literary and intellectual excellence? Even so when we look closely at what Ryle actually says about intelligence and purpose it is very hard to see that there is any difference of substance between his position and the less ambiguous ‘old-fashioned’ materialism which he castigated also. When we read that the surgeon’s skill consists ‘in his hands making the correct movements’ have we travelled that far from the more lurid and less subtle behaviourism of J. B. Watson?
On this head I shall add nothing to what I have said in the earlier volume1 where I have tried to show that not only Ryle but many others cover up with subtlety and a bold affectation of innocuousness what remains in essentials a materialist repudiation of any reality which cannot be exhaustively reduced in the proper analysis to dispositions of physical matter.
To those who remain undaunted by such comments or who have no qualms about adhering to a frankly materialist view I add to the comment that this flies in the face of all experience — the pain as felt is not the set of physiological conditions by which the dentist or others may account for it however exhaustive at that level — I add that it makes nonsense of all our concerns and aspirations. Nothing seems to matter if there is merely physical existence. Ryle may have had exacting standards in literary presentation of philosophical views but have these any meaning or significance if we have no proper appreciative awareness of them. Ryle would not deny this but it is hard to reconcile with his philosophy of mind.
I should like to put the present main point very starkly in the following way. A colleague of mine in my early days of teaching a promising economist had become an ardent communist. He gave up his post and spent many years in Russia. In due course he returned on a lecture tour. I heard two of these lectures. One was in praise of all the social conditions he had witnessed in Russia improved housing conditions better physical amenities better education better arts and theatre and so on. The second lecture was a defence of outright materialism which the speaker at least thought to be the proper understanding of Marxist communism. I still remember the bewilderment of his audiences as they sought to reconcile the themes and spirit of the two lectures. Assuming that the first could be accepted without qualification what importance could it have if the second was sound? What does better education or better housing or better theatre mean if we are dealing with strictly material reality? Inanimate matter does not require to be properly housed and it cannot enjoy a work of art or a joke. But once we pass to the level of at least some sentient existence we have questions of worth or significance which acquire their more distinctive importance as we move up the scale to more rational consciousness. But in all this we seem compelled to recognise some reality which cannot be itself described in strictly physical terms however close the involvement may be with material conditions. It is for these reasons that we speak of cruelty to animals but not to pieces of wood or stone. I may misuse a stone or spoil a fine piece of sculpture which many may enjoy. If in a fit of temper I vent my spleen on a chair or table which I beat with my stick I may be arraigned for the folly of ungovernable rage or for wanton destruction of valuable property but hardly for cruelty. If I beat my dog in the same way I am certainly cruel just because the dog will feel the pain of the blows as the chair cannot except in obviously high flights of fancy or sentiment.
This is the obvious divide from which dualism takes its course. At some point we have to recognise an ‘inner’ experience not literally inner but only in the sense of being privately and immediately felt or apprehended. In the long history of our planet and for all we know of other heavenly bodies if we could discover them a point must have been reached where out of dispositions of non-sentient physical matter there emerged — how or why need not concern us now — an entirely new ingredient of sentient existence and the same is true of each of us individually. One has no reason to suppose that an unfertilised ovum or the sperm which reaches it has any kind of sentience. Nor presumably does that come about at the early stages of pregnancy. But at some point presumably before actual birth it must happen. It has certainly happened by the time a young creature is born whether it be from a womb or a chrysalis or in any other way. The question just when — at the quickening for the offspring of mammals? — is one we must leave mainly to the scientist not because it is an exclusively scientific question but because no one but the scientist can provide the detailed information on the basis of which we judge that we have the sort of reaction which cannot be reasonably explained independently of some presumed sentient experience. It may in some cases be exceptionally difficult to draw the line and mistakes may be made or judgements revised. What seemed to call for an explanation in terms of a sentient factor may be found on further knowledge or understanding to be explicable in other ways. The philosopher as such cannot settle this. He can only affirm as I am doing now that at some point response and behaviour ceases to be reasonably explicable without recource to some element of at least sentient existence. The mystery of how the change comes about is another matter. The most that I wish to insist upon now is that however fully we may come to understand the conditions within which the change comes about we just have to recognise a radically new ingredient.
The novelty I must insist is not impaired in the least by the fullness or consistency of the understanding we may have of the conditions from which it emerges. What matters is that it is new and incapable of being accounted for plausibly in the same terms as the physical explanation which was exhaustive up to that point. Certain reactions suggest and in due course confirm or require some response induced by some kind of sentience. At further stages this becomes more obvious and more complicated. For the present it must suffice to note the emergence out of physical conditions and for all we know invariably in that way of a responsiveness which it is not plausible to explain in terms of physical stimuli which do not induce some form of sentience.
There are few I imagine who would seriously dispute this today and not many who have disputed it with consistency in the past. Persons who in some respects appear to be strict materialists will be found also to be appealing to factors which have no significance in purely material terms. If Hobbes was a materialist — or at best an epiphenomenalist — he has left this far behind in the highly rational persuasions by which he advises us to seek peace and avoid all the tribulations of ‘the state of war’. It is only as conscious creatures capable of being moved to action by appeal to what we privately apprehend and feel that considerations such as those advanced by Hobbes have any relevance.
But once this is granted indeed even if we go no further than epiphenomenalism the divide has been crossed. However averse we may seem to be to a dualist view however much we may for-swear or denounce it we have granted what is essential and set ourselves on a course which can only be consistently followed in properly dualist terms. To those who question this we must present the challenge — do they seriously deny that there is an ingredient in our behaviour and in that of other creatures which it is not plausible to reduce to purely physiological terms? Do we not feel pain do we not perceive coloured entities whatever their status do we not hear sounds? And however full the explanation may be at the physical and physiological levels of all that occurs in this way there is also over and above all that something vital for the proper understanding of such situations. This is where the dualist takes his stance. It does not complete his story but once the initial distinction is granted we have conceded the initial vital step from which all the rest is developed. But is there any way in which we can avoid taking this step and retain any philosophical credibility?
It is these considerations that make it so irritating to find so many gifted and eminent philosophers simply taking it for granted from the outset that there is something obviously and radically wrong something not even philosophically respectable any more in what is sometimes described not inappropriately as ‘the Platonic-Cartesian way’ — much though Plato and Descartes may differ in certain respects. Can we avoid taking this way once the radical nature of the distinction between mental processes and physical processes has been admitted whatever further close relations between the two we may also want to stress. We have come down on the dualist side of the divide and must guide our further steps accordingly.
To this the reply is apt to be made — and this will bring us to a point of great importance for all that follows — that the dualist in the present concern as in others is simply taking his stance dog-matically and not presenting any rational case for this initial step he so confidently takes. He takes no account of recent advances in physiology or of changing views about the ultimate constitution of the external world as the scientist presents them. In fact he offers no argument at all he offers a dogmatic affirmation in lieu of a philosophically reasoned case. Over and over this complaint has been made recently and as often persons like myself have made the same reply. No argument is offered because the only appeal that can properly be made is to our own experience of what it is like to be sentient or conscious in some further way.
This is the point I have taken up on various occasions but especially in chapters 1 and 2 of my Persons and Life after Death. I have urged that a point is bound to be reached in philosophical as in other controversy where one can do no other than affirm that this is just what seems to me to be the case. There are ultimates about which it is not possible to reason further. This does not mean that all talk and further consideration is at an end. There is much that we can say round and about our ‘ultimates’.2 We may also find that we have sometimes to reconsider our position when we invoke them. But it seems also inevitable that a point should be reached in our attempt to understand ourselves and the world around us where we can only affirm that certain things are as we claim them to be.
This is a position where I find myself in close agreement with a saying of Wittgenstein — often quoted by his close disciples like Norman Malcolm — that philosophers must ‘know when to stop’. It is unfortunate that we often stop earlier than we should or in the wrong places and I have myself complained of the way Malcolm does this in his discussion of dreams. These he holds are not any kind of occurrence during sleep; neither are they waking states. What then are they? Here we are told that nothing further can be forthcoming; there is no more to say. This seems most unsatisfactory. We may also be irritated in the same way by some forms of ‘ordinary language’ philosophy. There are obvious (and fascinating) problems of perception arising from the familiar endlessly varying perspectival distortions in normal as much as in abnormal perceptions of the world around us. Things do look small in the distance and red with coloured glasses. We hardly ever have quite the same perception of any object. There are many different philosophical ways of accounting for this and they do not concern us here but it is also philosophically disturbing to be told that we need say no more than we say for day-to-day purposes when we observe that someone is ‘sitting on a chair’ not on an assemblage of sense-data or that we watch horses at the races not patches of colour.
In like manner I have objected to the procedures of Cook Wilson and some of his followers in claiming too readily and incidentally in ways that influenced subsequent common-sense philosophy more than is usually realised that we know certain things without further reason. This claim in itself is I think amply justified — it is what I am insisting upon myself. At the same time once made it can be invoked too readily and without warrant. There is no case in my view for the insistence made by thinkers as far apart in other ways as R. I. Aaron and Martin Buber that we know other minds in this immediate way; nor do we have immediate awareness of the existence of an external world other than that of our own presentations as they come; much less (as John Baillie drawing on Cook Wilson affirms that we do) do we have an immediate assurance of the presence of God. Our apprehension of causality may have in our final reflections an element of intuitive awareness but this is not found directly in particular causal relations as we discover them. There is in my view an intuitive factor in ethics at some point but it was invoked far too easily by those like W. D. Ross and other ‘Oxford intuitionists’ as they are called when they ascribed an inherent bindingness in some measure though capable of being over-ridden to duties to keep promises or tell the truth irrespective of the good which this practice achieves.
One may also stress the deep reluctance of any philosopher to manoeuvre himself or be manoeuvred into a position of seeming dogmatism and reluctance to argue and discuss his claims. Nothing would be less compatible with philosophical procedure. Even so there is more than argument involved. We do not reason the world into existence. We seek the best understanding we can have of the way things are and at some point to be very carefully considered before we claim to reach it we must just affirm that we find things to be this way or that. Philosophical skill depends a great deal on the way we manage our reflections in this particular respect.
This is the point that is reached when someone affirms that my thoughts and sensations are themselves some feature of observable reality such as some state of my body. To take again the most simple example if I have a pain this is something which I individually feel it just cannot be resolved into the physical factors which cause me to feel it even when the physiological story is told in the greatest detail from my cut finger to the state of my brain. Nor is the tale completed when note is taken of my reaction to the pain or of my disposition to act in certain ways such as putting on a plaster or visiting the doctor. The pain itself is none of these things whatever the significance of the further factors noted. The pain is altogether different in itself and can only have its peculiar existence in my having it. Likewise my thoughts and other experiences. My perceptions at the moment however conditioned by states of my body and the factors which affect them have no observable or extended character. No one perceives my perceiving the walls of this room in which I write. They can see me seeing the wall but this is a rough way of speaking perfectly adequate for normal purposes. No one strictly sees my seeing and the thoughts I am trying to express are not themselves of the same order of being as the marks on the paper or any sounds I make. No one strictly observes my thoughts. Others may learn about them without delay especially if I am talking or they may judge what they are like with much closeness from my demeanour and their knowledge of me and so on. But the thoughts themselves are not locatable in my body or anywhere else. I know them to be radically different in character from anything that can be so located or observed. It is not that they are exceptionally hard to observe or discover like something well hidden or inaccessible they are inherently the kind of things of which observation is not possible and this I know in the very fact of having them.
If then all this is denied I can only confess complete mystification; if my opponent tells me that his perceiving the white tablecloth is white or itself extended in some fashion or that his other thoughts and mine are open to inspection in the same way as we observe external things I know not how to answer him. For what he affirms is in the most direct contradiction to what I myself find to be the case in having thoughts and sensation of any kind or any experience. To be told that these are in themselves of the same general nature as the reality I apprehend in perception is as bewildering to me as it would be if someone claimed that twice two is five. In the latter case I would assume that there was some misunderstanding that the speaker did not know the language properly or that he was jesting or that he was making a supposition which he knew was false in order to work out in some fashion the implications of its being true such as that if the multiplication is repeated the answer is ten not eight. But I do not know what it would be for an intelligent English person to affirm seriously that twice two is five. I could make no sense of such a claim.
In precisely the same way I can make no sense of the affirmation that my experiences are observable when I immediately find them to be otherwise in the very process of having them. When challenged to produce an argument for my view there is nothing to which I can turn any more than I could if it were seriously claimed that twice two is five. This is not because I am inept or not ingenious enough but because from the nature of the case there is nothing which can be said. In the case of the alleged observable character of thoughts themselves my initial assumption is that there is some misunderstanding that the claim in fact refers to physical factors which are in some way bound up with my having these thoughts. If the matter cannot be resolved in these terms there appear to be no other considerations that will avail.
It might be thought that it is unreasonable in these matters to generalise about what thoughts emotions and sensations etc. are like in all instances from what I find them to be in my own case. What right have I to speak here for my neighbour? Perhaps in his case thoughts are coloured extended etc. To this I must reply that in finding his observable behaviour such that I must attribute it to his having certain thoughts and intentions I am ascribing to him precisely the same kind of state as I find myself in in having any kind of experience. If he persists in affirming that his thoughts are movements of his vocal cords or that they have literally a round shape and a green colour I can only conclude that I am either dealing with someone who is being perversely and provokingly dishonest or with some physical entity which by accident or contrivance (presumably the latter) has been so framed as to simulate the behaviour of an intelligent being a very elaborate answering machine.
There is in fact always the possibility of being confronted by such artefacts. We are in any case taken in sometimes by dummies or by optical illusions whereby we take a piece of wood or a stone to be a person until we are able to examine it closely. With enough ingenuity a physical entity might be contrived to simulate intelligent behaviour in a very sustained way. People have long been apt to mistake the call of a bird on occasion for a human voice and devices which simulate bird songs in our woodlands for entertainment or a scientific purpose may often mislead both the birds and ourselves. Usually one soon discovers one’s error but science fiction would not find it hard to present an invasion of our planet by ‘creatures’ sent from some region of outer space to simulate the behaviour of intelligent beings though in fact they had just been programmed or monitored to do so. It is hard to believe that this sort of deception would go undetected for a long time. But in theory one supposes that it might do so.
Theoretically there is in fact the possibility that one is always deceived in this way that not even our closest friends and acquaintances are real persons with a proper consciousness like oneself. Presumably one would have to ascribe this to the machinations of some further superior mind a demonic one it would seem. Or we might suppose that things had just worked out that way in the natural course of things. Solipsism in this form can never be theoretically ruled out. But no one in fact is worried by this possibility. We have no reason to take it as any serious threat to the way we all of us take things to be and our view that normally (that is when not subject to some trick or delusion) we are dealing in what we regard as our relations with one another with other persons like ourselves. We have no reason to suspect that a demon is deceiving us and the supposition that in the physical course of things there have come about vast numbers of physical entities whose behaviour simply simulates sentient or intelligent animation like my own but nothing else and does this to perfection my argumentative ‘friend’ or his cat ‘stalking’ its prey in the bushes — all this is so infinitely improbable that no one takes any serious heed of it.
At the same time it is a matter to be well heeded that in all this confident assurance the only immediate assurance of experience and of what it is like that we ever have is one’s own. The ascription of thought sensations etc. to others comes about normally with ease and spontaneously and even when we are uncertain what other people feel and think this concerns the particular course of their thoughts or whatever is involved not whether they are persons having some kind of experience in essentials the same as experience is for us. Scepticism of the latter sort only arises in the unusual circumstances where I suspect some optical illusion or its like as when I have not had a chance to inspect a distant object closely enough to determine whether it is a man or a scarecrow or a small bush and so on. But we do not at any time have the experiences of others or know them in the same way as they do themselves in having them.
The notion that other minds or persons are known only in a mediated or indirect way has always been a source of misgiving to many philosophers (and others) not least in our own time. Cook Wilson’s famous jibe about not caring to have ‘inferred friends’ has often been quoted and many have made this insistence namely that we must surely know our friends in some respects as certainly as ourselves the basis of their rejection of dualism. I see my friend and am as convinced of his existence and of much else about him as of anything else. In some respect this is beyond doubt. I can assure people with every confidence that I have just seen my friend. There may be no room for serious doubt. None-theless the position as it stands is over-simplified.
However firm I may be in my conviction that my friend is present and addressing me I still only know this by seeing his body and hearing his words or by some like observation. I know nothing about him not even his existence in the same way as I know my own thoughts and sensations in having them. I do not know what I myself think by listening to myself or catching the look in my eye or noting how I wince with pain. There is no step beyond having the pain and being aware of it. I am aware of it in having it and to this I shall return shortly. But I shall not repeat in detail the arguments advanced by me elsewhere3 against the supposition that one kind of thing can only be known in one kind of way and that our knowledge of other persons must therefore be a paradigm of all knowledge of persons including oneself and committing us to the view that there is a bodily ingredient in all knowledge of ourselves. Nor will I go here into the answers presented by me and others a great deal already in rebuttal of the alleged difficulty on a dualist view of establishing the correlations supposedly required initially between mental and physical processes. For our initial basis is not the observed correlation but the assumption of intelligence at some level as the only plausible explanation of the behaviour we observe.
But while this is well-trodden ground now though much overlooked by those who should heed it most it is worth stressing at this point how much the insistence on further argument for dualism and the reluctance to accept the appeal to the way we know what experience is like in having it comes about from the confusing conflation of our knowledge of our own experience with that of others. If the appeal is made to our awareness of experience in general and thus focussed on the experiences of other persons there is clearly something wanted beyond the invocation of there being experiences. For we know nothing directly about the nature of experience in the imputation of it to others. Something more must be said and this it is assumed leaves the matter open. There are various possibilities which might include identifying experience with states of the brain.
This is however just what is precluded when it is insisted that the very ascription of experience to others depends essentially on the initial awareness we have of what experience is like in one’s own case. This is where the appeal to experience and what it directly discloses begins. One is not normally conscious of that in the sense of reflecting upon it and carefully making deductions. It all happens so easily and spontaneously that we rarely pause to consider it. Even so we could have no notion from observed behaviour or in any other way of what it is like to think or have sensations and so forth did we not in the first instance know all this beyond any shadow of doubt in one’s own case. That is where we start and it is at this point that we have to be content with reporting what in fact we find to be the case without requiring or being able to supply any further argument.
This then (as I have insisted almost ad nauseam elsewhere but not unavoidably in the present state of the subject) is where we start. To those who require an argument or who simply deny directly or by implication of other things they say that mental states are not radically different in nature from observable reality and incapable of being understood in essentials in the terms of the explanations we offer of physical processes we can only reply by urging them to reflect again on what each one finds mental processes to be like in having them. But while this is the essential starting point the divide most dualists take their case beyond this in very important ways. These must also be noted in our general survey before we take a further look at some recent attempts to refurbish the case against dualism.
The position as outlined hitherto would be consistent with epiphenomenalism or some form of psycho-physical parallelism or more plausibly with the view that all that goes on as distinct mental processes is determined exhaustively at all points by bodily states; and that thus for all practical purposes all we require to consider is the way in which the closed physical order of things operates and brings about in its train the mental states or experiences which we normally consider to be of most importance in our existence. But most dualists go far beyond this. They deny that mental processes are exhaustively determined by physical ones and extend to such processes both an inner determination of their own and an efficacy in the external world.
No one seriously denies that under the conditions which we know there are persistent and vital physical conditions of all mental states and processes. Our bodies have the utmost importance at least for all our present existence; they make possible in a variety of ways the experiences we enjoy including the more rarefied intellectual ones. The most obvious example is perception. I am now looking out from my window over a most pleasant country scene of fields trees and large birds flying about and I take in also in an occasional glance the table on which I write and also the sheets of paper before me my hands holding my pen. If I move my head around I see more of the furniture of the room. None of this would come about if the retina of my eye were not affected by these objects whatever we finally affirm their status to be or if they changed in which case sitting at this window I would see something else. The complete story would take account of the relaying of the stimulus from my eye to the brain although we do not normally have any awareness of this. The actual seeing ensues but made possible by the physical conditions noted.
It does not follow however that even in the fairly simple (for this purpose) matter of perception all that is involved in my seeing this particular view is accounted for by the physical stimulation of the eye and in due course the brain. For I would not see it in the present perspectives and with understanding that I am looking at birds and trees for example did I not also conjure up the meaning of those objects which is not directly given in the immediate presentation brought about by the stimulation of my eye; and while there are further physiological conditions of this further fullness of the way in which I view the scene the mental process of entertaining meaning and grasping its implications is a distinctive feature of that sui generis process itself. The course of experience moves in large measure in terms of what experience itself is like and here again the final consideration must be not any peculiarities or complexities of brain and neurological processes or any similarities they may present to structures of thought and experience but our own appreciation of what experience essentially involves.
This becomes more obviously evident in our more severely intellectual activities. Our thoughts are not exhaustively rational we often blunder and become more confused and less coherent and consistent than we would like and we point this out to one another in discussion and argument. But this gives us no grounds for doubting or denying that the distinctive determinant in all our thinking is the inherent connection of ideas through reason or association and image. Our thoughts normally take their course from the way they themselves expand and lead on to other thoughts. The reason why I think as I do now is that this is the course which my own ideas take or prescribe for themselves. This itself would not be possible in the conditions we know without the due functioning of my brain. A failure in the brain even a small one can bring my thinking to an end or make it incoherent. Even the stuffiness of the room can make a difference. At the same time the physiological conditions only make possible a different and distinct activity which proceeds mainly in terms of what it itself is like. To question this would be to bring into complete and immediate jeopardy all the activities to which we attach most significance. It would certainly be at variance with all we normally suppose. I reason with my friend because I assume that this may directly influence what he also thinks.
Indeed it is hard to understand the zest and even pride with which some severe materialists press their case when this itself involves the repudiation of the force of argument as such to modify the course of our thinking. They would have to have recourse to procedures like the ones noted above where any distinctness of thought and experience was denied. Sooner or later we have a reductio ad absurdum of the desperate repudiation of what is so obvious a fact of experience.
The dualist further maintains however in the third place in this context that not only is thinking largely the determinant of its own course and likewise other modes of experience but also that experience in various forms but especially in the deliberate setting of ourselves to accomplish things or intending makes a difference to the course of events external to such experience itself in the external or physical world. External events influence ‘inner’ ones and they in turn influence the world around us. In more technical terms there is interaction of mind and body.
This normally takes the form of affecting the course of external events solely by directly influencing one physical entity namely one’s own body. It is a moot point whether there are any exceptions to this or causation at a distance as it would normally be. It is alleged that in some paranormal occurrences even if there is physical contact as in bending a fork by gently rubbing it we do not have the normal causal effect of our bodily states on events beyond them but the immediate influence of our minds on other things than our bodies. A vivid example would be the successful willing of a book to leave the shelf and come to my hands. There is no inherent reason as far as I can see why there should not be such exceptions to the normal processes and investigations are conducted on the assumption that they may at least happen at times. But if they do happen they are certainly very exceptional and limited. I cannot fell a tree by just willing that it should crash or magically transfer myself instantly to my college room by willing that I should be there. The world would be a very different place if this were not the case.
Normally then — and as many would hold invariably — a man (or a brute) becomes effective in the external world by first bringing about some change in his own body. This need not always involve effecting the changes which lead directly to the further course of things we intend to come about. I may extend my arms to take hold of an axe and swing it to fell a tree or push back my chair or walk to the shelves to get a book. But I may just as well utter some sounds or make marks on paper which will convey to others my wish or my instructions to them to bring the same result about for me. That is how we accomplish most that we want communicating and doing things for one another. I stop a taxi to take me to my destination or I send for a plumber or give orders to the waiter. But in all this the initial step must be to bring about some change in my own bodily state if only to utter sounds which others may understand.
The effect which my mind has in this way on my body and thereby on other things is usually deliberate or intended. But states of mind may influence one’s body in other ways also. The heart beats faster when a person is very excited a man becomes pale or he faints if he is frightened the thought of food makes one’s mouth water. We turn and toss and sometimes even walk in our dreams. The dog’s leg twitches and he whines as he lies asleep on the mat. But the normal and important way in which we bring about bodily changes is by intending or willing them.
We learn from experience what are the changes we can bring about in this way. Experience tells me that I cannot move things at a distance but experience also teaches me that I cannot to save my life leap across a large chasm or fly to the top of a mountain or even to the top of the stairs. We learn early what we can do and cannot do and we acquire new skills like walking or balancing ourselves on a bicycle. Within the familiar limits we bring things about with ease. We may extend our powers as when we learn to run a little faster but the limits are fairly clearly defined and within these we find that all we have to do is to set ourselves to bring about what we want. This usually happens without special effort or strain.
This is one of the central themes which the opponent of dualism must reject. It is difficult to see why he should want to do so. It seems to fly in the face of the plainest facts of experience. I have just lived through the experience of writing these words. I could see the page and the pen in my hand and set myself to make the appropriate marks on the page in accordance with my train of thought. All this came about as I was intending it. Likewise when I pushed back my chair or cleaned my spectacles or stood up to get a better glimpse of something outside. The movement that I intended came about with ease at every stage as I had expected. To suppose that there is in fact no causal connection between my state of mind and the ensuing events appears to be a very bold undertaking. There are indeed well-known problems about causality in general and especially the alleged necessity of causal relations. But if these are not thought to be deadly in one sphere there seems to be no reason why we should reject them in any other. We learn about actual causal relations from experience although once the general way of things is known we can deduce much without immediate observation and we can account for events in terms of wider principles of the way things happen. But in the last resort it comes down to what we find to be the case; and the regular implementation of what we set out to accomplish on the basis of what we have learnt to expect as within our powers appears to be as well-established as any causal continuity.
There is in this case as in the earlier one noted above a remote possibility of delusion but it is as remotely improbable in this case as in the other. Unless we are to be committed to some radical scepticism in general there appears to be as little ground for doubting the efficacy of the mental process of setting ourselves to accomplish things bodily as of any other causal sequence. The relationship seems to be as firmly rooted in common day-to-day experience as in any other; and as it seems so basic to all that we assume in the normal conduct of our lives it is a source of amazement that anyone should seriously doubt it.
If it is doubted on the grounds that the mental event is not itself as distinct and sui generis as is supposed then we are back with matters already discussed. The appeal is again as was stressed to what we find to be the case; and if as I have insisted it must be sustained this applies as much to our constant setting ourselves to bring things about physically as to any other mental process. Granted this it appears to be a matter of simple common sense to admit that we do make ourselves effective in the world in accordance with the way we mentally set out to do so. My hand and my pen would not have moved as they did independently of my state of mind.
In seeking to counter this some thinkers today take the line of saying that of course we bring things about by intending to do them nothing as foolish is being held as making us out to be puppets or machines. Our thoughts and purposes count the non-dualist is as innocent of shocking common sense as any in fact he takes his stance as much as any on what we normally think and say but it all needs further examination — and it is at that level that we discover that what seemed to be the operation of distinct mental events on matter of a totally different nature is in fact one process which is basically physical — or physical and mental at the same time.
This is a hard line to counter since it seems to be giving away something which it is also conceding at the same time. It can be very tantalising when it is met. But we simply cannot have it both ways. In my other writings I have addressed myself to many of the ingenious recent attempts to sustain this ambiguous noncommittal position. I discussed the attempt of Gilbert Ryle to account for purposing in terms of dispositional determination of our conduct the appeal to what we normally say the claim of Feigl and others that as science is allegedly establishing a stricter correlation of brain states with mental events we can for all purposes that matter at least consider them to be equated and look forward to the time comfortably put rather far when any gap in the course of physiological events or any variation which has to be ascribed to some other source will have been entirely closed. The latter however remains a mere (and remote) expectation and in the meantime we have all the evidence of our normal experience and suppositions to make it improbable in the extreme. If all that we seem to be immediately aware of as our distinct experience is reduced to the firing of nerve fibres or some other electrical activity we have again to insist upon the plain deliverance of our awareness of what the mental process is like in having it.
Time would be wasted to go over these arguments again. It is for those who make the moves in question to indicate more precisely how the familiar criticisms made by many besides myself are to be met. Until they do so we must rest the case largely as it has been stated. But before proceeding to a further and equally fundamental feature of traditional dualism namely the ascription of our mental processes to some entity self soul substance however named which persists through all changes of our experience and is vital for a full account of them I would like to pause and supplement what I have said elsewhere in rejection of the more downright identification of mental states with physical ones with some consideration of further recent and very influential attempts to call in question the appeal to what in fact we find our experience to be like in the very process of having it.
From the book: