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Preface

It was one of our treats, when I was a little boy, to be taken up one of the two mountains that guarded the end of our valley. It was a beautiful valley, a lovely green bowl in the heart of the hills, reaching from the rim at the edge, where the coastal plain slopes up more sharply in its rise from the sea four miles away at Caernarfon, to the narrow gorge where the splendid river Gwyrfai cuts its way from Cwellyn Lake between the mountains. The quarries which provided employment for most of the men were hidden away behind the two out-reaching arms of the mountains that encircled the valley. Moel Eilian had spewed up at some time from the volcanic depths of what is now the very deep Cwellyn Lake and from the vast crater in the side of the other mountain. Mynyddfawr — Elephant Mountain for us. This meant that its slopes, though very steep, were smooth and even, with few perilous edges, making it an ideal mountain for very young children to climb. About half way up we paused for a short rest and, if it was a large school outing, formed ourselves into a letter W for those left behind in the village (Waenfawr) to see how far we had got — and of course to show off a bit. We then panted up to what seemed from that point the summit, only to find, when we got there, that, with a slightly gentler slope of the hill, there was quite a way to yet another summit, and then another, and another, until at last we were really at the top and could survey all the splendid scene around us in all directions — and also rush for stones from the cairn to build our names, sometimes, alas, robbing the names of other equally foolish aspirants to this very uncertain immortality.

I am put in mind of all this now because it provides a very good image of my experience in writing up and expanding the Gifford Lectures which I gave at Edinburgh in 1966–68. First there was The Elusive Mind, to be followed by one other volume, but what I had to say about self-identity in that volume shaped itself, along with some other in-between books, into a separate study; and now, what was to be the final volume. The Elusive Self and God, has the first part of it rounded off into a discussion of freewill and its implications for religion which will take its place better, and be easier to publish, as a work in itself. Whether I shall ever complete the course time alone will tell.

Some critics of my earlier work on these themes have complained that I appeal too much to insight or intuition and not enough to argument. I fear that I remain unrepentant. Not that I am unaware of the serious perils of too ready an appeal to intuition. I have stressed the dangers often myself. The first two chapters of my The Self and Immortality are devoted wholly to this issue, and an early chapter of The Elusive Self is concerned wholly with the justification of immediate self awareness. I believe that the so-called Oxford intuitionists, Ross for example, sometimes invoked an intuition when there was more to be said. I argue below that the alleged inherent suitability of causing an offender to suffer, irrespective of any good that this may attain, is not intuitively evident. I think also that telling the truth and keeping of promises, and the like duties, can, though sometimes with difficulty, have their stringency accounted for in utilitarian terms. I feel very certain that the alleged immediate knowledge of other minds claimed by philosophers such as Cook Wilson and R.I. Aaron and by theologians like Martin Buber and his followers is quite unwarranted. I wish my critics could read more carefully what I have written at length about Martin Buber, in this very context, in The Elusive Mind, Chapter XIII.

But at some point an appeal either to something that is given empirically, or to some other way in which something is seen to be the case, seems unavoidable. In such instances there just is no further argument. Professor Bernard Williams, in a broadcast discussion, said that when people appealed to intuition, or the like, he reached for his analytical gun and suspected his opponent was running out of steam. That is not quite the case, but there is a point where the steam does run out and there is just no more to say. The word ‘intuition’ has some unfortunate associations, though I have no serious objection to it. I avoid it for the most part, but at some point in our discussion, a point to be reached reluctantly and cautiously, we just have to ask one another whether we do not find that things seem to be in a certain fashion. To rule this out, by contrast with cautioning against too facile an invocation of it, inevitably leads to grave distortions, seeking to account for certain things in limited terms that may not be at all adequate or reasonable. At some point, it appears to me that there must be some things in ethics about which we can only say that this is how they seem to us, the superior inherent worth for instance of some experience, the obligation to help people in distress in certain situations, to further what is good if the facts are as we take them. If I am asked for a reason why pain is bad, and not just something I do not like, what am I expected to say? If asked why I should pull someone back to the kerb to save his being run over, what reply do I give beyond some amplification of the facts if appropriate? But the facts of themselves do not suffice, and there must, it seems to me, at some point be the invocation of what we have professionally called intuition in ethics.

If I am wrong in this it still seems unfair to rule out of court from the start a position which does depend on some kind of immediate awareness at some crucial point. That claim has a distinguished ancestry, and it does rule out futher argument at the point in question. Most philosophers recognise the limits of argument somewhere, and we should be patient with one another in deciding just where they should be placed. For some the supplement comes from prevailing fashion or some other naturalistic factor like our own reaction or what is deeply embedded in the ways of our community or in human nature. I consider these to be very uncertain foundations for the sorts of things we are prone to affiirm in ethics or religion, or in other nonempirical matters of which there must surely be some. The appeal to immediacy, which we all share as far as we can, should not be taken straight away as a sign of naivety or credulity. In practice it is widespread, and it would seem to be wiser to consider first just how plausible it is in a particular instance. To rule it out at all points from the start is itself seriously dogmatic and simplistic. I should like to take this occasion also to commment on the current use of ‘intuition’ and especially the phrase ‘counter-intuitive’. This has little to do with the use of ‘intuition’ generally in the discussions of professional philosophers. It is a recent use which has considerable perils of its own. It often seems to refer to little more than what people generally think, and while it may not be implied that this must always be our ultimate standard, it does come dangerously near setting a stop to enquiries which ought to be pursued much further and more closely. If it does not stand for ‘what we know without further reason’ (or at least seem to know), then it is apt to give an unreasonable place to considerations in which there is an extensively random or fortuitous factor. The term ‘counter-intuitive’ may have a function, and Aristotle seems to have invoked something of that kind as a beginning. But it should certainly not be our final court of appeal, and I am disposed for that reason to display some warning signals over it.

This book is mainly concerned with freedom of choice. It goes almost entirely against the prevailing fashion in philosophy today, and will find little favour among those who most shape philosophical opinion. I have made no attempt (as in my account of mental existence in The Elusive Mind) to reflect the wide range of opinion which I oppose. I have been more selective, venturing to comment on only a few typical and outstanding examples of the views which I am in a very great minority in rejecting. To be more comprehensive would require an exceptionally large and expensive volume. My aim has been to set forth as clearly as I can the alternatives, as they seem to me, to the prevailing views of the subject today.

I wish however that the Reith Lectures of Prof. John Searle had been available earlier, for in the closing lecture of that series (which I read only when this work was already in an advanced state of publication) he sets out very clearly the line which philosophers today are inclined to take on freedom of choice. The addendum (chap, xi) on the arguments of Brian O’Shaughnessy provide a good example of the same line. The days of outright physicalism and behaviourism are over. Professor Searle is clear on that. He gives prominence to the ‘conviction of freedom’ which comes in ‘the experience of engaging in voluntary, intentional human actions’. (The Listener, 13th December 1984, p. 12) and he stresses ‘the simple fact that our own choices, decisions, reasonings and cogitations seem to make a difference to our actual behaviour’ (op. cit. p. 10). We are ‘conscious beings’ and our conception of freedom ‘is essentially tied to consciousness’. But this top level causation and ‘the bottom go together’ because ‘the mental events are grounded in the neurophysiology to start with’ (p. 11), their features ‘are determined at the basic microlevels of physics’, ‘the top-down causation only works because the top level is already caused by and realized in the bottom level’.

This line, whatever the strength of the insistence on our consciousness, intentionality and freedom, is simply, if I may put it bluntly here, a case of getting it both ways. Professor Searle admits to being dissatisfied — ‘the problem is likely to stay with us’, for ‘experience of freedom — that is to say the experience of the sense of alternative possibilities — is built into the very structure of conscious, voluntary, intentional human behaviour’ (op. cit. p. 12).

The bewilderment, and the sense of bafflement, which is here induced, come about, it seems to me, by neglect of what Nicolai Hartmann calls ‘a plus of determination’. To affirm the effectiveness of our own intentionality we do not have to deny anything that we learn from science about our bodies and the world of nature. We have simply to insist that this is not the whole story, that there are ways (limited ones) in which thoughts and intentions, however extensive their dependence on body, function in their own way and bring another factor to bear on what would otherwise happen. In my comparison below, if a number of players are pushing a ball, then another joining them, though he cannot have it all his own way, makes a difference to the way the ball moves.

It is to the defence of the view all too briefly outlined here that this study is devoted. If we cannot, other than by outright inconsistency, allow the genuineness and efficacy, limited though it is, of thought and purposes, then our lot is indeed sad. To leave it all in the air is to abandon what matters most about consciousness and human existence, and there can be no greater dis-service than that to humanity in its present perplexities and strains. To pay our proper respect to science is not to become the slaves of it. Science does not explain everything — why should it? That is what I have been particularly concerned to stress, in this book and elsewhere.

I have finally to thank two of my friends who greatly assisted me in the preparation of this book for publication. Dom Illtyd Trethowan, of Downside Abbey, read the entire final typescript and made many valuable suggestions, I am likewise deeply indebted (not for the first time) to Dr David Rees, of Jesus College, Oxford, who found time, during a very busy schedule, to read all the proofs and help me to make many corrections and improvements. I am very grateful to them both.

December 1984.

Hywel D. Lewis

I now had a whole inner world to illumine the outer, in whatever circumstances I might happen to be.

Daisy Baker; Travels in a Donkey Trap

From the book: