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Mind and Matter

1919 to 1921
University of Edinburgh

The first volume of Stout’s Gifford Lecture series, Mind and Matter, is a metaphysical treatise intended to clear the way for the second series, entitled God and Nature. In the book one he explores the metaphysical difficulties surrounding two of the most fundamental questions of philosophy: the existence of the mind and existence of the material world. Determining that most metaphysical theories are inadequate for this purpose, Stout ultimately concludes the necessity of enlisting ‘Common Sense’. He suggests, however, that this is made possible by an ‘Animism of Common Sense’ pervasive in the world and embodied in both animals and humans.

The second book of Mind and Matter seeks to address the relationship between mind and the matter. For Stout, Interactionism, Parallelism and Materialism are all insufficient philosophical theories for explaining this relationship. He argues that mind cannot be the product of matter because: it ‘is against the scientific concept of the Order of Nature as a system of laws’; scientific theory requires ‘continuance of the producing factors in a product’; and, finally, there is evidence of will affecting matter—if matter produced mind, mind could not dictate the action of matter. He further argues that no scientific explanation sufficiently explains the dual nature in which the self is conscious of itself, both as existing within a body and as existing among other bodies. Only a philosophical explanation may even approach an adequate discernment as to the relationship between mind and matter, and relationship between the individual and the universal mind he sees as pervasive in nature.

Books three and four address the persisting question of knowledge of existence. Stout assesses four types of theory regarding knowledge of existence, finding Idea-Theories, Sensation-Theories, Appearance-Theories and Kant’s ‘empirical self’ insufficient. He argues ‘a fundamental fallacy’ in all views that may be called subjective, ‘because they are founded on the assumption that the course of our existence might be such as it is, whether a physical world exists or not’. For Stout, existence can only be known through experience, although the reality of that which is being experienced may not be known. That is to say, the process of experiencing is what gives evidence of existence, not that which is being experienced. The author argues the only theory that gives certainty to existence is ‘Common Sense’. Although this is not a perfect tool, it is capable of being ‘measured by its power to maintain itself by adaptive transformation throughout the successive stages of relative ignorance and enlightenment’. Moreover, it can be gauged by consensus, although it necessarily must be put to the philosopher’s ‘own independent scrutiny—if, in particular, he finds that it is required for a coherent view of the nature of the universe as a whole—then for him it is finally established’. This intelligence of a common sense stems from the union of body and mind in self-consciousness, a self-consciousness that is attentive to the ‘animism of common sense’ which is the result of a Mind pervasive in nature. This is possible because the mind is not derived from matter; it merely functions alongside it. Not being derived from matter, the mind is ‘ultimate and fundamental in the constitution of the Universe of Being’. Thus, the human mind is the finite embodiment of a greater Mind. Here Stout begins to move towards the theistic ontology that he will purport in his second series of lectures. For Stout, the Universe of Being, ‘whatever it is, must be an eternal and universal Mind, giving to Nature, through and through, a character which is inexplicable’.

  • R. Scott Spurlock, University of Edinburgh