The Mind and the Brain/Book II/Chapter I

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After having thus studied matter and reduced it to sensations, we shall apply the same method of analysis to mind, and inquire whether mind possesses any characteristic which allows it to be distinguished from matter.

Before going any further, let me clear up an ambiguity. All the first part of this work has been devoted to the study of what is known to us in and by sensation; and I have taken upon myself, without advancing any kind of justifying reason, to call that which is known to us, by this method, by the name of matter, thus losing sight of the fact that matter only exists by contradistinction and opposition to mind, and that if mind did not exist, neither would matter. I have thus appeared to prejudge the question to be resolved.

The whole of this terminology must now be considered as having simply a conventional value, and must be set aside for the present. These are the precise terms in which this question presents itself to my mind. A part of the knowable consists in sensations. We must, therefore, without troubling to style this aggregate of sensations matter rather than mind, make an analysis of the phenomena known by the name of mind, and see whether they differ from the preceding ones. Let us, therefore, make an inventory of mind. By the process of enumeration, we find quoted as psychological phenomena, the sensations, the perceptions, the ideas, the recollections, the reasonings, the emotions, the desires, the imaginations, and the acts of attention and of will. These appear to be, at the first glance, the elements of mind; but, on reflection, one perceives that these elements belong to two distinct categories, of which it is easy to recognise the duality, although, in fact and in reality, these two elements are constantly combined. The first of these elements may receive the generic name of objects of cognition, or objects known, and the second that of acts of cognition.

Here are a few examples of concrete facts, which only require a rapid analysis to make their double nature plain. In a sensation which we feel are two things: a particular state, or an object which one knows, and the act of knowing it, of feeling it, of taking cognisance of it; in other words, every sensation comprises an impression and a cognition. In a recollection there is, in like manner, a certain image of the past and the fact consisting in the taking cognisance of this image. It is, in other terms, the distinction between the intelligence and the object. Similarly, all reasoning has an object; there must be matter on which to reason, whether this matter be supplied by the facts or the ideas. Again, a desire, a volition, an act of reflection, has need of a point of application. One does not will in the air, one wills something; one does not reflect in the void, one reflects over a fact or over some difficulty.

We may then provisionally distinguish in an inventory of the mind a something which is perceived, understood, desired, or willed, and, beyond that, the fact of perceiving, of understanding, or desiring, or of willing.

To illustrate this distinction by an example, I shall say that an analogous separation can be effected in an act of vision, by showing that the act of vision, which is a concrete operation, comprises two distinct elements: the object seen and the eye which sees. But this is, of course, only a rough comparison, of which we shall soon see the imperfections when we are further advanced in the study of the question.

To this activity which exists and manifests itself in the facts of feeling, perceiving, &c., we can give a name in order to identify and recognise it: we will call it the consciousness[2] (la conscience), and we will call object everything which is not the act of consciousness.

After this preliminary distinction, to which we shall often refer, we will go over the principal manifestations of the mind, and we will first study the objects of cognition, reserving for another chapter the study of the acts of cognition—that is to say, of consciousness. We will thus examine successively sensation, idea, emotion, and will.

It has been often maintained that the peculiar property of mind is to perceive sensations. It has also been said that thought—that is, the property of representing to one’s self that which does not exist—distinguishes mind from matter. Lastly, it has not failed to be affirmed that one thing which the mind brings into the material world is its power of emotion; and moralists, choosing somewhat arbitrarily among certain emotions, have said that the mind is the creator of goodness. We will endeavour to analyse these different affirmations.

  1. See note on p. 14, sup.—Ed.
  2. The word “conscience” is one of those which has been used in the greatest number of different meanings. Let it be, at least, understood that I use it here in an intellectual and not a moral sense. I do not attach to the conscience the idea of a moral approbation or disapprobation, of a duty, of a remorse. The best example to illustrate conscience has, perhaps, been formed by Ladd. It is the contrast between a person awake and sleeping a dreamless sleep. The first has consciousness of a number of things; the latter has consciousness of nothing. Let me now add that we distinguish from consciousness that multitude of things of which one has consciousness of. Of these we make the object of consciousness. [Conscience has throughout been rendered “consciousness.”—Ed.