Can Change the World Again.
A SYSTEM OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. 1882.
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
Consciousness, or the Faculty of internal Perception, has already been defined, as that faculty or function of the intelligence by which we perceive, and apprehend, the phenomena, or operations and states, of the mind itself. By consciousness we have a knowledge of all that occurs in the interior of our own minds, just as through the faculty of sense, or external perception, we know the events of the external world around us. Consciousness, as above defined, Sir William Hamilton denominates Self-Consciousness. "Internal Perception, or Self-Consciousness," he says, "is the faculty presentative or intuitive of the phenomena of the Ego or mind." It makes no difference by what name a specific faculty is called, while there is a perfect agreement in regard to its actual existence, and proper sphere and functions.
IMMEDIATE AND MEDIATE KNOWLEDGE DEFINED.
Two forms of knowledge exist in the mind, forms of knowledge which may be denominated immediate, and mediate. When we have a direct, intuitive, perception of an object, we say that we have an immediate knowledge of that object. When, on the other hand, we know an object, not directly and immediately, but through some other object, we then attain to a form of knowledge which is denominated mediate knowledge. All forms of immediate knowledge, Sir William Hamilton refers to one and the same general faculty which he denominates Consciousness, assigning to it two distinct functions, those of external and internal perception, or the faculties of Sense and Self-Consciousness. Whenever we have a direct and immediate perception of any object, we are he affirms, conscious of that object. If such a use of language should generally obtain, the faculty of internal perception being denominated Self-Consciousness, not a little would be gained in the sphere of distinct thought. The term conscious we shall employ as this author has defined it, employing the term Consciousness according to general usage, and as above defined.
KNOWLEDGE BY CONSCIOUSNESS DIRECT AND IMMEDIATE.
Knowledge by Consciousness is always direct and immediate. We do not perceive, or know, our own mental states through any medium, but are always directly and immediately conscious of the same. This is undeniable, and is universally admitted.
KNOWLEDGE BY CONSCIOUSNESS HAS ABSOLUTE VALIDITY.
Knowledge by Consciousness, therefore, has the highest possible validity, and within the sphere of science, must be held as absolutely valid for the reality and character of all its respective objects. It is "science falsely so called," that would deny, ignore, or modify, any fact, or facts, of which we are really and truly conscious. Facts of consciousness, and these exclusively, as the student of mental science should keep constantly and distinctly in mind in all his mental investigations, lie at the basis of all legitimate deductions, throughout the entire sphere of this science. If he would not be fundamentally misled in his inquiries, he must immutably adhere to the principles laid down in the introduction to this treatise, to wit, to deny, ignore, or modify, no facts actually given in consciousness as real, to suppose or assume, as the basis of deduction, no facts not thus given, and finally to hold, as immutably valid, all deductions to which such real facts do legitimately lead.
FACTS OR OBJECTS OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
In every act of consciousness, two objects are directly and immediately cognized, or perceived and apprehended, to wit, some particular mental state on the one hand, and the mind itself, the I, or self, as the subject of that state, on the other; and we are just as distinctly, and absolutely conscious of the one, as we are of the other. Every such act, we represent in such language as the following: I think, I feel, I will. In all such states, we are as absolutely conscious of the I that thinks, feels, and wills, as we are of the phenomena of thought, feeling, and willing, which we refer to the self, or the I. Of this, every one will be fully conscious, who will carefully reflect upon what he actually has cognizance of, in all acts of consciousness. All my mental states, I know and recognize absolutely as my own. How can I know them as mine unless I am conscious, and equally so, of them as mental states, and of the I, myself, as the subject of said states? "Is it not," says Mr. Mansel, "a flat contradiction to maintain that I am not immediately conscious of myself, but only of my sensations or volitions? Who then is this I that 'is conscious, and how can I be conscious of such states as MINE? In this case it would surely be far more accurate to say, not that I am conscious of my sensations, but that the sensation is conscious of itself; but thus worded, the glaring absurdity of the theory would carry with it its own refutation." Again he says: "The one presented substance, the source from which our data for thinking on the subject are originally drawn, is myself. Whatever may be the variety of the phenomena of consciousness, sensations by this or that organ, volitions, thoughts, imaginations; of all we are immediately conscious as affections of one and the same self. It is not by any afterthought of reflection that I combine together sight, thought, and volition, into a factitious unity or compounded whole; in each case I am immediately conscious of my self seeing and hearing, willing and thinking. This, self-personality, like all other simple apprehensions, is indefinable; but it is so, because it is superior to definition. It can he analyzed into no simple element, for it is itself the simplest of all; it can be made no clearer by description or comparison, for it is revealed to us in all the clearness of an original intuition, of which description and comparison can furnish only faint and partial resemblances."
THE MIND SELF-CONSCIOUS OF ITS OWN PERSONALITY.
The truth above announced is of fundamental importance in mental science, and is now being distinctly recognized as such, within the sphere of that science. We affirm ourselves to be persons, and not things, because we have a direct, immediate, and absolute consciousness of our own personality. We affirm ourselves to be persons endowed with the powers of thought, feeling, and voluntary determination, because we are absolutely conscious of ourselves, as actually exercising these diverse mental functions. We affirm our personal identity, because we are absolutely conscious of ourselves, as being the same persons to-day, that we were yesterday.
IMPORTANT ERROR IN MENTAL PHILOSOPHY.
Until quite recently, philosophers have been accustomed to distinguish between phenomena and substance in this form. They have affirmed, that the former, and not the latter, is the object of perception, external and internal.
"We are not," says Professor Stewart, "immediately conscious of its (the mind's) existence; but we are conscious of sensation, thought, and volition; operations which imply the existence of something which feels, thinks, and wills." Now there is no such distinction, as is here made, between phenomena and substance. Phenomena is substance itself manifested to the mind. The idea of appearance, where and when no substance appears, is admitted, even by Kant, to be an absolute absurdity. Appearance is nothing but substance appearing, and a sound philosophy will hold this principle, as having universal and absolute validity throughout the entire domain of science mental and physical, to wit, that substances IN THEIR NATURE ARE AS THEIR REAL, OR ESSENTIAL PHENOMENA. The opposite doctrine leads to the wildest conceivable absurdities, in mental science especially. Suppose, that, in accordance with the teachings of Mr. Stewart and others, thought, feeling, and volition, should appear in empty space, the subject of these phenomena not appearing in them, and consequently, manifested nowhere else, at all. How could we know who that subject is, or whether any such subject does, in fact, exist?
But how, it may be asked, can there be, at the same time, a knowledge of both the subject, and the object of knowledge? How can the mind at one and the same moment, be conscious of a given state and of itself as the subject of that state? In reply we would put to the objector two or three other questions, and when he has answered these, we will fully explain to him the quo modo of knowledge by Consciousness in all its forms, and through every other faculty also. How, we ask, in the first place, can the mind be conscious of, or know any object whatever? How can the mind be conscious of any mental state, and not be conscious of itself, as the subject of that state? In other words, how can there be phenomena, when no substance is manifested; an appearance, when no substance appears? The question to be solved by philosophy is, not how we know, but what do we know? It is not, how we do, or can know, but what we do in fact, know, by consciousness? The question, what do we, in fact, know by consciousness, has already been answered, to wit, our own mental states, and our own personal selves as the subject of those states. Sound philosophy will accept the answer as given, and that without any attempt to modify that answer, in fact or in form.
NATURAL OR SPONTANEOUS, AND PHILOSOPHICAL, OR REFLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS.
Consciousness, in its simple spontaneous form, is common to all mankind, in the natural development of their intelligence. In the language of Cousin, it is "in all men a natural process." Every individual is accustomed to use the propositions, I think, I feel, I will, etc., all persons, also, are accustomed to speak of themselves as conscious of particular states or exercises of mind. This evinces that they not only are conscious of their own mental exercises, but also are aware of the function of the intelligence exercised under such circumstances. All men, also, in the spontaneous developments of consciousness, clearly distinguish themselves as subjects of mental phenomena, from all external causes, or objects of the same. They may not be able technically to express this distinction with the clearness and definiteness that a philosopher would. They may not be able to understand, at first, the meaning of the terms he would employ to express that distinction. Still it is, to them, a no less palpable reality, than to him.
As to Consciousness, which is thus seen to be, "in all men, a natural process," "some," in the language of the philosopher above named, "elevate this natural process to the degree of an art, a method, by reflection, which is a sort of second consciousness,a free re-production of the first, and as consciousness gives all men an idea of what is passing in them, so reflection gives the philosopher a certain knowledge of everything which falls under the eye of consciousness." Reflection, or Philosophic Consciousness, is simple or natural consciousness directed by the will, in the act of careful attention to the phenomena of our minds. As natural consciousness is one of the characteristics, which distinguishes man from the brute, so philosophic consciousness is the characteristics which distinguishes the mental philosopher from the rest of mankind. The above remarks may be illustrated by a reference to two common forms of observation in respect to external, material substances. The phenomena of such substances all mankind alike notice, and to some degree reason about. It is the natural philosopher, however, who attentively observes these phenomena, for the purpose of marking their fundamental characteristics, as the basis of philosophic classification, generalization, etc. The same holds true in respect to the two forms of consciousness under consideration. Mental phenomena all men are conscious of, and all men, to a greater or less degree, are accustomed to reason about. The philosopher, however, by laborious efforts of self-reflection, most critically attends to these phenomena, for the purpose of marking their characteristics, classifying and arranging them according to philosophic principles, and thus determining the powers and laws of mental operations. In simple consciousness, in short we have a knowledge of whatever passes in our minds. In reflection we have the same phenomena classified and generalized, according to fundamental characteristics.
CONSCIOUSNESS A DISTINCT FACULTY OF THE MIND.
Is consciousness a distinct and separate faculty of the mind? On this question, philosophers are not yet fully agreed, and high authority may be cited in support of each side. Sir William Hamilton is commonly reckoned as advocating the negative side of this question. Consciousness as he has defined the subject, he has fully proved not to be such a faculty; and self-consciousness, however, he has defined, and treated as such a faculty: and self-consciousness as defined by him, is, as we have already shown, perfectly identical with consciousness as we have defined the term, and as it is commonly defined by philosophers. The authority of this author therefore, is, in fact, wholly in favor of the doctrine maintained in this treatise, to wit, that consciousness, or self-consciousness, as he has defined the term, is a distinct and separate faculty of the mind. That this is the true theory, we argue from the following considerations:
TRUE THEORY VERIFIED.
1. The intuitive convictions of the raceof all mankind in common, clearly evince the existence in the mind of two distinct and separate forms of knowledge, to wit, that which pertains to external, material substances on the one hand, and that which pertains to the mind itself, on the other. Equally familiar are all men with the two special faculties through which these diverse forms of knowledge are obtained. Nor do they ever confound these forms of knowledge, nor the faculties referred to, the one with the other.
2. Among all civilized nations, this faculty is represented and designated by an appropriate and specific term, a term which is never applied to any other faculty. No term in the English language, for example, has a more fixed, definite, and exclusive, meaning and use than the term Consciousness. No individual misapprehends the meaning of the term, nor misapplies it whenever it is employed: a fact which most clearly evinces how distinctly marked and recognized, this faculty, together with its appropriate objects, is in universal thought.
3. Knowledge by consciousness does, in fact exist in the mindknowledge, wholly distinct and separate from all other kinds of mental phenomena there found. This is undeniable and is, in fact, universally admitted. To deny to consciousness, therefore, the prerogatives of a distinct and separate faculty of the mind, is to violate all valid and admitted laws of mental classification and deduction.
4. Even those philosophers who deny to this faculty such a prerogative, speak of it, and elucidate it as such a faculty. To this statement we know of no exceptions. The translator of Cousin, for example, after assigning to this faculty the same functions that we have done; after affirming that it is not "a distinct and special faculty," or "a principle of any of the faculties" or "the product of these," thus defines this same thing which he affirms to have no being at all: "Consciousness is a witness of our thoughts and volitions."
Precisely similar contradictions appear in the writings and discourses of all who deny the doctrine of this treatise upon this subject.
OBJECTS OF CONSCIOUSNESS CHRONOLOGICALLY ANTECEDENT TO THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE SAME.
Perception, in all its forms external and internal, implies, of course, the prior existence of its object, whatever that object may be. Pain, for example, as a state of the sensibility does not exist because we are conscious of it, but we are conscious of it because it does exist; the existence of the object being chronologically antecedent to the consciousness of its existence. The same, does, and must, hold true universally.