MR. SPENCER'S "PRINCIPLES OF PSYCHOLOGY." THE Principles of Psychology is
the title of the third of a series of works in which Mr. Spencer is developing his system of philosophy. It will certainly not diminish his reputation as a philosophical writer. The comprehensiveness of his scientific insight, his extensive stores of predise knowledge, his intense and clear grasp of his subject in each successive department of his ex- position, his faculty of generalisation, and his still more remark- able power of combining and exhibiting the evidence for a philo- sophical induction, his skill in harmoniously constructing com- plicated hypotheses of a very abstract kind, have never been more strikingly exhibited. But it seems to us that the book must cause much doubt and perplexity to not a few persons who have been inclined to rank themselves as adherents to Mr. Spencer's philo- sophy : if, at least, they have a definite conception of the results that may fairly be demanded from a philosopher. Mr. Spencer's system has the incurable defect of fundamental incoherence ; or rather, it is not a system at all ; it is a composition of fragments belonging to different systems. Most of the different points of view, principles, and methods that are now competing and con- flicting in the arena of philosophical discussion appear to have been unreservedly adopted—each in its turn—in one part or other of Mr. Spencer's exposition. Nor yet can we call him an Eclectic, for an eclectic claims to reconcile the different methods that he combines, whereas Mr. Spencer has not perceived the need of any reconciliation. But again, iu speaking of his system as inco- herent, we must not be understood to imply that Mr. Spencer's treatment is ever vague or confused. In fact, it is just the clear- ness and precision, even the boldness and originality, with which he expounds each principle in its own place, the thoroughness with which he pursues each method for a certain stage of his course, that presents his incoherence in the clearest form, and brings the reader's bewilderment to its height.
Nor can we attribute this singular result to the fact that the book is composed of old and new chapters together ; as it contains -a former work (called by the same name, and published twenty-eight years ago), not much modified, except in arrangement, but imbedded in about an equal amount of fresh matter. No doubt this combination rendered Mr. Spencer's task peculiarly difficult ; still we find the in- consequence of which we speak almost as much in the new portions taken alone, as in the old and new together. The truth is, that though Mr. Spencer's mind is so far eminently philosophical, that it is always striving after universality of new and completeness of synthesis ; in another sense, it shows signs of an imperfect philo- sophical (or perhaps we should rather say dialectical) training. He has laboured much to penetrate and inform with general ideas the * Principles of Psycho!ogy. By Herbert Spancer. Second Edition. Williams and Norgate.
large masses of fact accumulated by empirical observation ; but he has not laboured equally at the more delicate, though not more difficult, task of harmonising the different aspects of his own fundamental notions, as they present themselves in varying relations in the different parts of his system.
The first question that we ask of any philosopher is, what does he hold of Mind and Matter ? What is his view of their relation ? Does be regard mind as a function of matter ? or matter as an abstraction of consciousness? Or does he adopt the view that Hamilton christened Natural Dualism, and consider mental and material phenomena respectively as constituting two radically distinct classes of facts. This latter view is expounded with much force and lucidity, in more than one section of Mr. Spencer's Part I. "On the Data of Psychology." "Feelings" and "nervous changes," we are then told, are facts, " without any per- ceptible or conceivable community of nature ; " although experi- ence leads us to believe that the latter are the inseparable con- comitants of the former, " we remain utterly incapable of seeing or even imagining how the two are related. Mind still continues to us a something without any kinship with other things." Ac- cordingly, Mr. Spencer establishes, in opposition to Comte, " the totally unique science of subjective psychology, independent of and antithetical to, all other sciences whatsoever."
So far Hamilton himself could not state the fundamental an- tithesis of Dualism more explicitly. There are two worlds, the material or objective, and the world of "feelings," "states of consciousness," " psychical changes," the subjective world ; there is no conceivable connection between the two except that of co-exist- ence in time, therefore we require separate sciences to deal with each of them. Subjective psychology deals with the subjective world ; objective psychology, however, is not to be identified, as we might naturally suppose, with the physiology of the nervous system ; it does not treat of physiological facts considered in themselves, but in relation to material changes outside the organ- ism. And we may add that objective psychology, as developed by Mr. Spencer, does not treat of human nerves only. It is a comparative psychology, exhibiting the relations between the organism and the environment throughout the whole ascending scale of life.
But when we come to examine the objective psychology, as given in Parts III., IV., and V., we find the Dualism of Part I. not only ignored, but formally excluded. There we learnt that "mind " was " without kinship with other things." Now we are told that the " essential character of all mental actions," as of the " nearly allied phenomena of bodily life," consists in the " estab- lishment of correspondences between relations in the organism and relations in the environment." The distinction between " psychical " and " physical" changes is now stated to be that the physical changes present themselves as but a single series. It may be replied that Mr. Spencer is merely using the words " mind " and " psychical " in two senses, just as he sometimes means by " subjective " that which belongs to feeling as contrasted with matter, and sometimes that which belongs to the organism, viewed apart from the environment. No doubt the confusion is increased by this ambiguity of language. But when Mr. Spencer explains how " physical" changes gradually become " psychical " changes by becoming more serial, until, When an unbroken series of changes is instituted, " there must arise a consciousness," how can he continue to hold that there is " absolutely no perceptible community of nature" between con- sciousness and nervous change? The theory at this point presents a purely materialistic aspect. Nor is this removed when Mr. Spencer suggests at the end of Part V. that though he " identifies mind with motion," be does not profess to know anything of the "ulti- mate nature of mind or of motion :" for neither here nor in Part I. are we concerned with their " ultimate nature," but with their nature as far as known to us.
At the same time, we have no wish to accuse Mr. Spencer of materialism. We willingly admit that he elsewhere more than redresses the balance, if he does not exactly restore the harmony of his system. Li his subjective psychology he abolishes the external world more completely and effectively than any disciple of Hume has ever done. He does this implicitly at the outset by not distin- guishing cognitions of matter from sensations as a separate species of mental phenomena. "Mind," he says, " is composed of feelings and relations among feelings." He does it explicitly in his account of perception, as " made up of combined sensations," as being a state " in which consciousness is occupied with the relation between a sensation or group of sensations, and the representa- London: tion of those various other sensations that accompany it in experi-
ence." He does it analytically, by taking the most characteristic I elements of the cognition of matter, as the notion of extension, and exhibiting it as constructed in a complex manner out of sensations actual and ideal, and ideal consciousness of succession among sen- sations. He does it synthetically by showing the gradual segre- gation of our states of consciousness into vivid and faint groups," until out of the mere distinction between vividness and faint- ness is gradually developed the distinction between Ego and Object.
All this is very ably developed by Mr. Spencer. But suppose at this point a reaction takes place in the reader's mind, as often happens when one reads works of the school of Hume. Suppose we say, " This analysis seems plausible : it is no doubt subtle and ingenious : but still, just because it is so subtle and complicated, there is an element of great uncertainty in it : the plain deliver- ances of common-sense clearly contradict it, and I must trust these. As Reid says, I have an immediate intuitive knowledge of the extended material world, as somewhat totally distinct from the feelings of my own mind. In spite of analysis, let us stick to Reid and common-sense." In this point of view, again, we shall find ourselves anticipated by our versatile teacher, who has elsew here thrown the argument of Reid and common-sense into a new form, and supported it with much polemical vigour. " The processes of thought," he says, " in which I affirm the existence of the material world are primitive, simple, distinct : those by which I endeavour to deny it are secondary, complex, comparatively indistinct. Moreover, the latter always start with assuming the results of the former, which are indeed so inextricably involved in all our thought and speech, that the most idealistic metaphysician does not really get rid of them."
All this, again, is very forcibly put, but what is the conclusion to which we are led? Surely that there is a flaw somewhere in the analysis previously given. And in fact, the flaw is not diffi- cult to detect. In the first place, under the term Analysis, two distinct processes are commonly confounded that differ very widely in their nature and results. We will call them respectively the introspective and the hypothetical analysis. Mr. Spencer himself suggests this distinction, for. in one chapter he says that we are to " accept as simple those states of mind that are not decompos- able by introspection," having tried to decompose them hypo- thetically in a previous chapter. To illustrate the difference, let us take the notion of any common material object. We see by mere reflection that this is complex. We see that the object has different qualities related to different senses. We see, again, that some of these qualities are not essential to our notion of matter. We can conceive matter tasteless, inodororts, not resonant. Mere introspective analysis carries us as far as this. But we cannot by introspection decompose our cognition of matter as extended and solid into a series of sensations of touch, pressure, resistance, &c. At this point the analysis becomes hypothetical. We are asked to believe that the result of intro- spection is deceptive, and that the cognition in question, though it appears an undecomposable consciousness distinct in kind from sensations, really is a certain combination of sensations : that, in fact, it may be " analysed " into them. But supposing it proved, instead of conjectured, that a certain combination of sensations was the immediate antecedent of the apparently simple state which we call cognition of matter, why should we step to the conclusion that this is really composed of those sensations ? and so resolve the cognition of object into subjective elements, and involve ourselves in that conflict with common-sense which Mr. Spencer has so forcibly exhibited. There is no reason whatever except a confused analogy drawn from material chemistry. We consider a chemical compound to consist of the elements out of which it has been produced ; but that, as Mill says, is because we can not only get the compound out of the elements, but also the elements out of the compound. But we cannot resolve our notion of matter into the sensational elements of which it is said to be compounded : indeed, it is doubtful whether we can conceive clearly any of these sensations, as pure feelings, abstracted from all representation of the bodily motions that accompany them. Certainly Mr. Spencer does not ask us so to conceive them. It is
interesting to watch him analysing external perception into feelings I and relations among feelings, and showing triumphantly that these feelings and relations are relative to—what ? to that solid,
objective, material reality, the organism affected,. Thus the notion of extended matter appears undecomposed in the very process
which is confusedly believed to decompose it. We are not, then, really in a dilemma between Common-sense and Analysis : the apparent assault on the former by the latter turns out to be a mere feint.
It is not, however, thus that Mr. Spencer meets the difficulty. Indeed we cannot say that he regards it as a difficulty ; rather, both in enforcing the principles of philosophical common-sense, and in developing the method of psychological analysis, he seems to be led smoothly and naturally to the conclusion that what exists out of consciousness, the external reality, is unknown and unknowable, dimly apprehended by the mind in an " indefinable consciousness.' The Unknowable, as we saw in First Principles fills a very important place in Mr. Spencer's system ; it is the object of his, religion ; and he becomes more than usually rhetorical in declaim- log against the degraded superstitions of the people who worship a knowable Deity. We wish to treat every form of religion with• respect ; and therefore will abstain from dealing summarily with the Unknowable in its more solemn and sacred aspects. But we must pronounce it a most ineffectual instrument for settling the- controversy as to the relation of mind and matter, as it must be repudiated equally by common-sense and by constructive psycho- logical empiricism. If, on the one hand, all our knowledge is con- versant only with sensations, simple or compound, something out of consciousness can no more be apprehended indefinitely than, definitely ; it is not merely " unknowable," but altogether un- thinkable, as Ferrier says, mere nonsense ; " independent Non- ego " is merely a term directing us to perform an impossible act of thought. If, however, we are to trust the " primitive, simple,. distinct " affirmations of Common-sense, these surely give us a known and not an unknown eternal world.
Our limits forbid us to proceed, though we have by no means. exhausted Mr. Spencer's incoherencies. Many of those we have noticed are by no means peculiar to him : indeed they prevail at the- present day among semi-philosophical physicists. But no one has ever presented them with so much sharpness and precision. And herein we are duly grateful to him, and recognise the importance of his work. In attempting to formulate, he has logically ex- tinguished the loose and motley empiricism that mingles the- teaching of Hume with the teaching of Cabanis.