If you say the same thing to a Frenchman with a slight knowledge of English he will go through some inner speech which may be represented by “Que dit-il? Ah, oui, une automobile!” After this, the rest follows as with the Englishman. Watson would contend that the inner speech must be incipiently pronounced; we should argue that it MIGHT be merely imaged. But this point is not important in the present connection.
If you say the same thing to a child who does not yet know the word “motor,” but does know the other words you are using, you produce a feeling of anxiety and doubt you will have to point and say, “There, that’s a motor.” After that the child will roughly understand the word “motor,” though he may include trains and steam-rollers If this is the first time the child has heard the word “motor,” he may for a long time continue to recall this scene when he hears the word.
So far we have found four ways of understanding words:
(1) On suitable occasions you use the word properly.
(2) When you hear it you act appropriately.
(3) You associate the word with another word (say in a different language) which has the appropriate effect on behaviour.
(4) When the word is being first learnt, you may associate it with an object, which is what it “means,” or a representative of various objects that it “means.”
In the fourth case, the word acquires, through association, some of the same causal efficacy as the object. The word “motor” can make you leap aside, just as the motor can, but it cannot break your bones. The effects which a word can share with its object are those which proceed according to laws other than the general laws of physics, i.e. those which, according to our terminology, involve vital movements as opposed to merely mechanical movements. The effects of a word that we understand are always mnemic phenomena in the sense explained in Lecture IV, in so far as they are identical with, or similar to, the effects which the object itself might have.
So far, all the uses of words that we have considered can be accounted for on the lines of behaviourism.
But so far we have only considered what may be called the “demonstrative” use of language, to point out some feature in the present environment. This is only one of the ways in which language may be used. There are also its narrative and imaginative uses, as in history and novels. Let us take as an instance the telling of some remembered event.
We spoke a moment ago of a child who hears the word “motor” for the first time when crossing a street along which a motor-car is approaching. On a later occasion, we will suppose, the child remembers the incident and relates it to someone else. In this case, both the active and passive understanding of words is different from what it is when words are used demonstratively. The child is not seeing a motor, but only remembering one; the hearer does not look round in expectation of seeing a motor coming, but “understands” that a motor came at some earlier time. The whole of this occurrence is much more difficult to account for on behaviourist lines. It is clear that, in so far as the child is genuinely remembering, he has a picture of the past occurrence, and his words are chosen so as to describe the picture; and in so far as the hearer is genuinely apprehending what is said, the hearer is acquiring a picture more or less like that of the child. It is true that this process may be telescoped through the operation of the word-habit. The child may not genuinely remember the incident, but only have the habit of the appropriate words, as in the case of a poem which we know by heart, though we cannot remember learning it. And the hearer also may only pay attention to the words, and not call up any corresponding picture. But it is, nevertheless, the possibility of a memory-image in the child and an imagination-image in the hearer that makes the essence of the narrative “meaning” of the words. In so far as this is absent, the words are mere counters, capable of meaning, but not at the moment possessing it.
Yet this might perhaps be regarded as something of an overstatement. The words alone, without the use of images, may cause appropriate emotions and appropriate behaviour. The words have been used in an environment which produced certain emotions;. by a telescoped process, the words alone are now capable of producing similar emotions. On these lines it might be sought to show that images are unnecessary. I do not believe, however, that we could account on these lines for the entirely different response produced by a narrative and by a description of present facts. Images, as contrasted with sensations, are the response expected during a narrative; it is understood that present action is not called for. Thus it seems that we must maintain our distinction words used demonstratively describe and are intended to lead to sensations, while the same words used in narrative describe and are only intended to lead to images.
We have thus, in addition to our four previous ways in which words can mean, two new ways, namely the way of memory and the way of imagination. That is to say:
(5) Words may be used to describe or recall a memory-image: to describe it when it already exists, or to recall it when the words exist as a habit and are known to be descriptive of some past experience.
(6) Words may be used to describe or create an imagination-image: to describe it, for example, in the case of a poet or novelist, or to create it in the ordinary case for giving information-though, in the latter case, it is intended that the imagination-image, when created, shall be accompanied by belief that something of the sort occurred.
These two ways of using words, including their occurrence in inner speech, may be spoken of together as the use of words in “thinking.” If we are right, the use of words in thinking depends, at least in its origin, upon images, and cannot be fully dealt with on behaviourist lines. And this is really the most essential function of words, namely that, originally through their connection with images, they bring us into touch with what is remote in time or space. When they operate without the medium of images, this seems to be a telescoped process. Thus the problem of the meaning of words is brought into connection with the problem of the meaning of images.
To understand the function that words perform in what is called “thinking,” we must understand both the causes and the effects of their occurrence. The causes of the occurrence of words require somewhat different treatment according as the object designated by the word is sensibly present or absent. When the object is present, it may itself be taken as the cause of the word, through association. But when it is absent there is more difficulty in obtaining a behaviourist theory of the occurrence of the word. The language-habit consists not merely in the use of words demonstratively, but also in their use to express narrative or desire. Professor Watson, in his account of the acquisition of the language-habit, pays very little attention to the use of words in narrative and desire. He says (“Behavior,” pp. 329-330):
“The stimulus (object) to which the child often responds, a box, e.g. by movements such as opening and closing and putting objects into it, may serve to illustrate our argument. The nurse, observing that the child reacts with his hands, feet, etc., to the box, begins to say ‘box’ when the child is handed the box, ‘open box’ when the child opens it, ‘close box’ when he closes it, and ‘put doll in box ‘ when that act is executed. This is repeated over and over again. In the process of time it comes about that without any other stimulus than that of the box which originally called out the bodily habits, he begins to say ‘box’ when he sees it, ‘open box’ when he opens it, etc. The visible box now becomes a stimulus capable of releasing either the bodily habits or the word-habit, i.e. development has brought about two things : (1) a series of functional connections among arcs which run from visual receptor to muscles of throat, and (2) a series of already earlier connected arcs which run from the same receptor to the bodily muscles…. The object meets the child’s vision. He runs to it and tries to reach it and says ‘box.’… Finally the word is uttered without the movement of going towards the box being executed…. Habits are formed of going to the box when the arms are full of toys. The child has been taught to deposit them there. When his arms are laden with toys and no box is there, the word-habit arises and he calls ‘box’; it is handed to him, and he opens it and deposits the toys therein. This roughly marks what we would call the genesis of a true language-habit.”(pp. 329-330).*
* Just the same account of language is given in Professor Watson’s more recent book (reference above).
We need not linger over what is said in the above passage as to the use of the word “box” in the presence of the box. But as to its use in the absence of the box, there is only one brief sentence, namely: “When his arms are laden with toys and no box is there, the word-habit arises and he calls ‘box.’ ” This is inadequate as it stands, since the habit has been to use the word when the box is present, and we have to explain its extension to cases in which the box is absent.
Having admitted images, we may say that the word “box,” in the absence of the box, is caused by an image of the box. This may or may not be true–in fact, it is true in some cases but not in others. Even, however, if it were true in all cases, it would only slightly shift our problem: we should now have to ask what causes an image of the box to arise. We might be inclined to say that desire for the box is the cause. But when this view is investigated, it is found that it compels us to suppose that the box can be desired without the child’s having either an image of the box or the word “box.” This will require a theory of desire which may be, and I think is, in the main true, but which removes desire from among things that actually occur, and makes it merely a convenient fiction, like force in mechanics.* With such a view, desire is no longer a true cause, but merely a short way of describing certain processes.
* See Lecture III, above.
In order to explain the occurrence of either the word or the image in the absence of the box, we have to assume that there is something, either in the environment or in our own sensations, which has frequently occurred at about the same time as the word “box.” One of the laws which distinguish psychology (or nerve-physiology?) from physics is the law that, when two things have frequently existed in close temporal contiguity, either comes in time to cause the other.* This is the basis both of habit and of association. Thus, in our case, the arms full of toys have frequently been followed quickly by the box, and the box in turn by the word “box.” The box itself is subject to physical laws, and does not tend to be caused by the arms full of toys, however often it may in the past have followed them–always provided that, in the case in question, its physical position is such that voluntary movements cannot lead to it. But the word “box” and the image of the box are subject to the law of habit; hence it is possible for either to be caused by the arms full of toys. And we may lay it down generally that, whenever we use a word, either aloud or in inner speech, there is some sensation or image (either of which may be itself a word) which has frequently occurred at about the same time as the word, and now, through habit, causes the word. It follows that the law of habit is adequate to account for the use of words in the absence of their objects; moreover, it would be adequate even without introducing images. Although, therefore, images seem undeniable, we cannot derive an additional argument in their favour from the use of words, which could, theoretically, be explained without introducing images.
*For a more exact statement of this law, with the limitations suggested by experiment, see A. Wohlgemuth, “On Memory and the Direction of Associations,” “British Journal of Psychology,” vol. v, part iv (March, 1913).
When we understand a word, there is a reciprocal association between it and the images of what it “means.” Images may cause us to use words which mean them, and these words, heard or read, may in turn cause the appropriate images. Thus speech is a means of producing in our hearers the images which are in us. Also, by a telescoped process, words come in time to produce directly the effects which would have been produced by the images with which they were associated. The general law of telescoped processes is that, if A causes B and B causes C, it will happen in time that A will cause C directly, without the intermediary of B. This is a characteristic of psychological and neural causation. In virtue of this law, the effects of images upon our actions come to be produced by words, even when the words do not call up appropriate images. The more familiar we are with words, the more our “thinking” goes on in words instead of images. We may, for example, be able to describe a person’s appearance correctly without having at any time had any image of him, provided, when we saw him, we thought of words which fitted him; the words alone may remain with us as a habit, and enable us to speak as if we could recall a visual image of the man. In this and other ways the understanding of a word often comes to be quite free from imagery; but in first learning the use of language it would seem that imagery always plays a very important part.
Images as well as words may be said to have “meaning”; indeed, the meaning of images seems more primitive than the meaning of words. What we call (say) an image of St. Paul’s may be said to “mean” St. Paul’s. But it is not at all easy to say exactly what constitutes the meaning of an image. A memory-image of a particular occurrence, when accompanied by a memory-belief, may be said to mean the occurrence of which it is an image. But most actual images do not have this degree of definiteness. If we call up an image of a dog, we are very likely to have a vague image, which is not representative of some one special dog, but of dogs in general. When we call up an image of a friend’s face, we are not likely to reproduce the expression he had on some one particular occasion, but rather a compromise expression derived from many occasions. And there is hardly any limit to the vagueness of which images are capable. In such cases, the meaning of the image, if defined by relation to the prototype, is vague: there is not one definite prototype, but a number, none of which is copied exactly.*
* Cf. Semon, Mnemische Empfindungen, chap. xvi, especially pp. 301-308.
There is, however, another way of approaching the meaning of images, namely through their causal efficacy. What is called an image “of” some definite object, say St. Paul’s, has some of the effects which the object would have. This applies especially to the effects that depend upon association. The emotional effects, also, are often similar: images may stimulate desire almost as strongly as do the objects they represent. And conversely desire may cause images*: a hungry man will have images of food, and so on. In all these ways the causal laws concerning images are connected with the causal laws concerning the objects which the images “mean.” An image may thus come to fulfil the function of a general idea. The vague image of a dog, which we spoke of a moment ago, will have effects which are only connected with dogs in general, not the more special effects which would be produced by some dogs but not by others. Berkeley and Hume, in their attack on general ideas, do not allow for the vagueness of images: they assume that every image has the definiteness that a physical object would have This is not the case, and a vague image may well have a meaning which is general.
* This phrase is in need of interpretation, as appears from the analysis of desire. But the reader can easily supply the interpretation for himself.
In order to define the “meaning” of an image, we have to take account both of its resemblance to one or more prototypes, and of its causal efficacy. If there were such a thing as a pure imagination-image, without any prototype whatever, it would be destitute of meaning. But according to Hume’s principle, the simple elements in an image, at least, are derived from prototypes-except possibly in very rare exceptional cases. Often, in such instances as our image of a friend’s face or of a nondescript dog, an image is not derived from one prototype, but from many; when this happens, the image is vague, and blurs the features in which the various prototypes differ. To arrive at the meaning of the image in such a case, we observe that there are certain respects, notably associations, in which the effects of images resemble those of their prototypes. If we find, in a given case, that our vague image, say, of a nondescript dog, has those associative effects which all dogs would have, but not those belonging to any special dog or kind of dog, we may say that our image means “dog” in general. If it has all the associations appropriate to spaniels but no others, we shall say it means “spaniel”; while if it has all the associations appropriate to one particular dog, it will mean that dog, however vague it may be as a picture. The meaning of an image, according to this analysis, is constituted by a combination of likeness and associations. It is not a sharp or definite conception, and in many cases it will be impossible to decide with any certainty what an image means. I think this lies in the nature of things, and not in defective analysis.
We may give somewhat more precision to the above account of the meaning of images, and extend it to meaning in general. We find sometimes that, IN MNEMIC CAUSATION, an image or word, as stimulus, has the same effect (or very nearly the same effect) as would belong to some object, say, a certain dog. In that case we say that the image or word means that object. In other cases the mnemic effects are not all those of one object, but only those shared by objects of a certain kind, e.g. by all dogs. In this case the meaning of the image or word is general: it means the whole kind. Generality and particularity are a matter of degree. If two particulars differ sufficiently little, their mnemic effects will be the same; therefore no image or word can mean the one as opposed to the other; this sets a bound to the particularity of meaning. On the other hand, the mnemic effects of a number of sufficiently dissimilar objects will have nothing discoverable in common; hence a word which aims at complete generality, such as “entity” for example, will have to be devoid of mnemic effects, and therefore of meaning. In practice, this is not the case: such words have VERBAL associations, the learning of which constitutes the study of metaphysics.
The meaning of a word, unlike that of an image, is wholly constituted by mnemic causal laws, and not in any degree by likeness (except in exceptional cases). The word “dog” bears no resemblance to a dog, but its effects, like those of an image of a dog, resemble the effects of an actual dog in certain respects. It is much easier to say definitely what a word means than what an image means, since words, however they originated, have been framed in later times for the purpose of having meaning, and men have been engaged for ages in giving increased precision to the meanings of words. But although it is easier to say what a word means than what an image means, the relation which constitutes meaning is much the same in both cases. A word, like an image, has the same associations as its meaning has. In addition to other associations, it is associated with images of its meaning, so that the word tends to call up the image and the image tends to call up the word., But this association is not essential to the intelligent use of words. If a word has the right associations with other objects, we shall be able to use it correctly, and understand its use by others, even if it evokes no image. The theoretical understanding of words involves only the power of associating them correctly with other words; the practical understanding involves associations with other bodily movements.
The use of words is, of course, primarily social, for the purpose of suggesting to others ideas which we entertain or at least wish them to entertain. But the aspect of words that specially concerns us is their power of promoting our own thought. Almost all higher intellectual activity is a matter of words, to the nearly total exclusion of everything else. The advantages of words for purposes of thought are so great that I should never end if I were to enumerate them. But a few of them deserve to be mentioned.
In the first place, there is no difficulty in producing a word, whereas an image cannot always be brought into existence at will, and when it comes it often contains much irrelevant detail. In the second place, much of our thinking is concerned with abstract matters which do not readily lend themselves to imagery, and are apt to be falsely conceived if we insist upon finding images that may be supposed to represent them. The word is always concrete and sensible, however abstract its meaning may be, and thus by the help of words we are able to dwell on abstractions in a way which would otherwise be impossible. In the third place, two instances of the same word are so similar that neither has associations not capable of being shared by the other. Two instances of the word “dog” are much more alike than (say) a pug and a great dane; hence the word “dog” makes it much easier to think about dogs in general. When a number of objects have a common property which is important but not obvious, the invention of a name for the common property helps us to remember it and to think of the whole set of objects that possess it. But it is unnecessary to prolong the catalogue of the uses of language in thought.
At the same time, it is possible to conduct rudimentary thought by means of images, and it is important, sometimes, to check purely verbal thought by reference to what it means. In philosophy especially the tyranny of traditional words is dangerous, and we have to be on our guard against assuming that grammar is the key to metaphysics, or that the structure of a sentence corresponds at all accurately with the structure of the fact that it asserts. Sayce maintained that all European philosophy since Aristotle has been dominated by the fact that the philosophers spoke Indo-European languages, and therefore supposed the world, like the sentences they were used to, necessarily divisible into subjects and predicates. When we come to the consideration of truth and falsehood, we shall see how necessary it is to avoid assuming too close a parallelism between facts and the sentences which assert them. Against such errors, the only safeguard is to be able, once in a way, to discard words for a moment and contemplate facts more directly through images. Most serious advances in philosophic thought result from some such comparatively direct contemplation of facts. But the outcome has to be expressed in words if it is to be communicable. Those who have a relatively direct vision of facts are often incapable of translating their vision into words, while those who possess the words have usually lost the vision. It is partly for this reason that the highest philosophical capacity is so rare: it requires a combination of vision with abstract words which is hard to achieve, and too quickly lost in the few who have for a moment achieved it.
LECTURE XI. GENERAL IDEAS AND THOUGHT
It is said to be one of the merits of the human mind that it is capable of framing abstract ideas, and of conducting nonsensational thought. In this it is supposed to differ from the mind of animals. From Plato onward the “idea” has played a great part in the systems of idealizing philosophers. The “idea” has been, in their hands, always something noble and abstract, the apprehension and use of which by man confers upon him a quite special dignity.
The thing we have to consider to-day is this: seeing that there certainly are words of which the meaning is abstract, and seeing that we can use these words intelligently, what must be assumed or inferred, or what can be discovered by observation, in the way of mental content to account for the intelligent use of abstract words?
Taken as a problem in logic, the answer is, of course, that absolutely nothing in the way of abstract mental content is inferable from the mere fact that we can use intelligently words of which the meaning is abstract. It is clear that a sufficiently ingenious person could manufacture a machine moved by olfactory stimuli which, whenever a dog appeared in its neighbourhood, would say, “There is a dog,” and when a cat appeared would throw stones at it. The act of saying “There is a dog,” and the act of throwing stones, would in such a case be equally mechanical. Correct speech does not of itself afford any better evidence of mental content than the performance of any other set of biologically useful movements, such as those of flight or combat. All that is inferable from language is that two instances of a universal, even when they differ very greatly, may cause the utterance of two instances of the same word which only differ very slightly. As we saw in the preceding lecture, the word “dog” is useful, partly, because two instances of this word are much more similar than (say) a pug and a great dane. The use of words is thus a method of substituting for two particulars which differ widely, in spite of being instances of the same universal, two other particulars which differ very little, and which are also instances of a universal, namely the name of the previous universal. Thus, so far as logic is concerned, we are entirely free to adopt any theory as to general ideas which empirical observation may recommend.
Berkeley and Hume made a vigorous onslaught on “abstract ideas.” They meant by an idea approximately what we should call an image. Locke having maintained that he could form an idea of triangle in general, without deciding what sort of triangle it was to be, Berkeley contended that this was impossible. He says:
“Whether others,have this wonderful faculty of abstracting their ideas, they best can tell: for myself, I dare be confident I have it not. I find, indeed, I have indeed a faculty of imagining, or representing to myself, the ideas of those particular things I have perceived, and of variously compounding and dividing them. I can imagine a man with two heads, or the upper parts of a man joined to the body of a horse. I can consider the hand, the eye, the nose, each by itself abstracted or separated from the rest of the body. But, then, whatever hand or eye I imagine, it must have some particular shape and colour. Likewise the idea of a man that I frame to myself must be either of a white, or a black, or a tawny, a straight, or a crooked, a tall, or a low, or a middle-sized man. I cannot by any effort of thought conceive the abstract idea above described. And it is equally impossible for me to form the abstract idea of motion distinct from the body moving, and which is neither swift nor slow, curvilinear nor rectilinear; and the like may be said of all other abstract general ideas whatsoever. To be plain, I own myself able to abstract in one sense, as when I consider some particular parts of qualities separated from others, with which, though they are united in some object, yet it is possible they may really exist without them. But I deny that I can abstract from one another, or conceive separately, those qualities which it is impossible should exist so separated; or that I can frame a general notion, by abstracting from particulars in the manner aforesaid–which last are the two proper acceptations of ABSTRACTION. And there is ground to think most men will acknowledge themselves to be in my case. The generality of men which are simple and illiterate never pretend to ABSTRACT NOTIONS. It is said they are difficult and not to be attained without pains and study; we may therefore reasonably conclude that, if such there be, they are confined only to the learned.
“I proceed to examine what can be alleged in defence of the doctrine of abstraction, and try if I can discover what it is that inclines the men of speculation to embrace an opinion so remote from common sense as that seems to be. There has been a late excellent and deservedly esteemed philosopher who, no doubt, has given it very much countenance, by seeming to think the having abstract general ideas is what puts the widest difference in point of understanding betwixt man and beast. ‘The having of general ideas,’ saith he, ‘is that which puts a perfect distinction betwixt man and brutes, and is an excellency which the faculties of brutes do by no means attain unto. For, it is evident we observe no footsteps in them of making use of general signs for universal ideas; from which we have reason to imagine that they have not the faculty of abstracting, or making general ideas, since they have no use of words or any other general signs.’ And a little after: ‘Therefore, I think, we may suppose that it is in this that the species of brutes are discriminated from men, and it is that proper difference wherein they are wholly separated, and which at last widens to so wide a distance. For, if they have any ideas at all, and are not bare machines (as some would have them), we cannot deny them to have some reason. It seems as evident to me that they do, some of them, in certain instances reason as that they have sense; but it is only in particular ideas, just as they receive them from their senses. They are the best of them tied up within those narrow bounds, and have not (as I think) the faculty to enlarge them by any kind of abstraction.* (“Essay on Human Understanding,” Bk. II, chap. xi, paragraphs 10 and 11.) I readily agree with this learned author, that the faculties of brutes can by no means attain to abstraction. But, then, if this be made the distinguishing property of that sort of animals, I fear a great many of those that pass for men must be reckoned into their number. The reason that is here assigned why we have no grounds to think brutes have abstract general ideas is, that we observe in them no use of words or any other general signs; which is built on this supposition-that the making use of words implies the having general ideas. From which it follows that men who use language are able to abstract or generalize their ideas. That this is the sense and arguing of the author will further appear by his answering the question he in another place puts: ‘Since all things that exist are only particulars, how come we by general terms?’ His answer is: ‘Words become general by being made the signs of general ideas.’ (“Essay on Human Understanding,” Bk. III, chap. III, paragraph 6.) But it seems that a word becomes general by being made the sign, not of an abstract general idea, but of several particular ideas, any one of which it indifferently suggests to the mind. For example, when it is said ‘the change of motion is proportional to the impressed force,’ or that ‘whatever has extension is divisible,’ these propositions are to be understood of motion and extension in general; and nevertheless it will not follow that they suggest to my thoughts an idea of motion without a body moved, or any determinate direction and velocity, or that I must conceive an abstract general idea of extension, which is neither line, surface, nor solid, neither great nor small, black, white, nor red, nor of any other determinate colour. It is only implied that whatever particular motion I consider, whether it be swift or slow, perpendicular, horizontal, or oblique, or in whatever object, the axiom concerning it holds equally true. As does the other of every particular extension, it matters not whether line, surface, or solid, whether of this or that magnitude or figure.
“By observing how ideas become general, we may the better judge how words are made so. And here it is to be noted that I do not deny absolutely there are general ideas, but only that there are any ABSTRACT general ideas; for, in the passages we have quoted wherein there is mention of general ideas, it is always supposed that they are formed by abstraction, after the manner set forth in sections 8 and 9. Now, if we will annex a meaning to our words, and speak only of what we can conceive, I believe we shall acknowledge that an idea which, considered in itself, is particular, becomes general by being made to represent or stand for all other particular ideas of the same sort. To make this plain by an example, suppose a geometrician is demonstrating the method of cutting a line in two equal parts. He draws, for instance, a black line of an inch in length: this, which in itself is a particular line, is nevertheless with regard to its signification general, since, as it is there used, it represents all particular lines whatsoever; so that what is demonstrated of it is demonstrated of all lines, or, in other words, of a line in general. And, as THAT PARTICULAR LINE becomes general by being made a sign, so the NAME ‘line,’ which taken absolutely is particular, by being a sign is made general. And as the former owes its generality not to its being the sign of an abstract or general line, but of all particular right lines that may possibly exist, so the latter must be thought to derive its generality from the same cause, namely, the various particular lines which it indifferently denotes.” *
* Introduction to “A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge,” paragraphs 10, 11, and 12.
Berkeley’s view in the above passage, which is essentially the same as Hume’s, does not wholly agree with modern psychology, although it comes nearer to agreement than does the view of those who believe that there are in the mind single contents which can be called abstract ideas. The way in which Berkeley’s view is inadequate is chiefly in the fact that images are as a rule not of one definite prototype, but of a number of related similar prototypes. On this subject Semon has written well. In “Die Mneme,” pp. 217 ff., discussing the effect of repeated similar stimuli in producing and modifying our images, he says: “We choose a case of mnemic excitement whose existence we can perceive for ourselves by introspection, and seek to ekphore the bodily picture of our nearest relation in his absence, and have thus a pure mnemic excitement before us. At first it may seem to us that a determinate quite concrete picture becomes manifest in us, but just when we are concerned with a person with whom we are in constant contact, we shall find that the ekphored picture has something so to speak generalized. It is something like those American photographs which seek to display what is general about a type by combining a great number of photographs of different heads over each other on one plate. In our opinion, the generalizations happen by the homophonic working of different pictures of the same face which we have come across in the most different conditions and situations, once pale, once reddened, once cheerful, once earnest, once in this light, and once in that. As soon as we do not let the whole series of repetitions resound in us uniformly, but give our attention to one particular moment out of the many… this particular mnemic stimulus at once overbalances its simultaneously roused predecessors and successors, and we perceive the face in question with concrete definiteness in that particular situation.” A little later he says: “The result is–at least in man, but probably also in the higher animals–the development of a sort of PHYSIOLOGICAL abstraction. Mnemic homophony gives us, without the addition of other processes of thought, a picture of our friend X which is in a certain sense abstract, not the concrete in any one situation, but X cut loose from any particular point of time. If the circle of ekphored engrams is drawn even more widely, abstract pictures of a higher order appear: for instance, a white man or a negro. In my opinion, the first form of abstract concepts in general is based upon such abstract pictures. The physiological abstraction which takes place in the above described manner is a predecessor of purely logical abstraction. It is by no means a monopoly of the human race, but shows itself in various ways also among the more highly organized animals.” The same subject is treated in more detail in Chapter xvi of “Die mnemischen Empfindungen,” but what is said there adds nothing vital to what is contained in the above quotations.
It is necessary, however, to distinguish between the vague and the general. So long as we are content with Semon’s composite image, we MAY get no farther than the vague. The question whether this image takes us to the general or not depends, I think, upon the question whether, in addition to the generalized image, we have also particular images of some of the instances out of which it is compounded. Suppose, for example, that on a number of occasions you had seen one negro, and that you did not know whether this one was the same or different on the different occasions. Suppose that in the end you had an abstract memory-image of the different appearances presented by the negro on different occasions, but no memory-image of any one of the single appearances. In that case your image would be vague. If, on the other hand, you have, in addition to the generalized image, particular images of the several appearances, sufficiently clear to be recognized as different, and as instances of the generalized picture, you will then not feel the generalized picture to be adequate to any one particular appearance, and you will be able to make it function as a general idea rather than a vague idea. If this view is correct, no new general content needs to be added to the generalized image. What needs to be added is particular images compared and contrasted with the generalized image. So far as I can judge by introspection, this does occur in practice. Take for example Semon’s instance of a friend’s face. Unless we make some special effort of recollection, the face is likely to come before us with an average expression, very blurred and vague, but we can at will recall how our friend looked on some special occasion when he was pleased or angry or unhappy, and this enables us to realize the generalized character of the vague image.
There is, however, another way of distinguishing between the vague, the particular and the general, and this is not by their content, but by the reaction which they produce. A word, for example, may be said to be vague when it is applicable to a number of different individuals, but to each as individuals; the name Smith, for example, is vague: it is always meant to apply to one man, but there are many men to each of whom it applies.* The word “man,” on the other hand, is general. We say, “This is Smith,” but we do not say “This is man,” but “This is a man.” Thus we may say that a word embodies a vague idea when its effects are appropriate to an individual, but are the same for various similar individuals, while a word embodies a general idea when its effects are different from those appropriate to individuals. In what this difference consists it is, however, not easy to say. I am inclined to think that it consists merely in the knowledge that no one individual is represented, so that what distinguishes a general idea from a vague idea is merely the presence of a certain accompanying belief. If this view is correct, a general idea differs from a vague one in a way analogous to that in which a memory-image differs from an imagination-image. There also we found that the difference consists merely of the fact that a memory-image is accompanied by a belief, in this case as to the past.
* “Smith” would only be a quite satisfactory representation of vague words if we failed to discriminate between different people called Smith.
It should also be said that our images even of quite particular occurrences have always a greater or a less degree of vagueness. That is to say, the occurrence might have varied within certain limits without causing our image to vary recognizably. To arrive at the general it is necessary that we should be able to contrast it with a number of relatively precise images or words for particular occurrences; so long as all our images and words are vague, we cannot arrive at the contrast by which the general is defined. This is the justification for the view which I quoted on p. 184 from Ribot (op. cit., p. 32), viz. that intelligence progresses from the indefinite to the definite, and that the vague appears earlier than either the particular or the general.
I think the view which I have been advocating, to the effect that a general idea is distinguished from a vague one by the presence of a judgment, is also that intended by Ribot when he says (op. cit., p. 92): “The generic image is never, the concept is always, a judgment. We know that for logicians (formerly at any rate) the concept is the simple and primitive element; next comes the judgment, uniting two or several concepts; then ratiocination, combining two or several judgments. For the psychologists, on the contrary, affirmation is the fundamental act; the concept is the result of judgment (explicit or implicit), of similarities with exclusion of differences.”
A great deal of work professing to be experimental has been done in recent years on the psychology of thought. A good summary of such work up to the year agog is contained in Titchener’s “Lectures on the Experimental Psychology of the Thought Processes” (1909). Three articles in the “Archiv fur die gesammte Psychologie” by Watt,* Messer** and Buhler*** contain a great deal of the material amassed by the methods which Titchener calls experimental.
* Henry J. Watt, “Experimentelle Beitrage zu einer Theorie des Denkens,” vol. iv (1905) pp. 289-436.
** August Messer, “Experimentell-psychologische Untersuchu gen uber das Denken,” vol. iii (1906), pp. 1-224.
*** Karl Buhler, “Uber Gedanken,” vol. ix (1907), pp. 297-365.
For my part I am unable to attach as much importance to this work as many psychologists do. The method employed appears to me hardly to fulfil the conditions of scientific experiment. Broadly speaking, what is done is, that a set of questions are asked of various people, their answers are recorded, and likewise their own accounts, based upon introspection, of the processes of thought which led them to give those answers. Much too much reliance seems to me to be placed upon the correctness of their introspection. On introspection as a method I have spoken earlier (Lecture VI). I am not prepared, like Professor Watson, to reject it wholly, but I do consider that it is exceedingly fallible and quite peculiarly liable to falsification in accordance with preconceived theory. It is like depending upon the report of a shortsighted person as to whom he sees coming along the road at a moment when he is firmly convinced that Jones is sure to come. If everybody were shortsighted and obsessed with beliefs as to what was going to be visible, we might have to make the best of such testimony, but we should need to correct its errors by taking care to collect the simultaneous evidence of people with the most divergent expectations. There is no evidence that this was done in the experiments in question, nor indeed that the influence of theory in falsifying the introspection was at all adequately recognized. I feel convinced that if Professor Watson had been one of the subjects of the questionnaires, he would have given answers totally different from those recorded in the articles in question. Titchener quotes an opinion of Wundt on these investigations, which appears to me thoroughly justified. “These experiments,” he says, “are not experiments at all in the sense of a scientific methodology; they are counterfeit experiments, that seem methodical simply because they are ordinarily performed in a psychological laboratory, and involve the co-operation of two persons, who purport to be experimenter and observer. In reality, they are as unmethodical as possible; they possess none of the special features by which we distinguish the introspections of experimental psychology from the casual introspections of everyday life.”* Titchener, of course, dissents from this opinion, but I cannot see that his reasons for dissent are adequate. My doubts are only increased by the fact that Buhler at any rate used trained psychologists as his subjects. A trained psychologist is, of course, supposed to have acquired the habit of observation, but he is at least equally likely to have acquired a habit of seeing what his theories require. We may take Buhler’s “Uber Gedanken” to illustrate the kind of results arrived at by such methods. Buhler says (p. 303): “We ask ourselves the general question: ‘WHAT DO WE EXPERIENCE WHEN WE THINK?’ Then we do not at all attempt a preliminary determination of the concept ‘thought,’ but choose for analysis only such processes as everyone would describe as processes of thought.” The most important thing in thinking, he says, is “awareness that…” (Bewusstheit dass), which he calls a thought. It is, he says, thoughts in this sense that are essential to thinking. Thinking, he maintains, does not need language or sensuous presentations. “I assert rather that in principle every object can be thought (meant) distinctly, without any help from sensuous presentation (Anschauungshilfen). Every individual shade of blue colour on the picture that hangs in my room I can think with complete distinctness unsensuously (unanschaulich), provided it is possible that the object should be given to me in another manner than by the help of sensations. How that is possible we shall see later.” What he calls a thought (Gedanke) cannot be reduced, according to him, to other psychic occurrences. He maintains that thoughts consist for the most part of known rules (p. 342). It is clearly essential to the interest of this theory that the thought or rule alluded to by Buhler should not need to be expressed in words, for if it is expressed in words it is immediately capable of being dealt with on the lines with which the behaviourists have familiarized us. It is clear also that the supposed absence of words rests solely upon the introspective testimony of the persons experimented upon. I cannot think that there is sufficient certainty of their reliability in this negative observation to make us accept a difficult and revolutionary view of thought, merely because they have failed to observe the presence of words or their equivalent in their thinking. I think it far more likely, especially in view of the fact that the persons concerned were highly educated, that we are concerned with telescoped processes, in which habit has caused a great many intermediate terms to be elided or to be passed over so quickly as to escape observation.
* Titchener, op. cit., p. 79.
I am inclined to think that similar remarks apply to the general idea of “imageless thinking,” concerning which there has been much controversy. The advocates of imageless thinking are not contending merely that there can be thinking which is purely verbal; they are contending that there can be thinking which proceeds neither in words nor in images. My own feeling is that they have rashly assumed the presence of thinking in cases where habit has rendered thinking unnecessary. When Thorndike experimented with animals in cages, he found that the associations established were between a sensory stimulus and a bodily movement (not the idea of it), without the need of supposing any non-physiological intermediary (op. cit., p. 100 ff.). The same thing, it seems to me, applies to ourselves. A certain sensory situation produces in us a certain bodily movement. Sometimes this movement consists in uttering words. Prejudice leads us to suppose that between the sensory stimulus and the utterance of the words a process of thought must have intervened, but there seems no good reason for such a supposition. Any habitual action, such as eating or dressing, may be performed on the appropriate occasion, without any need of thought, and the same seems to be true of a painfully large proportion of our talk. What applies to uttered speech applies of course equally to the internal speech which is not uttered. I remain, therefore, entirely unconvinced that there is any such phenomenon as thinking which consists neither of images nor of words, or that “ideas” have to be added to sensations and images as part of the material out of which mental phenomena are built.
The question of the nature of our consciousness of the universal is much affected by our view as to the general nature of the relation of consciousness to its object. If we adopt the view of Brentano, according to which all mental content has essential reference to an object, it is then natural to suppose that there is some peculiar kind of mental content of which the object is a universal, as oppose to a particular. According to this view, a particular cat can be PERceived or imagined, while the universal “cat” is CONceived. But this whole manner of viewing our dealings with universals has to be abandoned when the relation of a mental occurrence to its “object” is regarded as merely indirect and causal, which is the view that we have adopted. The mental content is, of course, always particular, and the question as to what it “means” (in case it means anything) is one which cannot be settled by merely examining the intrinsic character of the mental content, but only by knowing its causal connections in the case of the person concerned. To say that a certain thought “means” a universal as opposed to either a vague or a particular, is to say something exceedingly complex. A horse will behave in a certain manner whenever he smells a bear, even if the smell is derived from a bearskin. That is to say, any environment containing an instance of the universal “smell of a bear” produces closely similar behaviour in the horse, but we do not say that the horse is conscious of this universal. There is equally little reason to regard a man as conscious of the same universal, because under the same circumstances he can react by saying, “I smell a bear.” This reaction, like that of the horse, is merely closely similar on different occasions where the environment affords instances of the same universal. Words of which the logical meaning is universal can therefore be employed correctly, without anything that could be called consciousness of universals. Such consciousness in the only sense in which it can be said to exist is a matter of reflective judgment consisting in the observation of similarities and differences. A universal never appears before the mind as a single object in the sort of way in which something perceived appears. I THINK a logical argument could be produced to show that universals are part of the structure of the world, but they are an inferred part, not a part of our data. What exists in us consists of various factors, some open to external observation, others only visible to introspection. The factors open to external observation are primarily habits, having the peculiarity that very similar reactions are produced by stimuli which are in many respects very different from each other. Of this the reaction of the horse to the smell of the bear is an instance, and so is the reaction of the man who says “bear” under the same circumstances. The verbal reaction is, of course, the most important from the point of view of what may be called knowledge of universals. A man who can always use the word “dog” when he sees a dog may be said, in a certain sense, to know the meaning of the word “dog,” and IN THAT SENSE to have knowledge of the universal “dog.” But there is, of course, a further stage reached by the logician in which he not merely reacts with the word “dog,” but sets to work to discover what it is in the environment that causes in him this almost identical reaction on different occasions. This further stage consists in knowledge of similarities and differences: similarities which are necessary to the applicability of the word “dog,” and differences which are compatible with it. Our knowledge of these similarities and differences is never exhaustive, and therefore our knowledge of the meaning of a universal is never complete.
In addition to external observable habits (including the habit of words), there is also the generic image produced by the superposition, or, in Semon’s phrase, homophony, of a number of similar perceptions. This image is vague so long as the multiplicity of its prototypes is not recognized, but becomes universal when it exists alongside of the more specific images of its instances, and is knowingly contrasted with them. In this case we find again, as we found when we were discussing words in general in the preceding lecture, that images are not logically necessary in order to account for observable behaviour, i.e. in this case intelligent speech. Intelligent speech could exist as a motor habit, without any accompaniment of images, and this conclusion applies to words of which the meaning is universal, just as much as to words of which the meaning is relatively particular. If this conclusion is valid, it follows that behaviourist psychology, which eschews introspective data, is capable of being an independent science, and of accounting for all that part of the behaviour of other people which is commonly regarded as evidence that they think. It must be admitted that this conclusion considerably weakens the reliance which can be placed upon introspective data. They must be accepted simply on account of the fact that we seem to perceive them, not on account of their supposed necessity for explaining the data of external observation.
This, at any rate, is the conclusion to which. we are forced, so long as, with the behaviourists, we accept common-sense views of the physical world. But if, as I have urged, the physical world itself, as known, is infected through and through with subjectivity, if, as the theory of relativity suggests, the physical universe contains the diversity of points of view which we have been accustomed to regard as distinctively psychological, then we are brought back by this different road to the necessity for trusting observations which are in an important sense private. And it is the privacy of introspective data which causes much of the behaviourists’ objection to them.
This is an example of the difficulty of constructing an adequate philosophy of any one science without taking account of other sciences. The behaviourist philosophy of psychology, though in many respects admirable from the point of view of method, appears to me to fail in the last analysis because it is based upon an inadequate philosophy of physics. In spite, therefore, of the fact that the evidence for images, whether generic or particular, is merely introspective, I cannot admit that images should be rejected, or that we should minimize their function in our knowledge of what is remote in time or space.
LECTURE XII. BELIEF
Belief, which is our subject to-day, is the central problem in the analysis of mind. Believing seems the most “mental” thing we do, the thing most remote from what is done by mere matter. The whole intellectual life consists of beliefs, and of the passage from one belief to another by what is called “reasoning.” Beliefs give knowledge and error; they are the vehicles of truth and falsehood. Psychology, theory of knowledge and metaphysics revolve about belief, and on the view we take of belief our philosophical outlook largely depends.
Before embarking upon the detailed analysis of belief, we shall do well to note certain requisites which any theory must fulfil.
(1) Just as words are characterized by meaning, so beliefs are characterized by truth or falsehood. And just as meaning consists in relation to the object meant, so truth and falsehood consist in relation to something that lies outside the belief. You may believe that such-and-such a horse will win the Derby. The time comes, and your horse wins or does not win; according to the outcome, your belief was true or false. You may believe that six times nine is fifty-six; in this case also there is a fact which makes your belief false. You may believe that America was discovered in 1492, or that it was discovered in 1066. In the one case your belief is true, in the other false; in either case its truth or falsehood depends upon the actions of Columbus, not upon anything present or under your control. What makes a belief true or false I call a “fact.” The particular fact that makes a given belief true or false I call its “objective,”* and the relation of the belief to its objective I call the “reference” or the “objective reference” of the belief. Thus, if I believe that Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492, the “objective” of my belief is Columbus’s actual voyage, and the “reference” of my belief is the relation between my belief and the voyage–that relation, namely, in virtue of which the voyage makes my belief true (or, in another case, false). “Reference” of beliefs differs from “meaning” of words in various ways, but especially in the fact that it is of two kinds, “true” reference and “false” reference. The truth or falsehood of a belief does not depend upon anything intrinsic to the belief, but upon the nature of its relation to its objective. The intrinsic nature of belief can be treated without reference to what makes it true or false. In the remainder of the present lecture I shall ignore truth and falsehood, which will be the subject of Lecture XIII. It is the intrinsic nature of belief that will concern us to-day.
* This terminology is suggested by Meinong, but is not exactly the same as his.
(2) We must distinguish between believing and what is believed. I may believe that Columbus crossed the Atlantic, that all Cretans are liars, that two and two are four, or that nine times six is fifty-six; in all these cases the believing is just the same, and only the contents believed are different. I may remember my breakfast this morning, my lecture last week, or my first sight of New York. In all these cases the feeling of memory-belief is just the same, and only what is remembered differs. Exactly similar remarks apply to expectations. Bare assent, memory and expectation are forms of belief; all three are different from what is believed, and each has a constant character which is independent of what is believed.
In Lecture I we criticized the analysis of a presentation into act, content and object. But our analysis of belief contains three very similar elements, namely the believing, what is believed and the objective. The objections to the act (in the case of presentations) are not valid against the believing in the case of beliefs, because the believing is an actual experienced feeling, not something postulated, like the act. But it is necessary first to complete our preliminary requisites, and then to examine the content of a belief. After that, we shall be in a position to return to the question as to what constitutes believing.
(3) What is believed, and the believing, must both consist of present occurrences in the believer, no matter what may be the objective of the belief. Suppose I believe, for example, “that Caesar crossed the Rubicon.” The objective of my belief is an event which happened long ago, which I never saw and do not remember. This event itself is not in my mind when I believe that it happened. It is not correct to say that I am believing the actual event; what I am believing is something now in my mind, something related to the event (in a way which we shall investigate in Lecture XIII), but obviously not to be confounded with the event, since the event is not occurring now but the believing is. What a man is believing at a given moment is wholly determinate if we know the contents of his mind at that moment; but Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon was an historical physical event, which is distinct from the present contents of every present mind. What is believed, however true it may be, is not the actual fact that makes the belief true, but a present event related to the fact. This present event, which is what is believed, I shall call the “content” of the belief. We have already had occasion to notice the distinction between content and objective in the case of memory-beliefs, where the content is “this occurred” and the objective is the past event.
(4) Between content and objective there is sometimes a very wide gulf, for example in the case of “Caesar crossed the Rubicon.” This gulf may, when it is first perceived, give us a feeling that we cannot really ” know ” anything about the outer world. All we can “know,” it may be said, is what is now in our thoughts. If Caesar and the Rubicon cannot be bodily in our thoughts, it might seem as though we must remain cut off from knowledge of them. I shall not now deal at length with this feeling, since it is necessary first to define “knowing,” which cannot be done yet. But I will say, as a preliminary answer, that the feeling assumes an ideal of knowing which I believe to be quite mistaken. ~ it assumes, if it is thought out, something like the mystic unity of knower and known. These two are often said to be combined into a unity by the fact of cognition; hence when this unity is plainly absent, it may seem as if there were no genuine cognition. For my part, I think such theories and feelings wholly mistaken: I believe knowing to be a very external and complicated relation, incapable of exact definition, dependent upon causal laws, and involving no more unity than there is between a signpost and the town to which it points. I shall return to this question on a later occasion; for the moment these provisional remarks must suffice.
(5) The objective reference of a belief is connected with the fact that all or some of the constituents of its content have meaning. If I say “Caesar conquered Gaul,” a person who knows the meaning of the three words composing my statement knows as much as can be known about the nature of the objective which would make my statement true. It is clear that the objective reference of a belief is, in general, in some way derivative from the meanings of the words or images that occur in its content. There are, however, certain complications which must be borne in mind. In the first place, it might be contended that a memory-image acquires meaning only through the memory-belief, which would seem, at least in the case of memory, to make belief more primitive than the meaning of images. In the second place, it is a very singular thing that meaning, which is single, should generate objective reference, which is dual, namely true and false. This is one of the facts which any theory of belief must explain if it is to be satisfactory.
It is now time to leave these preliminary requisites, and attempt the analysis of the contents of beliefs.
The first thing to notice about what is believed, i.e. about the content of a belief, is that it is always complex: We believe that a certain thing has a certain property, or a certain relation to something else, or that it occurred or will occur (in the sense discussed at the end of Lecture IX); or we may believe that all the members of a certain class have a certain property, or that a certain property sometimes occurs among the members of a class; or we may believe that if one thing happens, another will happen (for example, “if it rains I shall bring my umbrella”), or we may believe that something does not happen, or did not or will not happen (for example, “it won’t rain”); or that one of two things must happen (for example, “either you withdraw your accusation, or I shall bring a libel action”). The catalogue of the sorts of things we may believe is infinite, but all of them are complex.
Language sometimes conceals the complexity of a belief. We say that a person believes in God, and it might seem as if God formed the whole content of the belief. But what is really believed is that God exists, which is very far from being simple. Similarly, when a person has a memory-image with a memory-belief, the belief is “this occurred,” in the sense explained in Lecture IX; and “this occurred” is not simple. In like manner all cases where the content of a belief seems simple at first sight will be found, on examination, to confirm the view that the content is always complex.
The content of a belief involves not merely a plurality of constituents, but definite relations between them; it is not determinate when its constituents alone are given. For example, “Plato preceded Aristotle” and “Aristotle preceded Plato” are both contents which may be believed, but, although they consist of exactly the same constituents, they are different, and even incompatible.
The content of a belief may consist of words only, or of images only, or of a mixture of the two, or of either or both together with one or more sensations. It must contain at least one constituent which is a word or an image, and it may or may not contain one or more sensations as constituents. Some examples will make these various possibilities clear.
We may take first recognition, in either of the forms “this is of such-and-such a kind” or “this has occurred before.” In either case, present sensation is a constituent. For example, you hear a noise, and you say to yourself “tram.” Here the noise and the word “tram” are both constituents of your belief; there is also a relation between them, expressed by “is” in the proposition “that is a tram.” As soon as your act of recognition is completed by the occurrence of the word “tram,” your actions are affected: you hurry if you want the tram, or cease to hurry if you want a bus. In this case the content of your belief is a sensation (the noise) and a word (“tram”) related in a way which may be called predication.
The same noise may bring into your mind the visual image of a tram, instead of the word “tram.” In this case your belief consists of a sensation and an image suitable related. Beliefs of this class are what are called “judgments of perception.” As we saw in Lecture VIII, the images associated with a sensation often come with such spontaneity and force that the unsophisticated do not distinguish them from the sensation; it is only the psychologist or the skilled observer who is aware of the large mnemic element that is added to sensation to make perception. It may be objected that what is added consists merely of images without belief. This is no doubt sometimes the case, but is certainly sometimes not the case. That belief always occurs in perception as opposed to sensation it is not necessary for us to maintain; it is enough for our purposes to note that it sometimes occurs, and that when it does, the content of our belief consists of a sensation and an image suitably related.
In a PURE memory-belief only images occur. But a mixture of words and images is very common in memory. You have an image of the past occurrence, and you say to yourself: “Yes, that’s how it was.” Here the image and the words together make up the content of the belief. And when the remembering of an incident has become a habit, it may be purely verbal, and the memory-belief may consist of words alone.
The more complicated forms of belief tend to consist only of words. Often images of various kinds accompany them, but they are apt to be irrelevant, and to form no part of what is actually believed. For example, in thinking of the Solar System, you are likely to have vague images of pictures you have seen of the earth surrounded by clouds, Saturn and his rings, the sun during an eclipse, and so on; but none of these form part of your belief that the planets revolve round the sun in elliptical orbits. The only images that form an actual part of such beliefs are, as a rule, images of words. And images of words, for the reasons considered in Lecture VIII, cannot be distinguished with any certainty from sensations, when, as is often, if not usually, the case, they are kinaesthetic images of pronouncing the words.
It is impossible for a belief to consist of sensations alone, except when, as in the case of words, the sensations have associations which make them signs possessed of meaning. The reason is that objective reference is of the essence of belief, and objective reference is derived from meaning. When I speak of a belief consisting partly of sensations and partly of words, I do not mean to deny that the words, when they are not mere images, are sensational, but that they occur as signs, not (so to speak) in their own right. To revert to the noise of the tram, when you hear it and say “tram,” the noise and the word are both sensations (if you actually pronounce the word), but the noise is part of the fact which makes your belief true, whereas the word is not part of this fact. It is the MEANING of the word “tram,” not the actual word, that forms part of the fact which is the objective of your belief. Thus the word occurs in the belief as a symbol, in virtue of its meaning, whereas the noise enters into both the belief and its objective. It is this that distinguishes the occurrence of words as symbols from the occurrence of sensations in their own right: the objective contains the sensations that occur in their own right, but contains only the meanings of the words that occur as symbols.
For the sake of simplicity, we may ignore the cases in which sensations in their own right form part of the content of a belief, and confine ourselves to images and words. We may also omit the cases in which both images and words occur in the content of a belief. Thus we become confined to two cases: (a) when the content consists wholly of images, (b) when it consists wholly of words. The case of mixed images and words has no special importance, and its omission will do no harm.
Let us take in illustration a case of memory. Suppose you are thinking of some familiar room. You may call up an image of it, and in your image the window may be to the left of the door. Without any intrusion of words, you may believe in the correctness of your image. You then have a belief, consisting wholly of images, which becomes, when put into words, “the window is to the left of the door.” You may yourself use these words and proceed to believe them. You thus pass from an image-content to the corresponding word-content. The content is different in the two cases, but its objective reference is the same. This shows the relation of image-beliefs to word-beliefs in a very simple case. In more elaborate cases the relation becomes much less simple.
It may be said that even in this very simple case the objective reference of the word-content is not quite the same as that of the image-content, that images have a wealth of concrete features which are lost when words are substituted, that the window in the image is not a mere window in the abstract, but a window of a certain shape and size, not merely to the left of the door, but a certain distance to the left, and so on. In reply, it may be admitted at once that there is, as a rule, a certain amount of truth in the objection. But two points may be urged to minimize its force. First, images do not, as a rule, have that wealth of concrete detail that would make it IMPOSSIBLE to express them fully in words. They are vague and fragmentary: a finite number of words, though perhaps a large number, would exhaust at least their SIGNIFICANT features. For–and this is our second point–images enter into the content of a belief through the fact that they are capable of meaning, and their meaning does not, as a rule, have as much complexity as they have: some of their characteristics are usually devoid of meaning. Thus it may well be possible to extract in words all that has meaning in an image-content; in that case the word-content and the image-content will have exactly the same objective reference.
The content of a belief, when expressed in words, is the same thing (or very nearly the same thing) as what in logic is called a “proposition.” A proposition is a series of words (or sometimes a single word) expressing the kind of thing that can be asserted or denied. “That all men are mortal,” “that Columbus discovered America,” “that Charles I died in his bed,” “that all philosophers are wise,” are propositions. Not any series of words is a proposition, but only such series of words as have “meaning,” or, in our phraseology, “objective reference.” Given the meanings of separate words, and the rules of syntax, the meaning of a proposition is determinate. This is the reason why we can understand a sentence we never heard before. You probably never heard before the proposition “that the inhabitants of the Andaman Islands habitually eat stewed hippopotamus for dinner,” but there is no difficulty in understanding the proposition. The question of the relation between the meaning of a sentence and the meanings of the separate words is difficult, and I shall not pursue it now; I brought it up solely as being illustrative of the nature of propositions.
We may extend the term “proposition” so as to cover the image-contents of beliefs consisting of images. Thus, in the case of remembering a room in which the window is to the left of the door, when we believe the image-content the proposition will consist of the image of the window on the left together with the image of the door on the right. We will distinguish propositions of this kind as “image-propositions” and propositions in words as “word-propositions.” We may identify propositions in general with the contents of actual and possible beliefs, and we may say that it is propositions that are true or false. In logic we are concerned with propositions rather than beliefs, since logic is not interested in what people do in fact believe, but only in the conditions which determine the truth or falsehood of possible beliefs. Whenever possible, except when actual beliefs are in question, it is generally a simplification to deal with propositions.
It would seem that image-propositions are more primitive than word-propositions, and may well ante-date language. There is no reason why memory-images, accompanied by that very simple belief-feeling which we decided to be the essence of memory, should not have occurred before language arose; indeed, it would be rash to assert positively that memory of this sort does not occur among the higher animals. Our more elementary beliefs, notably those that are added to sensation to make perception, often remain at the level of images. For example, most of the visual objects in our neighbourhood rouse tactile images: we have a different feeling in looking at a sofa from what we have in looking at a block of marble, and the difference consists chiefly in different stimulation of our tactile imagination. It may be said that the tactile images are merely present, without any accompanying belief; but I think this view, though sometimes correct, derives its plausibility as a general proposition from our thinking of explicit conscious belief only. Most of our beliefs, like most of our wishes, are “unconscious,” in the sense that we have never told ourselves that we have them. Such beliefs display themselves when the expectations that they arouse fail in any way. For example, if someone puts tea (without milk) into a glass, and you drink it under the impression that it is going to be beer; or if you walk on what appears to be a tiled floor, and it turns out to be a soft carpet made to look like tiles. The shock of surprise on an occasion of this kind makes us aware of the expectations that habitually enter into our perceptions; and such expectations must be classed as beliefs, in spite of the fact that we do not normally take note of them or put them into words. I remember once watching a cock pigeon running over and over again to the edge of a looking-glass to try to wreak vengeance on the particularly obnoxious bird whom he expected to find there, judging by what he saw in the glass. He must have experienced each time the sort of surprise on finding nothing, which is calculated to lead in time to the adoption of Berkeley’s theory that objects of sense are only in the mind. His expectation, though not expressed in words, deserved, I think, to be called a belief.
I come now to the question what constitutes believing, as opposed to the content believed.
To begin with, there are various different attitudes that may be taken towards the same content. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that you have a visual image of your breakfast-table. You may expect it while you are dressing in the morning; remember it as you go to your work; feel doubt as to its correctness when questioned as to your powers of visualizing; merely entertain the image, without connecting it with anything external, when you are going to sleep; desire it if you are hungry, or feel aversion for it if you are ill. Suppose, for the sake of definiteness, that the content is “an egg for breakfast.” Then you have the following attitudes “I expect there will be an egg for breakfast”; “I remember there was an egg for breakfast”; “Was there an egg for breakfast?” “An egg for breakfast: well, what of it?” “I hope there will be an egg for breakfast”; “I am afraid there will be an egg for breakfast and it is sure to be bad.” I do not suggest that this is a list of all possible attitudes on the subject; I say only that they are different attitudes, all concerned with the one content “an egg for breakfast.”
These attitudes are not all equally ultimate. Those that involve desire and aversion have occupied us in Lecture III. For the present, we are only concerned with such as are cognitive. In speaking of memory, we distinguished three kinds of belief directed towards the same content, namely memory, expectation and bare assent without any time-determination in the belief-feeling. But before developing this view, we must examine two other theories which might be held concerning belief, and which, in some ways, would be more in harmony with a behaviourist outlook than the theory I wish to advocate.
(1) The first theory to be examined is the view that the differentia of belief consists in its causal efficacy I do not wish to make any author responsible for this theory: I wish merely to develop it hypothetically so that we may judge of its tenability.
We defined the meaning of an image or word by causal efficacy, namely by associations: an image or word acquires meaning, we said, through having the same associations as what it means.
We propose hypothetically to define “belief” by a different kind of causal efficacy, namely efficacy in causing voluntary movements. (Voluntary movements are defined as those vital movements which are distinguished from reflex movements as involving the higher nervous centres. I do not like to distinguish them by means of such notions as “consciousness” or “will,” because I do not think these notions, in any definable sense, are always applicable. Moreover, the purpose of the theory we are examining is to be, as far as possible, physiological and behaviourist, and this purpose is not achieved if we introduce such a conception as “consciousness” or “will.” Nevertheless, it is necessary for our purpose to find some way of distinguishing between voluntary and reflex movements, since the results would be too paradoxical, if we were to say that reflex movements also involve beliefs.) According to this definition, a content is said to be “believed” when it causes us to move. The images aroused are the same if you say to me, “Suppose there were an escaped tiger coming along the street,” and if you say to me, “There is an escaped tiger coming along the street.” But my actions will be very different in the two cases: in the first, I shall remain calm; in the second, it is possible that I may not. It is suggested, by the theory we are considering, that this difference of effects constitutes what is meant by saying that in the second case I believe the proposition suggested, while in the first case I do not. According to this view, images or words are “believed” when they cause bodily movements.
I do not think this theory is adequate, but I think it is suggestive of truth, and not so easily refutable as it might appear to be at first sight.
It might be objected to the theory that many things which we certainly believe do not call for any bodily movements. I believe that Great Britain is an island, that whales are mammals, that Charles I was executed, and so on; and at first sight it seems obvious that such beliefs, as a rule, do not call for any action on my part. But when we investigate the matter more closely, it becomes more doubtful. To begin with, we must distinguish belief as a mere DISPOSITION from actual active belief. We speak as if we always believed that Charles I was executed, but that only means that we are always ready to believe it when the subject comes up. The phenomenon we are concerned to analyse is the active belief, not the permanent disposition. Now, what are the occasions when, we actively believe that Charles I was executed? Primarily: examinations, when we perform the bodily movement of writing it down; conversation, when we assert it to display our historical erudition; and political discourses, when we are engaged in showing what Soviet government leads to. In all these cases bodily movements (writing or speaking) result from our belief.
But there remains the belief which merely occurs in “thinking.” One may set to work to recall some piece of history one has been reading, and what one recalls is believed, although it probably does not cause any bodily movement whatever. It is true that what we believe always MAY influence action. Suppose I am invited to become King of Georgia: I find the prospect attractive, and go to Cook’s to buy a third-class ticket to my new realm. At the last moment I remember Charles I and all the other monarchs who have come to a bad end; I change my mind, and walk out without completing the transaction. But such incidents are rare, and cannot constitute the whole of my belief that Charles I was executed. The conclusion seems to be that, although a belief always MAY influence action if it becomes relevant to a practical issue, it often exists actively (not as a mere disposition) without producing any voluntary movement whatever. If this is true, we cannot define belief by the effect on voluntary movements.
There is another, more theoretical, ground for rejecting the view we are examining. It is clear that a proposition can be either believed or merely considered, and that the content is the same in both cases. We can expect an egg for breakfast, or merely entertain the supposition that there may be an egg for breakfast. A moment ago I considered the possibility of being invited to become King of Georgia, but I do not believe that this will happen. Now, it seems clear that, since believing and considering have different effects if one produces bodily movements while the other does not, there must be some intrinsic difference between believing and considering*; for if they were precisely similar, their effects also would be precisely similar. We have seen that the difference between believing a given proposition and merely considering it does not lie in the content; therefore there must be, in one case or in both, something additional to the content which distinguishes the occurrence of a belief from the occurrence of a mere consideration of the same content. So far as the theoretical argument goes, this additional element may exist only in belief, or only in consideration, or there may be one sort of additional element in the case of belief, and another in the case of consideration. This brings us to the second view which we have to examine.
* Cf. Brentano, “Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte,” p. 268 (criticizing Bain, “The Emotions and the Will”).
(1) The theory which we have now to consider regards belief as belonging to every idea which is entertained, except in so far as some positive counteracting force interferes. In this view belief is not a positive phenomenon, though doubt and disbelief are so. What we call belief, according to this hypothesis, involves only the appropriate content, which will have the effects characteristic of belief unless something else operating simultaneously inhibits them. James (Psychology, vol. ii, p. 288) quotes with approval, though inaccurately, a passage from Spinoza embodying this view:
“Let us conceive a boy imagining to himself a horse, and taking note of nothing else. As this imagination involves the existence of the horse, AND THE BOY HAS NO PERCEPTION WHICH ANNULS ITS EXISTENCE [James’s italics], he will necessarily contemplate the horse as present, nor will he be able to doubt of its existence, however little certain of it he may be. I deny that a man in so far as he imagines [percipit] affirms nothing. For what is it to imagine a winged horse but to affirm that the horse [that horse, namely] has wings? For if the mind had nothing before it but the winged horse, it would contemplate the same as present, would have no cause to doubt of its existence, nor any power of dissenting from its existence, unless the imagination of the winged horse were joined to an idea which contradicted [tollit] its existence” (“Ethics,” vol. ii, p. 49, Scholium).
To this doctrine James entirely assents, adding in italics:
“ANY OBJECT WHICH REMAINS UNCONTRADICTED IS IPSO FACTO BELIEVED AND POSITED AS ABSOLUTE REALITY.”
If this view is correct, it follows (though James does not draw the inference) that there is no need of any specific feeling called “belief,” and that the mere existence of images yields all that is required. The state of mind in which we merely consider a proposition, without believing or disbelieving it, will then appear as a sophisticated product, the result of some rival force adding to the image-proposition a positive feeling which may be called suspense or non-belief–a feeling which may be compared to that of a man about to run a race waiting for the signal. Such a man, though not moving, is in a very different condition from that of a man quietly at rest And so the man who is considering a proposition without believing it will be in a state of tension, restraining the natural tendency to act upon the proposition which he would display if nothing interfered. In this view belief primarily consists merely in the existence of the appropriate images without any counteracting forces.
There is a great deal to be said in favour of this view, and I have some hesitation in regarding it as inadequate. It fits admirably with the phenomena of dreams and hallucinatory images, and it is recommended by the way in which it accords with mental development. Doubt, suspense of judgment and disbelief all seem later and more complex than a wholly unreflecting assent. Belief as a positive phenomenon, if it exists, may be regarded, in this view, as a product of doubt, a decision after debate, an acceptance, not merely of THIS, but of THIS-RATHER-THAN-THAT. It is not difficult to suppose that a dog has images (possible olfactory) of his absent master, or of the rabbit that he dreams of hunting. But it is very difficult to suppose that he can entertain mere imagination-images to which no assent is given.
I think it must be conceded that a mere image, without the addition of any positive feeling that could be called “belief,” is apt to have a certain dynamic power, and in this sense an uncombated image has the force of a belief. But although this may be true, it accounts only for some of the simplest phenomena in the region of belief. It will not, for example, explain memory. Nor can it explain beliefs which do not issue in any proximate action, such as those of mathematics. I conclude, therefore, that there must be belief-feelings of the same order as those of doubt or disbelief, although phenomena closely analogous to those of belief can be produced by mere uncontradicted images.
(3) I come now to the view of belief which I wish to advocate. It seems to me that there are at least three kinds of belief, namely memory, expectation and bare assent. Each of these I regard as constituted by a certain feeling or complex of sensations, attached to the content believed. We may illustrate by an example. Suppose I am believing, by means of images, not words, that it will rain. We have here two interrelated elements, namely the content and the expectation. The content consists of images of (say) the visual appearance of rain, the feeling of wetness, the patter of drops, interrelated, roughly, as the sensations would be if it were raining. Thus the content is a complex fact composed of images. Exactly the same content may enter into the memory “it was raining” or the assent “rain occurs.” The difference of these cases from each other and from expectation does not lie in the content. The difference lies in the nature of the belief-feeling. I, personally, do not profess to be able to analyse the sensations constituting respectively memory, expectation and assent; but I am not prepared to say that they cannot be analysed. There may be other belief-feelings, for example in disjunction and implication; also a disbelief-feeling.
It is not enough that the content and the belief-feeling should coexist: it is necessary that there should be a specific relation between them, of the sort expressed by saying that the content is what is believed. If this were not obvious, it could be made plain by an argument. If the mere co-existence of the content and the belief-feeling sufficed, whenever we were having (say) a memory-feeling we should be remembering any proposition which came into our minds at the same time. But this is not the case, since we may simultaneously remember one proposition and merely consider another.
We may sum up our analysis, in the case of bare assent to a proposition not expressed in words, as follows: (a) We have a proposition, consisting of interrelated images, and possibly partly of sensations; (b) we have the feeling of assent, which is presumably a complex sensation demanding analysis; (c) we have a relation, actually subsisting, between the assent and the proposition, such as is expressed by saying that the proposition in question is what is assented to. For other forms of belief-feeling or of content, we have only to make the necessary substitutions in this analysis.
If we are right in our analysis of belief, the use of words in expressing beliefs is apt to be misleading. There is no way of distinguishing, in words, between a memory and an assent to a proposition about the past: “I ate my breakfast” and “Caesar conquered Gaul” have the same verbal form, though (assuming that I remember my breakfast) they express occurrences which are psychologically very different. In the one case, what happens is that I remember the content “eating my breakfast”; in the other case, I assent to the content “Caesar’s conquest of Gaul occurred.” In the latter case, but not in the former, the pastness is part of the content believed. Exactly similar remarks apply to the difference between expectation, such as we have when waiting for the thunder after a flash of lightning, and assent to a proposition about the future, such as we have in all the usual cases of inferential knowledge as to what will occur. I think this difficulty in the verbal expression of the temporal aspects of beliefs is one among the causes which have hampered philosophy in the consideration of time.
The view of belief which I have been advocating contains little that is novel except the distinction of kinds of belief-feeling~ such as memory and expectation. Thus James says: “Everyone knows the difference between imagining a thing and believing in its existence, between supposing a proposition and acquiescing in its truth…IN ITS INNER NATURE, BELIEF, OR THE SENSE OF REALITY, IS A SORT OF FEELING MORE ALLIED TO THE EMOTIONS THAN. TO ANYTHING ELSE” (“Psychology,” vol. ii, p. 283. James’s italics). He proceeds to point out that drunkenness, and, still more, nitrous- oxide intoxication, will heighten the sense of belief: in the latter case, he says, a man’s very soul may sweat with conviction, and he be all the time utterly unable to say what he is convinced of. It would seem that, in such cases, the feeling of belief exists unattached, without its usual relation to a content believed, just as the feeling of familiarity may sometimes occur without being related to any definite familiar object. The feeling of belief, when it occurs in this separated heightened form, generally leads us to look for a content to which to attach it. Much of what passes for revelation or mystic insight probably comes in this way: the belief-feeling, in abnormal strength, attaches itself, more or less accidentally, to some content which we happen to think of at the appropriate moment. But this is only a speculation, upon which I do not wish to lay too much stress.
LECTURE XIII. TRUTH AND FALSEHOOD
The definition of truth and falsehood, which is our topic to-day, lies strictly outside our general subject, namely the analysis of mind. From the psychological standpoint, there may be different kinds of belief, and different degrees of certainty, but there cannot be any purely psychological means of distinguishing between true and false beliefs. A belief is rendered true or false by relation to a fact, which may lie outside the experience of the person entertaining the belief. Truth and falsehood, except in the case of beliefs about our own minds, depend upon the relations of mental occurrences to outside things, and thus take us beyond the analysis of mental occurrences as they are in themselves. Nevertheless, we can hardly avoid the consideration of truth and falsehood. We wish to believe that our beliefs, sometimes at least, yield KNOWLEDGE, and a belief does not yield knowledge unless it is true. The question whether our minds are instruments of knowledge, and, if so, in what sense, is so vital that any suggested analysis of mind must be examined in relation to this question. To ignore this question would be like describing a chronometer without regard to its accuracy as a time-keeper, or a thermometer without mentioning the fact that it measures temperature.
Many difficult questions arise in connection with knowledge. It is difficult to define knowledge, difficult to decide whether we have any knowledge, and difficult, even if it is conceded that we sometimes have knowledge to discover whether we can ever know that we have knowledge in this or that particular case. I shall divide the discussion into four parts:
I. We may regard knowledge, from a behaviourist standpoint, as exhibited in a certain kind of response to the environment. This response must have some characteristics which it shares with those of scientific instruments, but must also have others that are peculiar to knowledge. We shall find that this point of view is important, but not exhaustive of the nature of knowledge.
II. We may hold that the beliefs that constitute knowledge are distinguished from such as are erroneous or uncertain by properties which are intrinsic either to single beliefs or to systems of beliefs, being in either case discoverable without reference to outside fact. Views of this kind have been widely held among philosophers, but we shall find no reason to accept them.
III. We believe that some beliefs are true, and some false. This raises the problem of VERIFIABILITY: are there any circumstances which can justifiably give us an unusual degree of certainty that such and such a belief is true? It is obvious that there are circumstances which in fact cause a certainty of this sort, and we wish to learn what we can from examining these circumstances.
IV. Finally, there is the formal problem of defining truth and falsehood, and deriving the objective reference of a proposition from the meanings of its component words.
We will consider these four problems in succession.
I. We may regard a human being as an instrument, which makes various responses to various stimuli. If we observe these responses from outside, we shall regard them as showing knowledge when they display two characteristics, ACCURACY and APPROPRIATENESS. These two are quite distinct, and even sometimes incompatible. If I am being pursued by a tiger, accuracy is furthered by turning round to look at him, but appropriateness by running away without making any search for further knowledge of the beast. I shall return to the question of appropriateness later; for the present it is accuracy that I wish to consider.
When we are viewing a man from the outside, it is not his beliefs, but his bodily movements, that we can observe. His knowledge must be inferred from his bodily movements, and especially from what he says and writes. For the present we may ignore beliefs, and regard a man’s knowledge as actually consisting in what he says and does. That is to say, we will construct, as far as possible, a purely behaviouristic account of truth and falsehood.
If you ask a boy “What is twice two?” and the boy says “four,” you take that as prima facie evidence that the boy knows what twice two is. But if you go on to ask what is twice three, twice four, twice five, and so on, and the boy always answers “four,” you come to the conclusion that he knows nothing about it. Exactly similar remarks apply to scientific instruments. I know a certain weather-cock which has the pessimistic habit of always pointing to the north-east. If you were to see it first on a cold March day, you would think it an excellent weather-cock; but with the first warm day of spring your confidence would be shaken. The boy and the weather-cock have the same defect: they do not vary their response when the stimulus is varied. A good instrument, or a person with much knowledge, will give different responses to stimuli which differ in relevant ways. This is the first point in defining accuracy of response.
We will now assume another boy, who also, when you first question him, asserts that twice two is four. But with this boy, instead of asking him different questions, you make a practice of asking him the same question every day at breakfast. You find that he says five, or six, or seven, or any other number at random, and you conclude that he also does not know what twice two is, though by good luck he answered right the first time. This boy is like a weather-cock which, instead of being stuck fast, is always going round and round, changing without any change of wind. This boy and weather-cock have the opposite defect to that of the previous pair: they give different responses to stimuli which do not differ in any relevant way.
In connection with vagueness in memory, we already had occasion to consider the definition of accuracy. Omitting some of the niceties of our previous discussion, we may say that an instrument is ACCURATE when it avoids the defects of the two boys and weather-cocks, that is to say, when–
(a) It gives different responses to stimuli which differ in relevant ways;
(b) It gives the same response to stimuli which do not differ in relevant ways.
What are relevant ways depends upon the nature and purpose of the instrument. In the case of a weather-cock, the direction of the wind is relevant, but not its strength; in the case of the boy, the meaning of the words of your question is relevant, but not the loudness of your voice, or whether you are his father or his schoolmaster If, however, you were a boy of his own age, that would be relevant, and the appropriate response would be different.
It is clear that knowledge is displayed by accuracy of response to certain kinds of stimuli, e.g. examinations. Can we say, conversely, that it consists wholly of such accuracy of response? I do not think we can; but we can go a certain distance in this direction. For this purpose we must define more carefully the kind of accuracy and the kind of response that may be expected where there is knowledge.
From our present point of view, it is difficult to exclude perception from knowledge; at any rate, knowledge is displayed by actions based upon perception. A bird flying among trees avoids bumping into their branches; its avoidance is a response to visual sensations. This response has the characteristic of accuracy, in the main, and leads us to say that the bird “knows,” by sight, what objects are in its neighbourhood. For a behaviourist, this must certainly count as knowledge, however it may be viewed by analytic psychology. In this case, what is known, roughly, is the stimulus; but in more advanced knowledge the stimulus and what is known become different. For example, you look in your calendar and find that Easter will be early next year. Here the stimulus is the calendar, whereas the response concerns the future. Even this can be paralleled among instruments: the behaviour of the barometer has a present stimulus but foretells the future, so that the barometer might be said, in a sense, to know the future. However that may be, the point I am emphasizing as regards knowledge is that what is known may be quite different from the stimulus, and no part of the cause of the knowledge-response. It is only in sense-knowledge that the stimulus and what is known are, with qualifications, identifiable. In knowledge of the future, it is obvious that they are totally distinct, since otherwise the response would precede the stimulus. In abstract knowledge also they are distinct, since abstract facts have no date. In knowledge of the past there are complications, which we must briefly examine.
Every form of memory will be, from our present point of view, in one sense a delayed response. But this phrase does not quite clearly express what is meant. If you light a fuse and connect it with a heap of dynamite, the explosion of the dynamite may be spoken of, in a sense, as a delayed response to your lighting of the fuse. But that only means that it is a somewhat late portion of a continuous process of which the earlier parts have less emotional interest. This is not the case with habit. A display of habit has two sorts of causes: (a) the past occurrences which generated the habit, (b) the present occurrence which brings it into play. When you drop a weight on your toe, and say what you do say, the habit has been caused by imitation of your undesirable associates, whereas it is brought into play by the dropping of the weight. The great bulk of our knowledge is a habit in this sense: whenever I am asked when I was born, I reply correctly by mere habit. It would hardly be correct to say that getting born was the stimulus, and that my reply is a delayed response But in cases of memory this way of speaking would have an element of truth. In an habitual memory, the event remembered was clearly an essential part of the stimulus to the formation of the habit. The present stimulus which brings the habit into play produces a different response from that which it would produce if the habit did not exist. Therefore the habit enters into the causation of the response, and so do, at one remove, the causes of the habit. It follows that an event remembered is an essential part of the causes of our remembering.
In spite, however, of the fact that what is known is SOMETIMES an indispensable part of the cause of the knowledge, this circumstance is, I think, irrelevant to the general question with which we are concerned, namely What sort of response to what sort of stimulus can be regarded as displaying knowledge? There is one characteristic which the response must have, namely, it must consist of voluntary movements. The need of this characteristic is connected with the characteristic of APPROPRIATENESS, which I do not wish to consider as yet. For the present I wish only to obtain a clearer idea of the sort of ACCURACY that a knowledge-response must have. It is clear from many instances that accuracy, in other cases, may be purely mechanical. The most complete form of accuracy consists in giving correct answers to questions, an achievement in which calculating machines far surpass human beings. In asking a question of a calculating machine, you must use its language: you must not address it in English, any more than you would address an Englishman in Chinese. But if you address it in the language it understands. it will tell you what is 34521 times 19987, without a moment’s hesitation or a hint of inaccuracy. We do not say the machine KNOWS the answer, because it has no purpose of its own in giving the answer: it does not wish to impress you with its cleverness, or feel proud of being such a good machine. But as far as mere accuracy goes, the machine leaves nothing to be desired.
Accuracy of response is a perfectly clear notion in the case of answers to questions, but in other cases it is much more obscure. We may say generally that an object whether animate or inanimate, is “sensitive” to a certain feature of the environment if it behaves differently according to the presence or absence of that feature. Thus iron is sensitive to anything magnetic. But sensitiveness does not constitute knowledge, and knowledge of a fact which is not sensible is not sensitiveness to that fact, as we have seen in distinguishing the fact known from the stimulus. As soon as we pass beyond the simple case of question and answer, the definition of knowledge by means of behaviour demands the consideration of purpose. A carrier pigeon flies home, and so we say it “knows” the way. But if it merely flew to some place at random, we should not say that it “knew” the way to that place, any more than a stone rolling down hill knows the way to the valley.
On the features which distinguish knowledge from accuracy of response in general, not much can be said from a behaviourist point of view without referring to purpose. But the necessity of SOMETHING besides accuracy of response may be brought out by the following consideration: Suppose two persons, of whom one believed whatever the other disbelieved, and disbelieved whatever the other believed. So far as accuracy and sensitiveness of response alone are concerned, there would be nothing to choose between these two persons. A thermometer which went down for warm weather and up for cold might be just as accurate as the usual kind; and a person who always believes falsely is just as sensitive an instrument as a person who always believes truly. The observable and practical difference between them would be that the one who always believed falsely would quickly come to a bad end. This illustrates once more that accuracy of response to stimulus does not alone show knowledge, but must be reinforced by appropriateness, i.e. suitability for realizing one’s purpose. This applies even in the apparently simple case of answering questions: if the purpose of the answers is to deceive, their falsehood, not their truth, will be evidence of knowledge. The proportion of the combination of appropriateness with accuracy in the definition of knowledge is difficult; it seems that both enter in, but that appropriateness is only required as regards the general type of response, not as regards each individual instance.
II. I have so far assumed as unquestionable the view that the truth or falsehood of a belief consists in a relation to a certain fact, namely the objective of the belief. This view has, however, been often questioned. Philosophers have sought some intrinsic criterion by which true and false beliefs could be distinguished.* I am afraid their chief reason for this search has been the wish to feel more certainty than seems otherwise possible as to what is true and what is false. If we could discover the truth of a belief by examining its intrinsic characteristics, or those of some collection of beliefs of which it forms part, the pursuit of truth, it is thought, would be a less arduous business than it otherwise appears to be. But the attempts which have been made in this direction are not encouraging. I will take two criteria which have been suggested, namely, (1) self-evidence, (2) mutual coherence. If we can show that these are inadequate, we may feel fairly certain that no intrinsic criterion hitherto suggested will suffice to distinguish true from false beliefs.
* The view that such a criterion exists is generally held by those whose views are in any degree derived from Hegel. It may be illustrated by the following passage from Lossky, “The Intuitive Basis of Knowledge” (Macmillan, 1919), p. 268: “Strictly speaking, a false judgment is not a judgment at all. The predicate does not follow from the subject S alone, but from the subject plus a certain addition C, WHICH IN NO SENSE BELONGS TO THE CONTENT OF THE JUDGMENT. What takes place may be a process of association of ideas, of imagining, or the like, but is not a process of judging. An experienced psychologist will be able by careful observation to detect that in this process there is wanting just the specific element of the objective dependence of the predicate upon the subject which is characteristic of a judgment. It must be admitted, however, that an exceptional power of observation is needed in order to distinguish, by means of introspection, mere combination of ideas from judgments.”
(1) Self-evidence.–Some of our beliefs seem to be peculiarly indubitable. One might instance the belief that two and two are four, that two things cannot be in the same place at the same time, nor one thing in two places, or that a particular buttercup that we are seeing is yellow. The suggestion we are to examine is that such: beliefs have some recognizable quality which secures their truth, and the truth of whatever is deduced from them according to self-evident principles of inference. This theory is set forth, for example, by Meinong in his book, “Ueber die Erfahrungsgrundlagen unseres Wissens.”
If this theory is to be logically tenable, self-evidence must not consist merely in the fact that we believe a proposition. We believe that our beliefs are sometimes erroneous, and we wish to be able to select a certain class of beliefs which are never erroneous. If we are to do this, it must be by some mark which belongs only to certain beliefs, not to all; and among those to which it belongs there must be none that are mutually inconsistent. If, for example, two propositions p and q were self-evident, and it were also self-evident that p and q could not both be true, that would condemn self-evidence as a guarantee of truth. Again, self-evidence must not be the same thing as the absence of doubt or the presence of complete certainty. If we are completely certain of a proposition, we do not seek a ground to support our belief. If self-evidence is alleged as a ground of belief, that implies that doubt has crept in, and that our self-evident proposition has not wholly resisted the assaults of scepticism. To say that any given person believes some things so firmly that he cannot be made to doubt them is no doubt true. Such beliefs he will be willing to use as premisses in reasoning, and to him personally they will seem to have as much evidence as any belief can need. But among the propositions which one man finds indubitable there will be some that another man finds it quite possible to doubt. It used to seem self-evident that there could not be men at the Antipodes, because they would fall off, or at best grow giddy from standing on their heads. But New