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The Analysis of Mind

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But presently the light of the star reaches our atmosphere. It
begins to be refracted, and dimmed by mist, and its velocity is
slightly diminished. At last it reaches a human eye, where a
complicated process takes place, ending in a sensation which
gives us our grounds for believing in all that has gone before.
Now, the irregular appearances of the star are not, strictly
speaking, members of the system which is the star, according to
our definition of matter. The irregular appearances, however, are
not merely irregular: they proceed according to laws which can be
stated in terms of the matter through which the light has passed
on its way. The sources of an irregular appearance are therefore

(1) The object which is appearing irregularly;

2) The intervening medium.

It should be observed that, while the conception of a regular
appearance is perfectly precise, the conception of an irregular
appearance is one capable of any degree of vagueness. When the
distorting influence of the medium is sufficiently great, the
resulting particular can no longer be regarded as an appearance
of an object, but must be treated on its own account. This
happens especially when the particular in question cannot be
traced back to one object, but is a blend of two or more. This
case is normal in perception: we see as one what the microscope
or telescope reveals to be many different objects. The notion of
perception is therefore not a precise one: we perceive things
more or less, but always with a very considerable amount of
vagueness and confusion.

In considering irregular appearances, there are certain very
natural mistakes which must be avoided. In order that a
particular may count as an irregular appearance of a certain
object, it is not necessary that it should bear any resemblance
to the regular appearances as regard its intrinsic qualities. All
that is necessary is that it should be derivable from the regular
appearances by the laws which express the distorting influence of
the medium. When it is so derivable, the particular in question
may be regarded as caused by the regular appearances, and
therefore by the object itself, together with the modifications
resulting from the medium. In other cases, the particular in
question may, in the same sense, be regarded as caused by several
objects together with the medium; in this case, it may be called
a confused appearance of several objects. If it happens to be in
a brain, it may be called a confused perception of these objects.
All actual perception is confused to a greater or less extent.

We can now interpret in terms of our theory the distinction
between those mental occurrences which are said to have an
external stimulus, and those which are said to be "centrally
excited," i.e. to have no stimulus external to the brain. When a
mental occurrence can be regarded as an appearance of an object
external to the brain, however irregular, or even as a confused
appearance of several such objects, then we may regard it as
having for its stimulus the object or objects in question, or
their appearances at the sense-organ concerned. When, on the
other hand, a mental occurrence has not sufficient connection
with objects external to the brain to be regarded as an
appearance of such objects, then its physical causation (if any)
will have to be sought in the brain. In the former case it can be
called a perception; in the latter it cannot be so called. But
the distinction is one of degree, not of kind. Until this is
realized, no satisfactory theory of perception, sensation, or
imagination is possible.


The dualism of mind and matter, if we have been right so far,
cannot be allowed as metaphysically valid. Nevertheless, we seem
to find a certain dualism, perhaps not ultimate, within the world
as we observe it. The dualism is not primarily as to the stuff of
the world, but as to causal laws. On this subject we may again
quote William James. He points out that when, as we say, we
merely "imagine" things, there are no such effects as would ensue
if the things were what we call "real." He takes the case of
imagining a fire

"I make for myself an experience of blazing fire; I place it near
my body; but it does not warm me in the least. I lay a stick upon
it and the stick either burns or remains green, as I please. I
call up water, and pour it on the fire, and absolutely no
difference ensues. I account for all such facts by calling this
whole train of experiences unreal, a mental train. Mental fire is
what won't burn real sticks; mental water is what won't
necessarily (though of course it may) put out even a mental
fire.... With 'real' objects, on the contrary, consequences
always accrue; and thus the real experiences get sifted from the
mental ones, the things from our thoughts of them, fanciful or
true, and precipitated together as the stable part of the whole
experience--chaos, under the name of the physical world."*

* "Essays in Radical Empiricism," pp. 32-3.

In this passage James speaks, by mere inadvertence, as though the
phenomena which he is describing as "mental" had NO effects. This
is, of course, not the case: they have their effects, just as
much as physical phenomena do, but their effects follow different
laws. For example, dreams, as Freud has shown, are just as much
subject to laws as are the motions of the planets. But the laws
are different: in a dream you may be transported from one place
to another in a moment, or one person may turn into another under
your eyes. Such differences compel you to distinguish the world
of dreams from the physical world.

If the two sorts of causal laws could be sharply distinguished,
we could call an occurrence "physical" when it obeys causal laws
appropriate to the physical world, and "mental" when it obeys
causal laws appropriate to the mental world. Since the mental
world and the physical world interact, there would be a boundary
between the two: there would be events which would have physical
causes and mental effects, while there would be others which
would have mental causes and physical effects. Those that have
physical causes and mental effects we should define as
"sensations." Those that have mental causes and physical effects
might perhaps be identified with what we call voluntary
movements; but they do not concern us at present.

These definitions would have all the precision that could be
desired if the distinction between physical and psychological
causation were clear and sharp. As a matter of fact, however,
this distinction is, as yet, by no means sharp. It is possible
that, with fuller knowledge, it will be found to be no more
ultimate than the distinction between the laws of gases and the
laws of rigid bodies. It also suffers from the fact that an event
may be an effect of several causes according to several causal
laws we cannot, in general, point to anything unique as THE cause
of such-and-such an event. And finally it is by no means certain
that the peculiar causal laws which govern mental events are not
really physiological. The law of habit, which is one of the most
distinctive, may be fully explicable in terms of the
peculiarities of nervous tissue, and these peculiarities, in
turn, may be explicable by the laws of physics. It seems,
therefore, that we are driven to a different kind of definition.
It is for this reason that it was necessary to develop the
definition of perception. With this definition, we can define a
sensation as the non-mnemic elements in a perception.

When, following our definition, we try to decide what elements in
our experience are of the nature of sensations, we find more
difficulty than might have been expected. Prima facie, everything
is sensation that comes to us through the senses: the sights we
see, the sounds we hear, the smells we smell, and so on; also
such things as headache or the feeling of muscular strain. But in
actual fact so much interpretation, so much of habitual
correlation, is mixed with all such experiences, that the core of
pure sensation is only to be extracted by careful investigation.
To take a simple illustration: if you go to the theatre in your
own country, you seem to hear equally well in the stalls or the
dress circle; in either case you think you miss nothing. But if
you go in a foreign country where you have a fair knowledge of
the language, you will seem to have grown partially deaf, and you
will find it necessary to be much nearer the stage than you would
need to be in your own country. The reason is that, in hearing
our own language spoken, we quickly and unconsciously fill out
what we really hear with inferences to what the man must be
saying, and we never realize that we have not heard the words we
have merely inferred. In a foreign language, these inferences are
more difficult, and we are more dependent upon actual sensation.
If we found ourselves in a foreign world, where tables looked
like cushions and cushions like tables, we should similarly
discover how much of what we think we see is really inference.
Every fairly familiar sensation is to us a sign of the things
that usually go with it, and many of these things will seem to
form part of the sensation. I remember in the early days of
motor-cars being with a friend when a tyre burst with a loud
report. He thought it was a pistol, and supported his opinion by
maintaining that he had seen the flash. But of course there had
been no flash. Nowadays no one sees a flash when a tyre bursts.

In order, therefore, to arrive at what really is sensation in an
occurrence which, at first sight, seems to contain nothing else,
we have to pare away all that is due to habit or expectation or
interpretation. This is a matter for the psychologist, and by no
means an easy matter. For our purposes, it is not important to
determine what exactly is the sensational core in any case; it is
only important to notice that there certainly is a sensational
core, since habit, expectation and interpretation are diversely
aroused on diverse occasions, and the diversity is clearly due to
differences in what is presented to the senses. When you open
your newspaper in the morning, the actual sensations of seeing
the print form a very minute part of what goes on in you, but
they are the starting-point of all the rest, and it is through
them that the newspaper is a means of information or
mis-information. Thus, although it may be difficult to determine
what exactly is sensation in any given experience, it is clear
that there is sensation, unless, like Leibniz, we deny all action
of the outer world upon us.

Sensations are obviously the source of our knowledge of the
world, including our own body. It might seem natural to regard a
sensation as itself a cognition, and until lately I did so regard
it. When, say, I see a person I know coming towards me in the
street, it SEEMS as though the mere seeing were knowledge. It is
of course undeniable that knowledge comes THROUGH the seeing, but
I think it is a mistake to regard the mere seeing itself as
knowledge. If we are so to regard it, we must distinguish the
seeing from what is seen: we must say that, when we see a patch
of colour of a certain shape, the patch of colour is one thing
and our seeing of it is another. This view, however, demands the
admission of the subject, or act, in the sense discussed in our
first lecture. If there is a subject, it can have a relation to
the patch of colour, namely, the sort of relation which we might
call awareness. In that case the sensation, as a mental event,
will consist of awareness of the colour, while the colour itself
will remain wholly physical, and may be called the sense-datum,
to distinguish it from the sensation. The subject, however,
appears to be a logical fiction, like mathematical points and
instants. It is introduced, not because observation reveals it,
but because it is linguistically convenient and apparently
demanded by grammar. Nominal entities of this sort may or may not
exist, but there is no good ground for assuming that they do. The
functions that they appear to perform can always be performed by
classes or series or other logical constructions, consisting of
less dubious entities. If we are to avoid a perfectly gratuitous
assumption, we must dispense with the subject as one of the
actual ingredients of the world. But when we do this, the
possibility of distinguishing the sensation from the sense-datum
vanishes; at least I see no way of preserving the distinction.
Accordingly the sensation that we have when we see a patch of
colour simply is that patch of colour, an actual constituent of
the physical world, and part of what physics is concerned with. A
patch of colour is certainly not knowledge, and therefore we
cannot say that pure sensation is cognitive. Through its
psychological effects, it is the cause of cognitions, partly by
being itself a sign of things that are correlated with it, as
e.g. sensations of sight and touch are correlated, and partly by
giving rise to images and memories after the sensation is faded.
But in itself the pure sensation is not cognitive.

In the first lecture we considered the view of Brentano, that "we
may define psychical phenomena by saying that they are phenomena
which intentionally contain an object." We saw reasons to reject
this view in general; we are now concerned to show that it must
be rejected in the particular case of sensations. The kind of
argument which formerly made me accept Brentano's view in this
case was exceedingly simple. When I see a patch of colour, it
seemed to me that the colour is not psychical, but physical,
while my seeing is not physical, but psychical. Hence I concluded
that the colour is something other than my seeing of the colour.
This argument, to me historically, was directed against idealism:
the emphatic part of it was the assertion that the colour is
physical, not psychical. I shall not trouble you now with the
grounds for holding as against Berkeley that the patch of colour
is physical; I have set them forth before, and I see no reason to
modify them. But it does not follow that the patch of colour is
not also psychical, unless we assume that the physical and the
psychical cannot overlap, which I no longer consider a valid
assumption. If we admit--as I think we should--that the patch of
colour may be both physical and psychical, the reason for
distinguishing the sense-datum from the sensation disappears, and
we may say that the patch of colour and our sensation in seeing
it are identical.

This is the view of William James, Professor Dewey, and the
American realists. Perceptions, says Professor Dewey, are not per
se cases of knowledge, but simply natural events with no more
knowledge status than (say) a shower. "Let them [the realists]
try the experiment of conceiving perceptions as pure natural
events, not cases of awareness or apprehension, and they will be
surprised to see how little they miss."* I think he is right in
this, except in supposing that the realists will be surprised.
Many of them already hold the view he is advocating, and others
are very sympathetic to it. At any rate, it is the view which I
shall adopt in these lectures.

* Dewey, "Essays in Experimental Logic," pp. 253, 262.

The stuff of the world, so far as we have experience of it,
consists, on the view that I am advocating, of innumerable
transient particulars such as occur in seeing, hearing, etc.,
together with images more or less resembling these, of which I
shall speak shortly. If physics is true, there are, besides the
particulars that we experience, others, probably equally (or
almost equally) transient, which make up that part of the
material world that does not come into the sort of contact with a
living body that is required to turn it into a sensation. But
this topic belongs to the philosophy of physics, and need not
concern us in our present inquiry.

Sensations are what is common to the mental and physical worlds;
they may be defined as the intersection of mind and matter. This
is by no means a new view; it is advocated, not only by the
American authors I have mentioned, but by Mach in his Analysis of
Sensations, which was published in 1886. The essence of
sensation, according to the view I am advocating, is its
independence of past experience. It is a core in our actual
experiences, never existing in isolation except possibly in very
young infants. It is not itself knowledge, but it supplies the
data for our knowledge of the physical world, including our own

There are some who believe that our mental life is built up out
of sensations alone. This may be true; but in any case I think
the only ingredients required in addition to sensations are
images. What images are, and how they are to be defined, we have
now to inquire.

The distinction between images and sensations might seem at first
sight by no means difficult. When we shut our eyes and call up
pictures of familiar scenes, we usually have no difficulty, so
long as we remain awake, in discriminating between what we are
imagining and what is really seen. If we imagine some piece of
music that we know, we can go through it in our mind from
beginning to end without any discoverable tendency to suppose
that we are really hearing it. But although such cases are so
clear that no confusion seems possible, there are many others
that are far more difficult, and the definition of images is by
no means an easy problem.

To begin with: we do not always know whether what we are
experiencing is a sensation or an image. The things we see in
dreams when our eyes are shut must count as images, yet while we
are dreaming they seem like sensations. Hallucinations often
begin as persistent images, and only gradually acquire that
influence over belief that makes the patient regard them as
sensations. When we are listening for a faint sound--the striking
of a distant clock, or a horse's hoofs on the road--we think we
hear it many times before we really do, because expectation
brings us the image, and we mistake it for sensation. The
distinction between images and sensations is, therefore, by no
means always obvious to inspection.*

* On the distinction between images and sensation, cf. Semon,
"Die mnemischen Empfindungen," pp. 19-20.

We may consider three different ways in which it has been sought
to distinguish images from sensations, namely:

(1) By the less degree of vividness in images;

(2) By our absence of belief in their "physical reality";

(3) By the fact that their causes and effects are different from
those of sensations.

I believe the third of these to be the only universally
applicable criterion. The other two are applicable in very many
cases, but cannot be used for purposes of definition because they
are liable to exceptions. Nevertheless, they both deserve to be
carefully considered.

(1) Hume, who gives the names "impressions" and "ideas" to what
may, for present purposes, be identified with our "sensations"
and "images," speaks of impressions as "those perceptions which
enter with most force and violence" while he defines ideas as
"the faint images of these (i.e. of impressions) in thinking and
reasoning." His immediately following observations, however, show
the inadequacy of his criteria of "force" and "faintness." He

"I believe it will not be very necessary to employ many words in
explaining this distinction. Every one of himself will readily
perceive the difference betwixt feeling and thinking. The common
degrees of these are easily distinguished, though it is not
impossible but in particular instances they may very nearly
approach to each other. Thus in sleep, in a fever, in madness, or
in any very violent emotions of soul, our ideas may approach to
our impressions; as, on the other hand, it sometimes happens,
that our impressions are so faint and low that we cannot
distinguish them from our ideas. But notwithstanding this near
resemblance in a few instances, they are in general so very
different, that no one can make a scruple to rank them under
distinct heads, and assign to each a peculiar name to mark the
difference" ("Treatise of Human Nature," Part I, Section I).

I think Hume is right in holding that they should be ranked under
distinct heads, with a peculiar name for each. But by his own
confession in the above passage, his criterion for distinguishing
them is not always adequate. A definition is not sound if it only
applies in cases where the difference is glaring: the essential
purpose of a definition is to provide a mark which is applicable
even in marginal cases--except, of course, when we are dealing
with a conception, like, e.g. baldness, which is one of degree
and has no sharp boundaries. But so far we have seen no reason to
think that the difference between sensations and images is only
one of degree.

Professor Stout, in his "Manual of Psychology," after discussing
various ways of distinguishing sensations and images, arrives at
a view which is a modification of Hume's. He says (I quote from
the second edition):

"Our conclusion is that at bottom the distinction between image
and percept, as respectively faint and vivid states, is based on
a difference of quality. The percept has an aggressiveness which
does not belong to the image. It strikes the mind with varying
degrees of force or liveliness according to the varying intensity
of the stimulus. This degree of force or liveliness is part of
what we ordinarily mean by the intensity of a sensation. But this
constituent of the intensity of sensations is absent in mental
imagery"(p. 419).

This view allows for the fact that sensations may reach any
degree of faintness--e.g. in the case of a just visible star or a
just audible sound--without becoming images, and that therefore
mere faintness cannot be the characteristic mark of images. After
explaining the sudden shock of a flash of lightning or a
steam-whistle, Stout says that "no mere image ever does strike
the mind in this manner"(p. 417). But I believe that this
criterion fails in very much the same instances as those in which
Hume's criterion fails in its original form. Macbeth speaks of--

that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my
hair And make my seated heart knock at my ribs Against
the use of nature.

The whistle of a steam-engine could hardly have a stronger effect
than this. A very intense emotion will often bring with
it--especially where some future action or some undecided issue
is involved--powerful compelling images which may determine the
whole course of life, sweeping aside all contrary solicitations
to the will by their capacity for exclusively possessing the
mind. And in all cases where images, originally recognized as
such, gradually pass into hallucinations, there must be just that
"force or liveliness" which is supposed to be always absent from
images. The cases of dreams and fever-delirium are as hard to
adjust to Professor Stout's modified criterion as to Hume's. I
conclude therefore that the test of liveliness, however
applicable in ordinary instances, cannot be used to define the
differences between sensations and images.

(2) We might attempt to distinguish images from sensations by our
absence of belief in the "physical reality" of images. When we
are aware that what we are experiencing is an image, we do not
give it the kind of belief that we should give to a sensation: we
do not think that it has the same power of producing knowledge of
the "external world." Images are "imaginary"; in SOME sense they
are "unreal." But this difference is hard to analyse or state
correctly. What we call the "unreality" of images requires
interpretation it cannot mean what would be expressed by saying
"there's no such thing." Images are just as truly part of the
actual world as sensations are. All that we really mean by
calling an image "unreal" is that it does not have the
concomitants which it would have if it were a sensation. When we
call up a visual image of a chair, we do not attempt to sit in
it, because we know that, like Macbeth's dagger, it is not
"sensible to feeling as to sight"-- i.e. it does not have the
correlations with tactile sensations which it would have if it
were a visual sensation and not merely a visual image. But this
means that the so-called "unreality" of images consists merely in
their not obeying the laws of physics, and thus brings us back to
the causal distinction between images and sensations.

This view is confirmed by the fact that we only feel images to be
"unreal" when we already know them to be images. Images cannot be
defined by the FEELING of unreality, because when we falsely
believe an image to be a sensation, as in the case of dreams, it
FEELS just as real as if it were a sensation. Our feeling of
unreality results from our having already realized that we are
dealing with an image, and cannot therefore be the definition of
what we mean by an image. As soon as an image begins to deceive
us as to its status, it also deceives us as to its correlations,
which are what we mean by its "reality."

(3) This brings us to the third mode of distinguishing images
from sensations, namely, by their causes and effects. I believe
this to be the only valid ground of distinction. James, in the
passage about the mental fire which won't burn real sticks,
distinguishes images by their effects, but I think the more
reliable distinction is by their causes. Professor Stout (loc.
cit., p. 127) says: "One characteristic mark of what we agree in
calling sensation is its mode of production. It is caused by what
we call a STIMULUS. A stimulus is always some condition external
to the nervous system itself and operating upon it." I think that
this is the correct view, and that the distinction between images
and sensations can only be made by taking account of their
causation. Sensations come through sense-organs, while images do
not. We cannot have visual sensations in the dark, or with our
eyes shut, but we can very well have visual images under these
circumstances. Accordingly images have been defined as "centrally
excited sensations," i.e. sensations which have their
physiological cause in the brain only, not also in the
sense-organs and the nerves that run from the sense-organs to the
brain. I think the phrase "centrally excited sensations" assumes
more than is necessary, since it takes it for granted that an
image must have a proximate physiological cause. This is probably
true, but it is an hypothesis, and for our purposes an
unnecessary one. It would seem to fit better with what we can
immediately observe if we were to say that an image is
occasioned, through association, by a sensation or another image,
in other words that it has a mnemic cause--which does not prevent
it from also having a physical cause. And I think it will be
found that the causation of an image always proceeds according to
mnemic laws, i.e. that it is governed by habit and past
experience. If you listen to a man playing the pianola without
looking at him, you will have images of his hands on the keys as
if he were playing the piano; if you suddenly look at him while
you are absorbed in the music, you will experience a shock of
surprise when you notice that his hands are not touching the
notes. Your image of his hands is due to the many times that you
have heard similar sounds and at the same time seen the player's
hands on the piano. When habit and past experience play this
part, we are in the region of mnemic as opposed to ordinary
physical causation. And I think that, if we could regard as
ultimately valid the difference between physical and mnemic
causation, we could distinguish images from sensations as having
mnemic causes, though they may also have physical causes.
Sensations, on the other hand, will only have physical causes.

However this may be, the practically effective distinction
between sensations and images is that in the causation of
sensations, but not of images, the stimulation of nerves carrying
an effect into the brain, usually from the surface of the body,
plays an essential part. And this accounts for the fact that
images and sensations cannot always be distinguished by their
intrinsic nature.

Images also differ from sensations as regards their effects.
Sensations, as a rule, have both physical and mental effects. As
you watch the train you meant to catch leaving the station, there
are both the successive positions of the train (physical effects)
and the successive waves of fury and disappointment (mental
effects). Images, on the contrary, though they MAY produce bodily
movements, do so according to mnemic laws, not according to the
laws of physics. All their effects, of whatever nature, follow
mnemic laws. But this difference is less suitable for definition
than the difference as to causes.

Professor Watson, as a logical carrying-out of his behaviourist
theory, denies altogether that there are any observable phenomena
such as images are supposed to be. He replaces them all by faint
sensations, and especially by pronunciation of words sotto voce.
When we "think" of a table (say), as opposed to seeing it, what
happens, according to him, is usually that we are making small
movements of the throat and tongue such as would lead to our
uttering the word "table" if they were more pronounced. I shall
consider his view again in connection with words; for the present
I am only concerned to combat his denial of images. This denial
is set forth both in his book on "Behavior" and in an article
called "Image and Affection in Behavior" in the "Journal of
Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods," vol. x (July,
1913). It seems to me that in this matter he has been betrayed
into denying plain facts in the interests of a theory, namely,
the supposed impossibility of introspection. I dealt with the
theory in Lecture VI; for the present I wish to reinforce the
view that the facts are undeniable.

Images are of various sorts, according to the nature of the
sensations which they copy. Images of bodily movements, such as
we have when we imagine moving an arm or, on a smaller scale,
pronouncing a word, might possibly be explained away on Professor
Watson's lines, as really consisting in small incipient movements
such as, if magnified and prolonged, would be the movements we
are said to be imagining. Whether this is the case or not might
even be decided experimentally. If there were a delicate
instrument for recording small movements in the mouth and throat,
we might place such an instrument in a person's mouth and then
tell him to recite a poem to himself, as far as possible only in
imagination. I should not be at all surprised if it were found
that actual small movements take place while he is "mentally"
saying over the verses. The point is important, because what is
called "thought" consists mainly (though I think not wholly) of
inner speech. If Professor Watson is right as regards inner
speech, this whole region is transferred from imagination to
sensation. But since the question is capable of experimental
decision, it would be gratuitous rashness to offer an opinion
while that decision is lacking.

But visual and auditory images are much more difficult to deal
with in this way, because they lack the connection with physical
events in the outer world which belongs to visual and auditory
sensations. Suppose, for example, that I am sitting in my room,
in which there is an empty arm-chair. I shut my eyes, and call up
a visual image of a friend sitting in the arm-chair. If I thrust
my image into the world of physics, it contradicts all the usual
physical laws. My friend reached the chair without coming in at
the door in the usual way; subsequent inquiry will show that he
was somewhere else at the moment. If regarded as a sensation, my
image has all the marks of the supernatural. My image, therefore,
is regarded as an event in me, not as having that position in the
orderly happenings of the public world that belongs to
sensations. By saying that it is an event in me, we leave it
possible that it may be PHYSIOLOGICALLY caused: its privacy may
be only due to its connection with my body. But in any case it is
not a public event, like an actual person walking in at the door
and sitting down in my chair. And it cannot, like inner speech,
be regarded as a SMALL sensation, since it occupies just as large
an area in my visual field as the actual sensation would do.

Professor Watson says: "I should throw out imagery altogether and
attempt to show that all natural thought goes on in terms of
sensori-motor processes in the larynx." This view seems to me
flatly to contradict experience. If you try to persuade any
uneducated person that she cannot call up a visual picture of a
friend sitting in a chair, but can only use words describing what
such an occurrence would be like, she will conclude that you are
mad. (This statement is based upon experiment.) Galton, as every
one knows, investigated visual imagery, and found that education
tends to kill it: the Fellows of the Royal Society turned out to
have much less of it than their wives. I see no reason to doubt
his conclusion that the habit of abstract pursuits makes learned
men much inferior to the average in power of visualizing, and
much more exclusively occupied with words in their "thinking."
And Professor Watson is a very learned man.

I shall henceforth assume that the existence of images is
admitted, and that they are to be distinguished from sensations
by their causes, as well as, in a lesser degree, by their
effects. In their intrinsic nature, though they often differ from
sensations by being more dim or vague or faint, yet they do not
always or universally differ from sensations in any way that can
be used for defining them. Their privacy need form no bar to the
scientific study of them, any more than the privacy of bodily
sensations does. Bodily sensations are admitted by even the most
severe critics of introspection, although, like images, they can
only be observed by one observer. It must be admitted, however,
that the laws of the appearance and disappearance of images are
little known and difficult to discover, because we are not
assisted, as in the case of sensations, by our knowledge of the
physical world.

There remains one very important point concerning images, which
will occupy us much hereafter, and that is, their resemblance to
previous sensations. They are said to be "copies" of sensations,
always as regards the simple qualities that enter into them,
though not always as regards the manner in which these are put
together. It is generally believed that we cannot imagine a shade
of colour that we have never seen, or a sound that we have never
heard. On this subject Hume is the classic. He says, in the
definitions already quoted:

"Those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we
may name IMPRESSIONS; and under this name I comprehend all our
sensations, passions and emotions, as they make their first
appearance in the soul. By IDEAS I mean the faint images of these
in thinking and reasoning."

He next explains the difference between simple and complex ideas,
and explains that a complex idea may occur without any similar
complex impression. But as regards simple ideas, he states that
"every simple idea has a simple impression, which resembles it,
and every simple impression a correspondent idea." He goes on to
enunciate the general principle "that all our simple ideas in
their first appearance are derived from simple impressions, which
are correspondent to them, and which they exactly represent"
("Treatise of Human Nature," Part I, Section I).

It is this fact, that images resemble antecedent sensations,
which enables us to call them images "of" this or that. For the
understanding of memory, and of knowledge generally, the
recognizable resemblance of images and sensations is of
fundamental importance.

There are difficulties in establishing Hume's principles, and
doubts as to whether it is exactly true. Indeed, he himself
signalized an exception immediately after stating his maxim.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to doubt that in the main simple
images are copies of similar simple sensations which have
occurred earlier, and that the same is true of complex images in
all cases of memory as opposed to mere imagination. Our power of
acting with reference to what is sensibly absent is largely due
to this characteristic of images, although, as education
advances, images tend to be more and more replaced by words. We
shall have much to say in the next two lectures on the subject of
images as copies of sensations. What has been said now is merely
by way of reminder that this is their most notable

I am by no means confident that the distinction between images
and sensations is ultimately valid, and I should be glad to be
convinced that images can be reduced to sensations of a peculiar
kind. I think it is clear, however, that, at any rate in the case
of auditory and visual images, they do differ from ordinary
auditory and visual sensations, and therefore form a recognizable
class of occurrences, even if it should prove that they can be
regarded as a sub-class of sensations. This is all that is
necessary to validate the use of images to be made in the sequel.


Memory, which we are to consider to-day, introduces us to
knowledge in one of its forms. The analysis of knowledge will
occupy us until the end of the thirteenth lecture, and is the
most difficult part of our whole enterprise.

I do not myself believe that the analysis of knowledge can be
effected entirely by means of purely external observation, such
as behaviourists employ. I shall discuss this question in later
lectures. In the present lecture I shall attempt the analysis of
memory-knowledge, both as an introduction to the problem of
knowledge in general, and because memory, in some form, is
presupposed in almost all other knowledge. Sensation, we decided,
is not a form of knowledge. It might, however, have been expected
that we should begin our discussion of knowledge with PERCEPTION,
i.e. with that integral experience of things in the environment,
out of which sensation is extracted by psychological analysis.
What is called perception differs from sensation by the fact that
the sensational ingredients bring up habitual associates--images
and expectations of their usual correlates--all of which are
subjectively indistinguishable from the sensation. The FACT of
past experience is essential in producing this filling-out of
sensation, but not the RECOLLECTION of past experience. The
non-sensational elements in perception can be wholly explained as
the result of habit, produced by frequent correlations.
Perception, according to our definition in Lecture VII, is no
more a form of knowledge than sensation is, except in so far as
it involves expectations. The purely psychological problems which
it raises are not very difficult, though they have sometimes been
rendered artificially obscure by unwillingness to admit the
fallibility of the non-sensational elements of perception. On the
other hand, memory raises many difficult and very important
problems, which it is necessary to consider at the first possible

One reason for treating memory at this early stage is that it
seems to be involved in the fact that images are recognized as
"copies" of past sensible experience. In the preceding lecture I
alluded to Hume's principle "that all our simple ideas in their
first appearance are derived from simple impressions, which are
correspondent to them, and which they exactly represent." Whether
or not this principle is liable to exceptions, everyone would
agree that is has a broad measure of truth, though the word
"exactly" might seem an overstatement, and it might seem more
correct to say that ideas APPROXIMATELY represent impressions.
Such modifications of Hume's principle, however, do not affect
the problem which I wish to present for your consideration,
namely: Why do we believe that images are, sometimes or always,
approximately or exactly, copies of sensations? What sort of
evidence is there? And what sort of evidence is logically
possible? The difficulty of this question arises through the fact
that the sensation which an image is supposed to copy is in the
past when the image exists, and can therefore only be known by
memory, while, on the other hand, memory of past sensations seems
only possible by means of present images. How, then, are we to
find any way of comparing the present image and the past
sensation? The problem is just as acute if we say that images
differ from their prototypes as if we say that they resemble
them; it is the very possibility of comparison that is hard to
understand.* We think we can know that they are alike or
different, but we cannot bring them together in one experience
and compare them. To deal with this problem, we must have a
theory of memory. In this way the whole status of images as
"copies" is bound up with the analysis of memory.

* How, for example, can we obtain such knowledge as the
following: "If we look at, say, a red nose and perceive it, and
after a little while ekphore, its memory-image, we note
immediately how unlike, in its likeness, this memory-image is to
the original perception" (A. Wohlgemuth, "On the Feelings and
their Neural Correlate with an Examination of the Nature of
Pain," "Journal of Psychology," vol. viii, part iv, June, 1917).

In investigating memory-beliefs, there are certain points which
must be borne in mind. In the first place, everything
constituting a memory-belief is happening now, not in that past
time to which the belief is said to refer. It is not logically
necessary to the existence of a memory-belief that the event
remembered should have occurred, or even that the past should
have existed at all. There is no logical impossibility in the
hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago,
exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a
wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection
between events at different times; therefore nothing that is
happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the
hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago. Hence the
occurrences which are CALLED knowledge of the past are logically
independent of the past; they are wholly analysable into present
contents, which might, theoretically, be just what they are even
if no past had existed.

I am not suggesting that the non-existence of the past should be
entertained as a serious hypothesis. Like all sceptical
hypotheses, it is logically tenable, but uninteresting. All that
I am doing is to use its logical tenability as a help in the
analysis of what occurs when we remember.

In the second place, images without beliefs are insufficient to
constitute memory; and habits are still more insufficient. The
behaviourist, who attempts to make psychology a record of
behaviour, has to trust his memory in making the record. "Habit"
is a concept involving the occurrence of similar events at
different times; if the behaviourist feels confident that there
is such a phenomenon as habit, that can only be because he trusts
his memory, when it assures him that there have been other times.
And the same applies to images. If we are to know as it is
supposed we do--that images are "copies," accurate or inaccurate,
of past events, something more than the mere occurrence of images
must go to constitute this knowledge. For their mere occurrence,
by itself, would not suggest any connection with anything that
had happened before.

Can we constitute memory out of images together with suitable
beliefs? We may take it that memory-images, when they occur in
true memory, are (a) known to be copies, (b) sometimes known to
be imperfect copies (cf. footnote on previous page). How is it
possible to know that a memory-image is an imperfect copy,
without having a more accurate copy by which to replace it? This
would SEEM to suggest that we have a way of knowing the past
which is independent of images, by means of which we can
criticize image-memories. But I do not think such an inference is

What results, formally, from our knowledge of the past through
images of which we recognize the inaccuracy, is that such images
must have two characteristics by which we can arrange them in two
series, of which one corresponds to the more or less remote
period in the past to which they refer, and the other to our
greater or less confidence in their accuracy. We will take the
second of these points first.

Our confidence or lack of confidence in the accuracy of a
memory-image must, in fundamental cases, be based upon a
characteristic of the image itself, since we cannot evoke the
past bodily and compare it with the present image. It might be
suggested that vagueness is the required characteristic, but I do
not think this is the case. We sometimes have images that are by
no means peculiarly vague, which yet we do not trust--for
example, under the influence of fatigue we may see a friend's
face vividly and clearly, but horribly distorted. In such a case
we distrust our image in spite of its being unusually clear. I
think the characteristic by which we distinguish the images we
trust is the feeling of FAMILIARITY that accompanies them. Some
images, like some sensations, feel very familiar, while others
feel strange. Familiarity is a feeling capable of degrees. In an
image of a well-known face, for example, some parts may feel more
familiar than others; when this happens, we have more belief in
the accuracy of the familiar parts than in that of the unfamiliar
parts. I think it is by this means that we become critical of
images, not by some imageless memory with which we compare them.
I shall return to the consideration of familiarity shortly.

I come now to the other characteristic which memory-images must
have in order to account for our knowledge of the past. They must
have some characteristic which makes us regard them as referring
to more or less remote portions of the past. That is to say if we
suppose that A is the event remembered, B the remembering, and t
the interval of time between A and B, there must be some
characteristic of B which is capable of degrees, and which, in
accurately dated memories, varies as t varies. It may increase as
t increases, or diminish as t increases. The question which of
these occurs is not of any importance for the theoretic
serviceability of the characteristic in question.

In actual fact, there are doubtless various factors that concur
in giving us the feeling of greater or less remoteness in some
remembered event. There may be a specific feeling which could be
called the feeling of "pastness," especially where immediate
memory is concerned. But apart from this, there are other marks.
One of these is context. A recent memory has, usually, more
context than a more distant one. When a remembered event has a
remembered context, this may occur in two ways, either (a) by
successive images in the same order as their prototypes, or (b)
by remembering a whole process simultaneously, in the same way in
which a present process may be apprehended, through akoluthic
sensations which, by fading, acquire the mark of just-pastness in
an increasing degree as they fade, and are thus placed in a
series while all sensibly present. It will be context in this
second sense, more specially, that will give us a sense of the
nearness or remoteness of a remembered event.

There is, of course, a difference between knowing the temporal
relation of a remembered event to the present, and knowing the
time-order of two remembered events. Very often our knowledge of
the temporal relation of a remembered event to the present is
inferred from its temporal relations to other remembered events.
It would seem that only rather recent events can be placed at all
accurately by means of feelings giving their temporal relation to
the present, but it is clear that such feelings must play an
essential part in the process of dating remembered events.

We may say, then, that images are regarded by us as more or less
accurate copies of past occurrences because they come to us with
two sorts of feelings: (1) Those that may be called feelings of
familiarity; (2) those that may be collected together as feelings
giving a sense of pastness. The first lead us to trust our
memories, the second to assign places to them in the time-order.

We have now to analyse the memory-belief, as opposed to the
characteristics of images which lead us to base memory-beliefs
upon them.

If we had retained the "subject" or "act" in knowledge, the whole
problem of memory would have been comparatively simple. We could
then have said that remembering is a direct relation between the
present act or subject and the past occurrence remembered: the
act of remembering is present, though its object is past. But the
rejection of the subject renders some more complicated theory
necessary. Remembering has to be a present occurrence in some way
resembling, or related to, what is remembered. And it is
difficult to find any ground, except a pragmatic one, for
supposing that memory is not sheer delusion, if, as seems to be
the case, there is not, apart from memory, any way of
ascertaining that there really was a past occurrence having the
required relation to our present remembering. What, if we
followed Meinong's terminology, we should call the "object" in
memory, i.e. the past event which we are said to be remembering,
is unpleasantly remote from the "content," i.e. the present
mental occurrence in remembering. There is an awkward gulf
between the two, which raises difficulties for the theory of
knowledge. But we must not falsify observation to avoid
theoretical difficulties. For the present, therefore, let us
forget these problems, and try to discover what actually occurs
in memory.

Some points may be taken as fixed, and such as any theory of
memory must arrive at. In this case, as in most others, what may
be taken as certain in advance is rather vague. The study of any
topic is like the continued observation of an object which is
approaching us along a road: what is certain to begin with is the
quite vague knowledge that there is SOME object on the road. If
you attempt to be less vague, and to assert that the object is an
elephant, or a man, or a mad dog, you run a risk of error; but
the purpose of continued observation is to enable you to arrive
at such more precise knowledge. In like manner, in the study of
memory, the certainties with which you begin are very vague, and
the more precise propositions at which you try to arrive are less
certain than the hazy data from which you set out. Nevertheless,
in spite of the risk of error, precision is the goal at which we
must aim.

The first of our vague but indubitable data is that there is
knowledge of the past. We do not yet know with any precision what
we mean by "knowledge," and we must admit that in any given
instance our memory may be at fault. Nevertheless, whatever a
sceptic might urge in theory, we cannot practically doubt that we
got up this morning, that we did various things yesterday, that a
great war has been taking place, and so on. How far our knowledge
of the past is due to memory, and how far to other sources, is of
course a matter to be investigated, but there can be no doubt
that memory forms an indispensable part of our knowledge of the

The second datum is that we certainly have more capacity for
knowing the past than for knowing the future. We know some things
about the future, for example what eclipses there will be; but
this knowledge is a matter of elaborate calculation and
inference, whereas some of our knowledge of the past comes to us
without effort, in the same sort of immediate way in which we
acquire knowledge of occurrences in our present environment. We
might provisionally, though perhaps not quite correctly, define
"memory" as that way of knowing about the past which has no
analogue in our knowledge of the future; such a definition would
at least serve to mark the problem with which we are concerned,
though some expectations may deserve to rank with memory as
regards immediacy.

A third point, perhaps not quite so certain as our previous two,
is that the truth of memory cannot be wholly practical, as
pragmatists wish all truth to be. It seems clear that some of the
things I remember are trivial and without any visible importance
for the future, but that my memory is true (or false) in virtue
of a past event, not in virtue of any future consequences of my
belief. The definition of truth as the correspondence between
beliefs and facts seems peculiarly evident in the case of memory,
as against not only the pragmatist definition but also the
idealist definition by means of coherence. These considerations,
however, are taking us away from psychology, to which we must now

It is important not to confuse the two forms of memory which
Bergson distinguishes in the second chapter of his "Matter and
Memory," namely the sort that consists of habit, and the sort
that consists of independent recollection. He gives the instance
of learning a lesson by heart: when I know it by heart I am said
to "remember" it, but this merely means that I have acquired
certain habits; on the other hand, my recollection of (say) the
second time I read the lesson while I was learning it is the
recollection of a unique event, which occurred only once. The
recollection of a unique event cannot, so Bergson contends, be
wholly constituted by habit, and is in fact something radically
different from the memory which is habit. The recollection alone
is true memory. This distinction is vital to the understanding of
memory. But it is not so easy to carry out in practice as it is
to draw in theory. Habit is a very intrusive feature of our
mental life, and is often present where at first sight it seems
not to be. There is, for example, a habit of remembering a unique
event. When we have once described the event, the words we have
used easily become habitual. We may even have used words to
describe it to ourselves while it was happening; in that case,
the habit of these words may fulfil the function of Bergson's
true memory, while in reality it is nothing but habit-memory. A
gramophone, by the help of suitable records, might relate to us
the incidents of its past; and people are not so different from
gramophones as they like to believe.

In spite, however, of a difficulty in distinguishing the two
forms of memory in practice, there can be no doubt that both
forms exist. I can set to work now to remember things I never
remembered before, such as what I had to eat for breakfast this
morning, and it can hardly be wholly habit that enables me to do
this. It is this sort of occurrence that constitutes the essence
of memory Until we have analysed what happens in such a case as
this, we have not succeeded in understanding memory.

The sort of memory with which we are here concerned is the sort
which is a form of knowledge. Whether knowledge itself is
reducible to habit is a question to which I shall return in a
later lecture; for the present I am only anxious to point out
that, whatever the true analysis of knowledge may be, knowledge
of past occurrences is not proved by behaviour which is due to
past experience. The fact that a man can recite a poem does not
show that he remembers any previous occasion on which he has
recited or read it. Similarly, the performances of animals in
getting out of cages or mazes to which they are accustomed do not
prove that they remember having been in the same situation
before. Arguments in favour of (for example) memory in plants are
only arguments in favour of habit-memory, not of knowledge-
memory. Samuel Butler's arguments in favour of the view that an
animal remembers something of the lives of its ancestors* are,
when examined, only arguments in favour of habit-memory. Semon's
two books, mentioned in an earlier lecture, do not touch
knowledge-memory at all closely. They give laws according to
which images of past occurrences come into our minds, but do not
discuss our belief that these images refer to past occurrences,
which is what constitutes knowledge-memory. It is this that is of
interest to theory of knowledge. I shall speak of it as "true"
memory, to distinguish it from mere habit acquired through past
experience. Before considering true memory, it will be well to
consider two things which are on the way towards memory, namely
the feeling of familiarity and recognition.

* See his "Life and Habit and Unconscious Memory."

We often feel that something in our sensible environment is
familiar, without having any definite recollection of previous
occasions on which we have seen it. We have this feeling normally
in places where we have often been before--at home, or in
well-known streets. Most people and animals find it essential to
their happiness to spend a good deal of their time in familiar
surroundings, which are especially comforting when any danger
threatens. The feeling of familiarity has all sorts of degrees,
down to the stage where we dimly feel that we have seen a person
before. It is by no means always reliable; almost everybody has
at some time experienced the well-known illusion that all that is
happening now happened before at some time. There are occasions
when familiarity does not attach itself to any definite object,
when there is merely a vague feeling that SOMETHING is familiar.
This is illustrated by Turgenev's "Smoke," where the hero is long
puzzled by a haunting sense that something in his present is
recalling something in his past, and at last traces it to the
smell of heliotrope. Whenever the sense of familiarity occurs
without a definite object, it leads us to search the environment
until we are satisfied that we have found the appropriate object,
which leads us to the judgment: "THIS is familiar." I think we
may regard familiarity as a definite feeling, capable of existing
without an object, but normally standing in a specific relation
to some feature of the environment, the relation being that which
we express in words by saying that the feature in question is
familiar. The judgment that what is familiar has been experienced
before is a product of reflection, and is no part of the feeling
of familiarity, such as a horse may be supposed to have when he
returns to his stable. Thus no knowledge as to the past is to be
derived from the feeling of familiarity alone.

A further stage is RECOGNITION. This may be taken in two senses,
the first when a thing not merely feels familiar, but we know it
is such-and-such. We recognize our friend Jones, we know cats and
dogs when we see them, and so on. Here we have a definite
influence of past experience, but not necessarily any actual
knowledge of the past. When we see a cat, we know it is a cat
because of previous cats we have seen, but we do not, as a rule,
recollect at the moment any particular occasion when we have seen
a cat. Recognition in this sense does not necessarily involve
more than a habit of association: the kind of object we are
seeing at the moment is associated with the word "cat," or with
an auditory image of purring, or whatever other characteristic we
may happen to recognize in. the cat of the moment. We are, of
course, in fact able to judge, when we recognize an object, that
we have seen it before, but this judgment is something over and
above recognition in this first sense, and may very probably be
impossible to animals that nevertheless have the experience of
recognition in this first sense of the word.

There is, however, another sense of the word, in which we mean by
recognition, not knowing the name of a thing or some other
property of it, but knowing that we have seen it before In this
sense recognition does involve knowledge about the Fast. This
knowledge is memory in one sense, though in another it is not. It
does not involve a definite memory of a definite past event, but
only the knowledge that something happening now is similar to
something that happened before. It differs from the sense of
familiarity by being cognitive; it is a belief or judgment, which
the sense of familiarity is not. I do not wish to undertake the
analysis of belief at present, since it will be the subject of
the twelfth lecture; for the present I merely wish to emphasize
the fact that recognition, in our second sense, consists in a
belief, which we may express approximately in the words: "This
has existed before."

There are, however, several points in which such an account of
recognition is inadequate. To begin with, it might seem at first
sight more correct to define recognition as "I have seen this
before" than as "this has existed before." We recognize a thing
(it may be urged) as having been in our experience before,
whatever that may mean; we do not recognize it as merely having
been in the world before. I am not sure that there is anything
substantial in this point. The definition of "my experience" is
difficult; broadly speaking, it is everything that is connected
with what I am experiencing now by certain links, of which the
various forms of memory are among the most important. Thus, if I
recognize a thing, the occasion of its previous existence in
virtue of which I recognize it forms part of "my experience" by
DEFINITION: recognition will be one of the marks by which my
experience is singled out from the rest of the world. Of course,
the words "this has existed before" are a very inadequate
translation of what actually happens when we form a judgment of
recognition, but that is unavoidable: words are framed to express
a level of thought which is by no means primitive, and are quite
incapable of expressing such an elementary occurrence as
recognition. I shall return to what is virtually the same
question in connection with true memory, which raises exactly
similar problems.

A second point is that, when we recognize something, it was not
in fact the very same thing, but only something similar, that we
experienced on a former occasion. Suppose the object in question
is a friend's face. A person's face is always changing, and is
not exactly the same on any two occasions. Common sense treats it
as one face with varying expressions; but the varying expressions
actually exist, each at its proper time, while the one face is
merely a logical construction. We regard two objects as the same,
for common-sense purposes, when the reaction they call for is
practically the same. Two visual appearances, to both of which it
is appropriate to say: "Hullo, Jones!" are treated as appearances
of one identical object, namely Jones. The name "Jones" is
applicable to both, and it is only reflection that shows us that
many diverse particulars are collected together to form the
meaning of the name "Jones." What we see on any one occasion is
not the whole series of particulars that make up Jones, but only
one of them (or a few in quick succession). On another occasion
we see another member of the series, but it is sufficiently
similar to count as the same from the standpoint of common sense.
Accordingly, when we judge "I have seen THIS before," we judge
falsely if "this" is taken as applying to the actual constituent
of the world that we are seeing at the moment. The word "this"
must be interpreted vaguely so as to include anything
sufficiently like what we are seeing at the moment. Here, again,
we shall find a similar point as regards true memory; and in
connection with true memory we will consider the point again. It
is sometimes suggested, by those who favour behaviourist views,
that recognition consists in behaving in the same way when a
stimulus is repeated as we behaved on the first occasion when it
occurred. This seems to be the exact opposite of the truth. The
essence of recognition is in the DIFFERENCE between a repeated
stimulus and a new one. On the first occasion there is no
recognition; on the second occasion there is. In fact,
recognition is another instance of the peculiarity of causal laws
in psychology, namely, that the causal unit is not a single
event, but two or more events Habit is the great instance of
this, but recognition is another. A stimulus occurring once has a
certain effect; occurring twice, it has the further effect of
recognition. Thus the phenomenon of recognition has as its cause
the two occasions when the stimulus has occurred; either alone is
insufficient. This complexity of causes in psychology might be
connected with Bergson's arguments against repetition in the
mental world. It does not prove that there are no causal laws in
psychology, as Bergson suggests; but it does prove that the
causal laws of psychology are Prima facie very different from
those of physics. On the possibility of explaining away the
difference as due to the peculiarities of nervous tissue I have
spoken before, but this possibility must not be forgotten if we
are tempted to draw unwarranted metaphysical deductions.

True memory, which we must now endeavour to understand, consists
of knowledge of past events, but not of all such knowledge. Some
knowledge of past events, for example what we learn through
reading history, is on a par with the knowledge we can acquire
concerning the future: it is obtained by inference, not (so to
speak) spontaneously. There is a similar distinction in our
knowledge of the present: some of it is obtained through the
senses, some in more indirect ways. I know that there are at this
moment a number of people in the streets of New York, but I do
not know this in the immediate way in which I know of the people
whom I see by looking out of my window. It is not easy to state
precisely wherein the difference between these two sorts of
knowledge consists, but it is easy to feel the difference. For
the moment, I shall not stop to analyse it, but shall content
myself with saying that, in this respect, memory resembles the
knowledge derived from the senses. It is immediate, not inferred,
not abstract; it differs from perception mainly by being referred
to the past.

In regard to memory, as throughout the analysis of knowledge,
there are two very distinct problems, namely (1) as to the nature
of the present occurrence in knowing; (2) as to the relation of
this occurrence to what is known. When we remember, the knowing
is now, while what is known is in the past. Our two questions
are, in the case of memory

(1) What is the present occurrence when we remember?

(2) What is the relation of this present occurrence to the past
event which is remembered?

Of these two questions, only the first concerns the psychologist;
the second belongs to theory of knowledge. At the same time, if
we accept the vague datum with which we began, to the effect
that, in some sense, there is knowledge of the past, we shall
have to find, if we can, such an account of the present
occurrence in remembering as will make it not impossible for
remembering to give us knowledge of the past. For the present,
however, we shall do well to forget the problems concerning
theory of knowledge, and concentrate upon the purely
psychological problem of memory.

Between memory-image and sensation there is an intermediate
experience concerning the immediate past. For example, a sound
that we have just heard is present to us in a way which differs
both from the sensation while we are hearing the sound and from
the memory-image of something heard days or weeks ago. James
states that it is this way of apprehending the immediate past
that is "the ORIGINAL of our experience of pastness, from whence
we get the meaning of the term"("Psychology," i, p. 604).
Everyone knows the experience of noticing (say) that the clock
HAS BEEN striking, when we did not notice it while it was
striking. And when we hear a remark spoken, we are conscious of
the earlier words while the later ones are being uttered, and
this retention feels different from recollection of something
definitely past. A sensation fades gradually, passing by
continuous gradations to the status of an image. This retention
of the immediate past in a condition intermediate between
sensation and image may be called "immediate memory." Everything
belonging to it is included with sensation in what is called the
"specious present." The specious present includes elements at all
stages on the journey from sensation to image. It is this fact
that enables us to apprehend such things as movements, or the
order of the words in a spoken sentence. Succession can occur
within the specious present, of which we can distinguish some
parts as earlier and others as later. It is to be supposed that
the earliest parts are those that have faded most from their
original force, while the latest parts are those that retain
their full sensational character. At the beginning of a stimulus
we have a sensation; then a gradual transition; and at the end an
image. Sensations while they are fading are called "akoluthic"
sensations.* When the process of fading is completed (which
happens very quickly), we arrive at the image, which is capable
of being revived on subsequent occasions with very little change.
True memory, as opposed to "immediate memory," applies only to
events sufficiently distant to have come to an end of the period
of fading. Such events, if they are represented by anything
present, can only be represented by images, not by those
intermediate stages, between sensations and images, which occur
during the period of fading.

* See Semon, "Die mnemischen Empfindungen," chap. vi.

Immediate memory is important both because it provides experience
of succession, and because it bridges the gulf between sensations
and the images which are their copies. But it is now time to
resume the consideration of true memory.

Suppose you ask me what I ate for breakfast this morning.
Suppose, further, that I have not thought about my breakfast in
the meantime, and that I did not, while I was eating it, put into
words what it consisted of. In this case my recollection will be
true memory, not habit-memory. The process of remembering will
consist of calling up images of my breakfast, which will come to
me with a feeling of belief such as distinguishes memory-images
from mere imagination-images. Or sometimes words may come without
the intermediary of images; but in this case equally the feeling
of belief is essential.

Let us omit from our consideration, for the present, the memories
in which words replace images. These are always, I think, really
habit-memories, the memories that use images being the typical
true memories.

Memory-images and imagination-images do not differ in their
intrinsic qualities, so far as we can discover. They differ by
the fact that the images that constitute memories, unlike those
that constitute imagination, are accompanied by a feeling of
belief which may be expressed in the words "this happened." The
mere occurrence of images, without this feeling of belief,
constitutes imagination; it is the element of belief that is the
distinctive thing in memory.*

* For belief of a specific kind, cf. Dorothy Wrinch "On the
Nature of Memory," "Mind," January, 1920.

There are, if I am not mistaken, at least three different kinds
of belief-feeling, which we may call respectively memory,
expectation and bare assent. In what I call bare assent, there is
no time-element in the feeling of belief, though there may be in
the content of what is believed. If I believe that Caesar landed
in Britain in B.C. 55, the time-determination lies, not in the
feeling of belief, but in what is believed. I do not remember the
occurrence, but have the same feeling towards it as towards the
announcement of an eclipse next year. But when I have seen a
flash of lightning and am waiting for the thunder, I have a
belief-feeling analogous to memory, except that it refers to the
future: I have an image of thunder, combined with a feeling which
may be expressed in the words: "this will happen." So, in memory,
the pastness lies, not in the content of what is believed, but in
the nature of the belief-feeling. I might have just the same
images and expect their realization; I might entertain them
without any belief, as in reading a novel; or I might entertain
them together with a time-determination, and give bare assent, as
in reading history. I shall return to this subject in a later
lecture, when we come to the analysis of belief. For the present,
I wish to make it clear that a certain special kind of belief is
the distinctive characteristic of memory.

The problem as to whether memory can be explained as habit or
association requires to be considered afresh in connection with
the causes of our remembering something. Let us take again the
case of my being asked what I had for breakfast this morning. In
this case the question leads to my setting to work to recollect.
It is a little strange that the question should instruct me as to
what it is that I am to recall. This has to do with understanding
words, which will be the topic of the next lecture; but something
must be said about it now. Our understanding of the words
"breakfast this morning" is a habit, in spite of the fact that on
each fresh day they point to a different occasion. "This morning"
does not, whenever it is used, mean the same thing, as "John" or
"St. Paul's" does; it means a different period of time on each
different day. It follows that the habit which constitutes our
understanding of the words "this morning" is not the habit of
associating the words with a fixed object, but the habit of
associating them with something having a fixed time-relation to
our present. This morning has, to-day, the same time-relation to
my present that yesterday morning had yesterday. In order to
understand the phrase "this morning" it is necessary that we
should have a way of feeling time-intervals, and that this
feeling should give what is constant in the meaning of the words
"this morning." This appreciation of time-intervals is, however,
obviously a product of memory, not a presupposition of it. It
will be better, therefore, if we wish to analyse the causation of
memory by something not presupposing memory, to take some other
instance than that of a question about "this morning."

Let us take the case of coming into a familiar room where
something has been changed--say a new picture hung on the wall.
We may at first have only a sense that SOMETHING is unfamiliar,
but presently we shall remember, and say "that picture was not on
the wall before." In order to make the case definite, we will
suppose that we were only in the room on one former occasion. In
this case it seems fairly clear what happens. The other objects
in the room are associated, through the former occasion, with a
blank space of wall where now there is a picture. They call up an
image of a blank wall, which clashes with perception of the
picture. The image is associated with the belief-feeling which we
found to be distinctive of memory, since it can neither be
abolished nor harmonized with perception. If the room had
remained unchanged, we might have had only the feeling of
familiarity without the definite remembering; it is the change
that drives us from the present to memory of the past.

We may generalize this instance so as to cover the causes of many
memories. Some present feature of the environment is associated,
through past experiences, with something now absent; this absent
something comes before us as an image, and is contrasted with
present sensation. In cases of this sort, habit (or association)
explains why the present feature of the environment brings up the
memory-image, but it does not explain the memory-belief. Perhaps
a more complete analysis could explain the memory-belief also on
lines of association and habit, but the causes of beliefs are
obscure, and we cannot investigate them yet. For the present we
must content ourselves with the fact that the memory-image can be
explained by habit. As regards the memory-belief, we must, at
least provisionally, accept Bergson's view that it cannot be
brought under the head of habit, at any rate when it first
occurs, i.e. when we remember something we never remembered

We must now consider somewhat more closely the content of a
memory-belief. The memory-belief confers upon the memory-image
something which we may call "meaning;" it makes us feel that the
image points to an object which existed in the past. In order to
deal with this topic we must consider the verbal expression of
the memory-belief. We might be tempted to put the memory-belief
into the words: "Something like this image occurred." But such
words would be very far from an accurate translation of the
simplest kind of memory-belief. "Something like this image" is a
very complicated conception. In the simplest kind of memory we
are not aware of the difference between an image and the
sensation which it copies, which may be called its "prototype."
When the image is before us, we judge rather "this occurred." The
image is not distinguished from the object which existed in the
past: the word "this" covers both, and enables us to have a
memory-belief which does not introduce the complicated notion
"something like this."

It might be objected that, if we judge "this occurred" when in
fact "this" is a present image, we judge falsely, and the
memory-belief, so interpreted, becomes deceptive. This, however,
would be a mistake, produced by attempting to give to words a
precision which they do not possess when used by unsophisticated
people. It is true that the image is not absolutely identical
with its prototype, and if the word "this" meant the image to the
exclusion of everything else, the judgment "this occurred" would
be false. But identity is a precise conception, and no word, in
ordinary speech, stands for anything precise. Ordinary speech
does not distinguish between identity and close similarity. A
word always applies, not only to one particular, but to a group
of associated particulars, which are not recognized as multiple
in common thought or speech. Thus primitive memory, when it
judges that "this occurred," is vague, but not false.

Vague identity, which is really close similarity, has been a
source of many of the confusions by which philosophy has lived.
Of a vague subject, such as a "this," which is both an image and
its prototype, contradictory predicates are true simultaneously:
this existed and does not exist, since it is a thing remembered,
but also this exists and did not exist, since it is a present
image. Hence Bergson's interpenetration of the present by the
past, Hegelian continuity and identity-in-diversity, and a host
of other notions which are thought to be profound because they
are obscure and confused. The contradictions resulting from
confounding image and prototype in memory force us to precision.
But when we become precise, our remembering becomes different
from that of ordinary life, and if we forget this we shall go
wrong in the analysis of ordinary memory.

Vagueness and accuracy are important notions, which it is very
necessary to understand. Both are a matter of degree. All
thinking is vague to some extent, and complete accuracy is a
theoretical ideal not practically attainable. To understand what
is meant by accuracy, it will be well to consider first
instruments of measurement, such as a balance or a thermometer.
These are said to be accurate when they give different results
for very slightly different stimuli.* A clinical thermometer is
accurate when it enables us to detect very slight differences in
the temperature of the blood. We may say generally that an
instrument is accurate in proportion as it reacts differently to
very slightly different stimuli. When a small difference of
stimulus produces a great difference of reaction, the instrument
is accurate; in the contrary case it is not.

* This is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The subject
of accuracy and vagueness will be considered again in Lecture

Exactly the same thing applies in defining accuracy of thought or
perception. A musician will respond differently to very minute
differences in playing which would be quite imperceptible to the
ordinary mortal. A negro can see the difference between one negro
and another one is his friend, another his enemy. But to us such
different responses are impossible: we can merely apply the word
"negro" indiscriminately. Accuracy of response in regard to any
particular kind of stimulus is improved by practice.
Understanding a language is a case in point. Few Frenchmen can
hear any difference between the sounds "hall" and "hole," which
produce quite different impressions upon us. The two statements
"the hall is full of water" and "the hole is full of water" call
for different responses, and a hearing which cannot distinguish
between them is inaccurate or vague in this respect.

Precision and vagueness in thought, as in perception, depend upon
the degree of difference between responses to more or less
similar stimuli. In the case of thought, the response does not
follow immediately upon the sensational stimulus, but that makes
no difference as regards our present question. Thus to revert to
memory: A memory is "vague" when it is appropriate to many
different occurrences: for instance, "I met a man" is vague,
since any man would verify it. A memory is "precise" when the
occurrences that would verify it are narrowly circumscribed: for
instance, "I met Jones" is precise as compared to "I met a man."
A memory is "accurate" when it is both precise and true, i.e. in
the above instance, if it was Jones I met. It is precise even if
it is false, provided some very definite occurrence would have
been required to make it true.

It follows from what has been said that a vague thought has more
likelihood of being true than a precise one. To try and hit an
object with a vague thought is like trying to hit the bull's eye
with a lump of putty: when the putty reaches the target, it
flattens out all over it, and probably covers the bull's eye
along with the rest. To try and hit an object with a precise
thought is like trying to hit the bull's eye with a bullet. The
advantage of the precise thought is that it distinguishes between
the bull's eye and the rest of the target. For example, if the
whole target is represented by the fungus family and the bull's
eye by mushrooms, a vague thought which can only hit the target
as a whole is not much use from a culinary point of view. And
when I merely remember that I met a man, my memory may be very
inadequate to my practical requirements, since it may make a
great difference whether I met Brown or Jones. The memory "I met
Jones" is relatively precise. It is accurate if I met Jones,
inaccurate if I met Brown, but precise in either case as against
the mere recollection that I met a man.

The distinction between accuracy and precision is however, not
fundamental. We may omit precision from out thoughts and confine
ourselves to the distinction between accuracy and vagueness. We
may then set up the following definitions:

An instrument is "reliable" with respect to a given set of
stimuli when to stimuli which are not relevantly different it
gives always responses which are not relevantly different.

An instrument is a "measure" of a set of stimuli which are
serially ordered when its responses, in all cases where they are
relevantly different, are arranged in a series in the same order.

The "degree of accuracy" of an instrument which is a reliable
measurer is the ratio of the difference of response to the
difference of stimulus in cases where the difference of stimulus
is small.* That is to say, if a small difference of stimulus
produces a great difference of response, the instrument is very
accurate; in the contrary case, very inaccurate.

* Strictly speaking, the limit of this, i.e. the derivative of
the response with respect to the stimulus.

A mental response is called "vague" in proportion to its lack of
accuracy, or rather precision.

These definitions will be found useful, not only in the case of
memory, but in almost all questions concerned with knowledge.

It should be observed that vague beliefs, so far from being
necessarily false, have a better chance of truth than precise
ones, though their truth is less valuable than that of precise
beliefs, since they do not distinguish between occurrences which
may differ in important ways.

The whole of the above discussion of vagueness and accuracy was
occasioned by the attempt to interpret the word "this" when we
judge in verbal memory that "this occurred." The word "this," in
such a judgment, is a vague word, equally applicable to the
present memory-image and to the past occurrence which is its
prototype. A vague word is not to be identified with a general
word, though in practice the distinction may often be blurred. A
word is general when it is understood to be applicable to a
number of different objects in virtue of some common property. A
word is vague when it is in fact applicable to a number of
different objects because, in virtue of some common property,
they have not appeared, to the person using the word, to be
distinct. I emphatically do not mean that he has judged them to
be identical, but merely that he has made the same response to
them all and has not judged them to be different. We may compare
a vague word to a jelly and a general word to a heap of shot.
Vague words precede judgments of identity and difference; both
general and particular words are subsequent to such judgments.
The word "this" in the primitive memory-belief is a vague word,
not a general word; it covers both the image and its prototype
because the two are not distinguished.*

* On the vague and the general cf. Ribot: "Evolution of General
Ideas," Open Court Co., 1899, p. 32: "The sole permissible
formula is this: Intelligence progresses from the indefinite to
the definite. If 'indefinite' is taken as synonymous with
general, it may be said that the particular does not appear at
the outset, but neither does the general in any exact sense: the
vague would be more appropriate. In other words, no sooner has
the intellect progressed beyond the moment of perception and of
its immediate reproduction in memory, than the generic image
makes its appearance, i.e. a state intermediate between the
particular and the general, participating in the nature of the
one and of the other--a confused simplification."

But we have not yet finished our analysis of the memory-belief.
The tense in the belief that "this occurred" is provided by the
nature of the belief-feeling involved in memory; the word "this,"
as we have seen, has a vagueness which we have tried to describe.
But we must still ask what we mean by "occurred." The image is,
in one sense, occurring now; and therefore we must find some
other sense in which the past event occurred but the image does
not occur.

There are two distinct questions to be asked: (1) What causes us
to say that a thing occurs? (2) What are we feeling when we say
this? As to the first question, in the crude use of the word,
which is what concerns us, memory-images would not be said to
occur; they would not be noticed in themselves, but merely used
as signs of the past event. Images are "merely imaginary"; they
have not, in crude thought, the sort of reality that belongs to
outside bodies. Roughly speaking, "real" things would be those
that can cause sensations, those that have correlations of the
sort that constitute physical objects. A thing is said to be
"real" or to "occur" when it fits into a context of such
correlations. The prototype of our memory-image did fit into a
physical context, while our memory-image does not. This causes us
to feel that the prototype was "real," while the image is

But the answer to our second question, namely as to what we are
feeling when we say a thing "occurs" or is "real," must be
somewhat different. We do not, unless we are unusually
reflective, think about the presence or absence of correlations:
we merely have different feelings which, intellectualized, may be
represented as expectations of the presence or absence of
correlations. A thing which "feels real" inspires us with hopes
or fears, expectations or curiosities, which are wholly absent
when a thing "feels imaginary." The feeling of reality is a
feeling akin to respect: it belongs PRIMARILY to whatever can do
things to us without our voluntary co-operation. This feeling of
reality, related to the memory-image, and referred to the past by
the specific kind of belief-feeling that is characteristic of
memory, seems to be what constitutes the act of remembering in
its pure form.

We may now summarize our analysis of pure memory.

Memory demands (a) an image, (b) a belief in past existence. The
belief may be expressed in the words "this existed."

The belief, like every other, may be analysed into (1) the
believing, (2) what is believed. The believing is a specific
feeling or sensation or complex of sensations, different from
expectation or bare assent in a way that makes the belief refer
to the past; the reference to the past lies in the
belief-feeling, not in the content believed. There is a relation
between the belief-feeling and the content, making the
belief-feeling refer to the content, and expressed by saying that
the content is what is believed.

The content believed may or may not be expressed in words. Let us
take first the case when it is not. In that case, if we are
merely remembering that something of which we now have an image
occurred, the content consists of (a) the image, (b) the feeling,
analogous to respect, which we translate by saying that something
is "real" as opposed to "imaginary," (c) a relation between the
image and the feeling of reality, of the sort expressed when we
say that the feeling refers to the image. This content does not
contain in itself any time-determination

the time-determination lies in the nature of the belief feeling,
which is that called "remembering" or (better) "recollecting." It
is only subsequent reflection upon this reference to the past
that makes us realize the distinction between the image and the
event recollected. When we have made this distinction, we can say
that the image "means" the past event.

The content expressed in words is best represented by the words
"the existence of this," since these words do not involve tense,
which belongs to the belief-feeling, not to the content. Here
"this" is a vague term, covering the memory-image and anything
very like it, including its prototype. "Existence" expresses the
feeling of a "reality" aroused primarily by whatever can have
effects upon us without our voluntary co-operation. The word "of"
in the phrase "the existence of this" represents the relation
which subsists between the feeling of reality and the "this."

This analysis of memory is probably extremely faulty, but I do
not know how to improve it.

NOTE.-When I speak of a FEELING of belief, I use the word
"feeling" in a popular sense, to cover a sensation or an image or
a complex of sensations or images or both; I use this word
because I do not wish to commit myself to any special analysis of
the belief-feeling.


The problem with which we shall be concerned in this lecture is
the problem of determining what is the relation called "meaning."
The word "Napoleon," we say, "means" a certain person. In saying
this, we are asserting a relation between the word "Napoleon" and
the person so designated. It is this relation that we must now

Let us first consider what sort of object a word is when
considered simply as a physical thing, apart from its meaning. To
begin with, there are many instances of a word, namely all the
different occasions when it is employed. Thus a word is not
something unique and particular, but a set of occurrences. If we
confine ourselves to spoken words, a word has two aspects,
according as we regard it from the point of view of the speaker
or from that of the hearer. From the point of view of the
speaker, a single instance of the use of a word consists of a
certain set of movements in the throat and mouth, combined with
breath. From the point of view of the hearer, a single instance
of the use of a word consists of a certain series of sounds, each
being approximately represented by a single letter in writing,
though in practice a letter may represent several sounds, or
several letters may represent one sound. The connection between
the spoken word and the word as it reaches the hearer is causal.
Let us confine ourselves to the spoken word, which is the more
important for the analysis of what is called "thought." Then we
may say that a single instance of the spoken word consists of a
series of movements, and the word consists of a whole set of such
series, each member of the set being very similar to each other
member. That is to say, any two instances of the word "Napoleon"
are very similar, and each instance consists of a series of
movements in the mouth.

A single word, accordingly, is by no means simple it is a class
of similar series of movements (confining ourselves still to the
spoken word). The degree of similarity required cannot be
precisely defined: a man may pronounce the word "Napoleon" so
badly that it can hardly be determined whether he has really
pronounced it or not. The instances of a word shade off into
other movements by imperceptible degrees. And exactly analogous
observations apply to words heard or written or read. But in what
has been said so far we have not even broached the question of
the DEFINITION of a word, since "meaning" is clearly what
distinguishes a word from other sets of similar movements, and
"meaning" remains to be defined.

It is natural to think of the meaning of a word as something
conventional. This, however, is only true with great limitations.
A new word can be added to an existing language by a mere
convention, as is done, for instance, with new scientific terms.
But the basis of a language is not conventional, either from the
point of view of the individual or from that of the community. A
child learning to speak is learning habits and associations which
are just as much determined by the environment as the habit of
expecting dogs to bark and cocks to crow. The community that
speaks a language has learnt it, and modified it by processes
almost all of which are not deliberate, but the results of causes
operating according to more or less ascertainable laws. If we
trace any Indo-European language back far enough, we arrive
hypothetically (at any rate according to some authorities) at the
stage when language consisted only of the roots out of which
subsequent words have grown. How these roots acquired their
meanings is not known, but a conventional origin is clearly just
as mythical as the social contract by which Hobbes and Rousseau
supposed civil government to have been established. We can hardly
suppose a parliament of hitherto speechless elders meeting
together and agreeing to call a cow a cow and a wolf a wolf. The
association of words with their meanings must have grown up by
some natural process, though at present the nature of the process
is unknown.

Spoken and written words are, of course, not the only way of
conveying meaning. A large part of one of Wundt's two vast
volumes on language in his "Volkerpsychologie" is concerned with
gesture-language. Ants appear to be able to communicate a certain
amount of information by means of their antennae. Probably
writing itself, which we now regard as merely a way of
representing speech, was originally an independent language, as
it has remained to this day in China. Writing seems to have
consisted originally of pictures, which gradually became
conventionalized, coming in time to represent syllables, and
finally letters on the telephone principle of "T for Tommy." But
it would seem that writing nowhere began as an attempt to
represent speech it began as a direct pictorial representation of
what was to be expressed. The essence of language lies, not in
the use of this or that special means of communication, but in
the employment of fixed associations (however these may have
originated) in order that something now sensible--a spoken word,
a picture, a gesture, or what not--may call up the "idea" of
something else. Whenever this is done, what is now sensible may
be called a "sign" or "symbol," and that of which it is intended
to call up the "idea" may be called its "meaning." This is a
rough outline of what constitutes "meaning." But we must fill in
the outline in various ways. And, since we are concerned with
what is called "thought," we must pay more attention than we
otherwise should do to the private as opposed to the social use
of language. Language profoundly affects our thoughts, and it is
this aspect of language that is of most importance to us in our
present inquiry. We are almost more concerned with the internal
speech that is never uttered than we are with the things said out
loud to other people.

When we ask what constitutes meaning, we are not asking what is
the meaning of this or that particular word. The word "Napoleon"
means a certain individual; but we are asking, not who is the
individual meant, but what is the relation of the word to the
individual which makes the one mean the other. But just as it is
useful to realize the nature of a word as part of the physical
world, so it is useful to realize the sort of thing that a word
may mean. When we are clear both as to what a word is in its
physical aspect, and as to what sort of thing it can mean, we are
in a better position to discover the relation of the two which is

The things that words mean differ more than words do. There are
different sorts of words, distinguished by the grammarians; and
there are logical distinctions, which are connected to some
extent, though not so closely as was formerly supposed, with the
grammatical distinctions of parts of speech. It is easy, however,
to be misled by grammar, particularly if all the languages we
know belong to one family. In some languages, according to some
authorities, the distinction of parts of speech does not exist;
in many languages it is widely different from that to which we
are accustomed in the Indo-European languages. These facts have
to be borne in mind if we are to avoid giving metaphysical
importance to mere accidents of our own speech.

In considering what words mean, it is natural to start with
proper names, and we will again take "Napoleon" as our instance.
We commonly imagine, when we use a proper name, that we mean one
definite entity, the particular individual who was called
"Napoleon." But what we know as a person is not simple. There MAY
be a single simple ego which was Napoleon, and remained strictly
identical from his birth to his death. There is no way of proving
that this cannot be the case, but there is also not the slightest
reason to suppose that it is the case. Napoleon as he was
empirically known consisted of a series of gradually changing
appearances: first a squalling baby, then a boy, then a slim and
beautiful youth, then a fat and slothful person very
magnificently dressed This series of appearances, and various
occurrences having certain kinds of causal connections with them,
constitute Napoleon as empirically known, and therefore are
Napoleon in so far as he forms part of the experienced world.
Napoleon is a complicated series of occurrences, bound together
by causal laws, not, like instances of a word, by similarities.
For although a person changes gradually, and presents similar
appearances on two nearly contemporaneous occasions, it is not
these similarities that constitute the person, as appears from
the "Comedy of Errors" for example.

Thus in the case of a proper name, while the word is a set of
similar series of movements, what it means is a series of
occurrences bound together by causal laws of that special kind
that makes the occurrences taken together constitute what we call
one person, or one animal or thing, in case the name applies to
an animal or thing instead of to a person. Neither the word nor
what it names is one of the ultimate indivisible constituents of
the world. In language there is no direct way of designating one
of the ultimate brief existents that go to make up the
collections we call things or persons. If we want to speak of
such existentswhich hardly happens except in philosophy-we have
to do it by means of some elaborate phrase, such as "the visual
sensation which occupied the centre of my field of vision at noon
on January 1, 1919." Such ultimate simples I call "particulars."
Particulars MIGHT have proper names, and no doubt would have if
language had been invented by scientifically trained observers
for purposes of philosophy and logic. But as language was
invented for practical ends, particulars have remained one and
all without a name.

We are not, in practice, much concerned with the actual
particulars that come into our experience in sensation; we are
concerned rather with whole systems to which the particulars
belong and of which they are signs. What we see makes us say
"Hullo, there's Jones," and the fact that what we see is a sign
of Jones (which is the case because it is one of the particulars
that make up Jones) is more interesting to us than the actual
particular itself. Hence we give the name "Jones" to the whole
set of particulars, but do not trouble to give separate names to
the separate particulars that make up the set.

Passing on from proper names, we come next to general names, such
as "man," "cat," "triangle." A word such as "man" means a whole
class of such collections of particulars as have proper names.
The several members of the class are assembled together in virtue
of some similarity or common property. All men resemble each
other in certain important respects; hence we want a word which
shall be equally applicable to all of them. We only give proper
names to the individuals of a species when they differ inter se
in practically important respects. In other cases we do not do
this. A poker, for instance, is just a poker; we do not call one
"John" and another "Peter."

There is a large class of words, such as "eating," "walking,"
"speaking," which mean a set of similar occurrences. Two
instances of walking have the same name because they resemble
each other, whereas two instances of Jones have the same name
because they are causally connected. In practice, however, it is
difficult to make any precise distinction between a word such as
"walking" and a general name such as "man." One instance of
walking cannot be concentrated into an instant: it is a process
in time, in which there is a causal connection between the
earlier and later parts, as between the earlier and later parts
of Jones. Thus an instance of walking differs from an instance of
man solely by the fact that it has a shorter life. There is a
notion that an instance of walking, as compared with Jones, is
unsubstantial, but this seems to be a mistake. We think that
Jones walks, and that there could not be any walking unless there
were somebody like Jones to perform the walking. But it is
equally true that there could be no Jones unless there were
something like walking for him to do. The notion that actions are
performed by an agent is liable to the same kind of criticism as
the notion that thinking needs a subject or ego, which we
rejected in Lecture I. To say that it is Jones who is walking is
merely to say that the walking in question is part of the whole
series of occurrences which is Jones. There is no LOGICAL
impossibility in walking occurring as an isolated phenomenon, not
forming part of any such series as we call a "person."

We may therefore class with "eating," "walking," "speaking" words
such as "rain," "sunrise," "lightning," which do not denote what
would commonly be called actions. These words illustrate,
incidentally, how little we can trust to the grammatical
distinction of parts of speech, since the substantive "rain" and
the verb "to rain" denote precisely the same class of
meteorological occurrences. The distinction between the class of
objects denoted by such a word and the class of objects denoted
by a general name such as "man," "vegetable," or "planet," is
that the sort of object which is an instance of (say) "lightning"
is much simpler than (say) an individual man. (I am speaking of
lightning as a sensible phenomenon, not as it is described in
physics.) The distinction is one of degree, not of kind. But
there is, from the point of view of ordinary thought, a great
difference between a process which, like a flash of lightning,
can be wholly comprised within one specious present and a process
which, like the life of a man, has to be pieced together by
observation and memory and the apprehension of causal
connections. We may say broadly, therefore, that a word of the
kind we have been discussing denotes a set of similar
occurrences, each (as a rule) much more brief and less complex
than a person or thing. Words themselves, as we have seen, are
sets of similar occurrences of this kind. Thus there is more
logical affinity between a word and what it means in the case of
words of our present sort than in any other case.

There is no very great difference between such words as we have
just been considering and words denoting qualities, such as
"white" or "round." The chief difference is that words of this
latter sort do not denote processes, however brief, but static
features of the world. Snow falls, and is white; the falling is a
process, the whiteness is not. Whether there is a universal,
called "whiteness," or whether white things are to be defined as
those having a certain kind of similarity to a standard thing,
say freshly fallen snow, is a question which need not concern us,
and which I believe to be strictly insoluble. For our purposes,
we may take the word "white" as denoting a certain set of similar
particulars or collections of particulars, the similarity being
in respect of a static quality, not of a process.

From the logical point of view, a very important class of words
are those that express relations, such as "in," "above,"
"before," "greater," and so on. The meaning of one of these words
differs very fundamentally from the meaning of one of any of our
previous classes, being more abstract and logically simpler than
any of them. If our business were logic, we should have to spend
much time on these words. But as it is psychology that concerns
us, we will merely note their special character and pass on,
since the logical classification of words is not our main

We will consider next the question what is implied by saying that
a person "understands" a word, in the sense in which one
understands a word in one's own language, but not in a language
of which one is ignorant. We may say that a person understands a
word when (a) suitable circumstances make him use it, (b) the
hearing of it causes suitable behaviour in him. We may call these
two active and passive understanding respectively. Dogs often
have passive understanding of some words, but not active
understanding, since they cannot use words.

It is not necessary, in order that a man should "understand" a
word, that he should "know what it means," in the sense of being
able to say "this word means so-and-so." Understanding words does
not consist in knowing their dictionary definitions, or in being
able to specify the objects to which they are appropriate. Such
understanding as this may belong to lexicographers and students,
but not to ordinary mortals in ordinary life. Understanding
language is more like understanding cricket*: it is a matter of
habits, acquired in oneself and rightly presumed in others. To
say that a word has a meaning is not to say that those who use
the word correctly have ever thought out what the meaning is: the
use of the word comes first, and the meaning is to be distilled
out of it by observation and analysis. Moreover, the meaning of a
word is not absolutely definite: there is always a greater or
less degree of vagueness. The meaning is an area, like a target:
it may have a bull's eye, but the outlying parts of the target
are still more or less within the meaning, in a gradually
diminishing degree as we travel further from the bull's eye. As
language grows more precise, there is less and less of the target
outside the bull's eye, and the bull's eye itself grows smaller
and smaller; but the bull's eye never shrinks to a point, and
there is always a doubtful region, however small, surrounding

* This point of view, extended to the analysis of "thought" is
urged with great force by J. B. Watson, both in his "Behavior,"
and in "Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist"
(Lippincott. 1919), chap. ix.

** On the understanding of words, a very admirable little book is
Ribot's "Evolution of General Ideas," Open Court Co., 1899. Ribot
says (p. 131): "We learn to understand a concept as we learn to
walk, dance, fence or play a musical instrument: it is a habit,
i.e. an organized memory. General terms cover an organized,
latent knowledge which is the hidden capital without which we
should be in a state of bankruptcy, manipulating false money or
paper of no value. General ideas are habits in the intellectual

A word is used "correctly" when the average hearer will be
affected by it in the way intended. This is a psychological, not
a literary, definition of "correctness." The literary definition
would substitute, for the average hearer, a person of high
education living a long time ago; the purpose of this definition
is to make it difficult to speak or write correctly.

The relation of a word to its meaning is of the nature of a
causal law governing our use of the word and our actions when we
hear it used. There is no more reason why a person who uses a
word correctly should be able to tell what it means than there is
why a planet which is moving correctly should know Kepler's laws.

To illustrate what is meant by "understanding" words and
sentences, let us take instances of various situations.

Suppose you are walking in London with an absent-minded friend,
and while crossing a street you say, "Look out, there's a motor
coming." He will glance round and jump aside without the need of
any "mental" intermediary. There need be no "ideas," but only a
stiffening of the muscles, followed quickly by action. He
"understands" the words, because he does the right thing. Such
"understanding" may be taken to belong to the nerves and brain,
being habits which they have acquired while the language was
being learnt. Thus understanding in this sense may be reduced to
mere physiological causal laws.

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