« PoprzedniaDalej »
The reader will readily recollect what it is. In part III of his Principles of Psychology, Mr. Spencer, starting from the surposition that the most essential truth concerning mental evolution will be that which allies it to the evolution nearest akin to it, namely, that of Life, finds that the formula “ adjustment of inner to outer relations,” which was the definition of life, comprehends also “ the entire process of mental evolution.” In a series of chapters of great apparent thoroughness and minuteness he shows how all the different grades of mental perfection are expressed by the degree of extension of this adjustment, or, as he here catls it, “ correspondence,” in space, time, speciality, generality, and integration. The polyp's tentacles contract only to immediately present stimuli, and to almost all alike. The mammal will store up food for a day, or even for a season; the bird will start on its migration for a goal hundreds of miles away; the savage will sharpen his arrows to hunt next year's game; while the astronomer will proceed, equipped with all his instruments, to a point thousands of miles distant, there to watch, at a fixed day, hour, and minute, a transit of Venus or an eclipse of the Sun.
The picture drawn is so vast and simple, it includes such a multitude of details in its monotonous frame-work, that it is no wonder that readers of a passive turn of mind are, usually, more impressed by it than by any portion of the book. But on the slightest scrutiny its solidity begins to disappear. In the first place, one asks, what right has one, in a formula embracing professedly the “ entire process of mental evolution,” to mention only phenomena of cognition, and to omit all sentiments, all ästhetic impulses, all religious emotions and personal affections ? The ascertainment of outward fact constitutes only one species of mental activity. The genus contains, in addition to purely cognitive judgments, or judgments of the actual — judgments that things do, as a matter of fact, exist so or so — an immense number of emotional judgments : judgments of the ideal, judgments that things should exist thus and not so. How much of our mental life is occupied with this matter of a better or a worse? How much of it involves preferences or repugnances on our part? We cannot laugh at a joke, we cannot go to one theater rather than another, take more trouble for the sake of our own child than our neighbor's; we cannot long for vacation, show our best manners to a foreigner, or pay our pew rent, without involving in the premises of our action some element which has nothing whatever to do with simply cognizing the actual, but which, out of alternative possible actuals, selects one and cognizes that as the ideal. In a word, “ Mind,” as we actually find it, contains all sorts of laws — those of logic, of fancy, of wit, of taste, decorum, beauty, morals, and so forth, as well as of perception of fact. Common sense estimates mental excellence by a combination of all these standards, and yet how few of them correspond to anything that actually is — they are laws of the Ideal, dictated by subjective interests pure and simple. Thus the greater part of Mind, quantitatively considered, refuses to have anything to do with Mr. Spencer's definition. It is quite true that these ideal judgments are treated by him with great ingenuity and felicity at the close of his workindeed, his treatment of them there seems to me to be its most admirable portion. But they are there handled as separate items having no connection with that extension of the “ correspondence” which is maintained elsewhere to be the allsufficing law of mental growth.
Most readers would dislike to admit without coercion that a law was adequate which obliged them to erase from literature (if by literature were meant anything worthy of the title of “ mental product”) all works except treatises on natural science, history, and statistics. Let us examine the reason that Mr. Spencer appears to consider coercive.
It is this : That, since every process grows more and more complicated as it develops, more swarmed over by incidental and derivative conditions which disguise and adulterate its original simplicity, the only way to discover its true and essential form is to trace it back to its earliest beginning. There it will appear in its genuine character pure and undefiled. Religious, æsthetic, and ethical judgments, having grown up in the course of evolution, by means that we can very plausibly divine, of course may be stripped off from the main stem of intelligence and leave that undisturbed. With a similar intent Mr. Tylor says: “Whatever throws light on the origin of a conception throws light on its validity.” Thus, then, there is no resource but to appeal to the polyp, or whatever shows us the form of evolution just before intelligence, and what that, and only what that, contains will be the root and heart of the matter.
But no sooner is the reason for the law thus enunciated than many objections occur to the reader. In the first place, the general principle seems to lead to absurd conclusions. If the embryologic line of appeal can alone teach us the genuine essences of things, if the polyp is to dictate our law of mind to us because he came first, where are we to stop ? He must himself be treated in the same way. Back of him lay the not-yet-polyp, and, back of all, the universal mother, fire-mist. , To seek there for the reality, of course would reduce all thinking to nonentity, and, although Mr. Spencer would probably not regard this conclusion as a reductio ad absurdum of his principle, since it would only be another path to his theory of the Unknowable, less systematic thinkers may hesitate. But, waiving for the moment the question of principle, let us admit that relatively to our thought, at any rate, the polyp's thought is pure and undefiled. Does the study of the polyp lead us distinctly to Mr. Spencer's formula of correspondence? To begin with, if that formula be meant to include disinterested scientific curiosity, or “ correspondence" in the sense of cognition, with no ulterior selfish end, the polyp gives it no countenance whatever. He is as innocent of scientific as of moral and ästhetic enthusiasm ; he is the most narrowly teleological of organisms; reacting, so far as he reacts at all, only for self-preservation.
This leads us to ask what Mr. Spencer exactly means by the word correspondence. Without explanation, the word is wholly indeterminate. Everything corresponds in some way with everything else that co-exists in the same world with it. But, as the formula of correspondence was originally derived from biology, we shall possibly find in our author's treatise on that science an exact definition of what he means by it. On
seeking there, we find nowhere a definition, but numbers of synonyms. The inner relations are “ adjusted,” « conformed,” “ fitted,” “ related,” to the outer. They must “ meet” or * balance" them. There must be « concord” or “ harmony” between them. Or, again, the organism must " counteract” the changes in the environment. But these words, too, are wholly indeterminate. The fox is most beautifully “adjusted” to the hounds and huntsmen who pursue him; the limestone • meets " molecule by molecule the acid which corrodes it; the man is exquisitely “conformed” to the trichina which invades him, or to the typhus poison which consumes him; and the forests “ harmonize" incomparably with the fires that lay them low. Clearly, a further specification is required ; and, although Mr. Spencer shrinks strangely from enunciating this specification, he everywhere works his formula so as to imply it in the clearest manner.
Influence on physical well-being or survival is his implied criterion of the rank of mental action. The moth which flies into the candle, instead of away from it, “ fails,” in Spencer's words (vol. I, p. 409), to "correspond” with its environment; but clearly, in this sense, pure cognitive inference of the existence of heat after a perception of light would not suffice to constitute correspondence; while a moth which, on feeling the light, should merely vaguely fear to approach it, but have no proper image of the heat, would " correspond.” So that the Spencerian formula, to mean anything definite at all, must, at least, be re-written as follows: “ Right or intelligent mental action consists in the establishment, corresponding to outward relations, of such inward relations and reactions as will favor the survival of the thinker, or, at least, his physical well-being.”
Such a definition as this is precise, but at the same time it is frankly teleological. It explicitly postulates a distinction between mental action pure and simple, and right mental action; and, furthermore, it proposes, as criteria of this latter, certain ideal ends — those of physical prosperity or survival, which are pure subjective interests on the animal's part, brought with it upon the scene and corresponding to no relation already there. No mental action is right or intelligent which fails to fit this standard. No correspondence can pass muster till it shows its subservience to these ends. Corresponding itself to no actual outward thing ; referring merely to a future which may be, but which these interests now say shall be ; purely ideal, in a word, they judge, dominate, determine all correspondences between the inner and the outer. Which is as much as to say that mere correspondence with the outer world is a notion on which it is wholly impossible to base a definition of mental action. Mr. Spencer's occult reason for leaving unexpressed the most important part of the definition he works with probably lies in its apparent implication of subjective spontaneity. The mind, according to his philosophy, should be pure product, absolute derivative from the non-mental. To make it dictate conditions, bring independent interests into the game which may determine what we shall: call correspondence, and what not, might, at first sight, appear contrary to the notion of evolution which forbids the introduction at any point of an absolutely new factor. In what sense the existence of survival interest does postulate such a factor we shall hereafter see. I think myself that it is possible to express all its outward results in non-mental terms. But the unedifying look of the thing, its simulation of an independent mental teleology, seems to have frightened Mr. Spencer here, as elsewhere, away from a serious scrutiny of the facts. But
These interests are the real a priori element in cognition. By saying that their pleasures and pains have nothing to do with correspondence, I mean simply this: To a large number of terms in the environment there may be inward correlatives of a neutral sort as regards feeling. The “correspondence” is already there. But, now, suppose some to be accented with pleasure, others with pain; that is a. fact additional to the correspondence, a fact with no outward correlative. But it. immediately orders the correspondences in this way: that the pleasant or interesting items are singled out, dwelt upon, developed into their farther connections, whilst the unpleasant or insipid ones are ignored or suppressed. The future of the Mind's development is thus mapped out in advance by the way in which the lines of pleasure and pain run. The interests precede the outer relations noticed. Take the utter absence of response of a dog or a savage to the greater mass of environing relations. How can you alter it unless you previously awaken an interest -- i. e., produce a susceptibility to intellectual pleasure in certain modes of cognitive exercise ? Interests, then, are an all-essential factor which no writer pretending to give an account of mental evolution has a right to neglect.