Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

is possible. Inward and outward things he thus discovers to be alike inscrutable in their ultimate genesis and nature.

He sees that the materialist and spiritualist controversy is a mere war of words; the disputants being equally absurd-each believing he understands that which it is impossible for any man to understand. In all directions his investigations eventually bring him face to face with the unknowable, and he ever more clearly perceives it to be the unknowable. He learns at once the greatness and the littleness of human intellect—its power in dealing with all that comes within the range of experience; its impotence in dealing with all that transcends experience. He feels, with a vividness which no others can, the utter incomprehensibleness of the simplest fact, considered in itself. He alone truly sees that absolute knowledge is impossible. He alone knows that under all things lies an impenetrable mystery.” 1

CHAPTER II.

PSYCHOLOGY.

Psychology.-1. The principles of psychology-2. Continuity and corre

spondence. Progress of correspondences, their co-ordination and integration---3. The law of intelligence—4. Unity of composition of psychological phenomena. Consciousness reduced to a double processus of assimilation and dissimilation-5. Summary—6. Is Mr. Herbert Spencer a Positivist ?

The law of evolution is about to appear to us under a new aspect. The Principles of Psychology, the study of which we are approaching, have for their object the establishment, by a double process of analysis and of synthesis, the unity of composition of the phenomena of mind, and the continuity of their development. As the word 'principles' indicates, there is no question here of a simple description of the facts of consciousness, of a complete

Spencer's Essays, p. 58, 2d edition, 2 vols., 1868.

enumeration of phenomena, of a review in which nothing shall be omitted ; this would be to set up a psychological repertory, in which every fact should be described, almost as melodies are described in pathological and plants in botanical treatises. Such a task would be of great utility, but Mr. Herbert Spencer has not proposed to fulfil it. His enterprise is more philosophical and more systematic. He does not pretend to exhaust his subject, whether it be biology, psychology, sociology, or morals; he aims only at the establishment of principles, accompanying them with sufficient elucidation and example to render their relations and their results comprehensible.

The first result of the law of continuity is that there is no precise line of demarcation between physiological and psychological facts, and that every absolute distinction is illusory. Sensations, sentiments, instincts, intelligence, all constitute a world apart; but which comes out of the animal world, in which it is rooted, of which it is, as it were, the efflorescence. Between the most humble function and the most lofty thought there is no opposition of nature, but there is difference in degree, each being only one of the innumerable manifestations of life. The life of the body and mental life are species, of which life, properly so called, is the genus' (Principles of Psychology). While ordinary psychology, founded exclusively upon interior observation and the employment of the subjective method, restricts itself to the study of man, without any care for the inferior forms of intellectual life, experimental psychology aspires to describe and to classify the various modes of sensation and of thought, to follow their slow and continuous evolution, from the infusoria to the civilized white man. It is, then, not only a static but a dynamic study; it not only establishes facts, it studies their genesis, their development, their transformations. This is not all; while vulgar psychology separates the thinking being from its mechanism, thus reducing itself to abstraction, experimental psychology never separates these two terms. Between the external and the internal world there is a constant and necessary correspondence. It is only by the action of the without on the within, and by the reaction of the within on the without, that mental life is possible. It is in the material world that we must seek the ultimate reason of the nature of our thoughts, of the order of their succession. Where is the source of our ideas of simultaneousness and of succession if not in external co-existences and sequences? What should be the cause of the mode by which our ideas are linked together if not anterior experience ? By and bye all this will be made clear.

The work which now occupies us comprehends an analytical and a synthetical study.

The synthetical study sets out with purely physiological life, and shows how intellectual life, which is not to be distinguished from it at first, begins its slow evolution, and constitutes itself little by little by successive additions; how mental activity, which at first reproduced only the simplest, most elementary modifications of the external world, arrives at explaining the most varied and complex relations with completeness.

The aim of the analytical study, which might also be called subjective as contrasted with the preceding, which is rather objective, is to reduce every kind of knowledge to its ultimate elements. It examines the most complicated reasonings, and, by successive decompositions, resolving that which is more into that which is less complex, getting down to that which is simple, primitive, irreducible, it finally reaches the constitutive principles and the indispensable conditions of all thought.

Before we enter upon this double study, it will be well to state briefly how the author understands psychology and its object.

The object of psychology is not the connexion between internal phenomena, nor the connexion between external phenomena, but the connexion between these two connexions.'

A psychological proposition is necessarily composed of two propositions, one of which concerns the subject and the other the object : consequently it implies four terms. Let us suppose that A and B are an internal connexion—the flavour and the colour of a fruit. So long as we only occupy ourselves with this connexion we are dealing with physics. But suppose that a and b are the sensations produced in the organism by these two external conditions. So long as we study the action of A upon the optic centres, and of B upon the organs of taste, we are dealing with physiology. We pass into the domain of psychology from the moment at which we examine how there can exist in the organism a relation between a and b which corresponds in one way or another to the relation between A and B. Psychology occupies itself solely with the connexion between a b and A B, in its nature, its origin, and its signification.

Thus phenomena constitute the object of psychology, and especially the relations between phenomena. As for the substance of the mind,' considered independently of its modes, we can know nothing about it, for such knowledge is altogether out of the reach of human intelligence. But although the sensations and emotions, real or ideal, which form consciousness, seem to be simple, homogeneous, not to be analysed, they are not so. In endeavouring to analyse them we can attempt a genesis of mind, considered under its phenomenal form. This is one of the most curious and original portions of the work of Mr. Herbert Spencer.

The elements of which mind is composed are of two sortsfeelings, and the relations between feelings. Each of these feelings, which seems simple to consciousness, decomposes itself into elements still more simple, into simple nervous shocks, and it is from the integration of those nervous shocks that sensation, properly so called, results.

Let us take as an illustration the seemingly simple sensation which we call musical sound. We know that if the vibrations do not exceed sixteen in a second, each may be considered as a distinct noise; but if they become more rapid, the noises, instead of being each known as a distinct state of consciousness, melt into an unique and continuous state of consciousness, which is the musical sound. If the rapidity of the vibrations increases, the quality of the sound varies, it becomes sharper; and if the rapidity continues to increase, it attains such a degree of acuteness that soon it is no longer appreciable as a sound. This is not all; the researches of Helmholtz have shown that the difference of tone between instruments (violin, horn, clarionet, flute) is due to the addition of various harmonies to the fundamental sound. These differences of sensation, known as difference of tone, are

menon.

If we

then due to the simultaneous integration of other series, having other degrees of integration with the primitive series.

This analysis may make us understand how illusory is the apparent simplicity of the phenomenon called sensation, because the same applies to savours, colours, scents, and all the sensations in general. Sensation is, then, a composite pheno

But what is its primordial element? Can it be discovered ?

Mr. Herbert Spencer believes that it can. "The last unit of consciousness is what we may call a nervous shock.' examine our various feelings we shall see that notwithstanding their specific differences, there is something in common in them, and that the nervous shock is at the bottom of them all. The effect produced upon us by a sudden cracking noise which has no appreciable duration is a nervous shock. An electric discharge which traverses the body, a flash of lightning which strikes the eyes, are also to be assimilated to a nervous shock. The state of consciousness thus produced is comparable in quality to the state of consciousness caused by a blow (abstracting from it the pain which ensues), so that this may be taken for the primitive and typical form of the nervous shock. It is then possible and even probable that something of the same order as that which we call a nervous shock is the final unit of consciousness, and that all the differences between our feelings result from different modes of integration of this final unit. We must remark that there is a perfect agreement between this opinion and the well-known character of nervous action. Experience shows that the nervous current is intermittent, that it consists of waves. The external stimulus does not act continually on the sensitive centre, but it sends towards it a series of pulses of molecular motion. Consequently, in concluding that its subjective effect, that is to say the feeling, is composed of a succession of mental shocks, we simply conclude that there is a resemblance between the effect and its objective cause.

This being established, it is easy to understand that the evolution of the mind consists in a progressive integration. We

· Principles of Psychology, 2d edit. p. 60.

« НазадПродовжити »