Human Nature and Conduct

Part 3: The Place of Intelligence:
II. The Psychology of Thinking

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We are going far afield from any direct moral issue. But the problem of the place of knowledge and judgment in conduct depends upon getting the fundamental psychology of thought straightened out. So the excursion must be continued. We compare life to a traveler faring forth. We may consider him first at a moment where his activity is confident, straightforward, organized. He marches on giving no direct attention to his path, nor thinking of his destination. Abruptly he is pulled up, arrested. Something is going wrong in his activity. From the standpoint of an onlooker, he has met an obstacle which must be overcome before his behavior can be unified into a successful ongoing. From his own standpoint, there is shock, confusion, perturbation, uncertainty. For the moment he doesn't know what hit him, as we say, nor where he is going. But a new impulse is stirred which becomes the starting point of yin investigation, a looking into things, a trying to see them, to find out what is going on. Habits which were interfered with begin to get a new direction as they cluster about the impulse to look and see. The blocked habits of locomotion give him a sense of where he was going, of what he had set out to do, and of the ground already traversed. As he looks, he sees definite things which are not just things at large but which are related


(182) to his course of action. The momentum of the activity entered upon persists as a sense of direction, of aim; it is an anticipatory project. In short, he recollects, observes and plans.

The trinity of these forecasts, perceptions and remembrances form a subject-matter of discriminated and identified objects. These objects represent habits turned inside out. They exhibit both the onward tendency of habit and the objective conditions which have been incorporated within it. Sensations in immediate consciousness are elements of action dislocated through the shock of interruption. They never, however, completely monopolize the scene; for there is a body of residual undisturbed habits which is reflected in remembered and perceived objects having a meaning. Thus out of shock and puzzlement there gradually emerges a figured framework of objects, past, present, future. These shade off variously into a vast penumbra of vague, unfigured things, a setting which is taken for granted and not at all explicitly presented. The complexity of the figured scene in its scope and refinement of contents depends wholly upon prior habits and their organization. The reason a baby can know little and an experienced adult know much when confronting the same things is not because the latter has a "mind" which the former has not, but because one has already formed habits which the other has still to acquire. The scientific man and the philosopher like the carpenter, the physician and politician know with their habits not with their "consciousness." The latter is eventual, not


(183) a source. Its occurrence marks a peculiarly delicate connection between highly organized habits and unorganized impulses. Its content, or objects, observed, recollected, projected and generalized into principles, represent the incorporated material of habits coming to the surface, because habits arc disintegrating at the touch of conflicting impulses. But they also gather themselves together to comprehend impulse and make it effective.

This account is more or less strange as psychology but certain aspects of it are commonplaces in a static logical formulation. It is, for example, almost a truism that knowledge is both synthetic and analytic; a set of discriminated elements connected by relations. This combination of opposite factors of unity and difference, elements and relations, has been a standing paradox and mystery of the theory of knowledge. It will remain so until we connect the theory of knowledge with an empirically verifiable theory of behavior. The steps of this connection have been sketched and we may enumerate them. We know at such times as habits are impeded, when a conflict is set up in which impulse is released. So far as this impulse sets up a definite forward tendency it constitutes the forward. prospective character of knowledge. In this phase unity or synthesis is found. We are striving to unify our responses, to achieve a consistent environment which will restore unity of conduct. Unity, relations, are prospective; they mark out lines converging to a focus. They are ideal." But what we know, the objects that present


(184) themselves with definiteness and assurance, are retrospective; they are the conditions which have been mastered, incorporated in the past. They are elements, discriminated, analytic just because old habits so far as they are checked are — also broken into objects which define the obstruction of ongoing activity. They are ` real," not ideal. Unity is something sought ; split, division is something given, at hand. Were we to carry the same psychology into detail we should come upon the explanation of perceived particulars and conceived universals, of the relation of discovery and proof, induction and deduction, the discrete and the continuous. Anything approaching an adequate discussion is too technical to be here in place. But the main point, however technical and abstract it may be in statement, is of far reaching importance for everything concerned with moral beliefs, conscience and judgments of right and wrong.

The most general, if vaguest issue, concerns the nature of the organ of moral knowledge. As long as knowledge in general is thought to be the work of a special agent, whether soul, consciousness, intellect or a knower in general, there is a logical propulsion towards postulating a special agent for knowledge of moral distinctions. Consciousness an(] conscience have more than a verbal connection. If the former is something in itself, a seat or power which antecedes intellectual functions, why should not the latter be also a unique faculty with its own separate ,jurisdiction? If reason in general is independent of empirically verifi-


(185) -able realities of human nature, such as instincts and organized habits, why should there not also exist a moral or practical reason independent of natural operations? On the other hand if it is recognized that knowing is carried on through the medium of natural factors, the assumption of special agencies for moral knowing becomes outlawed and incredible. Now the matter of the existence or non-existence of such special agencies is no technically remote matter. The belief in a separate organ involves belief in a separate and independent subject-matter. The question fundamentally at issue is nothing more or less than whether moral values, regulations, principles and objects form a separate and independent domain or whether they are part and parcel of a normal development of a life process.

These considerations explain why the denial of a separate organ of knowledge, of a separate instinct or impulse toward knowing, is not the wilful philistinism it is sometimes alleged to be. There is of course a sense in which there is a distinctive impulse, or rather habitual disposition, to know. But in the same sense there is an impulse to aviate, to run a typewriter or write stories for magazines. Some activities result in knowledge, as others result in these other thins. The result may be so important as to induce distinctive attention to the activities in order to foster them. From an incident, almost a by-product, attainment of truth, physical, social, moral, may become the leading characteristic of some activities. Under such circumstances, they be-


(186) -come transformed. Knowing is then a distinctive activity, with its own ends and its peculiarly adapted processes. All this is a matter of course. Having hit upon knowledge accidentally, as it were, and the product being liked and its importance noted, knowledge-getting becomes, upon occasion, a definite occupation. And education confirms the disposition, as it may confirm that of a musician or carpenter or tennis-player. But there is no more an original separate impulse or power in one case than in the other. Every habit is impulsive, that is projective, urgent, and the habit of knowing is no exception.

The reason for insisting on this fact is not failure to appreciate the distinctive value of knowledge when once it comes into existence. This value is so immense it may be called unique. The aim of the discussion is not to subordinate knowing to some hard, prosaic utilitarian end. The reason for insistence upon the derivative position of knowing in activity, roots in a sense for fact, and in a realization that the doctrine of a separate original power and impulse of knowledge cuts knowledge off from other phases of human nature, and results in its non-natural treatment. The isolation of intellectual disposition from concrete empirical facts of biological impulse and habit-formation entail; a denial of the continuity of mind with nature. Aristotle asserted that the faculty of pure knowing enters a man from without as through a door. Many since his day have asserted that knowing and doing have no intrinsic connection with each other. Reason is asserted to have


(187) no responsibility to experience; conscience is said to be a sublime oracle independent of education and social influences. All of these views follow naturally from a failure to recognize that all knowing, judgment, belief represent an acquired result of the workings of natural impulses in connection with environment.

Upon the ethical side, as has been intimated, the matter at issue concerns the nature of conscience. Conscience has been asserted by orthodox moralists to be unique in origin and subject-matter. The same view is embodied by implication in all those popular methods of moral training which attempt to fix rigid authoritative notions of right and wrong by disconnecting moral judgments from the aids and tests which are used in other forms of knowledge. Thus it has been asserted that conscience is an original faculty of illumination which (if it has not been dimmed by indulgence in sin) shines upon moral truths and objects and reveals them without effort for precisely what they are. Those who hold this view differ enormously among themselves as to the nature of the objects of conscience. Some hold them to be general principles, others individual acts, others the order of worth among motives, others the sense of duty in general, others the unqualified authority of right. Still others carry the implied logic of authority to conclusion, and identify knowledge of moral truths with a divine supernatural revelation of a code of commandments.

But among these diversities there is agreement about one fundamental. There must be a separate non-


(188) -natural faculty of moral knowledge because the things to be known, the matters of right and wrong, good and evil, obligation and responsibility, form a separate domain, separate that is from that of ordinary action in its usual human and social significance. The latter activities may be prudential, political, scientific, economic. But, from the standpoint of these theories, they have no moral meaning until they are brought under the purview of this separate unique department of our nature. It thus turns out that the so-called intuitional theories of moral knowledge concentrate in themselves all the ideas which are subject to criticism in these pages: Namely, the assertion that morality is distinct in origin, working and destiny from the natural structure and career of human nature. This fact is the excuse, if excuse be desired, for a seemingly technical excursion that links intellectual activity with the conjoint operation of habit and impulse.

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