An Introduction to Comparative Psychology


C. Lloyd Morgan

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IN a treatise on human psychology, it may be possible and advisable to proceed on purely empirical lines and to keep in the background the philosophy of the subject. But in a consideration of comparative psychology, which introduces the conception of evolution, and, of the relation of mind to the organism, such a procedure seems to be neither possible nor advisable. It will conduce to clearness and prevent misconception, therefore, if I here prefix to my work an introductory section, containing, in the form of prolegomena, a succinct account of the monistic views which I accept.[1] Nearly every philosopher contends now-a-days that he is a monist. But there are monists and monists. I must therefore endeavour to state clearly the form of monism which I accept.

First of all, I accept a monistic theory of knowledge. The dualist starts with the conception of a subject introduced

(2) into the midst of a separately and independently existent objective world. For him the problem of knowledge is how these independent existences, subject and object, can be brought into relation. In the monistic theory of knowledge it is maintained that to start with the conception of subject and object as independent existences is false method, and that the assumed independence and separateness is nowise axiomatic. Starting then from the common ground of naive experience, it contends that, prior to philosophizing, there is neither subject nor object, but just a bit of common practical experience. When a child sees a sweet, or when a dog sees a cat, there is a piece of naive and eminently real experience upon which more or less energetic action may follow. It is only when we seek to explain the experience that we polarize it in our thought into subject and object. But what logical right have we to say that the subject and object, which we can thus distinguish in thought, are separate in existence? No doubt it is a not uncommon, and a not unnatural, fallacy to endow with independent existence the distinguishable products of our abstract and analytic thought. The distinguishable redness and scent of a rose may thus come to be regarded as not only distinguishable in thought, but also separable in existence. But, until it shall be shown that " distinguishable in thought " and " separate in existence " are interchangeable expressions, or that whatever is distinguishable is also independent, the conclusion is obviously fallacious. And it is this fallacy which the monist regards as the fundamental error of the dualistic theory of knowledge. While dualism, then, starts with what I deem the illegitimate assumption of the independence of subject and object, the monist, starting from the common ground of experience, looks upon subject and object as the distinguishable aspects of that which in experience is one and indivisible. They are distinct from each other, and the distinction is fundamental; but they are nowise independent

(3) and separate in existence. The apparent dualism is a dualism of aspect, not a dualism of existence. It need only be added that this is a theory of knowledge, and of the experience of which knowledge is the outcome. Of that which is not known and not experienced, it neither asserts nor denies anything. But, accepting as it does the reality .of experience, it does assert that the aspect which we polarize as objective is just as real, and real in the same sense, as the aspect we polarize as subjective. The reality of object and subject is strictly co-ordinate. And those who hold this view regard as little better than nonsense the assertion that whereas the reality of the subject is unquestionable, the reality of the object is a matter that is open to discussion. Self and cosmos are of co-ordinate reality : they are the polarized aspects of experience as explained through reason.

But a theory of knowledge is not a complete interpretation of nature. There lies on a lonely mountain height a stone. I ascend the mountain, and the stone becomes an object of experience. That we may explain on our monistic theory of knowledge. But how about the stone before I got there, and after I had left the mountain top, when it was not yet or no longer an object of experience ? To this question the theory of knowledge that is modest and knows its business replies:-" I do not know. Ideal with experience. I can tell you nothing concerning that which is not yet experienced or no longer experienced. That is a matter of the interpretation of nature."

There are some excellent folk who believe that a philosophy can be built up without assumptions. I am not among their 'number. Hypotheses, or assumptions, are as necessary in philosophy as they are in science. I assume that nature is wider than actual experience. I assume that the stone on that lonely mountain top exists in some form capable of again appearing as object, and that this continuous existence is quite independent of whether anyone is there to experience it

(4) as object or not. I cannot possibly prove this, and do not attempt to do so. I suppose I accept it for this reason, that of the two hypotheses (a) that it continues to exist in some form or other whether it be an object of experience or not, and (b) that it dodges in and out of existence according as it is experienced or not-experienced, (a) appeals to me as the more rational assumption. Anyhow, if I cannot prove (a), neither can anyone else prove (b). I assume, then, that the world, which forms the objective aspect of experience, continues -somehow to exist quite independently of its being sensed or perceived. That there is a nature to interpret is thus an hypothesis or assumption, the sole justification of which is that, though it can never be proved, it accords more satisfactorily with the facts of experience than any other assumption. It does not conflict with, but supplements the monistic theory of knowledge. It fills in the gaps of actual experience with "permanent possibilities " of experience.

I pass now to a second phase of monism. I accept a monistic interpretation of nature. What do I mean by a monistic interpretation? Well, the essence of this view comes out when we consider the position of man in nature. According to this hypothesis, man, as an organism, is one and indivisible (though variously maimable), no matter how many aspects he may present subjectively or objectively. That the inorganic and organic world have reached their present condition through process of evolu-, tion, is now widely accepted. But the dualist contends that mind is a separable existence, sui generis, forming no part of the natural world into which it is temporarily introduced. , Here the monist joins issue, and contends that, alike in its biological and its psychological aspect, the organism is the product of evolution ; that mind is not extranatural nor supra-natural, but one of the aspects of natural existence.


Observe the frankly hypothetical nature of this view. The -monist assumes that what we call nature is co-extensive with knowable existence. He assumes that far, very far, as we may be at present from anything like a complete or adequate explanation of nature, yet still this nature is explicable, and that by one method, the method of scientific procedure. Herein lies the essence of monism as an interpretation of nature. If in the wide region of the known and the knowable there be any modes of existence which not only are not explicable, but from their very nature never can be explicable, as parts of one self-consistent whole, our monism falls to the ground. We contend that it is this to which science, philosophy, poetry, ay and religion too, has been tending throughout the centuries of human progress.

A monistic interpretation of nature, so long as it holds to the main principle of being throughout self-consistent, Rows any amount of individual freedom in the treatment of details. It is characterized, not by the possession of a common scientific or philosophic creed, but by a common It appears to me, for example, that in the evolution 'which sweeps through nature, the process is throughout characterized by the following traits : -- (I.) It is selective; (2.) it is synthetic; (3.) it tends from chaos to cosmos. And these traits seem to me characteristic alike of organic, organic, and mental evolution. Now I dare say there are not half-a-dozen independent monists who will agree with me in singling out these three traits for especial prominence. But what does that matter? My aim is as is also theirs. And there is plenty of room for any differences and even divergences of opinion among those who are in search of a self-consistent theory of thought and things.

I now turn to a third aspect of monism, which may be termed analytic monism. This consists in an an analysis of the object of knowledge, or in other words, of nature as known

(6) and knowable. Now here it is essential quite clearly to grasp the fact that all that we know must, in the act of becoming known, be an object of knowledge. The object of knowledge- is not merely the object of sense, but includes also the object of thought. All that we know of the subject, all that we attribute to the self, must, in becoming known, be the object of thought. It is only in reflection or introspection, which is also retrospection, that this is possible. You cannot analyse any bit of experience at the moment when it is being experienced, you can only look back upon it in a subsequent moment of reflection. In that subsequent moment it may be polarized into object and subject, and either the objective aspect or the subjective aspect may then be the object of thought. In this way the subjective aspect of experience in moment (n) may be the object of thoughtexperience in any subsequent moment (q). But never can the subject of experience in any moment be the object of knowledge in the same moment. Hence it follows that without reflection there can be no knowledge of the subjective aspect of experience. And hence it follows also that our knowledge is always dealing with the self of a moment ago. It is an assumption which. can never be proved, but one on the validity of which we all place implicit reliance, that the subject is continuous, and that the subject of the present moment is practically identical with the subject of a moment ago, of which we have knowledge through reflective thought.

Let us now take that natural object which we call a man, and let us assume that he is constituted in all essential respects as we are. We analyse him in thought; and we may carry our analysis but a short distance, or as far as ever we can. Analyse him a little way down, and we reach the conception of body and mind. It is clear that the concepts of this analysis are closely connected in origin with the concepts reached by the analysis of experience, and that body

(7) and mind are analogous to the object and subject of sense experience. Now the fact to which analytic monism should, as it seems to me, stick close, is that body and mind are the products of analysis. What is practically given is the man and this man is one and indivisible, though he maybe polarized in analysis into a bodily aspect and a conscious aspect. It may be said that this is an assumption. Granted. It is part of the fundamental assumption of the monistic interpretation of nature. According to that assumption or hypothesis, the organism in all its aspects is a product of natural evolution. We proceed to study that product. We analyse these aspects. We find that a certain group, of them hang together in a special way, and we call them bodily aspects; and we find that a quite different group of them hang together in their special way, and we call them mental aspects. There is no getting on without an hypothesis of some kind, and this is the one which the monist adopts. The dualist says that the organism in its bodily aspect is a product of evolution, or of some other process of genesis, that the mind is implanted therein by some extra-natural process. That is his assumption. The future must decide which assumption is the more reasonable.

According to the monistic assumption, then, the organism one and indivisible, but is polarizable in analytic thought to a bodily and a mental or conscious aspect. Body and mind, like object and subject, are distinguishable but not separable And now we may proceed to carry the analysis deeper. We reach the brain, or some part of it; and here analysis discloses, as one aspect, certain forms of nervous change or transformation of energy, and, as the other aspect certain phases of consciousness. Note clearly that this is rely through carrying further the same process of analysis; and that, of the products of analysis, neither can claim priority or superior validity to the other. They are strictly co-ordinate: each is as real as the other. The true reality

(8) is the man with which the analysis starts: no valid product of the analysis of that man, through the application of rational thought, can be more real than another.

The question then arises: Given an organism in which analysis gives two aspects, complex energy and complex consciousness, from what have these been evolved by an evolution which is selective, synthetic, and cosmic or determinate" From the nature of the case, the bodily aspect is that of which alone we can have objective knowledge. We trace the evolution backwards and find, in our interpretation thereof, simpler and simpler organisms, until the organic passes into the inorganic. We find the energy less and less complex as we look- back through the vista of the past. And what about the other aspect? Does it not seem reasonable to suppose that, no matter what stage we select, analysis would still disclose the two aspects? That with the simpler modes of nerve-energy there would go simpler modes of consciousness, and that with infra-neural modes of energy there would be infra-consciousness, or that from which consciousness as we know it has arisen in process of evolution ? This, is admittedly speculative. But is it illogical?

Let us return, however, from this speculative excursion, to emphasize again the fact that for monism the organism in practical experience is the starting-point ; that it is one and indivisible, though it has different aspects, which may be distinguished in analytic thought; and that these aspects are strictly co-ordinate--neither is before nor after the other.

Opposed to such a view are-(I.) the hypothesis of materialism, according to which the body is the real substance, the mind being one of its properties; and (2.) the hypothesis. of what may be termed psychism, which is, in the words of Charles Kingsley, that " your soul makes your body, just as a snail makes its shell," that mind is the reality and body the mere phenomenal appearance. These views depart from the cardinal principle of monism, which is that

(9) practical experience is the fountainhead of reality. They give to one product of the analysis of this experience a validity superior to that of another product of this analysis.

Now analytic monism by itself is insufficient and partial. It is open to the criticism that, while professedly monistic,, it postulates a dual aspect, and is therefore merely dualism. in disguise. But this criticism falls to the ground when this analytic monism is taken in association with the monistic theory of knowledge and the monistic interpretation of nature and of man. Monism must be judged as a whole, or not at all. Its cardinal tenets are:-That nature is one and indivisible, and is explicable on one method, the method of knowledge; that experience is one and indivisible, though we may distinguish its subjective and objective aspects ; that man is one and indivisible, though our analysis may disclose two strongly contrasted aspects, body and mind. It contends that man in both aspects, biological and psychological, is the product of an evolution that is one and continuous; and, combining the results of its theory of knowledge with those of its analysis of man, it identifies the mind, as a product of evolution, with the subject, as given in experience.

There is one further result of the analysis of experience upon which I must briefly touch in bringing these prolegomena to a conclusion. Monism regards nature and experience as one and indivisible, and all apparent dualism, as a dualism of aspect, distinguishable in thought, but indissoluble in existence. It contends, as I have endeavoured to show, that the individual mind on the one hand, and the cosmos on the other hand, are alike products of an evolution which is one and continuous. In both the products which we thus distinguish we find a synthesis which is selective and determinate. Empirically, that is as far as we are justified in going. Empirically we must just accept this continuous and progressive synthesis as the ultimate con-

(10) -clusion of science. But it is characteristic of man as a thinker that he is seldom able to stop here. He is constrained to take one further step in his analysis; and it only remains for me to indicate the nature of this final step as viewed in the light of a monistic philosophy. The selective synthesis of the cosmos, which we call evolution, is regarded as the manifestation, under the-conditions of time and space, of an underlying activity which is the ultimate cause thereof. This underlying activity is not a product of evolution ; it is that in and through which evolution is rendered possible. In like manner the selective synthesis of my mind, which we term its natural development, is regarded as the manifestation, under the conditions of time and space, of an underlying activity, one in existence with and yet distinct in analysis from that of the cosmos at large. This underlying activity, which is the ultimate essence of my individual personality, is not a product of evolution; it is that in and through which the evolution of my consciousness is rendered possible. Object and subject are thus the correlative modes of manifestation of an underlying activity, one in existence, but none the less fundamentally distinct in aspect.

The questions briefly considered in these Prolegomena have been recently (1903) discussed at length by Prof C. A. Strong, in a work entitled Why the Mind has a Body. He reaches the conclusion that the reality-the thing in itself-underlying experience and knowledge is consciousness. Those who believe that, amid all the multifarious differentiations of noumenal existence, the most fundamental, for human experience and thought, is that into the diverse aspects of subject and object, mind and not mind--those, I say, who have been led to such a metaphysical interpretation will find it impossible to accept the view that one of these differentiated aspects has preserved all the reality which the other has wholly lost.


  1. Those for whom philosophy has no special interest will do well to pass over these prolegomena and proceed at once to Chapter I. Those on the other hand for whom the philosophical interest is central should re-read this section after the perusal of the body of the book.

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