1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Sensations Not Psychologically Subjective

(Part 9)

(B) General Analysis of Mind. Its Ultimate Constituents. (cont.)

Sensations Not Psychologically Subjective

It will be convenient here to digress for a moment to take account of an objection that is sure to be urged, viz., that sensations at all events ought not to be called objects, that they are "states of the subject" and that this is a deliverance of common sense, if anything is. Now if by this meant (i.) that sensations are metaphysically subjective modification in an idealistic sense, there is no need at this stage either to assert or deny that. But if the meaning be (ii.) that sensations are presented as modes of the subject, such a position is due to a confusion between the subject proper or pure Ego and that complex presentation or object, the empirical, or as we might call it the biotic, Ego. A self-conscious subject may not only have a sensation but may recognize it as its own,—recognize a certain connexion, that is to say, between the sensation and the and that presentation of the empirical self which self-consciousness implies. But such reference only renders more obvious the objective nature of a sensation, in the psychological sense of the term objective. Or, again, the meaning may be (iii.) that a subject whose presentations were all sensations would know nothing of the difference between subject and objet. In this objection there is a lurking confusion between the standpoint of a given experience and the standpoint of its exposition. The true way, surely, to represent the bare fact of sensation is not attempt to reproduce an experience as yet confined to sensations, but to describe such experience as a scientific psychologist would do if not if we could imagine him a spectator of it. The infant who is delightful by a bright colour does not of course conceive himself as face with an object; but neither does he conceive the colour as a subjective affection. We are bound to describe his state of mind truthfully, but that is no reason for abandoning terms which have no counterpart in his consciousness, when these terms are only used to depict that consciousness to us. As to the objection (iv.) that, when all is said and done, sensations are conceived by common sense as modifications of self, whether so presented or not, it may be granted that it appears so at first blush, but not when common sense is more closely examined. The fact is we are have upon what has been called "the margin of psychology," where our ordinary thinking brings into one view what science has to be at great pains to keep distinct. Though it is scientifically a long way round from a fact of mind to the corresponding fact of body, yet it is only on careful reflexion that we can distinguish the two in those cases in which our practical interests have closely associated them. Such a case is that of sensation. The ordinary conception of a sensation coincides, no doubt, with the definition given by Hamilton and Mansel:—"Sensation proper is the consciousness of certain affections of our body as an animated organism" ;and it is because in ordinary thinking we reckon the body as part of self that we come to think of sensations as subjective modifications. But, when considerations of method compel us to eliminate physiological implications from the ordinary conception of a sensation, we are able here to distinguish the conscious subject and the "affections" of which it is conscious as clearly as we can distinguish subject and object in other cases of presentation. On the whole, then, we may conclude that there is nothing either in the facts or in our necessary conceptions of them to prevent us from representing whatever admits of psychical reproduction and association, no matter how simple it be, as an object presented to a subject.

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