1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Constituent Elements of Psychology. Subject or Ego.

(Part 3)

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

Constituent Elements of Psychology. Subject or Ego.

At to the first, there is in the main substantial agreement : the elementary facts of mind cannot, it is held, be expressed in less than three propositions,—I fell somehow, I know something, I do something. But here at once there arises an important question, viz., What are we to understand by the subject of these propositions? Nobody nowadays would understand it to imply that every psychical fact must be ascertained or verified by personal introspection ; perhaps no modern writer ever did understand this ; at any rate to do so is to confound the personal with the psychological. We are no more confined to our own immediate observations here than elsewhere; but the point is that, whether seeking to analyse one’s own consciousness or to infer that of a lobster, whether discussing the association of ideas or the expression of emotions, there is always an individual mind or self or subject in question. It is not enough to talk of feelings or volitions :what we mean is that some individual, man or worm, feels, wills, acts—thus or thus. Obvious as this may seem, it has been frequently either forgotten or gainsaid. It has been forgotten among details or through the assumption of a medley of faculties, each treated as an individual in turn, and among with the real individual was lost. Or it has been gainsaid, because to admit that all psychological facts pertain to a psychological subject seemed to carry with it the admission that they pertained to a particular spiritual substance, which was simple, indestructible, and so forth ; and it was manifestly desirable to exclude such assumptions from psychology, i.e., from a science which aims only at a scientific exposition of what can be known and verified by observations. But, however much assailed or disowned, the conception of a mind or conscious subject is to be found implicitly or explicitly in all psychological writers whatever,—not more in Berkeley, who accepts it as a fact, than in Hume, who accepts it as fiction. This being so, we are far more likely to reach the truth eventually if we openly acknowledge this inexpugnable assumption, if such it prove, instead of resorting to all sorts of devious peri-phrases to hide it. Now wherever the word Subject, or its derivatives, occurs in psychology we might substitute the word Ego and analogous derivatives, did such exist. But Subject is almost always the preferable term ; its impersonal form is an advantage, and it readily recalls its modern correlative Object. Moreover, Ego has two senses, distinguished by Kant as pure and empirical, the latter of which is, of course, an object, while the former is subject always. By pure Ego or Subject it is proposed to denote the simple fact that everything mental is referred to a Self. This psychological conception of a self or subject, then, is after all by no means identical with the metaphysical conceptions of a soul or mind-atom, or of mind-stuff not atomic ; it may be kept us free from metaphysical implications as the conception of the biological individual or organism with which it is so intimately connected.

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