1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Attempts to Extrude the Ego

(Part 4)

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

Attempts to Extrude the Ego

The attempt, indeed, has frequently been made to resolve the former into the latter, and so to find in mind only such an individuality as has an obvious counterpart in this individuality of the organism, i.e., what we may call an objective individuality. But such procedure owes all its plausibility to the fact that it leaves out of sight the difference between the biological and the psychological standpoints. All that the biologist means by a dog is "the sum of the phenomena which make up its corporeal existence." [Footnote 39-1]

And, inasmuch as its presentation to any one in particular is a point of no importance, the fact of presentation at all may be very well dropped out of account. Let us now turn to mind: Why should we not take this word or "the word ‘soul’ simply as a name for the series of mental phenomena which make up an individual mind?" [Footnote 39-2] Surely the moment we try distinctly to understand this question we realize that the cases are different. "Series of mental phenomena" for whom? For any passer-by such as might take stock of our biological dog? No, obviously only for that individual mind itself ; yet that is supposed to be made up of, to be nothing different from, the series of phenomena. Are we, then, (1) quoting J. S. Mill’s words, "to accept the paradox that something which ex hypothesi is but a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series?" [Footnote 39-3] Or (2) shall we say that the several parts of the series are mutually phenomenal, much as A may look at B, who was just now looking at A? Or (3) finally, shall we say that a large part of the so-called series, in fact every term but one, is phenomenal for the rest—for that one?

As to the first alternative, paradox is too mild a word for it; even contradiction will hardly suffice. It is as impossible to express "being aware of" by one term as it is to express an equation or any other relations by one term :what knows can no more be identical with what is known than a weight with what it weighs. If a series of feelings is what is known or presented, then what knows, what it is presented to, cannot be that series of feelings and this without regard to the point Mill mentions, viz., that the infinitely greater part of the series is either past or future. The question is not in the first instance one of time or substance at all, but simply turns upon the fact that knowledge or consciousness is unmeaning except as it implies something knowing or conscious of something. But it may be replied:—Granted that the formula for consciousness is something doing something, to put it generally ; still, if the two somethings are the same when I touch myself or when I see myself, why may not agent and patient be the same when the action is knowing or being aware of; why may I not know myself—in fact, do I not know myself? Certainly not; agent and patient never are the same in the same act ;the conceptions of self-caused, self-moved, self-known, et id genus omne, either connote the incomprehensible or are abbreviated expressions—such, e.g., as touching oneself when one’s right hand touched one’s left.

And so we come to the second alternative:—As one hand washes the other, may not different members of the series of feelings be subject and object in turn? Compare, for examples, the state of mind of a man succumbing to temptation (as he pictures himself enjoying the coveted good and impatiently repudiates scruples of conscience or dictates of prudence) with his state when, filled with remorse, he sides with conscience and condemns this "former self,"—the "better self" having meanwhile become supreme. Here the cluster of presentations and their associated sentiments and motives, which together play the rôle of self in the one field of consciousness, have—only momentarily it is true, but still have—for a time the place of not-self ; and under abnormal circumstances this partial alternation may become complete alienation, as in what is called "double consciousness." Or again, the development of self-consciousness might be loosely described as taking the subject or self of one stage as an object in the next,—self being, e.g., first identified with the body and afterwards distinguished from it. But all this, however true, is beside the mark ; and it is really a very serious misnomer,—though the vagueness of our psychological terminology seems to allow it—to do, as e.g., Mr Spencer does—represent the development of self-consciousness as a "differentiation of subject and object." It is, if anything, a differentiation of object and object, i.e., in plainer words, it is a differentiation among presentations—a differentiation every step of which implies just that relation to a subject which it is supposed to supersede.

There still remains an alternative, which, like the first, may be expressed in the words of J. S Mill, viz, "the alternative of believing that the Mind or Ego is something different from any series of feelings or possibilities of them." To admit this, of course, is to admit the necessity of distinguishing between Mind or Ego, meaning the unity or continuity of consciousness as a complex of presentations, and Mind or Ego as the subject to which this complex is presented. In dealing with the body from the ordinary biological standpoint no such necessity arises. But, whereas there the individual organism is of unequivocally, in psychology, on the other hand, the individual mind may mean either (i.)the series of feelings or "mental phenomena" above referred to ; or (ii) the subject of these feelings for whom they are phenomena ; or (iii.) the subject of these feelings or phenomena + the series of feelings or phenomena themselves, the two being in that relation to each other in which alone the one is subject and the other a series of feelings, phenomena, or objects. It is in this last sense that Mind is used in empirical psychology, its exclusive use in the first sense. Being favoured only by those who shrink from the speculative associations connected with its exclusive use in the second. But psychology is not called upon to transcend the relations of subject to object or, as we may call it, the fact of presentation. On the other hand, as has been said, the attempt to ignore one term of the relations is hopeless ; and equally hopeless, even futile, is the attempt, by means or phrases such as consciousness or the unity of consciousness, to dispense with the recognition of a conscious subject.


(39-1) Professor Huxley, Hume (English Men of Letters series), p. 171.

(39-2) Professor Huxley, op.cit., p. 172.

(39-3) Examination of Sir W. Hamilton’s Philosophy, ch. xii. fin.

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