38 Chapters
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Perception and Organic Action (1912) (on henri Bergson)

LARRY A HICKMAN Indiana University Press ePub

Every reader of Bergson—and who to-day is not reading Bergson—is aware of a twofold strain in his doctrine. On the one hand, the defining traits of perception, of common-sense knowledge and science are explained on the ground of their intimate connection with action. On the other hand, the standing unresolved conflicts of philosophic systems, the chief fallacies that are found in them, and the failure to make definite progress in the solution of specific philosophic problems, are attributed to carrying over into metaphysics the results and methods of the knowledge that has been formed with the exigencies of action in view. Legitimate and necessary for useful action, they are mere prejudices as respects metaphysical knowledge. Prejudices, indeed, is too mild a name. Imported into philosophy, they are completely misleading; they distort hopelessly the reality they are supposed to know. Philosophy must, accordingly, turn its back, resolutely and finally, upon all methods and conceptions which are infected by implication in action in order to strike out upon a different path. It must have recourse to intuition which installs us within the very movement of reality itself, unrefracted by the considerations that adapt it to bodily needs, that is to useful action. As a result, Bergson has the unique distinction of being attacked as a pragmatist on one side, and as a mystic on the other.

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The Existence of the World as a Logical Problem (1915) (on Bertrand Russell)

LARRY A HICKMAN Indiana University Press ePub

Of the two parts of this paper the first is a study in formal analysis. It attempts to show that there is no problem, logically speaking, of the existence of an external world. Its point is to show that the very attempt to state the problem involves a self-contradiction: that the terms cannot be stated so as to generate a problem without assuming what is professedly brought into question. The second part is a summary endeavor to state the actual question which has given rise to the unreal problem and the conditions which have led to its being misconstrued. So far as subject-matter is concerned, it supplements the first part; but the argument of the first part in no way depends upon anything said in the second. The latter may be false and its falsity have no implications for the first.

I

There are many ways of stating the problem of the existence of an external world. I shall make that of Mr. Bertrand Russell the basis of my examinations, as it is set forth in his recent book Our Knowledge of the External World as a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy. I do this both because his statement is one recently made in a book of commanding importance, and because it seems to me to be a more careful statement than most of those in vogue. If my point can be made out for his statement, it will apply, a fortiori, to other statements. Even if there be those to whom this does not seem to be the case, it will be admitted that my analysis must begin somewhere. I cannot take the space to repeat the analysis in application to differing modes of statement with a view to showing that the method employed will yield like results in all cases. But I take the liberty of throwing the burden upon the reader and asking him to show cause why it does not so apply.

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The Place of Habit in Conduct from Human Nature and Conduct (1922)

LARRY A HICKMAN Indiana University Press ePub

Habits may be profitably compared to physiological functions, like breathing, digesting. The latter are, to be sure, involuntary, while habits are acquired. But important as is this difference for many purposes it should not conceal the fact that habits are like functions in many respects, and especially in requiring the cooperation of organism and environment. Breathing is an affair of the air as truly as of the lungs; digesting an affair of food as truly as of tissues of stomach. Seeing involves light just as certainly as it does the eye and optic nerve. Walking implicates the ground as well as the legs; speech demands physical air and human companionship and audience as well as vocal organs. We may shift from the biological to the mathematical use of the word function, and say that natural operations like breathing and digesting, acquired ones like speech and honesty, are functions of the surroundings as truly as of a person. They are things done by the environment by means of organic structures or acquired dispositions. The same air that under certain conditions ruffles the pool or wrecks buildings, under other conditions purifies the blood and conveys thought. The outcome depends upon what air acts upon. The social environment acts through native impulses and speech and moral habitudes manifest themselves. There are specific good reasons for the usual attribution of acts to the person from whom they immediately proceed. But to convert this special reference into a belief of exclusive ownership is as misleading as to suppose that breathing and digesting are complete within the human body. To get a rational basis for moral discussion we must begin with recognizing that functions and habits are ways of using and incorporating the environment in which the latter has its say as surely as the former.

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The Good of Activity from Human Nature and Conduct(1922)

LARRY A HICKMAN Indiana University Press ePub

Conduct when distributed under heads like habit, impulse and intelligence gets artificially shredded. In discussing each of these topics we have run into the others. We conclude, then, with an attempt to gather together some outstanding considerations about conduct as a whole.

The foremost conclusion is that morals has to do with all activity into which alternative possibilities enter. For wherever they enter a difference between better and worse arises. Reflection upon action means uncertainty and consequent need of decision as to which course is better. The better is the good; the best is not better than the good but is simply the discovered good. Comparative and superlative degrees are only paths to the positive degree of action. The worse or evil is a rejected good. In deliberation and before choice no evil presents itself as evil. Until it is rejected, it is a competing good. After rejection, it figures not as a lesser good, but as the bad of that situation.

Actually then only deliberate action, conduct into which reflective choice enters, is distinctively moral, for only then does there enter the question of better and worse. Yet it is a perilous error to draw a hard and fast line between action into which deliberation and choice enter and activity due to impulse and matter-of-fact habit. One of the consequences of action is to involve us in predicaments where we have to reflect upon things formerly done as matter of course. One of the chief problems of our dealings with others is to induce them to reflect upon affairs which they usually perform from unreflective habit. On the other hand, every reflective choice tends to relegate some conscious issue into a deed or habit henceforth taken for granted and not thought upon. Potentially therefore every and any act is within the scope of morals, being a candidate for possible judgment with respect to its better-or-worse quality. It thus becomes one of the most perplexing problems of reflection to discover just how far to carry it, what to bring under examination and what to leave to unscrutinized habit. Because there is no final recipe by which to decide this question all moral judgment is experimental and subject to revision by its issue.

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Interpretation of Savage Mind (1902)

LARRY A HICKMAN Indiana University Press ePub

The psychical attitudes and traits of the savage are more than stages through which mind has passed, leaving them behind. They are outgrowths which have entered decisively into further evolution, and as such form an integral part of the framework of present mental organization. Such positive significance is commonly attributed, in theory at least, to animal mind; but the mental structure of the savage, which presumably has an even greater relevancy for genetic psychology, is strangely neglected.

The cause of this neglect I believe lies in the scant results so far secured, because of the abuse of the comparative method—which abuse in turn is due to the lack of a proper method of interpretation. Comparison as currently employed is defective—even perverse—in at least three respects. In the first place, it is used indiscriminately and arbitrarily. Facts are torn loose from their context in social and natural environment and heaped miscellaneously together, because they have impressed the observer as alike in some respect. Upon a single page of Spencer,1 which I chanced to open in looking for an illustration of this point, appear Kamschadales, Kirghiz, Bedouins, East Africans, Bechuanas, Damaras, Hottentots, Malays, Papuans, Fijians, Andamanese—all cited in reference to establishing a certain common property of primitive minds. What would we think of a biologist who appealed successively to some external characteristic of say snake, butterfly, elephant, oyster and robin in support of a statement? And yet the peoples mentioned present widely remote cultural resources, varied environments and distinctive institutions. What is the scientific value of a proposition thus arrived at?

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