In the doctrine of the ego. as formulated by naturalistic psychology, the soul or mind is simply the name which we apply to a sequence of such configurations.
I can best indicate the nature of the opposing doctrine of the ego by quoting some passages from a spirited criticism by Professor Andrew Seth (now Pringle-Pattison) of Dr. Munsterberg's account of volition. After noting, seemingly with approval, the dynamic quality which all sensations and ideas possess, he urges that "in the very act of emphasising movement and the dynamic aspect of ideas Munsterberg eliminates altogether the notion of action or activity." Ideas "go off," or explode, as it were, in movements of their own accord. There is first the idea of the movement as in contemplation, and secondly the perception of the movement as executed. In other words, there is a series of happenings somehow passing before us, but no real activity, no real actor in the whole affair. In all so-called action we only seem to act; a sequence of ideas exhaust the phenomena of will. The conscious subject is reduced to an inactive spectator of these psychological happenings, which are themselves the inert accompaniments of certain transformations of matter and energy.
"Now I do not hesitate to say," he continues, "that this conclusion is in the strictest sense incredible; no amount of so-called 'evidence' in its favour would avail to make it even momentarily believable." The whole thesis is vitiated by a fundamental prejudice, namely the " foregone conclusion that the conscious life is unanalysable without remainder into ideas or presentations. Evidently if phenomena or objects of consciousness are alone to be accepted as facts, then all real activity on the part of the subject is necessarily eliminated; the subject remains only nominally as a static impersonal condition of the series of events. If we insist upon phenomenalizing the act of volition, doubtless all the phenomena we get are the ideas that precede and the perceptions that follow, with perhaps some feelings of tension in the head thrown in. But does it not require some effrontery to offer us this antecedent, concomitant, and sequent ideas as an account of the volition itself? As M. Fouillee says, the physiological psychologists might fill volumes with their analysis of the sensations which accompany the voluntary act without touching the essence of the act itself".
Now what are the characteristic features of this criticism? First, that consciousness, as subject, stands apart from the objects which are presented to it. It is not merely a stream of which presentations are constituent elements; it is an independent entity for which these presentations have value. Secondly, the subject, or the ego, is a source of activity; and the essential thing in volition is that it is causally related to this central activity which is exercised by the subject. But, I take it, that Professor Munsterberg expressly excludes such interpretations. "For our investigation," he says, "limited as it is to facts [i.e. to a presentational scheme] the will is a phenomenon like other phenomena; and accordingly we have only to ask in what it consists, what regularly precedes it in consciousness and what follows it." The will as motive power, supposing it to exist, does not fall within the field of consideration or the selected universe of discourse. He expressly says that the will, so far as we are concerned with it, is only a phenomenon in consciousness. Elsewhere, in publications subsequent to Dr. Pringle-Pattison's criticism, he fully admits—nay, contends, as I understand him—that outside and beyond the province of psychology as a science there is abundant scope for a teleological treatment of the will. If these facts be so, then the distinction between Dr. Munsterberg and his critic is that between a naturalistic and a metaphysical interpretation. Just as in physical discussions all reference to force as a motive power is, for science, ruled out of court, and everything is explained in terms of antecedence, coexistence, and sequence, so too in psychological discussions all reference to will as a motive power is, for naturalistic science, ruled out of court, and everything is explained in such terms as Dr. Munsterberg employs with a rigidity of limitation which is admirable. This is by no means to assert that the metaphysical interpretation is incorrect or invalid, within its appropriate universe of discourse. It is only a protest against the commingling of two essentially different modes of explanation of the same facts.
"One thing," says Dr. Pringle-Pattison, "is certain, that to resolve the fact of conscious experience into a sequence of presentations or conscious phenomena is to omit the vital characteristic of all consciousness." What is that characteristic? It is the purposeful unity of the subject as a causal agent. But, as we have seen, the outcome of all modern tendency in physical science is just to do this very thing —to eliminate the conception of causal agency. Psychology, as a science, is simply following suit in its own sphere of inquiry. It endeavours to formulate some, at present rather indefinite, laws of the antecedence, coexistence, and sequence of mental phenomena. If it be wise it will not deny the existence of causal agency; within its proper limits it has no right either to deny or affirm; it should be content to assert that, if it exist, it is beyond the purview of a science which accepts the restrictions imposed by modern methods of investigation.
On these terms we may accept, in the attitude of belief, the naturalistic doctrine of the ego, that what we call the mind is, from the restricted point of view of scientific psychology, the name we apply to a sequence of mental configurations. But—it can't be proved! Never mind that. Some day it may be proved. And in any case to believe more than can be reduced to actual demonstration is not only a characteristic of human nature, but often one of the prime conditions of progress. Are we, however, to be restricted to this particular form of belief? This question brings us back to Prof. Pringle-Pattison's contention that there is a causal agency underlying the sequence of mental configurations. One may only appeal to experience to say whether he is right or not. My own experience, for what it is worth, assures me that he is amply justified in his contention. I cannot do away with the conviction that there is something within me which unifies and relates and orders the configurations, something which is the source of my conception of causal agency. What shall I call this something? Well, it is what I understand by purpose. It underlies all such manifestations as are exemplified by my writing this essay. Can I prove the reality of this existence? Perhaps not, to one who roundly denies that he has any such experience. I none the less accept it in the attitude of belief, and claim the right to found belief on this aspect of my experience as freely and fully as in the sphere of my scientific convictions. For I contend that it is an ideal construction founded on experience. I confess that the purpose of my life seems to me the most intimate and fundamental reality of which I have any knowledge. But I admit, nay I contend, that the existence of such a unifying agency is not a scientific conception. It is not a phenomenon or presentation, though it is manifested to others through presentations. It is, if you will, a postulate of reason that underlying my own actions and those of my neighbours there is in each case a causal purpose; but in them I cannot get at it, save in so far as it is manifested in presentational form. Through these manifestations my purpose and theirs come into all the varied relationships of social life. I do not see how history can be treated rationally save on the basis of such a belief.
Naturalism, however, proclaims that I am just a little bit of nature, differentiated from the rest; that I am a minute cluster of phenomena in relation with the total remainder of phenomena; that I am a tiny, if somewhat complex, configuration under the influence of the major configuration of the universe. So be it. I accept (once more I repeat in an attitude of naturalistic belief) this oneness with nature, this postulate of the scientific reason, that I am, physically, of the same order of being as the solar system and the universe at large. But if this be so, why should I suppose that the causal agency which, as purpose, underlies my own private and peculiar configuration, is of a different order of being from that of which nature at large is a manifestation? Just in so far as I am one with nature, and therefore in physical relationship with other manifestations in terms of matter and energy, is the purpose of my being one with the purpose which underlies the manifestations of nature, and am I in spiritual relationship with a wider and richer purpose which is thus manifested.
This is an ideal construction. But the value of an ideal construction in science lies in its application to the concrete cases which are presented to experience. With regard, therefore, to an ideal construction in terms of purpose, the important questions are these: (1) Is it valid in reason? (&) Has it value in its application to life? An appeal to experience can alone afford an answer to the latter question. A great number of those who have endeavoured consistently to apply it assure us that they have found it of inestimable worth. This point, however, fall outside the field of my present thesis. It must suffice to say that, granted its validity in reason, by it worth for human life it must stand or fall.