The dualism of Matter and Mind

The dualism of Matter and Mind

Of these three alternatives we shall begin by examining the most popular; that is to say, the dualism which regards the world as composed of two different and clearly-distinguishable things, mind and matter.

This theory, or some theory of the kind, may be described as the plain man’s metaphysic. And as such, it has all the strength and all the weakness of an uncritical view. It is not led by a desire for unity, illegitimately satisfied, to neglect or deny one class of fact because it seems irreconcilable with another.

The temper which gives every fact its full weight is necessary to any one who pretends to scientific thought; but it is one-sided and dangerous to the truth unless balanced by its apparent opposite, the determination to draw the right conclusions from premisses even if these conclusions seem to contradict the facts. Faith in facts—the belief that every fact, if correctly observed, has its own unique value —is not really antithetical, but rather identical, with the faith in reason which believes that any rightly-drawn inference is as true, as much knowledge of reality, as the observed fact from which it started.

It is a common mistake to imagine that the philosopher who says, “This fact is incompatible with my theory, and therefore my theory is probably wrong,” is superior in intellectual honesty to him who says, “This fact is incompatible with my theory, and therefore I must ask whether it is a fact.”

The only true intellectual honesty would lie in putting both these points of view at once. This may seem a truism; but there is a real danger of treating “ facts” with so much respect that we fail to inquire into their credentials, and into the fine distinction between observed fact and inferred or imagined implication.

The plain man’s dualism, then, seems to be an example of one half of this attitude without the other. It shows a genuine desire to do justice to all the facts, but fails to supply them with that interrelation apart from which it is hardly yet a theory at all. In other words, the plain man’s dualism is always conscious of an unsolved problem, the problem of the relation of mind and matter; and this problem is not a mere byproduct of the theory, not a detail whose final settlement is of comparatively small importance; it is the theory itself.

Until some solution of the problem has been suggested, the dualistic theory has never been formulated. For that theory cannot be the mere statement that there are two things, mind and matter; to be a theory, it must offer some account of the way in which they are related; and that is just what it seldom if ever does.