Not Satisfactory as a Working Hypothesis

Not Satisfactory as a Working Hypothesis

October 8, 2018 0 By Felso

But a theory which has not solved all its difficulties—even one which has not solved the most elementary and conspicuous of them—may still be practically useful, and may indeed contain a certain amount of philosophical truth.

It remains to be seen, therefore, whether dualism has these advantages. In the first place, it may be represented as a working hypothesis, if no more; a method of classifying the sciences and of distinguishing two broad types—sciences of matter and sciences of mind.

Such a distinction is a matter of convenience, whether it does or does not represent a metaphysical truth; and we must ask whether from this point of view the distinction is of value.

Considered as a working hypothesis, it is almost painfully evident that the distinction between matter and mind does not work. The division of sciences into those of mind and those of matter does not give satisfaction to the practical scientist; it baulks and hinders, rather than helps, his actual work. A few examples will perhaps make this clear.

If we take the case of biology, we find a remarkable instance of an entire province of knowledge claimed on the one hand by mechanists in the name of the material sciences, and on the other by vitalists old and new in the interest of the sciences of mind.

The former point out that the essence of all vital functions is contained in the facts studied by bio-physics and biochemistry, and they further maintain that there is no ultimate distinction between bio-physics or bio-chemistry and physics or chemistry in general; material substances are not absolved from the operation of their normal laws because for the time being they happen to be parts of an organism.

The vitalists, on the other hand, assert that no kind of machine whose operation was limited by the nexus of cause and effect could possibly behave as a living body behaves. We are not concerned to ask which side is in the right; the point is merely that to the question “Is an organism mind or matter ?” biologists have no unanimous answer ready. And this is enough to show that the methods actually used in biology, the existence and progress of the science, do not absolutely depend on an answer being given. That is to say, the practical scientist so far from finding dualism a help to his work finds that it creates new difficulties, and therefore he simply ignores it.

A still more curious case is that of empirical psychology, where the functions of the mind itself are treated by methods which have been developed in connexion with the sciences of matter. Mind, according to these methods, is treated exactly as if it were matter; and psychologists claim that by these methods they have solved or can solve problems with which the philosophy of mind has for ages grappled in vain.

We need not ask whether these claims are justified; whether psychology is, as some believe, a new and brilliantly successful method of determining the true nature of mind, or whether as others maintain it is only an old fallacy in a new guise. It is enough for our present purpose to point out that it exists; that the distinction proposed by dualism as a working hypothesis is not actually accepted as helpful by the scientific men for whose benefit it is propounded.

Nor is it possible for dualism to step in and prevent these things, by compelling each method to keep to its own side of the line and prosecute trespassers. The difficulty is that the distinction between mind and matter, which seems so clear to the plain man, vanishes precisely according to his increase of knowledge about either.

Until he has studied physics, physiology, psychology, he thinks he knows the difference; but as soon as he comes to grips with the thing, he is compelled to alter his opinion. The plain man in fact bases his dualism on a claim to knowledge far more sweeping than that made by any scientist, and indeed the knowledge which the plain man claims seems actually to contradict the scientist’s most careful and mature judgment.