MIND, LIFE AND BODY

by     Reginald O. Kapp

PART I - THE PROBLEM IN GENERAL TERMS

Chapter III - A BASIC QUESTION REFORMULATED


MONISM and dualism have been formulated on page 13, where I described monism as the belief that the behaviour and structure of living bodies depend only on the unaided action of matter on matter. The meaning of this statement depends on the meaning given to the word "matter". This has now been defined as everything that has location. With the use of this definition the two opposed doctrines can be expressed in a form that lends itself better to critical study.

Monism is the belief that all events are fully determined by the action on each other of things that have location. Dualism is the belief that some events are not fully determined in this way. These are believed to be doubly determinate; for they are attributed partly to the action on each other of things that have location and partly to the action of things that do not have location on things that do.

The words in italics are important. In monism the word "all" must be emphasised because the belief that any events at all, no matter how few, are partly determined by things that lack location is inconsistent with monism. This belief implies a different view of the nature of reality. For it implies that a part of reality, of active reality, lacks location. And this, the monist says, cannot be

Those who reject monism as a view of the nature of reality may, nevertheless, believe that many events are singly determinate and due only to the action on each other of things that have location. So the word "some" must be emphasised in a presentation of dualism. In agreement with the monist the dualist will attribute some events to what he may call "mere chance". Among them he may include the random movements of the wind and the pebbles along the sea shore, together, perhaps, with everything else that belongs to the untouched world of lifeless things.

The distinction between the words "fully" and "partly" is equally important. No one could reasonably deny that all material events are at least partly determined by the interaction of material forces. I have already said in Chapter I that some of the component causes of every physical change must be such forces.

Suppose that the dualist chooses the production of a poem as his example of a doubly determinate event. Though he attributes this to the activity of a non-material mind he cannot deny that this mind is aided by a material body. Nor can he deny that it is also aided by material things external to the body. Just as the poet's hands are active in the production of the poem, so are the pen and ink that place the words on a sheet of paper. The poet's fingers and thumb exert a physical force on the pen as they hold it in the writing position. The ink that flows conforms to the laws of gravity, of viscosity, of surface tension. During the production of the poem there is obvious interaction between things that have location. This is not in dispute. What is in dispute is whether this is the only kind of interaction. Do material forces alone determine the event or does a non-material mind provide an additional determinant?

This question needs to be framed in more general terms. And the terms must meet all the requirements of a question on which a scientific enquiry can be based: the question must belong wholly to the field of science; it must permit of only two, mutually exclusive, answers; it must be basic, clear and unambiguous. I think these requirements are met by the following formulation, which is really no more than a rewording of the first of the questions posed in Chapter I:

Do things that lack location ever act on things that have location?

The answer to this question, be it well noted, will decide between monism and dualism. But it reveals with disconcerting clarity, the difficulty in accepting dualism. Many who call themselves dualists will, I venture to think, be converted to monism when they realise that dualism implies belief in the effective action of things that are nowhere. Yet the question, like many that common sense would dismiss, must be faced. The question has little bearing, if any, on religion, ethics, philosophy, or any scheme of values. I cannot think that it matters greatly to a theologian or a moralist whether some of the causes of events in this world have location or not. A religious person who is rather sophisticated is likely to believe that the things that he calls spiritual have no location. But if he is rather unsophisticated he is more likely to believe, in agreement with the monist, that all things, be they spiritual or not, do have location. In either case his belief about this question can hardly affect anything of importance in theology.

The question as worded above has the further quality that it permits ot only two answers: yes or no. If the answer is "yes", dualism is right; if the answer is "no", monism is right.

The Question is also basic. The correct view of the nature of reality depends on the answer. If the answer is "yes", scientists will have to include influences without location among the causes of observable events. The effect of such an addition to the scope of science will be very far-reaching.

Finally, the question is simple, clear and unambiguous. Each of the words used in it is too familiar to require a formal definition. And I am using each with the meaning attached to it by the common use of language. So the question will, I venture to think, convey the same thing to all people.

This leads me to express the hope that the simple clarity of the question may not be spoilt by definition hunting. It contains nine different words. With ingenuity it could, no doubt, be shown that each of those words (to say nothing of the mark of interrogation at the end) might have some alternative meanings that no one else had thought of. Particularly a dualist who finds the question disconcerting may be tempted to seek means for obscuring its stark simplicity. If I repeat here my warning against such misplaced ingenuity it is because of a very real fear that it may be exerted to obstruct an honest search for an answer to the question. And as I fully believe that such a search will produce something of scientific value I should regret that.

Having said so much I will not deny that the nature of location, together with the wider problem of the nature of space, may not be fully understood yet. Bearing this in mind a philosopher who encountered our basic question might begin by seeking a definition of location. But this would not be with the scientist's more mundane purpose merely of ensuring that all who hear it interpret it in the same way. It would be his first step towards finding the answer. In doing this he would be employing philosophical method. For with this method one seeks to discover the nature of things by a process of enquiry into the meaning of the concepts used.

There is also scientific method. And this is the one I am employing here. It follows the opposite course. A scientist does not seek to solve his problems by the use of pure abstract thought. He uses observation and experiment. When he wants to know where a certain planet is at a given moment he does not pause to consider what meanings may attach to the word "where". He goes to his telescope. Only after observation and experiment have solved his problem does he sometimes reconsider the meaning of the concepts that underlie his work. He then may find that the solution to his problems has brought what the philosopher sought to begin with, deeper understanding. In science facts come first, understanding follows.

This explains the difference between a philosopher's and a scientist's approach to such a question as whether things that lack location ever act on things that have location. The philosopher will say: "When I have thought more deeply about location I may know the answer."

The scientist will say: "When I have found the answer I may know more about location".

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