Tuesday, 28 March 2017

William Hurrell Mallock Vs William Kingdom Clifford


we believe a thing when we are prepared to act as if it were true. Now, if you and I had not habitually acted on the assumption of the uniformity of nature from the time when we could act at all, we should not be here to discuss the question. Nature its selecting for survival those individuals and races who act as if she were uniform ; and hence the gradual spread of that belief over the civilised world.

This uniformity may be merely a uniformity of phenomena, a law relating to my feelings. So long as I only am concerned, it seems to me that the idealist theory is perfectly sufficient. It is quite capable of explaining me but when you come into the question it is perfectly at a loss. ... I do believe that you are conscious in the same way that I am ; and once that is conceded, the whole idealist theory falls to pieces. For there are feelings which are not my feelings, which are entirely outside my consciousness; so that there is at least an external world. But let us consider now in what way we infer it; why do I believe that there are feelings which are not mine ] Because, as I belong to a gregarious race, the greater part of my life consists in acting upon the position that it is true,

Thus spake William Kingdom Clifford as quoted by William Hurrell Mallock in his review (included in Atheism and the Value of Life) of the Essays and Lectures of same (Lectures and Essays by the late William Kingtdom Clifford, F.R.S. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock, with an Introduction by F. Pollock. Two vols. 8vo. London : 1879.)

It is just on this external world idea that Mallock finds the error in his thought and the inconsistency in the well known principle concerning the ethics of belief. Gregariousness seems a frail foundation for belief in the external world. It is an impasse for Clifford particularly as he holds that all knowledge is based on experience:
How,'he says,'this inference is justified, how consciousness can testify to any thing outside itself,I do not pretend to say .I need not untie a knot that the world has cut for me long ago....The jwsition of absolute idealism may therefore be left out of count, although each individual may be unable to justify his dissent from it.

Perhaps Clifford might have been wiser to say that experience is itself the proof of the external world or is the world rather than a proof of the external world. I think I mean something by that. Invarient events imply invarient structure. We know from the work of Piaget that it takes time in the early life of a human being to establish this.

Clifford reflects on the ding an sich and ventures a theory:
The thing in itself is, he tells us, elementary feeling, mind-stuff, or quasi-mind ; and this is known to us as matter. With every moving molecule of matter there moves also a small particle of mind-stuff which is attached to it.

This form of panpsychism, of feeling without consciousness, seems to have come round again. He was the first to take it up in the English speaking world. As with others who followed him in that philosophy it appears to be a naturalistic answer to the problem of how consciousness could have emerged given the fact of evolution. Mallock finds it incomprehensible.

If what we have said applied to Clifford only, it would hardly perhaps have been worth saying ; but, as we have observed already, it applies not to Clifford only, but to the whole modern school. If, as many think, that school is a really formidable foe to religion, it will be at any rate some comfort to know that it will certainly not destroy religion by replacing it. Its prestige, further, will be rendered less formidable if we reflect on how one of its best instructed and most gifted spokesmen has exhibited himself in these two volumes as hopelessly untrained in philosophy, hopelessly ill-read in history, and without the smallest grasp of that refractory human character of which he boasts that in the future his school will have the sole guidance.

Much as I sympathise with Mallock's views it the following citation is more the bay of the liberal intelligentsia:

Only for another half-century let us keep our heavens and "hells and gods." It is a piteous plea; and it has soiled the hearts of these prophets, great ones and blessed, giving light to their generation, and dear in particular to our own mind and heart. These sickly dreams of hysterical women and half-starved men, what have they to do with the strength of the wide-eyed hero, who fears no foe with pen or club . . . That which you keep in your heart, my brothers, is the slender remnant of a system which has made its red mark on history, and still lives to threaten mankind. The grotesque forms of its intellectual belief have survived the discredit of its moral teaching. Of this what the kings could bear with the nations have cut down; and what the nations left the right heart of man by man revolts against day by day. You have stretched out your hands to save the dregs of the sifted sediment of a residuum. Take heed lest you have given soil and shelter to that awful plague which has destroyed two civilisations and but barely failed to slay such promise of good as is now struggling to live among men.'
(from Clifford)


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