John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, economist, moral and political theorist, and administrator, was the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. His views are of continuing significance, and are generally recognized to be among the deepest and certainly the most effective defenses of empiricism and of a liberal political view of society and culture. The overall aim of his philosophy is to develop a positive view of the universe and the place of humans in it, one which contributes to the progress of human knowledge, individual freedom and human well-being. His views are not entirely original, having their roots in the British empiricism of John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume, and in the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham. But he gave them a new depth, and his formulations were sufficiently articulate to gain for them a continuing influence among a broad public.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
There are two cases, other minds and one's own.
Mill discusses both in the Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (Ch. XII, Appendix).
A phoenix is a mythical bird with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends). It has a 500 to 1,000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis (sun city in Greek). It is said that the bird's cry is that of a beautiful song. In very few stories they are able to change into humans....
.Among the bodies to which one refers one's sensations, there is one that is as it were peculiar.
That is, one stands in a peculiar relationship to it.
One is aware of it from the inside. For this body alone one is aware of kinesthetic sensations. One's perceivings locate other bodies at a distance to this one.
Our motives and volitions move this body directly in ways that they can move no other body.
Mill's view is that one has as a matter of fact this special relation to one's own body; it largely determines one's identity as a person.
Nonetheless, mental events and bodily events are distinct sorts of events in the world of phenomena.
There is no problem created by this distinction, however, compared to the problems raised by the similar Cartesian dichotomy. For, where Descartes has substances and a rationalist account of causation with objective necessary connections, with no such connections, and therefore no causation, between distinct sorts of substances (such as mind and body), Mill has no substances—they are foreign to his empiricism—and his view of causation is the regularity view of the empiricists. There are regularities in the mind-body connection—regularly when I will my arm to go up, it goes up—and so the Cartesian problems disappear.
His views on the centrality of one's awareness of one's own body to one's being nd to one's being in the world are closer to those of Merleau-Ponty than they are to those of Descartes.
Now, there are regularities that connect outward actions of one's body with states of consciousness within that body. These would include patterns such as this: “Whenever my arm goes up there is a consciousness of my body from the inside that contains a willing that my arm go up.” These regularities are verified in one's own case. But they can be used to infer the existence of conscious states within other bodies that exhibit the same outward actions as one's own body. Thus, whenever I observe the arm of another going up I can infer that there is a consciousness of that body from the inside that contains a volition that the arm go up. The regularities that obtain in one's own case render the existence of such conscious states in others conditional certainties.
The inference to other minds is thus perfectly reasonable. It is based on two facts, one the peculiar relationship that one's own conscious states have to one's body and the regularities that obtain in one's own experience between one's own conscious states and one’ body.
The former accounts for the privacy of conscious states, the latter justifies the inference to the presence of similar private states in others.It is worth noting that many have suggested that our knowledge of other minds is based on an argument from analogy.
On Mill's view this is not so. The inference is a simple causal inference. Nor is it an inference based on a single case. To be sure, the regularities are verified in one's own case, but the facts that verify them are the repeated instances that they describe. Nor is privacy a problem.
When I infer from a bodily state to the presence of another mind, the consciousness to which I infer is an awareness of that body from the inside. Since I am aware of only my own body from the inside and not that of any other, I should expect to consciousness to which I infer to be private to the other person.
As for the problem of mind in one's own case, this is more difficult. What is mind?
Matter is resolved by Mill into a lawfully related bundle of sensations including many permanent possibilities of sensation. Can one's own mind similarly be resolved into a bundle of feelings with a background of permanent possibilities? The problem is that when I expect or remember a state of consciousness I do not simply believe that is has or will exist; it is also to believe that I myself have experienced or will experience that state of consciousness.
If it is a series or bundle then it is a series or bundle in which a part of the bundle is conscious of the whole. This had been an objection to the bundle view ever since Plotinus used it against the Epicureans. Mill simply accepts the reality of such awareness. If we accept the bundle view, rejecting the common view of mind as a substance, as he thinks we must, then we are reduced to “accepting the paradox that something which ex hypothesi is but a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series” (Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, Ch. XII, p. 194). He thus sees himself as driven to “ascribe a reality to the Ego—to my own Mind—different from that real existence as a Permanent Possibility, which is the only reality I acknowledge in Matter” (ibid.).