Monday, January 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

To examine further this highly intriguing theory of psychology would take me beyond the scope of this book. I propose, accordingly, to conclude the chapter with some general observations on recent developments in psychology, with particular attention to their bearing on materialism in general and behaviourism in particular

(1) I noted in the Introductory Chapter as one of the most puzzling features of modern thought the contradictory answers which it suggests to the traditional questions of philosophy. Physics is idealist in tendency; biology points to a purposive theory of evolution; but psychology, I pointed out, has on the whole remained mechanistic and deterministic. In so describing the tendencies of psychology, I had in mind chiefly Behaviourism, Behaviourism and the implications of psycho-analysis, to which I have devoted a later chapter. Behaviourism exemplifies the generalisation in two ways:

(a) It denies that there is any non-material element in our make-up, mind, soul, spirit, call it what you will, which influences our behaviour. So far as psychology is concerned, we can, it holds, get along very well on the assumption that the human being is all body. As for consciousness, it is a by-product of bodily processes which sometimes but quite incidentally accompanies them. It does not cause the processes it accompanies, and it is not necessary that we should be conscious of them in order that they may occur.

(b) If the individual is all body, or can at least be satisfactorily explained on this assumption, his behaviour will ultimately be explicable in terms of the same laws as those which determine the motions of other bodies. These laws are in the first instance those of dynamics and mechanics, more ultimately those of chemistry and physics.

In so far as the motions of matter are determined -- and the Behaviourist believes that they are -- the activity of living organisms must be determined too. Therefore, if Behaviourism is right, we are merely complicated automata.

Conclusion (a) favours materialism; conclusion (b) mechanism. Summing up we may say that on this view, whatever may be the function of mind or spirit in the universe, it plays no part in the interpretation of the psychology of living human beings.

(2) But in establishing this conclusion Behaviourism runs a considerable risk of destroying the foundation on which it is based. It is not my intention in this book to criticise the various theories which I shall endeavour to expound; but it is pertinent to point out that, if all thought is accurately and exhaustively described as a set of responses to stimuli, responses which may be analysed into movements of the larynx and the brain, then this applies also to the thought which constitutes the Behaviourist view of psychology.

If Behaviourism is correct in what it asserts, the doctrine of Behaviourism reflects nothing but a particular condition of the bodies of Behaviourists. Similarly, rival theories of psychology merely reflect the conditions prevailing in the bodies of rival psychologists. To ask which of the different theories is true is as meaningless as to ask which of the various blood pressures of the theorists concerned is true, since the chains of reasoning which constitute their theories, like their blood pressures, are merely bodily functions, bearing relation not to the outside facts which they purport to describe, but to the bodily conditions of which they are a function.

This kind of criticism is valid against any theory which seeks to impugn the validity of reason by representing it either as a function of the body or as the tool of an unconscious and non-rational self. In this latter connection we shall find grounds for restating it in a later chapter.


Let us, in the first place, apply to the psycho-analytic view of reason the arguments which were used in Chapter III, in criticism of the Behaviourist position; let us, that is to say, push the views of psycho-analysts to their reductio ad absurdum.

If it is in fact the case that our thoughts are not free but are dictated by our wishes, and that reasoning is, therefore, mere rationalising, then the conclusion applies also to the reasoning of psycho-analysis. This too is a mere rationalisation of the desire to believe that human nature is of a certain kind and motivated in a certain way. As such it has no necessary relation to fact; it merely reflects a certain condition of the psychologist's unconscious. This is not to say that it is necessarily untrue; merely to point out that it is meaningless to ask whether it is true or not. Truth implies correspondence -- correspondence, that is, between the belief which claims to be true and the fact which makes it true. But, if psycho-analysis is correct, our beliefs have no external reference at all; they are merely intellectualised versions of our wishes. To ask if a belief is true is, therefore, as meaningless as to ask whether an emotion is true; all that one is entitled to say is that the belief is held. Since, therefore, it seems to follow that, if psycho-analysis is correct in what it asserts about reason, it is meaningless to ask whether psycho-analysis is true, there is no reason to suppose that it is correct in what it asserts about reason. In other words, if the psycho-analytic account of reason is justified, there is no reason to take it seriously. If, on the other hand, there is no reason to take it seriously, the grounds for supposing that reason is not free and can never reach objective truth disappear.

To refuse to take it seriously means that we must be willing to regard the theories of psycho-analysis as springing from a free and impartial consideration of the evidence, as propounded: in other words, for no other reason than that they are seen to be in accordance with fact. But if the psycho-analyst can reason disinterestedly in accordance with fact, so can other people. Hence the view of reason, as being always the mere tool of instinct, must be abandoned. What is wanted is a principle which will enable us to distinguish the cases in which reason is working freely from those in which it is merely rationalising our wishes. But such a principle is not so far forthcoming.

C.E.M. Joad
Guide to Modern Thought (1933)

Comment by Jim S: Antony Flew wrote "The Third Maxim" (The Rationalist Annual 72 [1955], 63-66) to criticize C.S. Lewis's Argument from Reason. In that essay, Flew wrote that Joad is also an advocate of this argument, but much to my frustration he doesn't provide a specific reference. It looks like Guide to Modern Thought -- which predates all of Lewis's statements of the argument, save a brief entry in his diary, and a short passage in The Pilgrim's Regress (which was published the same year as Joad's book) -- is what Flew was referring to. Joad, however, was pretty prolific, so he may very well have written of it elsewhere. One place I'm going to check is his The Recovery of Belief: A Restatement of Christian Philosophy, which he wrote towards the end of his life after a fall from grace and subsequent return to the Christianity of his youth.

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