| Home - Robert M. Young | What's New | Search | Feedback | Contact Us |
Robert M. Young Home Page
Index of writings by Robert M. Young
WORD version of this article
Introduction to this article
Email Robert M. Young
Process Press
Science as Culture
Free Associations
Kleinian Studies
Human Relations, Authority and Justice

ANIMAL SOUL

by Robert M. Young

The debates which have surrounded the animal soul or mind have been sensitive indicators of a number of fundamental issues in modern philosophy and science: the immateriality of the human mind, the immortality of the soul, the existence of other minds, and the basis of free will and responsibility. These debates have also been persistent symptoms of dissatisfaction with the mechanistic paradigm of explanation of seventeenth-century science as applied to biological and psychological phenomena. The theory of evolution, the methods of modern psychology, and the emergence of cybernetics have forced us to look again at the metaphysical foundations of modern science and to assess their adequacy for understanding adaptive systems, whether they be machines, animals, men, or all three at once.

The concept of the animal soul did not give rise to any serious problems until the seventeenth century, when Cartesian dualism brought out distinctions which had been latent in the dominant Aristotelian tradition. Aristotle had postulated gradations from inert, inanimate matter to plants, which had the additional functions of nourishment and reproduction, to animals, which were also endowed with sensation, motion, and all degrees of mental functions except reason: he reserved reason for man. Aristotle's general analysis of causation, which included final causes along with material, efficient, and formal causes, precluded a sharp discontinuity between physical and mental functions.

DESCARTES AND THE ANIMAL MACHINE

Descartes's doctrine that animals are pure machines, while men are machines with minds, was in part a compromise between his scientific aims and his voluntaristic, Christian view of man. If biological phenomena could be included in the domain of his universal physics, then the boundary would no longer lie between inanimate and animate beings; physics would include all of nature except the mind of man. Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood encouraged Descartes to attempt a general mechanistic physiology in hydraulic terms. Descartes argued that most human motions do not depend on the mind and gave examples of physiological functions (such as digestion), reactions; (such as blinking, and feelings (such as passions) which occur independently of the will. In man, however, the mind could also direct the course of the fluid ("animal spirits") which controls movements.

However, to attribute minds to animals would threaten traditional religions beliefs, since the psychological concept of mind was conflated with the theological concept of soul. Descartes argued that it would be impious to imagine that animals have souls of the same order as men and that man has nothing more to hope for in the afterlife, than flies and ants have. Similarly, God could not allow sinless creatures to suffer; without souls, animals would not suffer, and man would be absolved from guilt for exploiting, killing and eating them. But he considered the most important reason for denying souls to animals to be their failure "to indicate either by voice or signs that which could be accounted for solely by thought and not by natural impulse" (letter to Henry More, February 1649). Thus, the use of language became the criterion of thought-"the true difference between man and beast." This argument has been accepted in much of the subsequent debate, and discussion has centered on the characteristics of a "true language."

It has often been suggested that Descartes was not consistent because occasionally he did ascribe mental functions to animals-sensation, imagination, passions, memory. Although some passages support this view, it seems clear that he attempted to maintain a rigid dualism by granting these functions to animals yet insisting that they were purely corporeal, while in man alone they had a mental counterpart; for instance, man had both corporeal and mental perceptions, and the dualism of mind and matter extended into his account of feelings. If attention is confined to the animal-machine hypothesis, it might therefore appear that there is little to choose between the Cartesian account and the views of his opponents, who did attribute mental functions to animals. The very extensive literature on the animal soul controversy lends support to this contention. However, the debate was not primarily about what animals could do but about the implications for man of various interpretations of their behavior. More generally, it concerned the adequacy of mechanistic explanation to account for biological and psychological phenomena.

Descartes excluded explanation by purpose (the "final causes" of the Aristotelian tradition) from physics and from biology. Yet mechanistic explanation was remarkably unsuccessful in accounting for biological phenomena without making some implicit or explicit appeal to concepts derived from mental intention or without postulating some intermediate substance or special vital force. The discontinuity in Cartesian metaphysics represented, then, a highly unstable compromise. The application of mechanism to animals and to the human body had considerable utility as an alternative to animistic explanation in physiology, but the demands of functional explanation in biology made it ultimately untenable. Science, the analogy between animals and men, and common sense called for a continuity which metaphysics and theology denied.

Reactions to Descartes. Descartes's analysis put the issues so starkly that there has been no peace since. Adherence to the animal-machine doctrine became the crucial test of loyalty to Cartesianism, and no anti-Cartesian held it. As the subsequent debate showed, Descartes was in grave danger of proving too much. If one could not infer the existence of minds in animals from their behavior, then how could the possession of minds by other men be inferred from their behavior? The analogy could just as well be extended to man's mind as to his body, God being capable of contriving both human and animal automata. Conversely, to ascribe thought to animals involved granting them immortal souls, since Descartes considered mental substances to be indivisible. The extremes of universal mechanism and universal spiritualism were the obvious alternatives to a radical distinction between man and animals, and both were theologically unacceptable.

Descartes's most formidable opponents in the seventeenth century were the Peripatetics, who explained animal behavior by reverting to a version of the Aristotelian view and postulated a third substance intermediate between matter and mind. Animals were said to possess a "substantial form," a sensitive soul endowed with all mental attributes except reflection, reason, and will. The Peripatetics were more successful in criticizing Descartes than in gaining general acceptance for their own doctrine. A simpler solution was to accord sensation and an inferior degree of reason to animals but to deny them an immortal soul. This approach was favored by naturalists, who were most struck by the capacities of animals and less concerned with the subtleties of metaphysics. If one combined an appreciation of the complicated behavioral capacities of animals with a belief in the principle of the continuity of nature ("Nature makes no leaps"), different degrees of mentality could be ascribed to creatures at different levels of the "scale of beings."

Late in that century, Leibniz elaborated a philosophy based on the principle of continuity, but he retained distinct levels of mentality in his classification of monads. Animals were denied self-consciousness and the power to recognize eternal truths, which were defining attributes of the souls of men. In the eighteenth century the principle of continuity was applied much more rigorously. If all possible gradations in the scale of beings were realized, no qualitative distinctions could he upheld, and no sharp demarcation would be tenable. Indeed, some extended mental continuity below animals and concerned themselves with the sensations, wishes, and loves of plants; matter alone was held to be completely insensitive.

Throughout the debate, continuity was opposed by explicit or implicit appeal to separate mental faculties or powers. The issue became one of deciding which faculties belonged to man alone. The less sure man felt about his dignity and the power of his reason, the more he accepted the continuity between man and animals; and the more seriously one took biological continuity, the less one could appeal to the clear demarcations on which a "faculty psychology" depends. It followed that man differed only in degree from the nearest subhuman species, and a heightened interest in apes and savage tribes reflected this implication. All that was left in doubt was the amount of difference and the means of determining it.

In the early eighteenth century the Cartesian doctrine of the animal-machine was waning, and by 1730 most participants in the debate granted some measure of mentality to animals, although their reasons varied. The whole controversy was reduced to absurdity in 1739, when a Jesuit, Father Bougeant, wrote a very telling criticism of the Cartesian doctrine and the prevailing alternatives. He concluded that the only solution which would not threaten religion was to grant souls to animals but to consider these the souls of demons or fallen angels inhabiting animal bodies as a punishment. His position allowed him to concede reason and a true language to beasts and neatly to justify their suffering. His order rewarded his ironical wit by applying stern disciplinary measures.

SENSATIONALISM AND THE MAN-MACHINE

The most influential alternatives to the Cartesian view in the emergence of modern animal psychology arose from the philosophy of Locke and the associationist psychology of Hartley and Condillac. Sensationalist psychology did not reject dualism, but it fragmented the Cartesian indivisible thinking substance, thereby allowing continuous degrees of intelligence at various levels of the scale of beings. Locke's psychological remarks were incidental to his preoccupation with epistemology; in his partial rejection of the Cartesian theory of knowledge he postulated two sources of ideas: sensation and reflection. However, his influence has derived primarily from his sensationalism and his division of knowledge into sensory units, as conceived by analogy from the atoms or corpuscles of the mechanical philosophy: complex ideas are built up from simple ones. By distinguishing ideas of sensation and ideas of reflection, Locke was able to demarcate man from animals: animals had particular sensory ideas and a degree of reason but no general ideas or powers of abstraction and consequently no language for their expression. Condillac developed Locke's psychology and made it consistently sensationalist by rejecting ideas of reflection and concluding that all faculties and contents of the mind arise from sensations and their transformations. Although this eliminated the basis for a clear demarcation between the minds of men and those of animals, Condillac attributed the inferior minds of animals to inferior sense organs.

Hartley's systematic physiological psychology was based on the two principles of mental association (derived from Locke) and parallel physical vibrations in the brains and nerves of men and animals (suggested by speculations of Newton). This was the effective beginning of the "association psychology," according to which all complex mental and behavioral phenomena are analyzable into sensations, and the larger elements are built up by habit or repetition. The effect of Hartley's argument was to distinguish men from animals only by degrees: the laws of vibration and association applied to both, but animals had comparatively restricted experiences; because their brains were smaller and less organized, they lacked language and symbols and relied more heavily on instincts. Hartley argued that what was learned through studying man could be applied analogically to animals, and conversely.

The complete correlation of mind with material corpuscles implied mental determinism, and Hartley accepted this consequence: "the mechanism or necessity of human actions, in opposition to what is generally termed free-will" (Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations, London, 1749, Vol. 1, p. 500), and, in so doing, abandoned one historically important support for Cartesian dualism. The end of the century saw Hartley's theory extended in two directions. First, Joseph Priestley abandoned dualism entirely and considered perception and other mental powers to be properties of matter, although he retained immortality by holding that the covenant between God and man promised the resurrection of the body. His materialist hypothesis led him to argue that not only animals but also plants differed from men only in degree. Second, there was the evolutionism of Erasmus Darwin, Priestley's friend and grandfather of Charles Darwin. Erasmus Darwin placed Hartley's sensationalism and the principle of continuity on a temporal basis and put forward a speculative theory of evolution from a single irritable filament through all plants and animals to man. The association of pleasures and pains with rewards and punishments and the inheritance of acquired habits and structural changes provided the requisite evolutionary mechanism. Unlike Priestley's views, Erasmus Darwin's were influential, and they form an important part of the background to modern theories of evolution and learning; the theories attributed to Lamarck and developed by Herbert Spencer in the nineteenth century were very similar and extended the principles of sensation and association from the tabula rasa of the individual to that of the race and beyond that to the origin of species.

La Mettrie's "L'Homme machine." The materialism of Cartesian animal automatism was, in keeping with its orgin in physics, purely mechanistic; Priestley's materialism involved assimilating the attributes of mind to matter as a natural extension of Hartley's close correlation of mental associations with vibrations in the brain. The notorious "man-machine" hypothesis, developed independently by La Mettrie, was a biological recasting of these two approaches at the expense of dualist metaphysics. When La Mettrie said, "Let us boldly conclude that man is a machine," he was not denying the existence of mental functions but of mental substances: ". . . there is nothing in all the universe but a single substance diversely modified." The polemical title of his best-known work, L'Homme machine (1748), along with some of its more provocative passages, implied the extension of the animal-machine doctrine to man that Descartes's critics had feared a century earlier, and the outcry of La Mettrie's contemporaries was based on this reading of his book. However, this interpretation obscures the originality of his approach. The thesis of another of his works was that animals are more than machines. This apparent inconsistency is resolved if one appreciates that he was attempting to dispense with the traditional alternatives of materialism and spiritualism and to emphasize the evident properties of certain states of living matter.

His first attempt at interpreting the problem of mind and body was cast in Aristotelian terms, but his approach was later altered by two considerations from general biology. First, it had been found that a species of polyp bad a remarkable ability to regenerate a complete organism from each of the tiny parts into which it might be divided. This implied that its soul or "vital principle" was indefinitely divisible along with its body. The controversies surrounding this discovery originated in the fear that the soul might be indistinguishable from the body and that this argument could easily be extended to man. Second, La Mettrie was impressed by early versions of the concept of irritability (the general property of living matter to respond to stimuli) and combined this with the implications of the polyp's regenerative powers to provide a rationale for the doctrine that matter is capable of activity, regeneration, sensation, motion, and all other properties usually explained by appeal to a vital principle or soul.

Although La Mettrie openly proclaimed his debt to Descartes, his views did great violence to dualism, which he dismissed as a ruse employed by Descartes to trick the theologians into swallowing the "poison" hidden in the analogy between man and the animal-machine. Animals were endowed with reason and conscience, and an ape might be taught to employ language. The result was a monistic version of the chain of being, with no break in the continuum from crude matter through plants and animals to man. "It thus appears that there is but one type of organization in the universe, and that man is the most perfect example" (Man a Machine, translated by Gertrude Bussey, La Salle, Ill., 1953, p. 140; cf. Vartanian ed., p. 190). The Cartesian concept of matter was thus enriched by utilizing the principle of continuity and the properties of living organisms, while the ethical and theological aspects of the Cartesian concept of mind were sacrificed. La Mettrie saw this reformulation as the obvious consequence of the demonstrated dependence of the mind on the brain and of the findings of biologists. His hypothesis put the problem squarely: prospects of advance in biology and psychology were dim unless Cartesian dualism could be transcended without embracing the ostensible alternative of Descartes's mechanism.

EVOLUTION, COMPARATIVE PSYCHOLOGY, AND BEHAVIORISM

The formulation and general acceptance of the theory of evolution has been the most important single factor in the debate on the mind since Descartes. The principle of continuity ceased to be merely a way of viewing the scale of beings and became a necessary consequence of the fundamental law of life. Whatever was said of men could differ only in degree from what was said of other animals. Mind ceased to be viewed primarily as an instrument for knowing and was progressively seen as an adaptive function of the organism. Psychology ceased to lie in a limbo between metaphysics, natural history, and physiology and became a biological science. Debates on the "animal soul" became irrelevant as investigators began to study the evolution of mind.

Given the general influence of evolution on the development of the comparative and functional viewpoints in psychology in the last half of the nineteenth century, the specific contribution to psychology made by Darwin's writings is curiously disappointing. With the notable exception of his incisive work in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, his comparative observations were more often about structures than about functions. His most extensive discussion of mental evolution is in The Descent of Man, where lie argues forcefully that although there is an immense difference between the minds of the lowest men and the highest animals, it is still a difference of degree, not of kind. Where philosophers and theologians had artificially broadened the gap, Darwin attempted to minimize it by showing that in varying degrees animals use tools, form abstract concepts, employ language, and experience beauty and reverence. It is man's possession of a highly developed moral sense, or conscience, that constitutes his most important difference from the lower animals.

Most of Darwin's psychological remarks reveal an uncharacteristic naďveté in their use of anecdotal evidence, of excessive anthropomorphism, and of categories of analysis adopted uncritically from the association psychology. He usually referred to mental and bodily evolution as parallel processes and made no considered effort to account for the origin of mind or its physiological basis. His early notebooks contain a passage on the plausibility of considering thought as a secretion of the brain, just as gravity is a property of matter, as well as other remarks on the metaphysical bearings of evolution, but he never developed these ideas. A letter written two years before he died contains speculations on the origin of mind through the emergence of pleasure and pain as properties of certain nervous excitations, but he did not publish this account. His works contain little reference to the evolution of the organ of mind, and it was left to Huxley to provide the only extensive discussion, in an appendix to The Descent of Man.

The theory of evolution made the conflict between dualism and the principle of continuity perfectly explicit. T. H. Huxley faced this issue in his essay "On the Hypothesis That Animals Are Automata and Its History." His solution was to accept automatism but to argue for the continuous evolution of consciousness. The comparison of the brains of men with those of animals supported a belief in the proportional development of their functions; animal consciousness arose with the evolution of nervous structures corresponding to the human cerebrum. The development from the simplest protoplasm to reflexes, instincts, and then reason involved no demarcations, except that animals have no language or symbols. The crucial point, however, was his assertion that both animals and men are "conscious automata" of differing degrees of complexity. But what of the efficacy of mind? He argued that mind is an epiphenomenon, like the whistle on a locomotive, with no causal role in the operation of the machine; mechanical forces form a closed, causal system. Thus, Huxley rejects the theological and ethical aspects of the Cartesian doctrine, while granting the existence of consciousness.

Darwin fulfilled his claim "Much light will he thrown on the origin of man and his history," but when he turned to psychology, he was deferential: "Psychology will be securely based on the foundation already well laid by Mr. Herbert Spencer, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation." Similarly, Darwin gave his extensive notes on instinct to George Romanes, who used them as the nucleus for his pioneer work in modern comparative psychology. Spencer spelled out the implications of uniting evolution with associationism and the study of the nervous system, and he constantly emphasized that learning is the continuous adjustment or adaptation of internal relations to external relations. Mind is a concomitant of nervous action and arose when life's adjustments reached a certain level of complexity.

Comparative psychology. Between 1890 and 1910, comparative psychologists became increasingly critical of the sentimental way in which anecdotal evidence about animal behavior had been employed to demonstrate mental continuity in evolution. There were three salutary reactions: (1) C. Lloyd Morgan attempted to restrain speculative anthropomorphism with his "canon of parsimony" - "In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower on the psychological scale." (2) E. L. Thorndike introduced controlled, quantified experimental tests into the study of animal learning and brought comparative psychology into the laboratory. (3) Jacques Loeb attempted to extend the mechanistic principle of forced movements, or "tropisms," in plants, to account for as much animal behavior as possible. He concluded that consciousness appeared at the stage in evolution when animals began to learn from experience; "associative memory" became a widely accepted criterion for consciousness. Experiments conducted on the assumption that consciousness can be identified with trial and error learning led to the conclusion that all animals, including the amoeba, have some degree of mental life, however simple.

Although evolution, the canon of parsimony, and the development of experimental methods increased the confidence and (in most cases) the rigor of comparative psychologists, the fundamental issues had not changed since Descartes's opponents insisted that animals have minds; all that remained at stake was deciding the point on the scale where mind first appeared, and this decision reflected more about the attitudes of various psychologists than about their experimental findings. It seemed almost an elective matter whether one applied mechanism as far up the scale as possible or extended mind as far downward as was consistent with some observation or other. The context of the debate remained dualistic, and the attempt was made to infer mental states from behavior.

It soon became clear that the interpretation of the animal mind depended on an inescapable anthropomorphism-that the analogy to human experience is necessary for inferring psychic functions. Clearly, the problem with animals differs in no essential way from that of attempting to find a basis for knowing the mental processes of other men. From 1910 to 1930 two sorts of answers were proposed. First, the subjectivists saw that in order to find criteria for the ascription of mental states to other species, it would first be necessary to find a reliable index for ascribing ideas to other men. This index could then be modified and used in animal experiments. Whereas this approach begins with the concept of mind and sets out to derive methods for making the study of mind objective, the alternative-behaviorism-calls for objective methods and attempts to achieve them by abrogating the concept of mind.

Behaviorism. Behaviorism began as a methodological reform which was closely linked with a growing interest in the study of animal behavior and a growing frustration with the methods being employed in human psychology. J. B. Watson claimed that introspection in human psychology and anthropomorphism in animal psychology could never produce objective results. He proposed that the subject matter of psychology should be confined to observable behavior-movements and the stimuli which evoke them-and that psychologists should stop trying to infer mental states from the behavior of animals and men. (Later behaviorists stressed the relationship between behavior, brain function, and endocrine secretions.) Watson coupled these claims with a polemic against dualism and the concept of mind and in favor of mechanistic reduction, using the neurological concept of conditioned reflex as the paradigm for learning. The principle of the association of ideas was recast in objective form as the association of stimuli and responses. Thought was reduced to subvocal speech; language and speech remained parts of behavior but provided no basis for inference to unobservable mental events. In the hands of Watson, K. S. Lashley, and B. F. Skinner, methodological behaviorism became metaphysical behaviorism-the assertion that there are no minds and that the phenomena of behavior are reducible, without remainder, to the quantitative variables of physics and chemistry. Whereas La Mettrie and Huxley bad retained consciousness as a function of matter, the behaviorists were the true heirs of Cartesian animal mechanism and extended it to man.

MECHANISM AND TELEOLOGICAL EXPLANATION

Most experimental psychologists have accepted methodological behaviorism, determinism, and epiphenomenalism, but there are a number who have insisted that metaphysical behaviorism cannot account for the purposive aspects of behavior and that stimulus-response psychology cannot completely replace the phenomena of experience. Consequently, familiar controversies have reappeared in a new guise. It has been suggested that animal behavior can be wholly explained by reflexes but that human behavior requires reference to thought or rationality. In animal psychology it has sometimes appeared that American (behaviorist) rats learn by trial and error, while European (Gestalt) rats learn by insight. In both of these cases the question is whether "getting the point" in solving a problem consists of something more than a combination of movements and rewards leading to the establishment of a habit. Do such issues involve a simple choice of explanatory paradigms, or do they point to a fundamental shortcoming of mechanistic explanation?

Throughout the debates on the animal soul or mind and its implications for man, two issues have constantly recurred: the problem of other minds and the problem of reduction of mental events to physical events. Recent developments have provided new perspectives on both issues. First, it has been shown that the solipsist position is probably not amenable to coherent statement. The ascription of consciousness to oneself presupposes ascribing it to others, and conversely. Such ascriptions require criteria (whatever they may be), which must be public. Hence, we cannot consider ourselves to be conscious unless we consider others to be so, and the argument by analogy leads both from and to our own mental states. This does not solve the further problem of finding precise criteria for ascribing consciousness, intentions, or actions to other persons or to nonlanguage-users, but it does eliminate the most serious philosophic barrier. The problem of language, moreover, remains crucial: on the one band, evolutionary continuity means that the analogy from and to our own consciousness must extend down the evolutionary scale; on the other band, it has been argued that the possession of a public language is a prerequisite for calling an organism rational, since the public criterion of rationality is the ability to make general statements and statements about the past. Thus, we confidently believe in continuity but cannot demonstrate it scientifically. However, this is an empirical issue, depending on advances in the study of the evolution of language in animals and our ability to translate from animal languages or protolanguages into our own.

The second issue is whether or not one wants to ascribe mental states to any organisms: a metaphysical behaviorist would not. Critics of the reductionist program have attempted to show that the task of specifying the elements of behavior entirely in terms of physical variables is endless unless the behaviorist assumes that the animal is seeing the stimuli and his own responses in terms of the same class concepts as the experimenter himself does. This is a prerequisite for deciding what behavior shall count as a valid test for identifying a given response or class of responses. Thus, the control techniques of behavioral experiments can produce or shape a desired response, and the experimenter can specify the contingencies of reinforcement necessary to do this. However, it is objected that in order to specify the sufficient conditions, the behaviorist must make an implicit or explicit appeal to congruence between the animal's behavior and concepts derived from both the experimenter's and the animal's consciousness. It is further argued that this analogy to subjective human psychology employs teleological and intentional concepts. Thus, some aspects of the concept of mind in animal and human psychology have not yet been shown to be entirely reducible to the units of physics and chemistry.

Cybernetics. Cybernetics (the study of communication and control in machines and living organisms) and its technological applications have helped immensely in clarifying the problem of reduction. There can be no doubt that computers and artificial automata are mechanical systems which are also adaptive; their self-regulatory features are apparently purposive, and they perform numerous operations which have traditionally been cited as evidence for mind. It is becoming increasingly clear that the problems encountered in discussing the behavior of artificial automata are strictly analogous to those involved in the traditional mind-body debate and that if minds are to be ascribed to men and animals, they must also be ascribed to some types of machines. The modern issue is thus an inversion of the traditional one. Instead of asking if animals and men have minds or are machines, we now ask if we can account for the mindlike behavior of machines in purely mechanistic terms. In this context there can be no appeal to special vital forces or separate mental substances. Yet, as with behaviorism, discussions of the self-regulating and other mindlike features of machines invariably mention some conception drawn from the analogy to human intention.

This fact points to an important inconsistency in the conceptual scheme of modern science that has plagued biology and psychology since the paradigm of materialist explanation was laid down in the seventeenth century. We are convinced that material objects are fundamental to scientific explanation and that matter and force are sufficient to produce all phenomena. However, our discussions of the adaptive features of mechanical systems (including biological ones, among which are animals and men) have invariably made reference to purposive and intentional variables which the Cartesian system restricted to the mental realm. The reaction against Cartesian animal automatism and the subsequent debate can be seen as persistent symptoms of this problem; behaviorism and cybernetics have made it necessary to face it squarely: material forces and objects are basic to both the causal and the explanatory schemes of modern science; nevertheless, materialistic explanation has so far been unable to account for all the features of adaptive systems. Mentalism cannot satisfy the requirements of the causal scheme or the objective methods of science, while Cartesian mechanism has not adequately accounted for purposive functions. At present this is a historical, rather than a philosophical, conclusion: explicit paradigms of explanation notwithstanding, the employment of the language of purpose and intention has not yet been eliminated from discussions of the functions and adaptations of certain material objects, such as nails, thermostats, computers, homeostatic systems, amoebas, monkeys, and men. Teleology has not yet been avoided; it remains to be shown that it is, in principle, unavoidable.

Whatever the outcome of this debate, we may decide that seventeenth-century mechanism involves a system of abstractions which has ceased to serve us well in investigating certain features of nature. If so, a new metaphysic will be required which selects its primitive concepts from among the following: organism, intention, adaptation, function, utility. It may be convenient to make the concept of person primitive in human psychology and the social sciences, while recognizing that it is ultimately derivative from that of organism by virtue of evolutionary continuity. To commit the pathetic fallacy with caution would thereby become a responsible scientific activity.

Bibliography

The extensive primary literature can best be approached by means of the following works, bearing in mind that the debate from Descartes through La Mettrie has been much more carefully studied than other periods: Jean A. Guer Histoire critique de I'âme des bâtes . . . (Amsterdam, 1749); Albert G. A. Balz, Cartesian Studies (New York, 1951); Leonora C. Rosenfield, From Beast-Machine to Man-Machine (New York, 1941), which is valuable as an outline and contains a bibliography; Aram Vartanian, Diderot and Descartes (Princeton , N.J., 1953), and his edition (with introductory monograph) of La Mettrie's L'Homme machine (Princeton, N.J.’ 1960), both of which contain excellent analyses and history of ideas; Carl J. Warden, "The Historical Development of Comparative Psychology," in Psychological Review, Vol. 34 (1927), 57-85 and 135-168, an introductory survey which has a bibliography from the Greeks to behaviorism; Harvey Carr, "The Interpretation of the Animal Mind," in Psychological Review, Vol. 34 (1927), 87 - 106; (Gustav Bergmann, "The Contribution of John B. Watson," in Psychological Review, Vol. 63 (1956). 265-276; and Keith Gunderson, "Descartes, La Mettric, Language, and Machines," in Philosophy, Vol. 39 (1964), 193-222, which relates animal soul to cybernetics.

The best critical histories of the philosophical issues involved in continuity and seventeenth-century mechanism as applied to biology and psychology are Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Mass., 1936), which covers the Greeks to the eighteenth century; Edwin A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, 2d ed. (London, 1932); and Alfred N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (Cambridge, 1925).

Recent philosophical discussions of mind, teleology, and cybernetics are P. F. Strawson, Individuals (London, 1959); Charles Taylor, The Explanation of Behaviour (London, 1964); and Alan R. Anderson, ed., Minds and Machines (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1964).

On the philosophical significance of symbols and language, see Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man (New Haven, 1944), and Jonathan Bennett, Rationality (London, 1964).


The Human Nature Review
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.com logo

UK -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.co.uk logo

 | Human Nature | Books and Reviews | The Human Nature Daily Review | Search |