We are compelled to admit between the thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behaviour of matter several light-years away that particular relation which we call truth. But this relation has no meaning at all if we try to make it exist between the matter of the star and the astronomer’s brain, considered as a lump of matter. The brain may be in all sorts of relations to the star no doubt: it is in a spatial relation, and a time relation, and a quantitative relation. But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense.
A spiritual soul cannot be corrupted, since it possesses no matter; it cannot be disintegrated, since it has no substantial parts; it cannot lose its individual unity, since it is self-subsisting, nor its internal energy, since it contains within itself all the sources of its energies. The human soul cannot die. Once it exists, it cannot disappear; it will necessarily exist forever, endure without end. Thus philosophic reason is able to prove the immortality of the human soul in a demonstrative manner.
It is well to be clear as to the sense in which a man is the same person as he was yesterday. Philosophers used to think that there were definite substances, the soul and the body, that each lasted one from day to day, that a soul, once created, continued to exist throughout all future time, whereas a body ceased temporarily from death till the resurrection of the body. The part of this doctrine which concerns the present life is pretty certainly false. The matter of the body is continually changing by processes of nutriment and wastage. Even if it were not, atoms in physics are no longer supposed to have continuous existence; there is no sense in saying: this is the same atom as the one that existed a few minutes ago. The continuity of a human body is a matter of appearance and behavior, not of substance.
To propose to a man that he should be someone else, that he should become someone else, is to propose to him that he should cease to be himself. Everyone defends his own personality, and only consents to a change in his mode of thinking or of feeling in so far as this change is able to enter into the unity of his spirit and become involved in its continuity; in so far as this change can harmonize and integrate itself with all the rest of his mode of being, thinking and feeling, and can at the the same time knit itself with his memories. Neither of a man nor of a people — which is, in a certain sense, also a man — can a change be demanded which breaks the unity and continuity of the person. A man can change greatly, almost completely even, but the change must take place within his continuity. … Because for me the becoming other than I am, the breaking of the unity and continuity of my life, is to cease to be he who I am — that is to say, it is simply to cease to be. And that — no! Anything rather than that!
It has often been said that every man who has suffered misfortunes prefers to be himself, even with his misfortunes, rather than to be someone else without them. For unfortunate men, when they preserve their normality in their misfortune — that is to say, when they endeavor to persist in their own being — prefer misfortune to non-existence. For myself I can say that as a youth, and even as a child, I remained unmoved when shown the most moving pictures of hell, for even then nothing appeared to me quite so horrible as nothingness itself. It was a furious hunger of being that possessed me, and appetite for divinity, as one of our ascetics [San Juan de los Angeles] has put it.
We know the world of existences and forces under three forms, that of matter, that of life, and that of thought. In preceding articles I have indicated how the world of matter and the world of life appear to me to bear witness to a superior Intelligence which has created or guided them. I now come to consider whether the world of thought has a similar origin, or has merely grown, in an evolutionary way, out of the worlds of matter and life. ¶ The forces of matter, life and thought are totally diverse from each other. Life is a phenomenon of tremendous significance. It marks an absolutely different stage in the operation of nature. Physical forces can give us rocks, mountains, continents, rivers, oceans, winds, lightning and rain, and their continued operation would reduce the earth to a degradation of morass and sea. But life brings a new force which fights physical forces, produces forms vegetable and animal, which operate and direct to their own ends all physical forces and exercize a dominance over them. But there is a third stage in the operations of nature. As organic life is of a different order from inert matter, so mind is of yet another order from either, and vastly higher than they. With the animal kingdom there came in mind, not possest by the physical elements, and no more by the vegetable kingdom. It is, in some degree, a characteristic of all animal life. The lowest forms have intelligence enough to feel for their food. As higher forms appear they learn to avoid danger, to search abroad for their sustenance, to swim, to fly, to run, till conscious reason appears in man and is supreme over the course of nature.
Objectively and apart from our cognition, aspects of truth may, for aught we know, be diverse and multiform; in the infinity of space and time we have no adequate reason for affirming that they are not; but we cannot without the most gratuitous mental suicide allow the subjective co-existence of antagonistic convictions both claiming to be true at the same time. We must maintain, I think, the indivisibility of consciousness not only as an ultimate postulate of truth, but as a sine qua non of all affirmation and ratiocination of whatever kind. I am aware that this position — the ultimate veracity of consciousness, has been questioned; indeed, in a dialectical mood I have frequently questioned it myself, and in my own opinion not unsuccessfully so far as formal ratiocination is concerned. For that matter, I have had too long an experience of the subtleties and multiform aspects of logic not to know that there is no principle which can be formulated as an axiom of truth which unscrupulous dialectic cannot undermine. Even the ‘Cogito, ergo sum,’ of Descartes may be shown to be open to innumerable objections both as to form and substance. But while I think those extreme exercitations not only harmless in themselves but useful as intellectual gymnastics — just as the paradoxes of the higher mathematics may be useful — I nevertheless regard them as mere brutem fulmen when employed seriously to destroy consciousness: at most they can only result in setting reason to destroy reason — a mere self-stultifying and utterly ineffective operation. Reason and the direct deliverances of consciousness have a vitality much too inherent to succumb to attacks of formal logic, no matter how adroitly planned or how skilfully conducted. The dialectician who in earnest undertakes such a task is engaged in an enterprise much more fruitless than the ancient battle with the Hydra: the heads he amputates replace themselves with greater facility — the life he supposes himself to take is but the precursor of renewed vitality. From this standpoint of reason and consciousness we must, then, pronounce against all extreme forms of double-truth.
There is such proneness in men of genius to invent hypotheses, and in others to acquiesce in them as the utmost which the human faculties can attain in philosophy, that it is of the last consequence to the progress of real knowledge, that men should have a clear and distinct understanding of the nature of hypotheses in philosophy, and of the regard that is due to them. ¶ Although some conjectures may have a considerable degree of probability, yet it is evidently in the nature of conjecture to be uncertain. In every case, the assent ought to be proportioned to the evidence; for to believe firmly what has but a small degree of probability, is a manifest abuse of our understanding. Now, though we may, in many cases, form very probable conjectures concerning the works of men, every conjecture we can form with regard to the works of God has as little probability as the conjectures of a child with regard to the works of a man.
We have no reason to ascribe intelligence, or even sensation, to plants; yet there appears in them an active force and energy, which cannot be the result of any arrangement or combination of inert matter. The same thing may be said of those powers by which animals are nourished and grow, by which matter gravitates, by which magnetical and electrical bodies attract and repel each other, and by which the parts of solid bodies cohere.
The mind of man is the noblest work of God which reason discovers to us, and therefore, on account of its dignity, deserves our study. It must, indeed, be acknowledged, that although it is of all objects the nearest to us, and seems the most within our reach, it is very difficult to attend to its operations, so as to form a distinct notion of them; and on that account there is no branch of knowledge in which the ingenious and speculative have fallen into so great errors, and even absurdities. These errors and absurdities have given rise to a general prejudice against all inquiries of this nature; and because ingenious men have, for many ages, given different and contradictory accounts of the powers of the mind, it is concluded that all speculations concerning them are chimerical and visionary. But whatever effect this prejudice may have with superficial thinkers, the judicious will not be apt to be carried away with it.
By the mind of a man we understand that in him which thinks, remembers, reasons, wills. The essence both of body and of mind is unknown to us. We know certain properties of the first, and certain operations of the last, and by these only we can define or describe them. We define body to be that which is extended, solid, movable, divisible. In like manner we define mind to be that which thinks. We are conscious that we think, and that we have a variety of thoughts of different kinds; such as seeing, hearing, remembering, deliberating, resolving, loving, hating, and many other kinds of thought, all which we are taught by nature to attribute to one internal principle; and this principle of thought we call the mind or soul of a man.
To body we ascribe various properties, but not operations, properly so called; it is extended, divisible, movable, inert; it continues in any state in which it is put; every change of its state is the effect of some force impressed upon it, and is exactly proportional to the force impressed, and in the precise direction of that force. These are the general properties of matter, and these are not operations; on the contrary, they all imply its being a dead, inactive thing, which moves only as it is moved, and acts only by being acted upon. But the mind is, from its very nature, a living and active being. Every thing we know of it implies life and active energy; and the reason why all its modes of thinking are called its operations is, that in all, or in most of them, it is not merely passive, as body is, but is really and properly active. In all ages, and in all languages, ancient and modern, the various modes of thinking have been expressed by words of active signification, such as seeing, hearing, reasoning, willing, and the like. It seems, therefore, to be the natural judgment of mankind, that the mind is active in its various ways of thinking; and for this reason they are called its operations, and are expressed by active verbs. It may be made a question, What regard is to be paid to this natural judgment? May it not be a vulgar error? Philosophers who think so have, no doubt, a right to be heard. But until it is proved that the mind is not active in thinking, but merely passive, the common language with regard to its operations ought to be used, and ought not to give place to a phraseology invented by philosophers, which implies its being merely passive.
Identity of person is what seems never yet to have been explained. It is a mistake, that it consists in sameness, or identity, of consciousness — if, by sameness of consciousness, be meant, having the same ideas hereafter, that I have now, with a notion or apprehension that I had had them before; just in the same manner as I now have the same ideas, that I had in time past, by memory. It is possible, without doubt, in the nature of things, for God to annihilate me, and after my annihilation to create another being that shall have the same ideas in his mind that I have, and with the like apprehension that he had them before, in like manner as a person has by memory; and yet I be in no way concerned in it, having no reason to fear what that being shall suffer, or to hope for what he shall enjoy. Can anyone deny, that it is possible, after my annihilation, to create two beings in the Universe, both of them having my ideas communicated to them, with such a notion of their having had them before, after manner of memory, and yet be ignorant one of another; and, in such case, will any one say, that both these are one and the same person, as they must be, if they are both the same person with me. It is possible there may be two such beings each having all the ideas that are now in my mind, in the same manner that I should have by memory, if my own being were continued; and yet these two beings not only be ignorant one of another but also be in a very different state, one in a state of enjoyment and pleasure, and the other in a state of great suffering and torment. Yea, there seems to be nothing of impossibility in the Nature of things, but that the Most High could, if he saw fit; cause there to be another being, who should begin to exist in some distant part of the Universe, with the same ideas I now have, after manner of memory: and should henceforward co-exist with me; we both retaining a consciousness of what was before the moment of his first existence, in like manner; but thenceforward should have a different train of ideas. Will any one say that he, in such a case, is the same person with me, when I know nothing of his sufferings, and am never the better for his joys.
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception. When my perceptions are remov’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist. And were all my perceptions remov’d by death, and cou’d I neither think, nor feel, nor see, nor love, nor hate after the dissolution of my body, I shou’d be entirely annihilated, nor do I conceive what is farther requisite to make me a perfect non-entity. If any one upon serious and unprejudic’d reflexion, thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continu’d, which he calls himself; tho’ I am certain there is no such principle in me… But setting aside some metaphysicians of this kind, I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.
Now, the good man has the same relation to his friend as he has to himself; for a friend is another self; in the same manner, therefore, as to exist one’s self is eligible to every one, so also is it for one’s friend to exist, or nearly so. But existence was said to be eligible on account of the perception of that which is a good: and such a perception is pleasant in itself. We ought, therefore, to be conscious of the existence of our friend; and this would result from associating with him, and sharing his words and thoughts; for this would seem to be the meaning of the word society, when applied to men, and not, as in the case of cattle, the merely feeding in the existence. If, then, existence is in itself eligible to the happy man, being by nature something good and pleasant, and if the existence of a friend is nearly the same, then a friend must also be of the number of eligible things. But that which is eligible to a man, he ought to possess; or else he is deficient in that respect; he, therefore, that is to be happy will need good friends.