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THE THEORY OF DETERMINISM
By Rev. CANON S. C. ARMOUR, D.D. A GREAT step in the progress of human thought has been the recognition of the close inter-dependence of the various departments of nature. This doctrine has been especially brought home to us in this age of physical research. Departments of knowledge which were formerly regarded as distinct are found to be very definitely related, mutually illuminative, and commonly subordinate to a great system of scientific truth.
And our progress in this research has likewise deepened our conviction of the universality of law. Science has revealed to us an infinite number of invariable sequences " brought about by the operation of definite forces; and it has been found that though we traverse immeasurable space and countless ages of time, we shall find the same forces producing the same phenomena. “ The progress of science,” says Professor Huxley, “has meant the extension of the province of what we call matter and causation, and the concomitant gradual banishment from all regions of human thought of what we call spirit and spontaneity.”
In this general research man has had his due share of attention. Former theories about him have been scrutinised in the light of new discovery. Especially has the Doctrine of Evolution led to some important modifications of the old views about his nature and constitution—views which, however at variance, had yet one common ground
of agreement, in regarding man as something isolated from other forms of sentient life.
Evolution, however, has now taken away the boundaries which fenced him off; and man, as represented by modern theories, now appears no longer as a being apart, but as the last and highest term in an infinite series of development. His faculties, corporeal, mental and moral, are now regarded as but higher and more complex developments of the rudimentary types found in the lower animals. To judge of him fairly he must be considered in his relation to the anterior organisms from which he was evolved, and to the modifying conditions which have continuously moulded, and are still moulding his life.
Now this scientific observation of human nature in relation to its origin and environment, has revealed more and more the reign of law in the events of human life. Here we see the potency of inherited tendencies, combined with the external influences to which man is subject. We find wide areas of life exhibiting a general uniformity of sequence, similar antecedent combinations producing similar results. Statistics, social, industrial, criminal, sanitary, show more and more that man in the mass is to a large extent the creature of circumstances, and that given a certain set of known antecedent conditions, a nearly uniform average of results may be expected to follow.
Now this general correspondence of human actions to inherited tendencies and environing conditions has encouraged a certain class of thinkers to seek to interpret all the experiences of human life in terms of natural laws, whose operations we can observe, and whose results we can predict, with unerring accuracy. Let us only ascertain pre-existent or present conditions and environments, and the riddle of every life can be read. Each action, good or
evil, can be scientifically accounted for, as a process in the alchemy of life, by which antecedent conditions re-appear, as it were, in new form, transmuted into their consequent moral equivalents.
Though I am well aware that I must be treading on ground very familiar to the members of this learned society, yet it may not be an evening entirely wasted if we examine this Determinist Theory of Positivism, and inquire whether it adequately accounts for the whole of human experience, or whether its advocates have not come to a too hasty conclusion in assuming that the same laws of unvarying sequence which their researches have discovered in external nature really govern all the phenomena of life, and whether in their equation of human nature, they have not omitted one or more of its essential factors.
Is man simply a product? or is he in part an originating cause? Is he merely the passive creature of the cosmic forces which contributed to form him, and which are still at work in the scene around, and the constitution within him ? Or does an inner self stand in the midst of these forces, master of a reserve of power which he can bring to bear, ere things have drifted irretrievably beyond him? This, I think, is a question which must be considered before we can judge of the merits of the case between the determinists, and the advocates of human freedom.
I venture therefore to select a passage from Professor Bain's work on The Emotions and the Will, as a fair representative of the views of a large section of Positive Philosophers. The passage I quote from him is a very significant one, containing in fact the very crux of the position.
In the setting up of a determining power under the name of “self” as a contrast to the whole region of motives generated in the manner described, I see only an erroneous conception of the facts. The proper meaning of self can be nothing more than my corporeal existence, coupled with my sensations, thoughts, emotions, and volitions—supposing the classification exhaustive, and the sum of these in the past, present and future. Everything in the nature of a moving power belonging to this totality is a part of self. No one can vouch for an inscrutable entity in the depths of one's being, to which the name I is to be distinctively applied.”—3rd edition, p. 492.
This passage, I say, fairly represents the Positive view of Determinism. We see that Bain, in his estimate of the contents of man's nature, distinctly refuses a place to an ego, a self, transcending his corporeal existence, his sensations, thoughts, emotions, and volitions. These, taken together, he says, constitute self, and there is nothing besides. Man is simply "a synthesis of sensations." I selected this passage because it contains as continuous and explicit a statement as I can find of the doctrine of determinism in its relation to human personality. Careful readers of the author will indeed find many things in his work inconsistent with this rigid exclusiveness, and to some of these I shall advert. I would merely remark in passing that such lapses into inconsistency are far from uncommon in the writings of many positivists on this subject. Nature is too strong for them. They expel her with the fork of artificial theory: still she comes back. The ego slips in unawares, and their arguments are based implicitly on the very thing which they are brought forward explicitly to disprove.
But let us look more closely at the terms of Bain's analysis. In the first place there is no provision made in this theory for continuity of consciousness. Self is merely body, sensations, thoughts, emotions, volitions. It is plain, therefore, that as these are constantly changing, man's identity does not survive from moment to moment. Sensations, volitions, emotions in themselves are fleeting phantasms. Now it is absolutely impossible to explain continuity of consciousness, or memory, except on the supposition of a subject which continues on after the transitory states have gone, and which is one and indivisible, while they are multiple and complex. The materialist theory of past impressions on the brain will not serve, because these do not provide for any unifying principle which recognises these as its own.
And again, it is curious to see how Bain throws in his own eyes the dust of false analogy. He speaks here of sensations, thoughts, emotions, etc., as if they were something entirely abstract. He compares them to the qualities of a piece of quartz-hardness, transparency, etc. But sensation, volition,-every one of these terms has so to speak a dual significance. Besides denoting a function, they imply a sentient subject which exercises it. Sensation and volition cannot exist by themselves. Suppose, for sake of example, that there could be an impression of sound in one part of the brain, and an impression of light in another. These two impressions, in order to belong to a single experience, imply a unifying principle. that there exist, or did exist, an impression of sound and an impression of light, is not the same thing as saying that you or I have, or had, two corresponding sensations in our consciousness. Even if sensations and thoughts, as such, could arise in the brain without an ego, they could not possibly, without an ego, form parts of the same experience.
Again, it is very remarkable that in this summing up of the contents of personality, Bain entirely omits any mention of consciousness. No doubt for the maintenance of his system it was necessary to do so, because it would be impossible to formally recognise consciousness as a