Psychology, General and Applied

Chapter 22: The Soul

Hugo Münsterberg

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Purposive Acts and Causality.—When we discussed the principles of causal psychology, our central problem was the possibility of causal connection between the mental processes. The whole aim was to remodel inner life until it could be conceived as causally connected. We had to examine whether this linking could be conceived as direct or not. We convinced ourselves that a necessary connection between mental processes as such is unthinkable. We, therefore, had to reject also every theory which seeks the tic in unconscious mental processes. On the other hand, we found that the purpose can be completely fulfilled by coupling the mental processes with brain processes and seeking the direct causal connection between the underlying bodily events. This problem of connection must be the central one for the theory of purposive psychology, too. But the material which is to be connected is certainly very different now, since we try to grasp inner life as a meaning. The contents of consciousness with which causal psychology deals are objects, but the acts which have a meaning and which form the material of purposive psychology are acts of subjects. Hence if we contrast the mere material, we have in causal psychology mental objects which are found in consciousness, and in purposive psychology we have acts which are performed by a subject.

To understand a single act, that is, to grasp its meaning, to enter into the purposive expression of the self, is simply life, not science. Yet even life goes beyond this entirely

( 298) isolated grasping of the act. Whether we try to understand our neighbor's feeling and will and thought, or our own, we naturally go beyond that one particular act. We ask what it involves. If it is a thought, we try to understand the underlying ideas of the person who utters it ; if it is an action, the character which expresses itself ; if it is a feeling, the general emotional attitude. Moreover, we ask whether the act expresses the personality itself only, or whether it possesses an inner relation to ideas and feelings of others with whom the subject agrees and disagrees, whom he imitates or rejects. And if a number of meaningful expressions are before us, we ask how far they contradict one another, how far one thought necessarily includes another, how far one resolution necessarily binds the subject to come to a certain decision. In all these cases we aim toward a connection of one act with other acts in the personality.

Such connections in our daily life may be superficial, just as our ordinary causal connections of mental processes are very vague and inconsistent. But it indicates that a true understanding demands more than the grasping of isolated acts, and that a meaning involves the connections of one act with other realities in the purposive world. In causal psychology we proceed from the fragmentary chance explanations with which we are satisfied in our daily intercourse to a really systematic connection of all mental processes. In the same way we must proceed in purposive psychology from those superficial fragmentary connections of the purposive acts to a consistent and systematic linking of all elements of the inner life, in so far as it is material for our understanding.

If we strive for a complete connection of all inner purposive acts, that is, of the totality of our inner life in the form in which we live through it in our immediate experience, we must, above all, be sure not to fall back into the thought form of causality. Inner life as we live it

( 299) never comes to us as cause and effect. In popular thought exactly the opposite is not seldom proclaimed. We hear that our inner experience is the true source of the idea of causal connection. We feel our will as the cause of the movement of the body, and we project, it is claimed, this inner experience of causality into the world of nature and interpret the happenings outside by these inner impulses which make the physical world move. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding, which results from not discriminating between the inner life as an object to be observed and the inner life as a meaning to be understood. The will as we really experience it in our immediate life is never the prototype of a cause. Normally we do not even detach it from the bodily action and do not consider it as preceding, but take the movement as the expression of the will, not as an effect.

It is the outer world of physical bodies which leads mankind to the recognition of causes and effects, and if finally a standpoint is reached from which even the human will is treated causally, this psychologizing understanding of the will presupposes the long schooling through the study of natural science. Only when science had reached a high level did it become really possible to force the idea of causal connection even on the will, because the will could be resolved into sensations and feelings and physiological processes. But this scientific achievement of causal psychology marks the greatest possible distance from the immediate experience of the will which we live through. This will which has been resolved into its objective elements does not will anything, but is only an object of observation. The will which wills, and accordingly has meaning, lies in an entirely different dimension. It is quite true that man projects his inner will experience into outer nature, but where he is doing that he does not secure a causal explanation of nature, but only an inner interpretation. Nature itself then becomes a kind of human being.

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The wind and the waves become living, and their movements are the expression of their will. From such a poetic or mythological personification of nature no direct bridge leads to causal, natural science.

The real will, grasped as an act which we can understand, occurs in our experience neither as a cause nor as an effect. If we are to bring it into connection with other realities, we must know beforehand that it cannot be causality which links them. Causality binds physical processes, and if the mental life is treated causally it ultimately becomes subordinated to the physical behavior of the organism, as we have seen in full detail. Our real inner acting creates the thought of causal connection, but is never subject to it. As soon as we have grasped this central fact, we understand how hopeless it is to try to secure a privileged position for the mind in the midst of a causal picture of the universe. Too many theories have been planned for this purpose. It is felt as a moral degradation to consider the interplay of the mind as dependent upon the physical processes of nature, and all kinds of loop-holes are therefore left in the causal mechanism. The mental processes are treated as a special form of energy which can be transformed into physical energies as electricity can be transformed into magnetism. Or a mind substance is imagined which works as a causal mechanism of a higher order, producing some of the mental states as causal effects without the intrusion of physical processes.

Such efforts are not only doomed from the start because they work with unfit conceptions and destroy the system of causality which they are meant to build up, but above all the problem itself is meaningless. That inner life which man values and wants to see superior to the mere mechanism of matter is not the mind conceived in the thought form of causality. The mere mental processes as such have no dignity, since they are not the real inner life, but are merely scientific constructions which we need as counters

( 301) for our calculation. The inner life in which our duties lie and which alone has value is that which has a meaning and is understood as the expression of a subject. In this intentional character it does not admit at all the question of objective description and explanation.

Purposive Acts and Time.—To characterize the material of the purposive psychologist still more fully we may add that the acts of our inner life, if they are understood as the expression of a subject, are not contained in the time which is filled by physical things. If we mean by time exclusively that which the physicist means and must mean by it, then we even have a right to say that mental 1 i ro in its reality is timeless. Of course my mental life goes on between the calendar dates of my birth and death. A thought may linger in my mind for several days, a joy or a fear may stir my mind through a sleepless night, and in the laboratory I may find out by exact measurement that one sensation group and reaction impulse takes a few hundredths of a second more than another. But in all these cases the mental experience is treated as a psychological process, made dependent upon the physical body which necessarily lives in physical time. The mental processes as objects of causal psychology are in time, just as they are in space. My thoughts last through the time which the clock shows, just as they are in this room in which I am sitting and are inclosed in the cells of my brain. But if I really grasp my thought in the act of thinking or my volition in the act of willing, it does not come in question with reference to these physical conditions either of space or of time. I know it only in so far as it means something, and the question of how many minutes this meaning lasts or whether it is in the front or the rear part of my brain is as pointless as if I were to ask whether my will is blue or green, salt or sour.

The acts are intimately related to the time of the physical world, as the self takes attitude through them

( 302) toward past and present and future. Those objects toward which our will is directed are present, those toward which we can no longer act are past, and those for which we can still prepare an action are future. The time values are distributed for the real subject by these purposive acts, but the acts are not in the time which they create. We have no right to say that the act occurs at the same time at which an event in the physical world occurs toward which the act is directed. The act is not simultaneous with it, nor does it precede it, nor does it follow it : it is itself outside of time, just as it is outside of causality. To be sure, there is an internal consecutiveness and progress in our acts. One act grows out of another, and in an entirely different sense we may project the unfolding of our real inner life into a purposive time, but that is certainly not the time of our calendar in which the stars move and in which our brain acts.

The Connection of Purposive Acts.—What do we really aim at when we seek a necessary connection between two experiences? Let us look back to the case of the physical world. We see that the mere regular succession of two physical processes could not possibly satisfy our demand for an ultimate understanding. We could not take it for granted that a succession would occur the hundredth time because it did occur ninety-nine times. Such practical observations of regular successions may serve us well for the routine of the day, because they make us expect similar happenings: but the discovery of such regularities is insufficient as the goal of scientific explanation. The ideal of physics is a natural mechanism in which every particle of an atom lasts. Every change results only from a change of position, and is affected by energies which last too. If nature can be understood in this way, then the successive phases of the natural process are really linked by necessity since we cannot think them otherwise. The connection between cause and effect is then no longer a mere adding

( 303) together of two processes which have nothing in common. On the contrary, cause and effect are then ultimately dependent upon the fact that the physical substance and I lie physical energies remain the same in every new phase or the world process.

The fact that every particle of substance and the energy of the universe remain the same is the only experience which does not need any further explanation. It is explanation in itself, because it is involved in our thought of the physical substance and its energies. We cannot think it otherwise, if we seek a consistent idea of nature. The world which we actually experience is a ceaseless flux and change. Our search for a world in which objects last and on which we can rely for our actions leads us to that construction in which the change is understood as a function of something which remains forever unchanged. This ideal is realized by the scientist's conception of nature. The search for causality finds a real logical rockbed only where the manifoldness is understood as an ultimate sameness: causality is replaced by identity.

The search for necessary connections in our real life, in our life of purpose and meaning, begins with the same motives and ends with the same results as the search of the causal scientist. The motive is here, too, to bring order into the manifoldness and to take a right attitude toward a single experience by embedding it into its whole setting. The result, on the other hand, is again that the apparent change is recognized, or rather reconstructed, as a system of identities. Whatever remains the same does not need any further connection. Yet what a difference between the sameness of the atomistic substance in succeeding periods of time and the sameness of will purposes in the progress of inner experience.

If we really seek to understand the continuity of meaning, we must energetically refuse every reminiscence of the continuity of objects. The will treated as a psycho-

( 304) -logical content of consciousness does not last beyond the fractions of a second in which we perceive it; a new will act is an entirely new content. But its purpose may remain exactly the same: the will to affirm certain premises is identical with the will to affirm the conclusion. The one is involved in the other; the one means the other. They are connected in the purposive world, because they are ultimately the same. The meaning of the definition of a triangle mid the geometric deductions from it are surely very different as objects of psychological selfobservation, but the acts of the subject who grasps them and proceeds from the definition to the geometrical propositions are necessarily bound together by the identity of meaning.

As in the world of nature every single process points backward to its causes and forward to its effects, in the world of purposes, too, every single meaning which we grasp in ourselves or acknowledge in others has its double face. It turns forward to all to which it may lead, and backward to that from which it grew. In dealing with nature we have the two interests alternately in mind. When anything happens, sometimes the causes attract our attention, and sometimes only the effects to be expected. In our life of purpose our interest fluctuates no less. An, idea which interests us makes us consider what may result from it or from what ideas. it sprung. In purposive psychology both questions must be answered systematically. Thus our general problem is: how can we think the self so as to understand every act as identical with other acts in the self 7

Our statement that every meaning involves the reference to a self demands some further comment, which might easily lead too far into the midst of philosophy. We may grasp the meaning of an idea, of a judgment, of a demand, without referring it to a particular subject. The mathematical truth that three times three is nine has a meaning for us without being the purposive act of a particular individual. It remains a true

( 305) statement for us and makes our understanding independent, of the question whether this or that person is making this mathematical affirmation. But ultimately this does not mean that it is without reference to a subject; it means only that the idea interests us without our having any interest in the question of which individuals are actively engaged in thinking it, because it is binding for the will of every possible individual. The philosopher, accordingly, would not detach it from a reference to subjective will, but he would relate it to a more than personal will, to the will of everybody who is to be acknowledged as a subject at, all. He therefore discriminates between the purposive idea which interests us as the purposive expression of an individual self and that which is necessarily affirmed by every possible self and which can thus be thought without any reference to an individual person. Every logical statement, as such, has this more than individual relation : in logic we can entirely abstract from this relation to the subject.

The situation is completely parallel to that of the psychical and physical objects of consciousness. There cannot be any objects which are not objects for a subject, that perceives them. Bid only in the case of the psychical objects are we really interested in their being perceived by a particular individual, and we refer them therefore to a special subject. The world of physical objects, on the other hand, is no less a world of perceptible objects, but, as it contains the objects which are objects for every possible subject, we have no interest in asking what particular subjects are actually involved in the perceptions. We treat the physical thing, the stone, as something for which I he question of being perceived by a particular individual may he entirely ignored. We speak of its objective existence in nature, as if this had no reference to the possibility of being perceived. The physicist abstracts from the perception of his objects, and the logician abstracts from the will reference of his truths, but ultimately this abstraction in both cases means lit-at any possible subject can be substituted. Only when we deal with psychical contents of consciousness do we need the reference to an individual consciousness, and when we speak of psychical purposive acts, we need the reference to individual selves.

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We want to understand the self so that its acts may be conceived identical with one another. The result must be a construction which as such goes beyond the actual experience just as the ether constructions of the physicist go beyond the observations of nature. The aim of this purposive construction is reached by the theory of the soul. The soul is the self conceived as a system of purposes which remains identical with itself in developing its potential acts as real experiences in response to the acts of others and to the objects of the world.

The Function of the Soul.—The idea of a purposive soul with spontaneous activity is as old as human thought about man's inner life. Every savage tribe on the surface of the earth has some word which may fittingly be translated as "soul."The dream in which the sleeper leaves his place and wanders afar, the mental disease in which man is not himself but controlled by another self, the death in which the self leaves the body, the reappearance of the dead in the dreams of the living, and many similar motives have led to the primitive soul ideas. The special form in which these conceptions were shaped throughout the history of mankind depended upon the background of general knowledge, the religious and the philosophical ideas and not least upon the imagination of the peoples and of their individual thinkers. At first it was essentially a man in man, a thinner, finer, shadowlike, breathlike man ; and the motives which led to such constructions have never ceased to influence the masses.

Long periods of human thought were controlled by ideas which interpreted the soul as an indestructible simple substance. But however the forms of the soul have been conceived, a purposive, free mental agency has been at all times demanded by human thought, and never was really suppressed by the passing ideas of a mental mechanism after the pattern of natural science. Yet the consistent purposive psychologist recognizes that even the soul sub-

( 307) -stance and every conception which has similarity to it, is still, to a large degree, under the influence of naturalistic ideas. The soul substances were constructed and are still constructed today, because the philosophers wanted to explain the mental actions; and they called the actions free inasmuch as the causes lay in the soul itself. But the whole question is wrongly put. If we really take the purposive attitude, we must be consistent and see that there is nothing to be explained, because the purposive reality is falsified, when it is brought into a system of causes and effects. It needs to be interpreted and to be understood, hut not to be explained from causes, even though the causes lie in the soul itself. Our definition of the soul as a system of purposes avoids this fundamental mistake, and it satisfies every logical demand, as long as unjustified questions are not raised. If we are asked to describe this soul, such a misleading question is already before us. To describe reality means to treat it as an object, and a system or purposes which we understand in grasping their meaning can never be conceived as an object.

In the same way it would be entirely wrong to think that the soul is the cause of the movements of the body. This again would simply force us on the road to explanation. The psychophysical brain processes move the muscles, but in the purposive world the life of the soul expresses itself in the bodily movements without in any way suggesting the question of how these movements are effected. If the man with whom we are in intercourse really stands in a human relation to us and is not the object of observational interest, his bodily movements help us to understand the actions of his soul and do not come in question under any other point of view. Nor have we a right to ask how one soul can become the cause for actions of another soul. In the universe of purposes which alone interests the noncausal psychologist this effect does not occur. I know the purpose of my friend, or I do not

( 308) know it. The problem how I came to know it, that is, how his soul action entered my soul, raises again an issue of explanation, which is entirely foreign to our mutual understanding. All these questions of explanation must be placed where they belong; that is, in the realm of causal psychology.

How, then, can we characterize the real soul? It is not causal; it is not in the physical body; it is not in the physical time; it is not a substance; it is not an object. Positively, it is through all experience identical with itself. But, again, we must protect our statement against a naturalistic interpretation. The purposes of the soul do not simply go on like the molecules. It is not an outsider who decides that the soul in one act is identical with the soul in another act. The identity is one of meaning; one system of acts means another system of acts. In willing the one purpose the subject wills the other; and this posits his own identity. The soul is continuous as it wills itself in every act of experience as the same self. The soul is selfconscious, not as if it could be an object for itself, but because it affirms its own system of purposes in every new act. The soul is free, because it is not dependent upon any cause. The soul is immortal, because the biological phenomenon of death in the realm of space and causality cannot refer to a strictly purposive reality. The life of the soul is to be analyzed and its inner relations to be traced by the study of purposive psychology. It leads to the ultimate problems of mankind, since only the acts of the soul and not the causal mental processes can be related to the overindividual obligations of truth, beauty and morality. Only the soul, finally, and not the causal mental mechanism can be conceived as part of the absolute mind which embraces the individuals. But we must turn to its special functions. In the sphere of the causal we called the special parts the mental processes. In a purposive world there is no room for processes, as they

( 309) refer to objects. We ought to speak of experiences, as this term indicates better that every phase is related to a subject. We may now turn to the special experiences of the soul, separating again the individual and the social aspects.


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