C. I. Lewis, Mind and the World-Order , 1941



The presumption from which we set out is that it is the business of philosophy to analyze and interpret our common experience, and by reflection, to bring to clear and cogent expression those principles which are implicit because they are brought to experience by the mind itself. Philosophy is the study of the a priori. It seeks to reveal those categorial criteria which the mind applies to what is given to it, and by correct delineation of those criteria to define the good, the right, the valid, and the real.

The attempt, however, so to approach the problems of philosophy leads at once to outstanding questions concerning the nature of knowledge, solution of which seems prerequisite. The distinction between what is a prior and what is not, is here presumed; as is also the correlative distinction between mind, or what mind brings to experience, and some other element, presumably independent of the mind's activity and responsible for other parts or aspects of experience. Have we a right to these distinctions? What are the grounds on which they can be drawn? How in these terms, are knowledge and experience constituted? It is with such questions that the remainder of this book is concerned.

Its principal theses are the following:
  1. The two elements to be distinguished in knowledge are the concept, which is the product of activity of thought, and the sensuously given, which is independent of such activity.
  2. The concept gives rise to the a priori; all a priori truth is definitive, or explicative of concepts.
  3. The pure concept and the content of the given are mutually independent; neither limits the other.
  4. Empirical truth, or knowledge of the objective, arises through conceptual interpretation of the given.
  5. The empirical object, denoted by a concept is never a momentarily given as such, but is some temporally-extended pattern of actual and possible experience.
  6. Hence the assignment of any concept to the momentarily given (which is characteristic of perceptual knowledge) is essentially predictive and only partially verified. There is no knowledge merely by direct awareness.
  7. Actual experience can never be exhaustive of that pattern, projected in the interpretation of the given, which constitutes the real object. Hence all empirical knowledge is probable only.
  8. The mutual independence of the concept and the given, and the merely probable character of empirical truth, are entirely compatible with the validity of cognition. The problem of the "deduction of the categories" can be met without any metaphysical assumption of a preëstablished amenability to categorial order in what is independent of the mind.
  9. More explicitly, any conceivable experience will be such that it can be subsumed under concepts, and also such that predictive judgments which are genuinely probable will hold of it.

This chapter and the next are devoted to the distinction of the two elements in experience, and to the defense of this distinction from various common misinterpretations.

There are, in our cognitive experience, two elements; the immediate data, such as those of sense, which are presented or given to the mind, and a form, construction, or interpretation, which represents the activity of thought. Recognition of this fact is one of the oldest and most universal of philosophic insights. However, the manner in which these elements, and their relation to one another, are conceived, varies in the widest possible manner, and divergence on this point marks a principal distinction amongst theories of knowledge. As a result, even the most general attempt to designate these two elements -- as by the terms used above -- is likely to be objected to. Nevertheless this distinction, in some terms or other, is admitted to a place in almost every philosophy. To suppress it altogether, would be to betray obvious and fundamental characteristics of experience. If there be no datum given to the mind, then knowledge must be contentless and arbitrary; there would be nothing which it must be true to. And if there be no interpretation or construction which the mind itself imposes, then thought is rendered superfluous, the possibility of error becomes inexplicable, and the distinction of true and false is in danger of becoming meaningless. If the significance of knowledge should lie in the data of sense alone, without interpretation, then this significance would be assured by the mere presence of such data to the mind, and every cognitive experience must be veracious.

There are, to be sure, theories which emphasize one of these two elements almost to the exclusion of the other. Such theories are of both sorts -- those which emphasize what is given and those which emphasize the active mind. Immediacy is thus emphasized by the mystics generally, by Bergson, and by the American new-realists -- to mention only those examples which will come at once to the reader's mind. The idealists, on the other hand (empirical idealists, like Berkeley excepted), may seem to include the content as well as the form of knowledge in what the activity of thought creates. However, a closer examination of such theories, of both sorts, will usually reveal that the distinction is still recognized; it is merely obscured by preoccupation with other issues.

In theories of the first type, which identify knowledge with some state of pure immediacy, the description or analysis of the cognitive experience is subordinated to the attempt to establish the superior value of some one type of experience as compared with others. The mystic, for example, values preeminently that experience which he interprets as being the immediate presence to, and coalescence with, his own mind of the transcendent object which he seeks. But he will readily grant the presence and determining character of conceptual interpretation in ordinary non-mystical experience. Only he condemns the object of such experience as illusion or mere appearance. The world of every-day is not, for him, ultimately real; or at least its true nature is not revealed in ordinary experience. The moment of true insight is that in which the distinctions and relations which discursive thought creates are shorn away and reality stands forth, in luminous immediacy, as it truly is. Now all men restrict the word "knowledge" to the apprehension of the real. Hence the mystic's metaphysical conception, which leads him to use the word "real" differently than other men, likewise moves him to restrict the term "knowledge" to the peculiar experience in which this "reality" is apprehended. That in the ordinary experience which other men trust as truly cognitive, the element of interpretation is present, he fully recognizes and even insists upon. He recognizes also that this conceptual element represents something induced by the construction or attitude of the mind itself.1

The reason why Bergson identifies the truest knowledge with "intuition" is similarly rooted in metaphysical theory and not in any divergent reading of our ordinary experience. For him, the ultimate reality is life, or the inwardly grasped "real duration." For each mind, this is something which is immediate, in his own case, and is to be apprehended in its other manifestations only by empathy or einfühlung. The world of science and common sense Bergson recognizes to be construction or interpretation which the mind imposes upon the data of immediacy. Also, he is explicit that this construction is dominated by action and social coöperation. But the space-world which results from such interpretation, he regards as not an ultimate reality; hence the cognitive experience which includes this interpretive element is not a theoretically adequate knowledge. In short, with Bergson as with the mystics, identification of knowledge with intuitive apprehension of the immediate reflects no basic difference in the analysis of ordinary experience but rather a difference in the denotation given to the phrase "true knowledge" because of a metaphysical theory which denies ultimate reality to what is cognized by science and common sense.

Of all the current theories in which knowledge is portrayed in terms of receptivity alone, the new realism would seem to be the only one in which this predilection for the given does not reflect a metaphysical preoccupation. Here the activity of thought (or attention) is represented as selective only; it may determine what is included in or excluded from perception but it does not supplement or modify the given data. Mind, so far as mind is just now a knowing of this object, and the object, so far as it is just now known by this mind, are represented as coinciding.2

Any such theory must reveal its inadequacy by failure to account satisfactorily for the possibility of error. So far as knowledge is pure receptivity, that with which the mind coincides in cognition must in all cases have the same objectivity. Or at least, no ground is here provided for the distinction between veridical and illusory apprehension. Thus we have the question whether mirror-images are truly located in the space to which they are referred, the difficulty about the star seen now, though it may have ceased to send its light-rays from that point a thousand years ago, and a number of like problems. The new realist may go the whole length, as Mr. Holt did, and hold that contradictories and incompatibles can be objectively real.3 But in that case he ceases, for most of us to be plausible. Or he may, as Mr. Montague did, introduce some theory of a plurality of causes which can produce the same brain-state, and explain error through the ambiguity thus introduced. But it would appear that, apart from any question about identifying brain-states with perceptions, or any question about the propriety of the element of representationalism thus introduced into what is otherwise a purely "presentation" theory of knowledge, it will be impossible, on this account, to escape the admission of an element of interpretation in cognition. So long as the content of knowledge merely coincides with what is presented, knowledge must still be always veridical, because the brain-state (or perception) will contain only so much of the plurality of causes which may give rise to it as will in all cases coincide. The brain-state can be identical only with what is identical in the plurality of its causes -- unless we wish to abandon the principle that things identical with the same thing are identical with each other. If a single brain-state, or modification of perceptive consciousness, is taken as meaning one thing when its veridical significance is of another, then some interpretation which goes beyond the content of this given state itself is the only conceivable basis of the error.

Furthermore, it is impossible to escape the fact that knowledge has in some fashion and to some degree, the significance of prediction. As Berkeley put it, one idea or presentation is sign of another which is to be expected. So far as this is true, the cognitive significance may attach to the data of sense but cannot simply coincide with such given data. To know is to find what is presented significant of what is not, just now, so presented. It is because Berkeley failed to follow out the implications of his own theory and to examine the validity of this relation, by thought, of what is given to what is not thus immediate, that the way lay open to Hume's skepticism. Failure to recognize and consider this element of construction or interpretation by the mind, will wreck any theory of knowledge.

Failure to acknowledge its existence will make it impossible to account for error. And failure to find the ground of its validity will lead inevitably to skepticism; if not to skepticism ordinarily so-called, at least to that skepticism of everyday cognition which is involved in immediacy theories such as mysticism.

With theories of the opposite sort, which emphasize the constructive mind and seem to exclude any independent given such as sense-data, the explanation may similarly be found in a metaphysical preoccupation. This is obviously the case with Plato. 4 The data of sense are, for him, not relevant to true knowledge because only the transcendent ideas are fully real. In that mixed sort of apprehension by which the physical external world is grasped, the place of sense-data, on his account, is evident.

Post-Kantian idealism, also may seem to contend for the identification of knowledge with what the activity of thought alone produces. But idealism can hardly mean to deny that the fact of my seeing at this moment a sheet of white paper instead of a green tree is a datum which it is beyond the power of my thought to alter. It can hardly mean to deny the given in every sense. As a fact, idealists of this school seldom speak directly to the question: "Does the activity of thinking create what would ordinarily be called the data of sense?" This question may not seem to them important because their metaphysical thesis does not turn upon it, but rather upon two somewhat different issues: "Can there be any apprehension of a real object without the active construction of the mind?" and, "Is the existence of sense- data, as such, evidence of a reality which is independent of mind? 5

The first of these questions is answered to their satisfaction if it can be shown that the objectivity of the real requires always construction by the mind. This thesis does not imply any denial that the given is independent of the activity of thought in the sense explained above. It requires only the denial that the presentation of sense-data can by itself constitute valid knowledge. That I credit this presentation, or attribute to its objectivity, is a judgment, and as such an act of thought. (It would equally be an interpretation to discredit the presentation as merely subjective). This interpretive fiat is what Fichte stresses as the positing of the "not-me." The data of sense, apart from such positing, are neither external reality nor explicit self. In immediacy, there is no separation of subject and object. The givenness of immediate data is, thus, not the givenness of reality , and is not knowledge. Hence the idealist may insist that there is no (real) object without the creative activity of thought, without in the least meaning to deny that there is a datum prior to its being posited as real, a content judged which is given to the judgment. As a fact, however, he often slights this point in his anxiety to pass on and refute the implications, contrary to his metaphysical thesis, which are frequently drawn from it.

Also it may seem to the idealist more important to point out that given data are already in mind than to inquire whether such data are created by thought. If both the data interpreted and the interpretation put upon them belong to the mind, then the real object, as cognized, may be represented as in both its aspects mind-dependent; and no argument to an independent reality can be drawn from the analysis of knowledge. Thus the idealist may fail to admit, or even to recognize explicitly, that there are given data of experience which, merely as such and not as objective reality or unreality, the activity of thought can neither create nor alter.

It is also characteristic of idealism to point out that the moment of pure givenness is a fiction, and its data an "unreal abstraction." There is no apprehension -- he will insist -- without construction; hence the distinction of subject and object, act and given, must be within thought, not between thought and an independent something thought about. This consideration is of more importance for us, and will be discussed in the next chapter. But it implies no denial of the givennes of sense-data. It contends only that the mental state which should be purely receptive and coincide with the given is a fiction -- an observation which is unacceptable only to the mystic and other protagonists of pure intuition. Whether there is the beginning of a fallacious train of reasoning in this stretching of the term "thought" to cover the cognitive experience as a whole, eve need not pause to inquire. At least, the denial of the given is not obviously necessary to any of the characteristic theses of idealism. Indeed, an unqualified denial of this element in ordinary cognition is sufficient to put any theory beyond the pale of plausibility.

We may, then, fairly take it for granted, as something generally recognized, that there are in experience these two elements, something given and the interpretation or construction put upon it. But the very fact that the recognition of this is so general and of such long standing enforces the necessity of considering the distinction with care. Different significances have been assigned to it, both historically and in contemporary thought. Moreover, various metaphysical issues gather about it: What is the relation between the given and the real? How does mind construct or interpret: does it transcend experience? If so, how can it be known? If not, how can it condition experience in general by its interpretation? Confronted with such a tangle of problems, we shall do best, I think, if first we can catch our facts. If we can identify the thing to be discussed, a certain degree of clarity will accrue simply by telling the truth about it, if we can.

There is, in all experience, that element which we are aware that we do not create by thinking and cannot, in general, displace or alter. As a first approximation, we may designate it as "the sensuous."

At the moment, I have a fountain pen in my hand. When I so describe this item of my present experience, I make use of terms whose meaning I have learned. Correlatively I abstract this item from the total field of my present consciousness and relate it to what is not just now present in ways which I have learned and which reflect modes of action which I have acquired. It might happen that I remember my first experience of such a thing. If so, I should find that this sort of presentation did not then mean "fountain pen" to me. I bring to the present moment something which I did not then bring; a relation of this to other actual and possible experiences, and a classification of what is here presented with things which I did not then include in the same group. This present classification depends on that learned relation of this experience to other possible experience and to my action, which the shape, size, etc., of this object was not then a sign of. A savage in New Guinea, lacking certain interests and habits of action which are mine, would not so classify it. There is, to be sure, something in the character of this thing as a merely presented colligation of sense-qualities which is for me the clue to this classification or meaning; but that just this complex of qualities should be due to a "pen" character of the object is something which has been acquired. Yet what I refer to as "the given" in this experience is, in broad terms, qualitatively no different than it would be if I were an infant or an ignorant savage.

Again, suppose my present interest to be slightly altered. I might then describe this object which is in my hand as "a cylinder" or "hard rubber" or "a poor buy." In each case the thing is somewhat differently related in my mind, and the connoted modes of my possible behavior toward it, and my further experience of it, are different. Something called "given" remains constant, but its character as sign, its classification, and its relation to other things and to action are differently taken.

In whatever terms I describe this item of my experience, I shall not convey it merely as given, but shall supplement this by a meaning which has to do with relations, and particularly with relation to other experiences which I regard as possible but which are not just actual. The manner of this supplementation reflects my habitual interests and modes of activity, the nature of my mind. The infant may see it much as I do, but still it will mean to him none of these things I have described it as being, but merely "plaything" or "smooth biteable." But for any mind whatever, it will be more than what is merely given if it be noted at all.under this broad term "meaning" (unless immediate value or the specificity of sense-quality should be included) is brought to this experience by the mind, as is evidenced by the fact that in this respect the experience is alterable to my interest and my will.

This meaning or interpretation or construction which is attached to the given is significant in two directions, connected but different. The one is the relation of this which is immediately presented to further actual and possible experience; the other is relation to my interest and action. The relation to other experience, is something which is brought to the present by a selective memory. As applied to this present given, however, it is significant, not of the past, but of an actual or possible future, continuous with this present moment. Thus this given is set in a relation with a to-be-given or could-be-given, and this setting is an interpretation of it which the temporal process of experience may verify or prove erroneous. The other relation -- of the given to present interest or attitude -- connotes an interplay between the temporal process of further possible experience and my own purposes and behavior. Since I not only think but physically act, I enter into the temporal process of the future as a factor which determines, in some part, what it shall present. Thus my interpretation is predictive of my own physical behavior as forecast by my present interested attitude, and of further experience as affected by that behavior. In all those ways in which my interpretation could be phrased as predictive not of future actual but only of possible experience, it very likely has reference to ways of acting which I know I might adopt at will and the future experience which I should then expect.

My designation of this thing as "pen" reflects my purpose to write; as "cylinder" my desire to explain a problem in geometry or mechanics; as "a poor buy" my resolution to be more careful hereafter in my expenditures. These divergent purposes are anticipatory of certain different future contingencies which are expected to accrue, in each case, partly as a result of my own action.

The distinction between this element of interpretation and the given is emphasized by the fact that the latter is what remains unaltered, no matter what our interests, no matter how we think or conceive. I can apprehend this thing as pen or rubber or cylinder, but I cannot, by taking thought, discover it as paper or soft or cubical.

While we can thus isolate the element of the given by these criteria of its unalterability and its character as sensuous feel or quality, we cannot describe any particular given as such , because in describing it, in whatever fashion, we qualify it by bringing it under some category or other, select from it, emphasize aspects of it, and relate it in particular and avoidable ways. If there be states of pure esthesis, in violent emotion or in the presence of great art, which are unqualified by thought, even these can be conveyed -- and perhaps even retained in memory -- only when they have been rendered articulate by thought. So that in a sense the given is ineffable, always. It is that which remains untouched and unaltered, however it is construed by thought. Yet no one but a philosopher could for a moment deny this immediate presence in consciousness of that which no activity of thought can create or alter.

If now we have fastened upon the fact of experience which we wish to discuss as the given element in it, it is time that we proceed to clarify this conception and guard against various possible misinterpretations.

An initial difficulty may arise from ambiguity of the word "given." This term has most frequently been used in philosophy in meanings at least close to the one here intended. But on occasion it has the widely different significance of denoting those data which philosophy in general finds or takes for granted at the beginning of its study. And occasionally those who use the term in this second meaning make it carry something of methodological polemic against any notion that "the immediate" or "sense- data" are allowable categories of explanation in epistemology.

What I should have to say on this point is, in part at least, already clear from the preceding chapter. It is indeed the thick experience of the world of thinks not the thin given of immediacy which constitutes the datum for philosophic reflection. We do not see patches of color, but trees and houses; we hear, not indescribable sound, but voices and violins. What we most certainly know are objects and full-bodied facts about them which could be stated in propositions. Such initial data of object and fact set the problem in philosophy and are, in a measure, the criteria of its solution, since any philosophic theory will rightfully be rejected as inaccurate or inadequate if it does not measure up to, or account for, experience in this broad sense.

But the acceptance of such preanalytic data 6 as an ultimate epistemological category would, if really adhered to, put an end to all worthwhile investigation of the nature of knowledge -- or to any other intellectual enterprise. What lies on the surface can be taken as ultimate only so long as there is no problem to be solved, or else no solution to be hoped for. Without analysis, there can be no advance of understanding.

The given, as here conceived, is certainly an abstraction. Unless there be such a thing as pure esthesis (and I should join with the critic in doubting this), the given never exists in isolation in any experience or state of consciousness. Any Kantian "manifold" as a psychic datum or moment of experience, is probably a fiction, and the assumption of if as such is a methodological error. The given is in , not before, experience. But the condemnation of abstraction is the condemnation of thought itself. Nothing that thought can ever comprise is other than some abstraction which cannot exist in isolation. Everything mentionable is an abstraction except the concrete universal; and the concrete universal is a myth. Thought can do just two things; it can separate, by analysis, entities which in their temporal or spatial existence are not separated, and it can conjoin, by synthesis, entities which in their existence are disjoined. Only the mystic or those who conceive that man would be better off without an upper-brain, have ground for objection to analysis and abstraction. The only important question is whether this abstracted element, the "given," is genuinely to be discovered in experience. On this point I can, of course, only appeal to the reader. I shall hope that he has already identified provisionally what the word intends, and proceed upon that basis.

Assuming, however, such provisional identification, there are still ambiguities of language to be avoided. I have so far spoken of "the given" and "data of sense" as roughly synonymous, but the latter phrase has connotations which are slightly inappropriate. In the first place, "sense-data," as a psychological category, may be distinguished from other mental content by their correlation with the processes in the afferent nerves. A distinction made by the criterion of such correlation with nervous processes is open to two objections in epistemology. In the first place, the thing or mental state itself must first be accurately identifiable before such correlation can be established. If it is thus identifiable, the correlation is not essential and is, in fact, superfluous in discussions of epistemology by the method of reflection and analysis. Second, there is the more general objection that the theory of knowledge is a subject too fundamental to rest upon distinctions drawn from the particular sciences. Basic problems of category and of the general nature of knowledge are antecedent to the special sciences and cannot, therefore, legitimately depend upon their particular findings. Especially is this important as regards psychology, a valid method for which is, at the present moment, a serious problem. The manner in which my own body is known to me, the subjectivity or objectivity of pleasantness or emotional tone, the validity of the correlation between mental states which I inspect directly only in my own case (if such is the fact) and nervous processes which I can observe only in another organism; these are themselves problems which have at least an epistemological side.

Also, the particular purposes which the psychologist has in mind in making his analysis of mental states may be out of place in epistemology. "Sense-datum" may connote relation to particular sense-organs (as in the distinction between taste and odor), and hence mark a division where none can be drawn by direct inspection. Also other qualities than the strictly sensory may be as truly given; the pleasantness or fearfulness of a thing may be as un-get-overable as its brightness or loudness -- that question, at least, must not be prejudiced. Hence "sense-data," defined by correlation with nervous processes, should have no place in our program. It is the brute-fact element in perception, illusion and dream (without antecedent distinction) which is intended.

However, if it be understood that the methodological connotation of psychological categories is not here in point, it will cause no confusion if I continue to refer to the "sensuous" or the "feeling" character of the given: the element in experience which is intended is difficult to designate in any terms which are not thus preempted to slightly different uses. It seems better to use language which is familiar, even at some risk of ambiguity, than to invent a technical jargon which would, after all, be no less ambiguous until its precise connotation could be discovered from its use.

There is also another and different kind of ambiguity which must be avoided. Obviously, we must distinguish the given from the object which is given. The given is presentation of something real, in the normal case at least; what is given I (given in part) is this real object. But the whatness of this object involves its categorial interpretation; the real object, as known, is a construction put upon this experience of it, and includes much which is not, at the moment, given in the presentation.

Still further comment is required in view of contemporary theories which deal with the content of immediacy in a different fashion. 7

When we remember that even the delimitation of that in which we are interested, the singling out of the presentation of our object from other accompanying consciousness is, in some part at least, a work of excision or abstraction wrought by the mind, we may be led to remark that there is, in all strictness, only one given, the Bergsonian real duration or the stream of consciousness. This, I take it, is at least approximately correct. The absolute given is a specious present, fading into the past and growing into the future with no genuine boundaries. The breaking of this up into the presentation of things marks already the activity of an interested mind. On the other hand, we should beware of conceiving the given as a smooth undifferentiated flux; that would be wholly fictitious. Experience, when it comes, contains within it just those disjunctions which, when they are made explicit by our attention, mark the boundaries of events "experiences" and things. The manner in which a field of vision or a duration breaks into parts reflects our interested attitudes, but attention cannot mark disjunctions in an undifferentiated field.

The interruptions and differences which form the boundaries of events are both given and constituted by interpretation. That the rug is on the floor or the thunder follows the flash, is as much given as the color of the rug or the loudness of the crash. But that I find this disjunction of rug and floor possessed of a meaning which the wrinkles in the rug do not have, reflects my past experience to taking up and putting down rugs. The cognitively significant on-the-floorness of the rug requires both the given break in the field of vision and the interpretation of it as the boundary between manipulable object and unyielding support.

Even in that sense in which the given is always one whole, it is not important for our purpose of analyzing knowledge that we should dwell upon this integrality of it. Our interest is, rather, in the element of givenness in what we may, for usual and commonplace reasons, mark off as "an experience" or "an object." This given element in a single experience of an object is what will be meant by "a presentation." Such a presentation is, obviously, an event and historically unique. But for most of the purposes of analyzing knowledge one presentation of a half-dollar held at right angles to the line of vision, etc., will be as good as another. If, then, I speak of " the presentation" of this or that, it will be on the supposition that the reader can provide his own illustration. No identification of the event itself with the repeatable content of it is intended.

In any presentation, this content is either a specific quale (such as the immediacy of redness or loudness) or something analyzable into a complex of such. The presentation as an event is, of course, unique, but the qualia which make it up are not. They are recognizable from one to another experience. Such specific qualia and repeatable complexes of them are nowadays sometimes designated as "essences." This term, with such a meaning, will here be avoided; the liability to confuse such qualia with universal concepts makes this imperative.

It is at once the plausibility and the fatal error of "critical realism" that it commits this confusion of the logical universal with given qualia of sense by denominating both of these "essences." As will be pointed out later, what any concept denotes - - or any adjective such as "red" or "round" -- is something more complex than an identifiable sense-quale. In particular, the object of the concept must always have a time-span which extends beyond the specious present; this is essential to the cognitive significance of concepts. The qualia of sense as something given do not, in the nature of the case, have such temporal spread. /Moreover, such qualia, though repeatable in experience and intrinsically recognizable, have no names. They are fundamentally different from the "universals" of logic and of traditional problems concerning these. Elucidation of this point must wait upon the sequel.

The somewhat similar use of the terms "sensa" and "sense-data" is also likely to prove prejudicial. Mr. Broad in particular has used these terms in a fashion which gives what is denoted by them a dubious metaphysical status. He says, for example:8 "We agreed that, if they (sensa) are states of mind at all, they must be presentations. But we find no reason for thinking that they are states of mind, and much the same reasons against that view as led us to hold that sensations are analyzable into act and sensum. . . . We saw no intrinsic reason why coloured patches or noises should not be capable of existing unsensed." And elsewhere: 9 "A sense-datum with which I am acquainted may perfectly well have parts with which I am not acquainted. If therefore I say that a given sense-datum has no parts except those which I have noticed and mentioned I may quite well be wrong. Similarly there may well be differences of quality which l cannot detect. If I say: This sense-datum with which I am acquainted is coloured all over with a uniform-shade of red, this statement may be false."

Now it is indeed obvious that I may make erroneous report of the given, because I can make no report at all except by the use of language, which imports concepts which are not given. The sensum-theory, like the essence-theory, fails to go deep enough and to distinguish what is really given from what is imported by interpretation. There is interpretation involved in calling the sensum "elliptical" as much as in calling the penny "round." It means, for example, to assert something about the motion one must make with one's finger in order to hide successively the different portions of the periphery. Also it is true, of course, that if I report the given as "red," I may convey an erroneous impression because I am heedless of color-meanings, and another observer who should have an experience qualitatively the same might report "orange" or "violet." Similarly I may report "round" when an artist would report "elliptical," because I am not used to projecting things on a plane. All those difficulties which the psychologist encounters in dealing with reports of introspection may be sources of error in any report of the given. It may require careful self-questioning, questioning by another, to elicit the full and correct account of a given experience. But Mr. Broad seems here to assert an entirely different ground of possible mistake. He seems to mean that with the same sensum before me I may at one moment see it red and at a later moment somewhat mottled or more deeply shaded at the center, and so forth.

Now if I look fixedly at a card and see it first uniform and then mottled, I shall very likely and quite properly report that the color of the surface has a quality which I did not at first see. But the subject of this statement is the real color of the real card, and the statement itself is not a report of the content of sense but an interpretation put upon my succession of sensory experience. It imports a distinction between the subjective and the objective which is irrelevant to givenness as such. There certainly is such a thing as the shape of a penny or the color of a card which can exist unnoticed while I am looking at it -- or when I am not. This is because the shape of the penny has the same kind of enduring reality as the penny, and a quite different kind of reality from the intermittent presentation of the penny in my consciousness. But I thought it was the initial point of the sensum-theory to provide a name -- if not a local habitation -- for what I see as opposed to what I see, the elliplicity of the appearance as against the real roundness of the penny. As such, it should be of the essence of the sensum to be sensed; the sensum which is neither the real shape of the real penny nor the appearance of it in a mind is neither fish, flesh nor good red herring. A sensum which is not sensed, or a sense-datum which continues unaltered while consciousness of it changes, is merely a new kind of ding an sich, which is none the better for being inappropriately named so as to suggest its phenomenological character.

What is given may exist outside the mind -- that question should not be prejudiced. But in order that we may meaningfully assert such existence, it is essential that there be an answer to the questions: What would it mean if that which is given has such independent existence? In what respect would experience in general be different if it had no such independent reality? For a sensum which is not sensed, it is difficult to see what answer there can be to such questions.10 The main objection to the sensum-theory is that it leaves at once the ground of the analysis of experience and plunges into metaphysics. It would explain the immediate and indubitable by something intrinsically unverifiable and highly dubious.

It is of the essence of what will here be meant by "the given" that it should be given . We need not say that what is given is a "mental state" or even "in the mind" in any more explicit sense than is itself implied in such givenness. Nor should it be presumed that what is thus inn mind is exclusively mental. The nature of that interpretation or construction by which we come to know objects suggests that the given must be, in some sense or other, a constituent of objective reality as well. All such questions are simply later questions . If there should be metaphysical problems concerning the kind of reality which what is "in mind" may have, it is not necessary to anticipate the solution of these beyond what may be verified in the discovery that certain items or aspects of the content of experience satisfy the criteria of givenness. These are, first, its specific sensuous or feeling- character, and, second, that the mode of thought can neither create nor alter it - that it remains unaffected by any change of mental attitude or interest. It is the second of these criteria which is definitive; the first alone is not sufficient, for reasons which will appear.

This given element is never, presumably, to be discovered in isolation. If the content of perception is first given and then, in a later moment, interpreted, we have no consciousness of such a first state of intuition unqualified by thought, though we do observe alteration and extension of interpretation of given content as a psychological temporal process. A state of intuition utterly unqualified by thought is a figment of the metaphysical imagination, satisfactory only to those who are willing to substitute a dubious hypothesis for the analysis of knowledge as we find it. The given is admittedly an excised element or abstraction; all that is here claimed is that it is not an "unreal" abstraction, but an identifiable constituent in experience.


1 Often the mystic, inheriting his terminology from Aristotle, interprets the attitude of mind in every-day experience as passivity rather than activity, reserving the latter term for his own kind of absorbed concentration. For him, the interpretation which characterizes ordinary thought is at the behest of enslaving "passion." That such construction is significant of ordinary and mundane interests, he fully understands. But such interests are, for him, to be avoided and quelled. Here again, his use of terms, reversing the usual one, is governed by metaphysical and ethical preoccupation which is irrelevant to the just analysis of mundane experience. He reserves the laudatory term "active" for the ethical attitude which he seeks to inculcate. It is thus that in philosophy we give over the accurate report of fact to quarrel for exclusive possession of honorific terms.

2 It would seem that most, or all, of those who cooperated in the volume, "The New Realism," have since abandoned or considerably modified the positions there taken, so that what is here said may be a discussion of nobody's present conception. But the theory is of interest on its own account.

3 "The Concept of Consciousness," 1914.

4 It is not clear that Plato is activist, rather than intuitionist, in his conception of noesis, but at least sense-data have no part in this highest kind of knowledge.

5 See, for example, Green: "Prolegomena to Ethics," chap. I, secs. 12 and 13.

6 I borrow this useful phrase from Professor Loewenberg; see his article, "Preanalytic and Postanalytic Data." The Journal of Philosophy , vol. 24 (1927), pp. 5 ff.

7 Extended discussion of such theories cannot be included here; the object of the discussion is merely that of clarifying, by contrast the terminology and procedure here adopted. Though criticisms will be ventured, it is recognized that the discussion is not sufficient fully to substantiate these.

8 "Scientific Thought," p. 265.

9 "Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society," supp. vol. II, p. 218.

10 I am never quite sure that I may not be misunderstanding Mr. Broad on this point. (I might say the same thing about Mr. Russell's "perspectives." It may be that he means only that when no eye is situated at a certain angle from the penny, it is still true that if there were a normal observer there, he would observe this elliptical appearance, and that the appearance is there whether the observer is or not. To this I can give real meaning. the last part of the statement means the first part -- that the appearance is there when not observed, means that if any observer were there he would observe it. Or it means that other effects of the penny are there, such as an image registered on a camera-plate, and that these may be verified by the same methods as the existence of physical objects when not observed. But if what Mr. Broad means to call to our attention is the fact that the truth of the statement, "If an observer were there he would observe so and so," can not be tested when no observer is there; and if its being thus true when not verified is what is meant by the existence of unsensed sensa; then I am compelled to say that the hypothesis is merely verbal nonsense. A hypothesis which in the nature of the case is incapable of any conceivable test is the hypothesis of nothing. What is normally meant by saying, "If an observer were there he would observe so and so," is verifiable by the fact that, other conditions being altered at will, whenever an observer is there he does see this. As will be pointed out later, the attribution of properties to objects and of existence to objects, consists, from the point of view of cognition, precisely in the truth of such hypothetical propositions. And these are held to be true when the hypothesis is contrary to fact. But what we mean by the truth of such propositions is precisely the sort of thing set forth above: the hypothetical, "If X were, then Y would be," means, "However other conditions be varied, and condition X being similarly supplied at will, whenever X is, Y is." If the existence of an appearance or sensum when it is not sensed means its observability at will, then it means its existence whenever it is sensed. So far as I can see, there is nothing else which such existence reasonably could mean. In this, of course, I am merely arguing for the indispensability to meaning of the "pragmatic test" of Peirce and James.

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