Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 2

Chapter 6: What is "a Mind"?

1. The traits in terms of which one describes particular minds | 2. What is a power, capacity, or disposition | 3. What a mind is

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          IN A book cited earlier, Dr. Lamont defines mind as "the power of abstract reasoning," referring to the exercise of it as "the experience of thinking or having ideas," and stating that ideas "are non-material meanings expressing the relations between things and events."(1)

(1) The Illusion of Immortality, pp. 70, 100, 101.

But although the power of abstract reasoning may well be what differentiates human minds from the minds of animals, and developed human minds from the minds of human infants, yet human minds comprise, besides the power of abstract reasoning, various others, wholly or partly independent of it. This power could at most be claimed to constitute the intellectual part of the mind of man; for minds, human as well as animal have also affective and conative capacities, the existence of which Lamont acknowledges but does not include in his definition of mind. His definition is therefore arbitrary and unrealistic.

1. The traits in terms of which one describes particular minds

When we are asked to state the characteristics in which a given person's mind differs from that of another, what we say is, for example, that he is patient whereas the other is irritable; intelligent, and the other stupid; widely informed, and the other ignorant; self-disciplined, and the other self-indulgent; and we add whatever else we happen to know about his particular tastes, opinions, habits, intellectual skills, attitudes, knowledge, personal memories, character, ideals, ambitions, and so on.

It is in terms of such traits that we spontaneously describe the particular nature of a particular mind. Correspondingly, the generic nature of the human mind would be described in terms of traits shared by all normal human minds. Examples of such generic traits would be the capacity to experience sensations - dizziness, thirst, warmth, pain, color, tone, etc.; the capacity to form mental images - visual, auditory, or other - as in dreams, in day-dreams, in memories, and in voluntary imagination; the capacity to experience emotions, moods, cravings, and impulses; the capacity to imagine and desire experiences or situations not at the moment occurring; and so on.

2. What is a power, capacity, or disposition

Lamont's definition of mind, however, although inadequate for the reason stated, is sound to the extent that it conceives minds in terms of "powers."

The term "power" is nowadays out of favor, as is its virtual synonym, "faculty," the utility of which was destroyed by misuse of it as answer to the question "Why?" The classical horrible example of such misuse is the vis dormitiva offered as answer to the question why opium puts people to sleep.

But a power, or faculty, or capacity, or ability, or - to use the term currently in fashion - a disposition, is not an event and therefore never can itself be a cause. A power or disposition is a more or less abiding causal connection between events of particular kinds.(2)

(2) No need arises here to go into the question of the nature of causality itself. I shall therefore say only that a causal connection between events of specified kinds is a causal law, and that a causal law is a law of causation not in virtue of its being a law (since some empirical laws are not laws of causation) but in virtue of the fact that each of the particular sequences, of which the law is an inductive generalization, was, in its own individual right, a causal sequence. For the analysis of the nature of causality this assumes, interested readers are referred to Chs. 7, 8, and 9 of the writer's Nature, Mind, and Death, Open Court Pub. Co. La SalIe, 111. 1951.

More specifically, that something T - whether T be a material thing or a mind - has a power, capacity, or disposition D means that T is such that whenever the state of affairs external or/and internal to T is of a particular kind S, then occurrence of change of a particular kind C in that state of affairs causes occurrence in it of a change of another particular kind E.

For example, solubility in water is a power, faculty, ability, capacity, or disposition of sugar. This means, not that the sugar's solubility causes the sugar to dissolve when it is placed in water; but that sugar is such that (i.e., behaves according to the law that) whenever an event of the kind described as "placing the sugar in water" occurs, then, in ordinary circumstances, that event causes an event of a certain other kind, to wit, the kind described as "sugar's dissolving in water."

This illustration concerns a material thing - sugar. But the mental traits of persons are capacities or dispositions in exactly the same generic sense of these terms, defined above, as are the material traits of sugar and of other material things.

For example, that a person possesses a memory of certain personal experiences, or of some impersonal fact such as that Socrates died in 399 B.C., does not consist simply of occurrences in him, at some particular time, of mental images of those personal experiences, or of word - images formulating that impersonal fact, together with occurrence of what has been termed the feeling of familiarity. Rather, it consists in that person's being such that whenever a question or other "reminder" relating to those personal experiences or to that impersonal fact presents itself to his attention, then, provided that the circumstances in which he is at the time be not abnormal, the advent of the "reminder" causes those images, together with the feeling of familiarity, to arise in him.

Again, that a person is, say, irritable, does not mean that he is at the time experiencing the feeling called Irritation; but that he is such that events of kinds which in most other persons would not in ordinary circumstances cause the feeling of Irritation to arise in them do, in similar circumstances, regularly cause it to arise in him. And so on with the tastes, the skills, the gifts - intellectual, artistic, or other - the habits, etc., which a person possesses. All of them analyze as capacities or dispositions, i.e., as abiding causal connections in him between any event of some particular kind and an event of some other particular kind, under circumstances of some particular kind.

The term "dispositions", however, although currently in greater favor than "powers" or "capacities," is really less felicitous than these since it suffers from a certain ambiguity of which they are free and which easily leads to serious misconceptions. For, besides the sense of "disposition" in which the word is synonymous with "capacity" or with "power," it has another sense, in which "a disposition" and the verb "being disposed to ..." designate an event, to wit, occurrence of an impulse or inclination to act in some particular manner.

For example, that a given person is at the moment disposed to forgive a certain injury that was done him means no more than that, at the moment, an impulse or inclination to forgive is present in him. This does not mean that he has, or is acquiring, "a forgiving disposition," i.e., that similar situations regularly cause, or henceforth will regularly cause, the impulse to forgive to arise in him.

3. What a mind is

The distinction essential in connection with the immediately preceding paragraph is between the nature of a given mind, and the history of that mind.

The history consists of events. Occurrence of some impulse, occurrence of awareness of some situation, acquisition or loss of some habit or capacity, etc., are events; each of them results from exercise of some capacity, and each is an item in the history of a mind. On the other hand, an account of the nature of a given mind is an account of the particular sort of mind it is at the time, i.e., of the particular set of dispositions, capacities, powers, or abilities which are what as a matter of course we list when called upon to describe that particular mind. The events that constitute a mind's history doubtless are in large part responsible for that mind's having come to be the particular sort of mind it is now. But recital of them is no part of an account of what it now is.

The capacities that together constitute the nature of a mind are of three comprehensive kinds. These may be denominated psycho-psychical, psycho-physical, and physico-psychical, according, respectively, as the cause-event and the effect-event entering in the description of a given capacity are, both of them, psychical events; or, the cause-event psychical but the effect-event physical; or the cause-event physical but the effect-event psychical.

In all three cases the state of affairs, in which the cause-event and the effect-event are changes, is normally in part somatic and more specifically cerebral; and in part psychical. Whether this is the case not only normally, but also invariably and necessarily, is another question. Evidently, the possibility or impossibility of survival after death depends in part on the answer to it.

However, if a mind continues to function after the death of its body, its functioning would not then normally include exercise either of its physico-psychical or of its psycho-physical capacities. That is, such awareness, if any, as a discarnate mind had of physical events would be paranormal and more specifically, "clairvoyant", i.e., without the intermediary of the bodily sense organs; and such action, if any, as a discarnate mind exerted on physical objects would likewise be paranormal and more specifically "psychokinetic," i.e., without the intermediary of muscular apparatus.

It should be noticed that the various dispositions or capacities that enter into the nature of a mind constitute together a system rather than simply an aggregate. For one thing, as Professor Broad has pointed out, some dispositions are of a higher order than some others, in the sense that the former consist of capacities to acquire the latter(3). An aptitude, as distinguished from e.g., a skill, is a capacity to acquire a capacity. Again, possession of certain capacities at a certain time is in some cases dependent on possession of certain other capacities at that time.

(3) Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, Vol. 1: 264-278.

A mind, then, is a set of capacities of the three generic kinds mentioned, qua interrelated in the systematic manner which constitutes them a more or less thoroughly integrated personality; and the mind, of which we say that it "has" those capacities, is not something existentially independent of them, but "has" them in the sense in which a week has days or an automobile has a motor. That a mind exists during a certain period means that, during that period, ones or others of the capacities, which together define the particular sort of mind it is, function. That is, the existing of a mind of a particular description is the series of actual occurrences which, as causally related one to another, constitute exercisings of that mind's capacities. A mind's existing thus consists not just of its having a particular nature, but of its having in addition a history.

But further, just as a material object consists of various parts interrelated in some particular manner, each of which is itself a material object whose nature is analyzable into a set of capacities, though to a greater or less extent ones different from those of the whole; so likewise a mind has parts, normally connected with one another in a certain manner, each of which, like the whole, analyzes into some particular complex of capacities, though capacities to some extent different from those of the whole.

Moreover, in a mind as in a material object, some part of it may on occasion become dissociated from the rest and perhaps function independently, although then in a manner more or less different from that in which it functioned while integrated with and censored by the rest. As Professor H. H. Price has remarked somewhere, the unity of a mind is not a matter of all or none, but rather of more or less. Each of the parts of a mind is itself a mind, or mindkin, of sorts.

The foregoing account of what a mind is has revealed that a mind, and a physical substance such as sugar or a physical object such as a tree, ultimately analyze equally as complexes of systematically interrelated capacities. Had not the word "substance" so chequered a philosophical history, we could say that a mind is as truly a psychical substance as any material object is a physical substance. Let us, however, avoid the misunderstandings this might lead to, and say that a mind, no less than a tree or sugar, is a substantive - using this word as does W. E. Johnson for the kind of entity to which the part of speech called a "noun" corresponds.(4)

(4) Logic, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1921 Vol I:9. For a more elaborate account of the conception of what a mind is, outlined above, the interested reader is referred to Ch. 17 of the author's already cited Nature, Mind, and Death.

Evidently, the preceding analysis of the nature of a mind in terms of capacities or dispositions applies not only to the intellectual or cognitive powers sometimes specifically meant by the term "Mind," but also to the emotional, affective, and conative capacities sometimes more particularly in view when the terms "soul" or "spirit," instead of "mind," are used. In these pages, therefore, the term "mind" will be used in the broad sense comprehensive of "soul" and of "spirit," as well as of "intellect." That is, it will include whatever constituents of the human personality are other than material in the sense of this term defined in Chapt. V.

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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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