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Cognition

The above preliminary survey indicates that the upholders of the “aspect” theory have a certain advantage over those who believe in separate processes of cognition, processes of conation and processes of feeling. But in the end, in consideration of criticisms of a realistic character, we find that both these theories have to be rejected.

Modern realism is founded on the contention that knowledge is a relation, i.e., that it holds between two things and so cannot be a part of the “nature” of either. The main realist attack has been directed against the conception of what is characterised by being known, or the “idea”. Realism has denied that what we know need be in any way mental or in any way dependent on the mind which knows it (though realists have not perhaps seen clearly enough that the very term “idea” requires to be dispensed with). And it has thus also attacked the doctrine of the absolute idealists that we are what we know, that the whole field of which we are aware (“our world”) is equivalent to our consciousness and to our very selves. It has maintained, on the contrary, that what we know is part of an independently existing order of things, that the existence of a mind is one thing, and the existence of a field of things known by that mind quite another.

But the further implications of realism have not been so clearly grasped by realists in general, viz., that it has equally to reject what is characterised by knowing, or “consciousness”; that it has to say that what knows, as well as what is known, must have a character of its own and cannot be defined by its relation to something else. It has also to reject the whole “self-consciousness” theory of the idealists, who, in upholding the rationalist conception of the knowledge relation as belonging to the “nature” of the things related, brought the whole relation (and both terms of it) within the mind and tried to make a special character out of this internal distinction and relation — tried to make it generate the system which it characterised. This self-sustaining mind must be denied if we take relations seriously, and the rejection of the view that we are what we know must be accompanied by the rejection of the view that we know what we are.

This does not mean that we cannot have knowledge of our minds (apart from the knowledge we can have of other minds); it means that


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we are not bound to know all that goes on in our minds. This side of the realist position has been most developed by psycho-analysts and has been neglected by the leading realists themselves. It clearly opens up the field of psychological inquiry, which is narrowed down by the assumption that we always know what we are doing. Unfortunately much of the old cognitionalist psychology still appears in the work of the psycho-analysts, and this is exemplified in the treatment of the unconscious (which we should naturally take as the unknowing) as consisting of processes of which we are not aware (the unknown) — the confusion being concealed in the expression “unbewusst”. When the necessary distinction is kept clear, we can see that it is possible for a mental process (having a character of its own; having, at least, “mentality”, whatever that may turn out to be) not to have the relation of knowing or not to have that of being known or not to have either relation. It is evidently the other view that wants proof. And if we reject the notion of “self-consciousness” (as an attempt to turn a relation into a quality), we clearly cannot argue that a mental process, by somehow “knowing itself”, is bound to be at once conscious (knowing) and known.

Rejection of cognitionalism, then, i.e., of the definition of a process by its relation of knowing, carries with it rejection of the theory of the three types of psychic process. There can be no merely cognitive process, no “reason” such as Hume assumes, no “intellect”, etc. — just as there can be no sensations, percepts, concepts, or other entities defined by the fact that, or the manner in which, they are known. But it also involves rejection of the three aspect theory, because we cannot call a relation an “aspect” in the same sense as a quality, and we are also entitled now to give credence to the evidence which would indicate that some mental processes do not know.

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