Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
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The Metaphysics of Self-Consciousness

By Edward H. Madden (1963)

First published as Chapter 7 of Chauncey Wright and the Foundations of Pragmatism (pp. 128-142).
Reprinted by permission of
University of Washington Press.

©1963 by University of Washington Press
Posted March 2002


Wright's longest and most sustained essay was his "The Evolution of Self-Consciousness," which appeared in the North American Review for April, 1873.· It is rather a monograph than an article, ranging over a host of intricate philosophical and scientific questions -- sometimes so intricate, indeed, that John Fiske complained he did not completely understand it after numerous readings![1] Wright wrote this essay in response to Darwin's urging that he put his analytical powers to work on the problem of determining, in connection with the evolution of language, when a thing can properly be said to be effected by the will of man.[2] Wright also considered Darwin's more general problem, that of bridging the supposed evolutionary gap between animal instinct and human intelligence. He developed the view that there is a continuity between instinct and intelligence by describing how the latter emerges from such already existing mental powers as memory and attention, powers common in different degrees to man and the lower animals.[3] Intelligence and self-consciousness, however, he insisted, while they are extensions of already existing mental powers, are also discontinuous [p. 129] with them, that is, they exhibit distinctly new characteristics.

Wright called this scientific enterprise "psychozoology," a word he used instead of "animal psychology" since he was repelled by the anecdotal methods of early animal psychology. From this scientific pursuit, he derived many philosophical implications, particularly for the traditional problem of our knowledge of the external world. His view of self-consciousness, he shows, is directly opposed both to realism and idealism.[4] In modern terms, his own view amounts to what might well be called a neutral monism. This view, intrinsically important, is interestingly akin to William James's concept of pure experience, although, as we might expect, there are important differences. Wright's psychozoological principles also influenced James's thought in psychology, as witnessed by many details in, and the general orientation of, The Principles of Psychology. However, the parts of James's influential book that were most important for his later pragmatism and for Dewey's instrumentalism are not those James owed to Wright. On the other hand, Wright and James, along with the later functionalists Dewey and J. R. Angell, shared a new view of the logical structure of psychology, an awareness of which is essential for an understanding of contemporary psychology and its development out of Wundtian origins. The functionalists, however, for philosophical reasons, gave a teleological interpretation to this new view which was utterly foreign to Wright's interpretation.



In his monograph on self-consciousness, Wright first distinguishes scientific (reflective) thinking from enthymematic inference. The former, which is peculiar to the minds of men and distinguishes them from the minds of other animals, brings particular facts under explicit general principles or major premises. The latter goes from minor premises to conclusions, skipping major premises. In such cases the data of experience, [p. 130] which if consciously formulated would be the major premises, are causally effective in suggesting, more or less clearly, conclusions from minor premises. Enthymematic reasonings are exhibited in inference from signs and likelihoods as in prognostications of the weather and in orientations of many animals. In enthymematic inference signs are harbingers of events without recognition of the relation between the sign and the thing signified; in other words, the semantical capacity of the sign is unrecognized. In scientific inference, however, signs themselves are objects of reflective attention, and a sign "is recognized in its general relations to what it signifies, and to what it has signified in the past, and will signify in the future."[5]

Internal images as well as outward perceptions, Wright thinks, are operative as signs in inference, and the recognition of them is the crucial step in achieving scientific knowledge. Internal images, he says, are "representative imaginations" that represent all the particular objects or relations of a kind, like the visual imaginations called up by such general names of objects as "dog," "tree," etc. These images are vague and feeble in intensity but effective as signs or directive elements in thought. The image of men" as a sign of mortality leads one from the sign of this man's human nature to the expectation that he will die; but in enthymematic inference the internal image "men," because of its weak nature, falls out of consciousness and the present sign leads on directly to the anticipation of mortality. The internal sign is lost sight of in the onrush of attention to the thing signified. However, with an extension of the range of memory power together with a corresponding increase in the vividness of its impressions (variations useful in other directions and so likely to be secured by natural selection), a person is able to fix attention on both internal and present signs and so become aware not only of the functioning of internal signs as major premises, but of a simultaneous internal and external suggestion of the same thing; for example, the realization that the internal image "men" and the perception of "this man" both signify "mortality. [p. 131]

...And the contrast of thoughts [memory images] and things [present perceptions], at least in their power of suggesting that of which they may be coincident signs, could, for the first time, be perceptible. This would plant the germ of the distinctively human form of self-consciousness.[6]

This germ of self-consciousness depends for its extension on the use of language: "it must still be largely aided by the voluntary character of outward signs, -- vocal, gestural, and graphic, -- by which all signs are brought under the control of the will...."[7]

Wright educes a number of metaphysical implications from this account of the origin of self-consciousness. One is that the distinction of subject and object is a classification through observation and analysis and not, therefore, as the metaphysicians believe, an intuitive distinction. While the classification may be intuitive in the sense of unlearned or instinctive, this meaning, he says, is not the metaphysician's sense of the word. The metaphysician's doctrine that the distinction between subject and object is intuitive "implies that the cognition is absolute; independent not only of the individual's experiences, but of all possible previous experience, and has a certainty, reality, and cogency that no amount of experience could give to an empirical classification."[8] Wright claims, however, that only lexical or logical statements are necessary or certain and that this necessity stems from their nature as identity statements, or tautologies. He also concludes that phenomena, before being empirically classified into subject and object, do not belong to either the mental or the physical world; they are neutral phenomena. And the categories of subjective and objective, after they arise, are functional, not substantive, distinctions.

Wright's position, essentially a neutral monism, emerges particularly clearly in his criticism of natural realism and idealism. Natural realism "holds that both the subject and object are absolutely, immediately, and equally known through their essential attributes in perception."[9] Wright, however, objects to an unqualified "immediately known." An unattributed phenomenon, he says, if not referred to its cause or classified as sensation or [p. 132] emotion, belongs to neither world exclusively. While Wright recognizes that there may be no such unattributed phenomena in present experience, he claims that the classification into subject and object is not independent of all experience. It is, in part at least, instinctive and probably naturally selected from our progenitors. If the natural realist does not make such a concession to empiricism and fallibilism but remains an absolute intuitionist, then he renders the facts of illusion inexplicable. And, while Wright agrees that both subjective and objective phenomena are, in present experience, immediately apprehended, he does not subscribe to the attribution of them to mental and physical substances. He devotes a large portion of the philosophical part of his essay to showing that the concept of substance arises from misleading metaphors in the syntax of language. This analysis is highly interesting and rewards careful study.

Idealism, unlike realism, Wright says, claims that the conscious subject is immediately known and its phenomena are known intuitively to belong to it, whereas objects are known only mediately by their effects on us. He thinks that idealism confuses physiological or genetic subjectivity with phenomenal subjectivity.

... It [is] evident that perception, and even sensation, are fully determined or realized in the brain only through other parts of the bodily apparatus, and through outward forces and movements like those of pressure and vibration. That the perception, or sensation, is experienced, or is seated, in the brain, was a natural and proper conclusion. That the apparent object of perception is not only distant from what thus appeared to be the seat of the perception, but that a long series of usually unknown, or unnoticed, movements intervenes between it and this apparent seat, -- these facts gave great plausibility to a confused interpretation of the phenomena, namely, that the perception is first realized as a state of the conscious ego, and, afterwards, is referred to the outward world through the associations of general experience, as an effect produced upon us by an otherwise unknown outward cause. On similar grounds a similar misinterpretation was made of the phenomena of volition, namely, that a movement in ourselves, originally and intuitively known to be ours, produces an effect in the outward world at a distance from us, through the intervention of a series of usually unknown (or only indirectly known) agencies. Remote effects of the outer world on us, and our actions in producing remote effects on it, appeared to be the first or intuitive elements in our knowledge of these phenomena, all the rest being derived or inferential. This was to confound the seat of sensation or perception in the brain with its proper subjectivity, or the reference of it to the subject.[10]

Again, he asserts that originally, in the experience of our progenitors, phenomena were unclassified or unattributed. Consequently, about subjective phenomena he writes, "Instead of being, as the theories of idealism hold, first known as a phenomenon of the subject ego ... its first unattributed condition would be, by our view, one of neutrality between the two worlds."[11]

James's notion of "pure experience," expounded in Essays in Radical Empiricism,[12] is basically similar to Wright's epistemological view that phenomena are originally neutral, belonging neither to the mental nor to the physical world. James denies the substantial existence of consciousness and claims that the only "stuff" in the world of which everything else is composed is "pure experience," i.e., experience unclassified into "subjective" or "objective," or phenomena unreferred to thought or things. Unclassified experience becomes subjective or objective by entering into different sets of relations. One's percept of a room, for example, enters into the biography of the perceiver and the history of the house:

As a room, the experience has occupied that spot and had that environment for thirty years. As your field of consciousness it may never have existed until now.... In the real world, fire will consume it. In your mind, you can let fire play over it without effect. As an outer object, you must pay so much a month to inhabit it. As an inner content, you may occupy it for any length of time rent-free.[13]

Subject and object, or consciousness and content, then, are not isolable components within any experience but are larger experiences in which pure experience is taken twice over, in two relationships. There is no self-splitting of pure experience

…into consciousness and what the consciousness is "of." Its subjectivity and objectivity are functional attributes solely, realized only [p. 134] when the experience is "taken," i.e., talked-of, twice, considered along with its two differing contexts respectively, by a new retrospective experience, of which that whole past complication now forms the fresh content.[14]

What is true of percepts is also true, lames thinks, of concepts. Conceptions or memories are not subjective but are composed of pure experience, or unclassified phenomena, which, like percepts, become classified into subjective and objective ones by attention to the different relationships into which they enter.

While Wright and James shared a neutral monism, there is no trace of James's relational analysis of consciousness in Wright's essay. Further, while subjective-objective is a functional and not a metaphysical division for both of them, Wright thought that the distinction is always present in an individual's experience as an instinctive classification or division, whereas James thought it is a classification arising within experience itself. Finally, James claimed that the classification, according to different sets of relations, holds both for percepts and for their remembered images, whereas Wright thought that the classification implies an awareness of the difference of memory images and their signification from present percepts and their same signification.

Apparently, then, the similarities between Wright and James on this problem are orientational and programmatic, not a matter of detail. They both denied that consciousness is a substance and that "objective" and "subjective" are irreducible characteristics of phenomena, and they agreed that the basic reality is neutral or pure phenomena. However, there is nothing unusual in their sharing this view, for many of the empiricists of the time -- Grote, Renouvier, and others -- also held a neutral monism; and this position, as call Kennedy has pointed out, was already involved in J. S. Mill's empiricism and phenomenalism.[15] On this particular issue, I think, the historical relation is a three-way affair with Wright mediating between Mill and James. Wright skillfully brought to bear on the young James the English empirical tradition, particularly J. S. Mill, and the seed he planted [p. 135] bore fruit long after Wright was dead and after James had spent the fury of his reaction against Wright's agnosticism and unemotional philosophy in his will-to-believe and tychism.



The commentators on Wright have felt that he clearly influenced James on psychological issues also; and it is true, for example, that James's chapter on reasoning in his Principles of Psychology has the unmistakable flavor of Wright's essay on self-consciousness. Still the task remains of deciding in detail how Wright contributed to James's thought.

Like Wright, James distinguished two kinds of inference, and he used the same criteria of classification.[16] In "unconscious" inference, signs are followed so continuously by things signified that they are not discriminated as separate entities, while in reasoning the two are linked by intermediate steps articulately denoted and expressly analyzed. James, like Wright, believed that the essential causes of unconscious inference and reasoning are association by contiguity and similarity, respectively. Wright had offered these explanations, not in the essay on self-consciousness but in the "Conflict of Studies,"[17] the only essay on education he ever wrote. Wright himself was perhaps simply following the younger Mill in reintroducing the importance of similarity as a basic law of association after it had been reduced to contiguity by James Mill.[18]

James, again following Wright, thought that animal behaviour could be explained, for the most part, by contiguous associations. The brute never recognizes himself as a thinker because he has never separated the operation of thought from the thing thought of; the former is fused with the latter. The dissociation of these elements, like the dissociation of sign and thing signified, is the origin of self-consciousness. This description of self-consciousness and semantics is the same as Wright's, and, indeed, at this point James refers the reader to Wright's essay.[19] But James's brief explanation of how thoughts themselves become an object [p. 136] of attention is quite different from and simpler than Wright's view of increased memory power and increased vividness of images. James thought that similar experiences' of perceptual error draw man's attention to error per se, "and from the notion of his error or wrong thought to that of his thought in general the transition is easy."[20] This view is not suggested in Wright's essay.

James, then, in his views on reasoning, was influenced by Wright in certain details though these details were not the ones most serviceable to him in his later philosophical work. The part of James's chapter that is philosophically most significant is his teleological interpretation of reasoning. James illustrates reflective thinking by a man's refusing to buy a rug because "it looks as if it will fade." If the man is basing his conclusion on previous experience with rugs that looked similar and had faded, his judgment is purely empirical. But if he extracts from the total rug (S) some element, a certain dye (M), one of whose attributes (P) he knows is chemical instability, then the judgment is reasoned. Success in reasoning depends upon the sagacity with which one analyzes a thing (S) into an essential property (M). James argues, however, that a property of S is essential" only relative to individual interests and purposes. There are thus many "essential" ways of conceiving a thing, none of which is truer than others but some of which are more serviceable. Reasoning consists in finding that property which, related to another property, leads to the one conclusion that it is the reasoner's temporary interest to attain. And thinking is first and last and always for the sake of doing.

It is this characterization of reasoning as a teleological instrument of action that particularly influenced the instrumentalists.[21] It is the most original part of James's chapter and that for which there is no counterpart in Wright's essay. The only discussion at all similar is Wright's insistence on the working-hypothesis nature of scientific principles.[22] Wright, of course, would agree that reflective behavior has adaptive value; it is naturally selected just because it has utility; but this is not saying anything [p. 137] unique or special about it, for the same is true of any other behavior that has survived.



While Wright and James did not share those specific views on reasoning which were so important to James's later pragmatism and Dewey's instrumentalism, nevertheless they shared the same new revolutionary attitude toward the logic of psychology which was the death knell of Wundt's structural psychology soon after it was born.[23] This new attitude reached its culmination in American functionalism in the works of Dewey and Angell. However, as we shall see, the functionalists, for philosophical reasons, gave a teleological interpretation to this view which was utterly foreign to Wright's interpretation. Let us examine this new attitude in some detail, for it not only throws light on Wright's relations to his contemporaries and subsequent philosophers but also helps clarify the logic of contemporary psychology and its development from Wundtian origins.

Wright's new attitude toward psychology originated in Darwinian principles.[24] In his work in biology Darwin observed that there are minute variations in organisms resulting in different reactions, some of which meet the contingencies of the environmental conditions more adequately than others. He also found that the reactions adequate to the environment persisted or were "naturally selected." Darwin's attention, then, was directed toward two general areas: the reactions of the organism and the environs that elicit the reactions; in our terms, two variables, response and stimulus.

Wright was similarly oriented in his efforts to account for the occurrence of a particular naturally selected reaction, self-consciousness. As we have seen, he was interested in tracing out genetically the development of certain mental powers, memory and imagination, and in this undertaking he dealt both with signs (stimuli) -- either external stimulation, including verbal stimulation, or internal images that have their origin in external stimulation [p. 138] -- and the reactions (responses) of the organism to such signs. It should be noted that in talking about Darwin I have used "stimulus" to refer to the physical environment, but the term as used here, as in the case of Wright, is not restricted to this meaning. It may refer to physical environment and/or phenomenal experience. The stimulus, then, is characterized simply as that to which the organism is responding.

Wright's stimulus-response orientation becomes all the more significant if we note that at the same time he was developing his psychozoological principles the associationists (J. S. Mill and Alexander Bain) and the Wundtians were engaged in building their psychologies in terms of a single variable, mental contents (sensations, feelings, ideas, etc.).[25] In contrast, the American psychologists who came after Wright -- William James, James Mark Baldwin, and James McKeen Cattell, and the functionalists -- showed the stimulus-response orientation.[26] The functionalists, however, as we shall see, differed from Wright in giving a teleological interpretation to the relation between the variables in order to avoid a dualistic metaphysics of psychology. Wright also avoided dualism but without characterizing the stimulus-response relationship teleologically.

Let us turn from the matter of variables to the coordinate matter of lawfulness. In the matter of lawfulness Wright does not indulge in methodological analysis of what he is doing although he does explicitly characterize the distinctively human form of knowledge as scientific, and in the description of what constitutes scientific knowledge he shows it to be, for one thing, a seeking after what we would now call process laws.[27] A process law consists of a general statement of regularity between variables as a function of time. Given such a law and the statement of present conditions, the prediction of subsequent conditions can be made. (In contrast, the Wundtians or the structuralists, as they came to be known in this country, sought syndromatic laws, which have the form: if x is present, then other specifiable sensory elements y and z coexist with x.) There [p. 139] are process laws of varying degrees of generality, from the simple "If A then B" to a complicated mathematical formula. It was the "If A then B" formulation that Wright was after when he tried to find the conditions under which certain responses will occur and so to account for the evolution of self-consciousness.

The British associationists sought for historical laws, which are a form of process law. The structure of the process law as it occurs in associationistic psychology is, for example: If idea A has been followed n times by idea B (contiguity) under conditions C (such "secondary laws" as set, interest, and so forth), and if A occurs now under conditions C, then B will occur again. The conditions are established historically; that is, the information concerning the past experience of the organism plays a part in the description of present conditions. A law with this historical feature is still in principle a process law if past experience is assumed to be a matter of present conditions by virtue of the presence in the organism of the physiological traces of the past experience.[28]

Although Wright was interested in the same kind of laws as the associationists, he departed from them in the matter of variables. The associationists dealt with variables of only one kind, namely, the "impressions" or "ideas" that become united into complex perception according to such laws as contiguity, similarity, and so forth. Wright's important function, then, was to apply Darwin's stimulus-response conception of variables to psychology, and in doing this also to preserve the orientation toward process laws that was exhibited by the British associationists. So far the points in Wright's development of psychozoological principles to which we attribute methodological significance can be briefly summarized. First, Wright took over the Darwinian orientation to stimulus-response variables in psychological investigation at a time when not only the traditional associationistic psychologists but also the new experimental psychologists in Germany, the Wundtians, were preoccupied with a single class [p. 140] of variables. In addition, Wright also worked in terms of the process notion of lawfulness in which the British associationists were interested.

Having considered Wright's psychozoology primarily in relation to the ideas of his contemporaries, let us turn to a detailed comparison of Wright with the later American psychologists who became known as the functionalists. Of primary importance here is the matter of variables.

The functionalists were, like Wright, oriented toward two variables, stimulus and response; but, unlike Wright, they conceived the variables as standing in a teleological or mutually dependent relation to one another. For example, James Rowland Angell in his systematic paper on functionalism speaks of the "accommodatory service" which the response bears to the stimulating conditions.[29] And Dewey, in an earlier paper on functionalism, had developed this position in his criticism of the reflex-arc concept.[30] Dewey formulated the teleological relation between stimulus and response as a kind of "coordination." Functionally the stimulus was conceived to be that part of a coordination or adaptation which characterizes the problematic situation which the response (as functionally distinguished) is designed to resolve successfully. Furthermore, the stimulus is not mere sensation but is constituted by various orientation movements. There is no datum per se for Dewey, but a datum is always to be discovered and finally understood as requiring, being for, some response. In short, stimulus and response are meaningfully related; one does not exist without the other.

What, if any, are the implications of this teleological view of variables for lawfulness? Dewey's and Angell's particular interpretation of stimulus-response variables is such that a response could not be predicted from given physical conditions as seen through the eyes of the experimenter. Rather one would have to know how a stimulus is "seen" or "understood" -- what it means" to the responding organism -- before one could know what the stimulus actually is.[31] In other words, a response would have to occur before the stimulus could be constituted as meaningful.[p. 141] Such a requirement does not mean that the discovery of process laws is not possible, but it does mean that a functionalist has a basis for prediction different from the physical environment as seen through the eyes of the experimenter. It means that in the actual scientific situation the conditions for prediction would be found in the perceptual response of the subject (that which determines the stimulus), and this perceptual response, in turn, would constitute the conditions from which a subsequent response could be predicted.[32] There must be prediction of one response of the subject from another response. This sort of procedure would be required of the functionalists if they were in actual practice to be consistent with their theory.

However, Dewey, in particular, was not interested primarily in the nature of psychological laws but wanted to provide a teleological interpretation of the variables that would avoid a metaphysical dualism, with its attendant difficulties for psychology of how such different substances as mind and matter could ever stand together in a causal relationship.[33] Wright also avoided dualism but at the same time also avoided a teleological view of variables.

In his reflex-arc paper Dewey attacked the notions of a mental stimulus (sensation) and a physical response as the reintroduction of dualism into philosophy and psychology. Dewey claimed that the stimulus-response relation, a coordination, is a single process that can be described in either of two ways, physically or phenomenally. The series of events from stimulus to response can be described in terms of physical energies impinging upon receptors and continuing in the physical activity of motor nerves and muscles. As Dewey says, it is one uninterrupted continuous redistribution of mass and motion. Or the same series of events can be described purely from the psychical side: "It is now all sensation, all sensory quale; the motion, as psychically described, is just as much sensation as is sound or light or bum."[34] The avoidance of the mental-physical dichotomy is the main point of Dewey's effort to characterize the stimulus-response variables as a coordinate unity. [p. 142]

Wright also attempted to eliminate dualism and the attendant problem of how the two realms affect each other, but without committing himself to a teleological view of variables. His method, as we have seen, was to show that the distinction between thought and things, the mental and physical, is not an ontological distinction, i.e., a distinction between ultimately real constituents of the world, but one that is superimposed on the world by experience, by learning. And Wright believed that he eliminated the ontological dualism by giving a genetic account of the occurrence of dualism within the framework of phenomenal experience.

According to Wright, the distinction between thought and things results only when representative images are attended to and intensified so that outward signs may be recognized as substitutes for them, thereby enabling one to be conscious of the simultaneous internal and external suggestion of the things signified. In prereflective sign reasoning, instead of anything's being "first known as a phenomenon of the subject ego, or as an effect upon us of an hypothetical outward world, its first unattributed condition would be, by our view, one of neutrality between the two worlds."[35] Wright believed that his analysis of self-consciousness throws doubt on all metaphysical dualisms: "The [whole] distinction of subject and object becomes ... a classification through observation and analysis, instead of the intuitive distinction it is supposed to be by most metaphysicians."[36] Wright, thus, would not have agreed with Dewey's teleological analysis of the reflex-arc as a way to avoid dualism any more than he would have agreed with his denial of the self-containedness of an empirical "given." Wright, to be sure, was not much like any later philosopher; he did philosophy with a flair and style all his own, and the results are not likely to be confused with those of anyone else.



1. John Fiske, Darwinism and Other Essays (rev. ed.; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1885), cf. chap, vi.

2. Francis Darwin (ed.), Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 2 vols.; New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1888), II, 343·

3. Cf. Chauncey Wright, Philosophical Discussions, edited by Charles Eliot Norton (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1877), pp. 205-29. Wright defends the same naturalistic thesis of continuity in an early unpublished paper on brute and human intellect. Toward the end of it he emphasizes the origin of human intellect in capacities already existing in lower animals, while in the beginning he argues for the other half of the thesis of continuity, viz., that the instinctive reactions of animals have some counterparts in the mental life of man.

Wright's essay goes as follows:


Whether the faculties of Brutes differ from those of men in kind or in degree only? [Harvard College Library, the Norton Collection, bMS Am 1088.5 (misc. 6), Box 11].

The evidence we have of the existence of mind anywhere but in ourselves is only that of analogy, and as philosophers have differed in respect to what phenomena should be considered the effects of mental causes, some have regarded all the actions of Brutes as the effects of mere mechanism, and from this extreme there has been every possible variety of opinion even to the greatest absurdities in the other extreme.

But I think that if we properly examine this kind of evidence we shall come to the conclusion that Brutes not only have minds, but that all their original mental faculties are like ours.

By the law of parsimony, the first rule of philosophizing, we have no right to assign new causes to phenomena which can be satisfactorily explained by causes already known. If then we can find nothing in the actions of Animals, which cannot be the effect of faculties like ours this certainly will decide the question.

The method in which mental faculties are classified is apt to lead to many misconceptions. From the separate study of our faculties we are apt to regard them as distinct and coordinate while in many instances they are but different developments of one original faculty or the combination of two or more.

If then we find that Brutes possess those original faculties which if modified and combined can under similar circumstances be developed into all the faculties which we possess, their faculties differ from ours only in degree. And if we can show that the instinct which is of so peculiar a nature in many animals is only the combination of faculties, which we possess in different forms and different degrees, then we shall have shown that it is not a distinct faculty differing in kind from anything which we have.

"Instinct is an agent which blindly performs a work of intelligence," and there is a very plausible doubt whether men's actions ever sufficiently exhibit these characteristics, to be considered instinctive. Were it not that these acts must result in something definite and useful, they would resemble those acts in children and even in older persons which are themselves their only object: the child exercises its body because the mere exercise pleases it: the bee employs itself in making cells and honey because this employment pleases it, -- because its feelings impel it.

This characteristic of instinct then we possess. The active powers of men and of all animals are very little capable of change: they are originally established in the constitution of every individual fitting him to become a member of the communities of his species and are modified to suit the life which he is intended to lead.

Now with men as well as with all animals certain external forms and appearances are fitted by his nature to excite certain feelings in him, for instance the various forms of the human features which can inspire us with almost every emotion; in short all kinds of natural language belong to that department of our constitution which joins us with our species. These natural predispositions are very curious and inexplicable but are always found fitted for some definite object.

Now as we descend in the scale of animals we find not only this principle but we also find it more extensive and conjoined with the actions of brutes, and this is instinct the object of which it is easy to see is to carry out those complicated schemes of society to which the intellectual capacities of the lower animals are wholly inadequate.

The bee chooses a cell with beauty regularity and fitness to an end, somewhat as we prefer a pleasant agreeable face to a sour and ugly one; both these acts are misterious[sic] and unaccountable.

But it is evident that in the life of some higher animals, which is simpler but more varied than that of insects, there must be contingent circumstances which if they come under the jurisdiction of Instinct must render it much more unaccountable than it is necessary otherwise to suppose it.

That some of the laws of our thoughts operate also in the minds of animals is evident. They certainly have memory to a certain degree and many of their actions imply judgements or else some unknown and altogether unaccountable faculty. Nor is it unreasonable to suppose that their judgements are grounded on principles similar to ours, for we must bear in mind that first principles are developed only as they are required. Hence it is not strange that the reason of animals exhibit none of the first principles of morality, for it is evident that they cannot distinguish their acts into right and wrong ones until they have reflected upon them simply as acts. They probably regard their actions always in conjunction with the objects which they had, since by their strong instincts these objects ale made paramount.

Whether their judgements return to them by memory or are even reflected on they can never come alone, but always in connection with simpler thoughts which immediately interest the feelings and which would alone be expressed if brutes had language.

Thus I think we can see how the minds of brutes may be fundamentally like our own and yet in their developments greatly differ.


This essay bears no date. "Wright" is written on the outside of the folded pages. The initials "C.E.N." and the note "to be returned to Mr. Norton" also appear on the outside. Since the style of the essay is that of an undergraduate, I think it is likely that Wright wrote it around 1852 on assignment from Dr. James Walker, then professor of philosophy at Harvard College. Darwin E. Ware, a friend of Wright, records that Dr. Walker used this topic for a forensic and that Wright had taken the position, contrary to Dr. Walker's view, that the difference between brute and human intellect is only a matter of degree (James Bradley Thayer [ed.], Letters of Chauncey Wright [Cambridge, Mass.: John Wilson and Son, 1878], pp. 363-64n.).·

Heretofore it has been assumed that Wright, being convinced of the truth of Darwin's views, was led consequently to an attempt to solve the problem of bridging the supposed evolutionary gap between animal instinct and human intelligence. However, if Wright wrote the unpublished essay around 1852 then he had embraced a continuity view before being led to it systematically via Darwinism. Wright's early essay on continuity, an adumbration of his later essay, would explain why he so readily became a convert to the theory of natural selection; natural selection afforded potential support for the general position he already held.

In the early essay Wright not only adumbrated the general continuity thesis of his later essay but, in the last paragraphs, prefigured a particular point in it. He wrote that it is evident that brutes "cannot distinguish their acts into right and wrong ones until they have reflected upon them simply as acts. They probably regard their actions always in conjunction with the objects which they had, since by their strong instincts these objects [of acts] are made paramount." In his later essay Wright characterized the sign reasoning of animals and men in a manner similar to this description of the actions of brutes. The attention of the organism, he said, is carried away from the sign to the thing signified, and thus the sign by itself is never attended to. Organisms react to outward objects and events as harbingers of future events without recognition of the nature or function of the sign in this relation. Reflective thought, on the other hand, is the recognition of signs in their capacity as signs.

4. Wright, Philosophical Discussions, pp. 230-39·

5. Ibid., p. 206.

6. Ibid., p. 210.

7. Ibid., p. 223.

8. Ibid., p. 229.

9. Ibid., p. 231.·

10. Ibid., pp. 232 f.

11. Ibid., p.· 234.·

12. Cf. the first essay, "Does 'Consciousness' Exist?" in William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912).

13. James, Essays in Radical Empiricism, p. 14.

14. Ibid., p. 23.

15. Gail Kennedy, "The Pragmatic Naturalism of Chauncey Wright," in Studies in the History of Ideas, Vol. III, edited by the Department of Philosophy, Columbia University (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935).·

16. William James, The Principles of Psychology (2 vols.; New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1876), II, 325 ff.·

17. Wright, Philosophical Discussions, pp. 267-95.

18. Cf. James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, ed. J. S. Mill et al. (London: Longman's, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1869), I, III ff. and notes.

19. James, The Principles of Psychology, II, 359·

20. Ibid.

21. Cf. John Dewey, "The Development of American Pragmatism," in Studies in the History of Ideas, Vol. II, edited by the Department of Philosophy, Columbia University (New York: Columbia University Press, 1925), pp. 368 f.

22. Wright, "The Philosophy of Herbert Spencer, "Philosophical Discussions, pp. 43-96·

23. Cf. E. H. Madden and Marian C. Madden, "Chauncey Wright and the Logic of Psychology, Philosophy of Science, XIX (1952), 325-32.·

24. Wright, Philosophical Discussions, p. 252.·

25. Madden and Madden, "Chauncey Wright and the Logic of Psychology, pp. 327, 328·

26. Ibid. Cf. J. R. Angell, 'The Province of Functional Psychology," Psychological Review, XIV (1907), 61-91; John Dewey, "The Reflex Are Concept in Psychology," Psychological Review, III (1896), 357-70·

27. Cf. Wright, Philosophical Discussions, p. 206.

28. Cf. Gustav Bergmann, The Philosophy of Science (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957), pp. 124-29, reprinted in E. H. Madden, The Structure of Scientific Thought (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1960), pp. 235-40.

29. Cf. note 26, above.

30. Cf. note 26, above.

31. Cf. E. H. Madden, "The Nature of Psychological Explanation," Methodos, IX (1957), 1-11.

32. Ibid.

33. Dewey, "The Reflex Are Concept in Psychology."

34. Ibid., p. 364.·

35. Wright, Philosophical Discussions, p. 234.·

36. Ibid., p. 219.