Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-11-26

In the mental world, the evidence for the universality of causal laws is less complete than in the physical world. Psychology cannot boast of any triumph comparable to gravitational astronomy. Nevertheless, the evidence is not very greatly less than in the physical world. The crude and approximate causal laws from which science starts are just as easy to discover in the mental sphere as in the physical. In the world of sense, there are to begin with the correlations of sight and touch and so on, and the facts which lead us to connect various kinds of sensations with eyes, ears, nose, tongue, etc. Then there are such facts as that our body moves in answer to our volitions. Exceptions exist, but are capable of being explained as easily as the exceptions to the rule that unsupported bodies in air fall. There is, in fact, just such a degree of evidence for causal laws in psychology as will warrant the psychologist in assuming them as a matter of course, though not such a degree as will suffice to remove all doubt from the mind of a sceptical inquirer. It should be observed that causal laws in which the given term is mental and the inferred term physical, or vice versa, are at least as easy to discover as causal laws in which both terms are mental.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 8

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

In a lecture on cause and its application to free will, Russell takes time to note that causal laws apply to the interactions between different mental phenomena, or between mental and physical phenomena. I find free will to be a very difficult concept, in that among the people who believe it exists, they are almost universally certain it does not exist in computers, and yet are unable to give any sort that qualitative difference that withstands careful scrutiny. I'm working on a post looks at a typical example of this position.

This will be the last Quote of the Week to feature Russell, at least for a while. I've downloaded some Kant and some Nietzsche, so I expect they will be featured over the next few months.

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