Book Review: Analysis of Mind by Bertrand Russell (Hosnain R. Sunny)


It would seem to be very stressful to understand and give a review of metaphysics writing of Philosopher like Bertrand Russell. Russell’s theory of mind that we trace back some of the intellectual movements which either motivated the publication of this theory or influenced its course of development.



RUSSELL wrote The Analysis of Mind during one of the most turbulent periods of his life. He began its composition in 1918 while he was in prison for his opposition to the First World War, and completed it in Peking in 1921, where he had been giving some lectures at the National University (it was during this visit that Russell was so seriously ill that his death was announced in the British press, thereby enabling him to read his own obituary notices). In between he had visited Wittgenstein at The Hague, visited Bolshevik Russia with a Labor Party delegation, and begun his relationship with Dora Black, who accompanied him to China and whom he married on their return. Along with all these activities and emotional involvements, Russell continued to write at an extraordinary rate: while in prison his main achievement was the composition of his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (published in 1919). Once back from Russia he wrote Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (published in 1921)—a work of extraordinary prescience and quite unlike the uncritical enthusiasm with which most intellectuals of the time greeted the establishment of the Bolshevik state. And all the time that he was in China he was gathering material for his book The Problem of China (published in 1922).


The initial intellectual stimulus for the book had been provided by Russell’s reading of William James’ posthumous collection Essays on Radical Empiricism (1912), especially the first two essays, “Does Consciousness Exist?” and “A World of Pure Experience,” both of which were first published in 1904. James here argues that the traditional view that there is a fundamental distinction between “mind” and “matter” is a mistake; instead, James suggests, the concepts of mind and matter should be regarded as different, but not incompatible, conceptualizations of aspects of something that is, in itself, neutral as between them—hence the name for this position: “neutral monism.” James called this neutral substance “experience”; although Russell remarks that this is not the best word for a supposedly neutral substance because of its idealist connections, he himself regards the neutral substance as “sensations,” and maintains that “the physical world itself, as known, is infected through and through with subjectivity”.






According to Russell, is a great school in psychology which has “a permanent value despite the fact that it is “incomplete’’ in a vital point”: What is the permanent value in behaviorism or where it goes astray will become clearer as we go on. For the time being we can state the matter very generally.

In the preface of The Analysis of Mind, Russell claims that the behaviorists “tend to adopt what is essentially a materialistic position, as a matter of method if not of metaphysics. They make psychology increasingly dependent on physiology and external observation, and tend to think of matter as something much more solid and indubitable than mind itself.

Furthermore, the behaviorists feel that “physics is the most fundamental science at present in terms of existence. Accordingly, Russell feels that when the behaviorists commend physics as the most fundamental science, they deserve all the merits, but when they take a materialistic position which is inconsistent with the discoveries of modern physics, they should be criticized. Russell believes that the behaviorists are inconsistent and therefore their outlook is deficient in a very vital point. On the one hand they commend physics and on the other hand, they discard its discoveries. “Modern physicists’: says Russell, “especially Einstein and other exponents of the theory of relativity, have been making ‘matter’ less and less material”.

The way Russell characterizes behaviorism complements the way in which Watson characterizes it. Russell discusses the behaviorist of behavior, and since behavior is something very public which cannot only be observed but also controlled and reproduced at wi11, it follows ‘theory of Knowledge, while Watson discusses the behaviorist understanding of the nature of psychology as a science. Introspection, simply, cannot be made public.

Furthermore, the behaviorist denies that there is something that could be known introspectively and not publicly, and what can be known publicly is behavior, and this is the domain of psychology as a science. However, Russell believes that behaviorism is deficient first in its of psychology as a natural science and second in its theory of Knowledge in its subject matter. The subject matters of psychology and physics are made up out of the same original stuff. Nevertheless, psychology is interested in looking at that same stuff in one way and physics is interested in viewing that same original stuff in another way.




Russell believes that the behaviorist objection on to introspection which is based on his rejection of images. Thus the case of introspection is basically related to the case of images. Therefore, the criticism of the behaviorist assault on introspection should be complemented by a further criticism of his rejection of images.

Learning is conditioning, according to the behaviorist. For example, the child acquires his mother tongue by being conditioned by the adults to use their habits of associating words with objects. The adults manipulate a certain set of the child’s unlearned responses, such
as feeding responses, smiling etc in order to teach him how to acquire new habits of learned behavior. These learned habits are many, and let us confine our attention to language. First, the adults teach the children how to associate words with the objects they refer to. Then,
they. teach the child the different situations or objects that one word may refer to. Further, the child is taught how to substitute words for their objects’ and how to mix words in abstract sense such as poetry for example. This last function might be called thinking. Thinking, according to the behaviorist, is possible through the use of words; when we think, it is said by the behaviorist that we are talking to ourselves.

Russell agrees with the behaviorist that we do think in words and at a certain level of abstraction, such as the theory of relativity or theory of gravity, we do think only in words because images on this level become too vague. However, it does not follow, from the fact that use words in thinking, that we think only in words. According to Russell, we do think in images as ”Iell as in words. The existence of images could be accounted for in two ways:

(i) the existence of a faculty of visualization and

(ii) the occurrence of a word in the absence of the object it refers to.



James believes that the backbone of the theory of the association of simple ideas is the claim that “the mind is constituted by the multiplicity of distinct ‘ideas’ associated into a unity. There is  an idea of a and also an idea of b. Therefore there is an idea of  a+b or of a and b together . The fallacy in such a view, according to James, is the consideration of the unity or the whole as the mere sum of its parts. In fact, James observes, the unity is a new and a separate idea as much as its constituents are separate from each other. For James (a & b) is an idea as much as a and b individually are.

James’ criticism of the assimilationist’s theory, that no two ideas or feelings can be mixed together in one idea which is their summation, is based on his view of consciousness. According to James, consciousness constitutes a stream, very similar to Heraclitus river. No one idea passes twice in the same state of consciousness. The reason is that no physical object affects the same brain twice. The brain is constantly changing and consciousness is changing too. There is a correspondence based on the states of consciousness and the brain states. There is also a similar relationship between the brain versus physical objects and the consciousness versus thoughts. physical objects exist in a stable world. Physical objects can be said to be the same over a certain period of time. Thoughts also exist in a world independent from the mind or consciousness. There are no thoughts, in consciousness world which do not belong to that momentary state of consciousness. Each state of consciousness is different, so it is invalid to say the thoughts of one state belong also to another. The world, where thoughts exist, is an immutable world very similar to the Platonic world of Ideas.



“The last and subtlest offshoot of the theory of the associated ideas is the mind-stuff theory Whose most important exponent is Mr. Herbert Spencer. James believes that Spencer advocates a theory which conceives of consciousness as a compound state of ultimate sub- conscious units called psychic shocks. Consciousness is considered by Spencer to be very similar to the feeling of a musical sound. The feeling to be very simple as much as the musical sound seems simple, i.e., uncompounded. But in fact, both the musical sound and the feeling of the musical sound are compound. Spencer says that “the subjective effect produced by a crack or noise that has no appreciable duration is little else than a nervous shock”.” If we consider consciousness similar to a feeling, then consciousness is compounded of similar shocks. James objects to the mind-stuff theory on two grounds.


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