Introduction to Philosophy
The Elusive Lamb Chop
Sense Without Matter or Direct Perception
Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., London, 1954.
I open my eyes and see. What precisely do I see? I stretch out my hand and touch. What precisely do I touch? What precisely do we see and touch, when we see and touch? That is our question. We have many names in ordinary life for the myriad things we see and touch: shoes, ships, sealing wax, apples, pears and plums; those names are precise enough for action, but they are not precise enough for thought; thought is concerned with common features and resemblances, more than with differences and distinctions. Now, when I see ships and shoes and apples and so forth, what precisely do I see that is common to all those sights?
I see colors and shades of color, light and its modes, illuminated points and lines and surfaces. Those are the things I actually see, and I call them inclusively visual data; they are the elemental objects of the sense of sight. And when I touch shoes and ships and apples and so forth, what precisely do I touch that is common to all those touches? I touch hard, soft, solid, fluid, resistant, yielding, and (in the wider sense of "touch" ) hot, cold, warm and tepid. Those are the things I actually touch, and I call them inclusively factual data; they are the elemental objects of the sense of touch.
The theory of matter . . . requires us to hold that in every instance of sense-perception there are two factors to be recognised and distinguished, viz. the actual object of sense, the sense-data, actually perceived by eye or ear or hand or other sense organs, and the material substance, itself unperceived and unperceivable, that supports the sense-data. The case against the theory is, in outline, that the theory postulates an intolerable division, based on an improbable guess. It is not a theory reasonably distinguishing homogeneous parts in a thing, like shell and kernel, pea and pod. It is a theory requiring us to break up the one homogeneous thing into two heterogeneous and inconsistent parts, and, incidentally, to pin our faith to the existence of material substance, for which there is not the slightest evidence in fact.
Let us take an instance, and see how the theory of matter works out. See yonder mahogany table. Its color is brown, in the main, though it is veined and grained in lighter colors. Its touch is hard and smooth. It has a smell and a taste and a sound; but I hardly ever need to bother about them; for I know the table ordinarily by its colors and by the cut and shape of its lines of light and its shading, and if I am in doubt, I can handle it and feel it and lift it up. It is a sensible table. It is a sensible table through and through. I can bore holes in it, can plane away its surfaces, can burn it and reduce it to ashes; and I shall never come on anything in it that is not an actual or possible object of sense; it is composed entirely of sense-data and sensibilia.
Now the theory of matter brings in totally different considerations; it asks me to believe that all these sense-data and sensibilia do not constitute the real table. I am asked to believe that beneath the table I see and touch stands another table, a supporting table, a table of a totally different nature that cannot be seen or touched or sensed in any other way, a table to be taken on trust, and yet a highly important table, because it is the real, invariable, material table, while the table I see and touch is only apparent, variable, inconstant and volatile. The visible-tangible, sensible table has color and hardness and the other qualities by which things of sense are known and distinguished. The real table has none of these.
What an impossible duality! Yonder mahogany table proves to be two tables. It is a sensible table, and it is a material table. If I take the theory seriously, and go through with it, I am bound to believe the same of everything else around me; wherever I look, I am condemned to see double, and to grope my way through life with divided aim and reduced effficiency.
Some say that the "real table" is the cause of the apparent table, but how the cause works is a mystery. Some say that the "real table" is the original, and the apparent table a copy; but what would be the use of a copy that is totally unlike its original? And who, or what, does the copying, and how? The two tables are left there, juxtaposed, unrelated and unexplained.
They are not two aspects of one thing; they are not two parts of one thing; they have nothing in common; they are not comparable; they could not stem from one stock; they are heterogeneous; they are at opposite poles of thought; they differ as light from darkness; if the one, is, the other is not. No mixing of the two is possible; they cannot be constituents of one and the same thing; for they are contradictories; if the table is really colored, then it is not matter; if the table is really matter, then it is not colored. The supposition of two heterogeneous bodies in one and the same thing is self-contradictory, destroying the unity of the thing....
Then consider the question of evidence. What evidence is there for the existence of matter? What evidence is there for non-sensible matter? Why should I believe in the matter of materialism? Set aside the misunderstanding that confuses matter with the sensible; set aside the prejudice that would identify matter with the chemistry of atoms, or the subatomic objects of nuclear physics; set aside the legend of the constant sum-total of energy from which all springs and to which all returns; set aside mere tradition and the voice of uninformed authority. And what philosophical evidence is there for the matter of materialism?
There is no evidence at all. Writers on matter appeal to prejudice and ignorance in favor of matter; they take it for granted that everyone accepts the existence of matter; they never attempt to prove its existence directly. There is no direct evidence to be had. They try to establish it indirectly. There could not be an external thing, they say, unless there were matter; unless there were matter, they say, there would be no cause of change in the external world, nor any test for true and false. . .
The onus of proof is on the materialist, and the immaterialist can fairly challenge him to produce his evidence. If there is matter, produce it. If there is evidence for matter, produce it. Neither matter, nor valid evidence for matter, has ever yet been produced.
Let me clinch the argument with an appeal to observable fact in a concrete case. If matter is, I ask, where is it? If matter is, it is in things, and in all extemal things, and the type of external thing selected is neither here nor there. I will choose a homely, explorable thing that we can know through and through, a mutton chop. If matter is, it is in this mutton chop. I ask, where? Where is it in this mutton chop? Where could it be? Take away from this given chop all its sense-data, including its obtainable sense-data. Take away those of the outside and those of the inside, those of the meat and the bone, those of the fat and the lean, be it cooked or uncooked.
Take away all that we do sense and all that we might sense, and what is left? There are its visual data, its browns and reds and blacks and whites, and all the other colors and hues of its surface and potential surfaces and center. There are its factual data, its rough and smooth, hard and soft, resistant and yielding, solid and fluid, and those varied palpables that admit my knife or hinder its easy passage. It has auditory data; its fat and lean and bone make different sounds when struck by knives and forks. Many smells go into its composing, raw or cooked. Air and moisture link it to its sensible context, and show as steam and vapor under heat. The chop has sensible shapes that may concern artists and even geometricians; it has sensible contents and sensible forms that are specially the concern of chemists and physicists; they are no less sensible and no less real than those contents and forms that are of importance to the butcher and the cook. Take them all away in thought.
Take away all the sensa and the sensibilia of this mutton chop, and what is left? Nothing! Nothing is left. In taking away its sensa and sensibilia you have taken away all the mutton chop, and nothing is left, and its matter is nowhere. Its matter, other than its sense-data, is nothing at all, nothing but a little heap of powdered sentiment, nothing but the ghost of the conventional thing, nothing, [nothing], and [more nothing].
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Last Modified: 03/26/02
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