- My first strenuous interest in philosophy was in the topic of causality1. I didn't know that what I was interested in belonged to philosophy. As a result of my teenage conversion to the Catholic Church - itself the fruit of reading done from twelve to fifteen - I read a work called Natural Theology by a nineteenth century Jesuit. I read it with great appetite and found it all convincing except for two things. One was the doctrine of scientia media, according to which God knew what anybody would have done if, e.g., he hadn't died when he did. This was a part of theodicy, and was also the form in which the problem of counter-factual conditionals was discussed. I found I could not believe this doctrine: it appeared to me that there was not, quite generally, any such thing as what would have happened if what did happen had not happened, and that in particular there was no such thing, generally speaking, as what someone would have done if. . . and certainly that there was no such thing as how someone would have spent his life if he had not died a child. I did not know at the time that the matter was one of fierce dispute between the Jesuits and the Dominicans, who took rather my own line about it. So when I was being instructed a couple of years later by a Dominican at Oxford, Fr Richard Kehoe, and he asked me if I had any difficulties, I told him that I couldn't see how that stuff could be true. He was obviously amused and told me that I certainly didn't have to believe it, though I only learned the historical fact I have mentioned rather later.
- But it was the other stumbling block that got me into philosophy. The book contained an argument for the existence of a First Cause, and as a preliminary to this it offered a proof of some 'principle of causality2' according to which anything that comes about must have a cause. The proof had the fault of proceeding from a barely concealed assumption of its own conclusion. I thought that this was some sort of carelessness on the part of the author, and that it just needed tidying up. So I started writing improved versions of it; each one satisfied me for a time, but then reflection would show me that I had committed the same fault. I don't think I ever showed my efforts to anyone; I tore them up when I found they were no good, and I went round asking people why, if something happened, they would be sure it had a cause. No one had an answer to this. In two or three years of effort I produced five versions of a would-be proof, each one of which I then found guilty of the same error, though each time it was more cunningly concealed. In all this time I had no philosophical teaching about the matter; even my last attempt was made before I started reading Greats at Oxford. It was not until then that I read Hume and the discussion in Aquinas, where he says that it isn't part of the concept of being to include any relation to a cause. But I could not understand the grounds of his further claim, that it is part of the concept of coming into being.
- The other central philosophical topic which I got hooked on without even realizing that it was philosophy, was perception. I read a book by Fr Martin D'Arcy, S.J., called The Nature of Belief and got just that out of it. I was sure that I saw objects, like packets of cigarettes or cups or . . . any more or less substantial thing would do. But I think I was concentrated on artefacts, like other products of our urban life, and the first more natural examples that struck me were 'wood' and the sky. The latter hit me amidships because I was saying dogmatically that one must know the category of object one was speaking of - whether it was a colour or a kind of stuff, for example; that belonged to the logic of the term one was using. It couldn't be a matter of empirical discovery that something belonged to a different category. The sky stopped me.
- For years I would spend time, in cafes, for example, staring at objects saying to myself: 'I see a packet. But what do I really see? How can I say that I see here anything more than a yellow expanse?' While still doing Honour Mods, and so not yet having got into my undergraduate philosophy course, I went to H. H. Price's lectures on perception and phenomenalism. I found them intensely interesting. Indeed, of all the people I heard at Oxford, he was the one who excited my respect; the one I found worth listening to. This was not because I agreed with him, indeed, I used to sit tearing my gown into little strips because I wanted to argue against so much that he said. But even so, what he said seemed to me to be absolutely about the stuff. The only book of his that I found so good was Hume’s Theory of the External World which I read straight on from first sentence to last. Again, I didn't agree with some of it; he offered an amended account of identity to rewrite Hume, in a way that seemed to me to miss the force of Hume's thoughts about identity as seeming to be "midway betwixt unity and diversity": he wanted to amend Hume into starting with the idea that identity really belonged just to atomic sense impressions - which won't work because "every sense-impression contains temporal parts"; and then changing to the conception of "identical" as applying always to a whole, having temporal parts or spatial parts or both, and never to a single indivisible entity, if such there be. That is, he wanted to smooth Hume out. But he was really writing about the stuff itself, even if one did not accept his amendment. It was he who had aroused my intense interest in Hume's chapter "On scepticism with regard to the senses".
- I always hated phenomenalism and felt trapped by it. I couldn't see my way out of it but I didn't believe it. It was no good pointing to difficulties about it, things which Russell found wrong with it, for example. The strength, the central nerve of it remained alive and raged achingly. It was only in Wittgenstein's classes in 1944 that I saw the nerve being extracted, the central thought "I have got this, and I define 'yellow' (say) as this" being effectively attacked. –At one point in these classes Wittgenstein was discussing the interpretation of the sign-post, and it burst upon me that the way you go by it is the final interpretation. At another I came out with "But I still want to say: Blue is there." Older hands smiled or laughed but Wittgenstein checked them by taking it seriously, saying "Let me think what medicine you need. . . . Suppose that we had the word 'painy' as a word for the property of some surfaces." The 'medicine' was effective, and the story illustrates Wittgenstein's ability to understand the thought that was offered to him in objection. One might protest, indeed, that there is this wrong with Locke's assimilation of secondary qualities to pain: you can sketch the functioning of "pain" as a word for a secondary quality, but you can't do the reverse operation. But the 'medicine' did not imply that you could. If "painy" were a possible secondary quality word, then wouldn't just the same motive drive me to say: "Painy is there" as drove me to say "Blue is there"? I did not mean "'Blue' is the name of this sensation which I am having," nor did I switch to that thought.
- This volume contains the earliest purely philosophical writing on my part which was published: the criticism of C.S. Lewis' argument for 'the self-refutation of the Naturalist' in the first edition of his book, Miracles, chapter III. Those who want to see what the argument was, without relying on my criticism for it, should take care to get hold of the first edition (1947). The version of that chapter which is most easily available is the second edition, which came out as a Fontana paperback in 1960. The chapter, which in 1947 had the title "The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist", was rewritten and is now called "The Cardinal Difficulty of the Naturalist". The last five pages of the old chapter have been replaced by ten pages of the new, though a quotation from J. B. S. Haldane is common to both. Internal evidence shows that at least some of the rewriting was done after the first Sputnik and even after the hot dry summer of 1959. But I should judge that he thought rather hard about the matter in the interval. The rewritten version is much less slick and avoids some of the mistakes of the earlier one: it is much more of a serious investigation. He distinguishes between 'the Cause-Effect because' and 'the Ground-Consequent because', where before he had simply spoken of 'irrational causes'. If what we think at the end of our reasoning is to be true, the correct answer to "Why do you think that?" must use the latter because. On the other hand, every event in Nature must be connected with previous events in the Cause-and-Effect relation. . . . "Unfortunately the two systems are wholly distinct". . . . And "even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event?"
- These thoughts lead him to suggest that being a cause and being a proof must coincide - but he finds strong objections to this. (He obviously had imbibed some sort of universal-law determinism about causes.) After some consideration he reverts to the (unexamined) idea he used in the first edition, of 'full explanation': "Anything which professes to explain our reasoning fully without introducing an act of knowing, thus solely determined by what is known, is really a theory that there is no reasoning. But this, as it seems to me, is what Naturalism is bound to do." The remaining four and a half pages are devoted to an elaboration of this. Unluckily he doesn't explore this idea of 'an act of knowing solely determined by what is known', which is obviously crucial.
- Rereading the argument of the first edition and my criticisms of it, it seems to me that they are just. At the same time, I find them lacking in any recognition of the depth of the problem. I don't think C.S. Lewis' first version itself gave one much impression of that. The argument of the second edition has much to criticize in it, but it certainly does correspond more to the actual depth and difficulty of the questions being discussed. I think we haven't yet an answer to the question I have quoted from him: "What is the connection between grounds and the actual occurrence of the belief?"
- The fact that C.S. Lewis rewrote that chapter, and rewrote it so that it now has these qualities, shows his honesty and seriousness. The meeting of the Socratic Club at which I read my paper has been described by several of his friends as a horrible and shocking experience which upset him very much. Neither Dr Havard (who had C.S. Lewis and me to dinner a few weeks later) nor Professor Jack Bennett remembered any such feelings on C.S. Lewis' part. The paper that I read is as printed here. My own recollection is that it was an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms, which C.S. Lewis' rethinking and rewriting showed he thought were accurate. I am inclined to construe the odd accounts of the matter by some of his friends - who seem not to have been interested in the actual arguments or the subject-matter - as an interesting example of the phenomenon called "projection".
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)