8″Consciousness" denotes both a faculty and a state.As a faculty, “consciousness” means: the attribute of certain living organisms which enables them to be aware of existence. (I use “faculty” in the Aristotelian sense, to designate a power or ability.)As a state, “consciousness” is: awareness—the condition of an organism in cognizing, perceiving, or sensing.The concept of consciousness as a state, the state of awareness, is a primary; it cannot be broken down any further or defined by reference to other concepts; there are no other concepts to which it can be reduced. It is the basic psychological concept and category to which all other psychological terms ultimately must refer; only in the context of the phenomenon of awareness as one’s root concept can such concepts as “thought,” “idea,” “perception,” "imagination,'' “memory,” “emotion,” or “desire” be intelligible. One can investigate the structural and functional conditions in an organism that are necessary for the existence of consciousness; one can inquire into the neurophysiological means of consciousness (such as sensory receptors, afferent nerves, etc.); one can differentiate levels and forms of consciousness. But the concept of consciousness as such is an irreducible primary.It is what Ayn Rand has termed an “axiomatic concept.” She writes:Axioms are usually considered to be propositions identifying a fundamental, self-evident truth. But explicit propositions as such are not primaries: they are made of concepts. The base of man’s knowledge—of all other concepts, all axioms, propositions and thought—consists of axiomatic concepts.An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. . . . It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.The first and primary axiomatic concepts are “existence,” “identity” (which is a corollary of “existence”) and “consciousness.” One can study what exists and how consciousness functions; but one cannot analyze (or “prove”) existence as such, or consciousness as such. These are irreducible primaries. (An attempt to “prove” them is self-contradictory: it is an attempt to “prove” existence by means of non-existence, and consciousness by means of unconsciousness). 1
9That mental processes are correlated with neural processes in the brain, in no way affects the status of consciousness as a unique and irreducible primary. It is a species of what philosophers term “the reductive fallacy” to assert that mental processes are “nothing but” neural processes—that, for example, the perception of an object is a collection of neural impulses, or that a thought is a certain pattern of brain activity. A perception and the neural processes that mediate it are not identical, nor are a thought and the brain activity that may accompany it. Such an equation is flagrantly anti-empirical and logically absurd.As one philosopher observes:[Reductive materialism] maintains that consciousness is a form of brain activity;—that it is either some fine and subtle kind of matter, or (more commonly) some form of energy, either kinetic or potential. . . . To say that consciousness is a form of matter or of motion is to use words without meaning. . . . Argument against any given position must regularly take the general form of the reductio ad absurdum. He therefore, who chooses at the beginning a position which is as absurd as any that can be imagined is in the happy situation of being armor proof against all argument. He can never be “reduced to the absurd” because he is already there. If he cannot see that, though consciousness and motion may be related as intimately as you please, we mean different things by the two words, that though consciousness may be caused by motion, it is not itself what we mean by motion any more than it is green cheese—if he cannot see this there is no arguing with him. 2To quote another philosopher:We speak of an idea as clear or confused, as apposite or inapposite, as witty or dull. Are such terms intelligible when applied to those motions of electrons, atoms, molecules, or muscles, which for [the reductive materialist] are all there is to consciousness? Can a motion be clear, or cogent, or witty? What exactly would a clear motion be like? What sort of thing is a germane or cogent reflex? Or a witty muscular reaction? These adjectives are perfectly in order when applied to ideas; they become at once absurd when applied to movements in muscle or nerve. . . .On the other side, movements have attributes which are unthinkable as applied to ideas. Movements have velocity; but what is the average velocity of one’s ideas on a protective tariff?
10Movements have direction; would there be any sense in talking of the north-easterly direction of one’s thought on the morality of revenge? 3It is true that whereas matter can exist apart from consciousness, consciousness cannot exist apart from matter, i.e., apart from a living organism. But this dependence of consciousness on matter does not in any way support the claim that they are identical. On the contrary: as more than one critic of reductive materialism has pointed out, it is reasonable to speak of one thing being dependent on another only if they are not identical.In the writings of Aristotle, one finds a treatment of consciousness (and of life) that is signally superior to the approach of most “moderns.” There are many respects in which, when one studies the history of philosophy, moving from Aristotle to Descartes to the present, one feels as though history were moving backward, not forward—as if most of Aristotle’s successors down through the ages have been pre-Aristotelians. Aristotle is neither a mystic nor a “materialist”; he does not regard consciousness as supernatural, as an incomprehensible and irksome presence in a mechanistic universe, to be banished by reduction to the blind motion of inanimate particles, like an exile whom the authorities found discomfiting. To Aristotle, consciousness is a natural fact of reality, the characteristic attribute of certain entities. In this issue, his approach is far more "empirical’' than that of most “empiricists.” His example should serve as a lead to those who desire to pursue a genuinely scientific study of conscious living organisms.4The only consciousness of which one has direct and immediate knowledge is one’s own. One knows the consciousness of other beings only indirectly, inferentially, through outward physical expression in action. This does not mean that one can achieve exhaustive knowledge of the nature and laws of mental activity, merely by introspection. It means that each man can directly experience only his own consciousness; the consciousness of other beings can never be the object of his direct perception of experience.Communication among men concerning psychological states is possible because each man has his own inner psychological laboratory to which he can refer.
11To clarify this metaphor: if a man has never had the experience of sight, there is no way to communicate the experience to him. No discussion of light waves, retinas, rods, and cones could make sight meaningful to a man who has been blind since birth. Like the basic attributes of physical objects, such as extension and mass, the basic categories of consciousness can be defined only ostensively, i.e., by reference to direct experience. Just as extrospective ostensive definitions are indispensable to any communication among men concerning the physical world, so introspective ostensive definitions are indispensable to any communication concerning the psychological realm. These extrospective and introspective observables are the base on which all more complex concepts, and all subsequent, inferential knowledge, are built.Introspection is the first source of one’s psychological knowledge; and without introspection no other avenue of psychological knowledge could be significant or meaningful, even if it were possible. The study of behavior, or of the descriptive self-reports of other men, or of cultures and cultural products, would yield one nothing—if one had no apprehension of such phenomena as ideas, beliefs, memories, emotions, desires, to which one could relate one’s observations and in terms of which one could interpret one’s findings. (Strictly speaking, of course, it is absurd to imagine that, if one had no awareness of such categories, one could be engaged in the study of anything.)While introspection is a necessary condition and source of psychological knowledge, it is not sufficient by itself—neither one’s own introspection nor the introspective reports of others. Psychology requires the study of the outward manifestations and expressions of mental activity: behavior. Consciousness is the regulator of action. Consciousness cannot be fully understood without reference to behavior, and behavior cannot be understood without reference to consciousness; man is neither a disembodied ghost nor an automaton. Scientific psychology requires that the data of introspection and the observations of beings in action be systematically integrated into coherent knowledge. A theory, to be valid, must integrate all and contradict none of the relevant evidence or data; and this entails the necessity of taking cognizance of everything that is relevant.
12In the light of the foregoing, it is appropriate to comment briefly on a curious phenomenon in modern psychology: the doctrine of behaviorism.The Revolt Against ConsciousnessIn order, allegedly, to establish psychology as a “genuine science,” on a part with the physical sciences, behaviorism proposes the following program: to dispense with the concept of consciousness, to abandon all concern with “mythical” mental states, and to study exclusively an organism’s behavior—i.e., to restrict psychology to the study of physical motions. For this reason, a writer on the history of psychology aptly entitled his chapter on behaviorism, “Psychology out of its Mind.” 5Sometimes a distinction is made between “radical behaviorism” and “methodological behaviorism.” Radical behaviorism is explicit reductive materialism; it holds that mind is a series of bodily responses, such as muscular and glandular reactions. The gross untenability of this doctrine has already been noted. The advocates of methodological behaviorism frequently repudiate this doctrine as “unsophisticated” and ''philosophical." Their form of behaviorism, they insist, makes no metaphysical commitment whatever, i.e., no commitment about the fundamental nature of man or of mind; it is entirely procedural; it merely holds that consciousness—whatever that might be—is not an object of scientific study; and that scientific psychology must confine itself to an analysis of observed behavior without reference to mentalistic data and without recourse to any concepts derived by means of introspection.A methodology, however, to be valid, must be appropriate to its subject. Therefore, it necessarily entails a view of the nature of its subject. Methodological behaviorism implies that the organisms which psychology studies are such that their behavior can be understood without reference to consciousness. And this, clearly, is a metaphysical position.Methodological behaviorists may wish to deny that they are reductive materialists. But then, as a minimum, their doctrine entails a belief in another, no more promising version of materialism: epiphenomenalism—the doctrine that consciousness is merely an incidental by-product of physical processes (as smoke is a by-
13product of a locomotive), and that conscious events have no causal efficacy, neither with regard to bodily events nor to other mental events, i.e., one’s thoughts do not have the power to affect either one’s actions or one’s subsequent thoughts. Thus, epiphenomenalism commits its advocates to the position that the history of the human race would be exactly the same if no one had ever been conscious of anything, if no one had any perceptions or thoughts. As a philosophical position, epiphenomenalism is scarcely more defensible than reductive materialism; neither is very impressive in the light of even a cursory logical analysis.The difference between these two variations of behaviorism is, for any practical purpose, nonexistent. Both agree that consciousness is irrelevant to psychology and to behavior; this is the essence of their position.The behaviorist has been conspicuously reluctant to enunciate the conclusions to which his theory leads. He has not, for instance, felt obliged to declare: "Since phenomena of consciousness are illusory or irrelevant to explanations of behavior, and since this includes my behavior, nothing that I may think, understand or perceive (whatever these terms mean) bears any causal relation to the things I do or the theories I advocate."When a person puts forth a doctrine which amounts to the assertion either that he is not conscious or that it makes no difference to him (and should make no difference to others) whether he is conscious or not—the irresistible temptation is to agree with him.Many writers, of the most varied and divergent viewpoints, have exposed the arbitrariness, the contradictions, and the epistemological barbarism of the behaviorist theory. 6 It is unnecessary to review their criticisms here. Behaviorists, in line with their general policy of dismissing those aspects of reality which they find it inconvenient to consider, have not attempted, for the most part, to answer these criticisms; they have ignored them.The chief focus of the behaviorists’ attack is on the psychologist’s use of introspection. Their argument is as follows: Psychology has failed to establish itself as a science or to produce any genuine knowledge; the fault lies in the psychologist’s reliance on introspection; the physical sciences, which are far more advanced, do not employ introspection; therefore, psychology should abandon introspection and emulate the methods of the physical
14sciences; it should, like physics, study the actions of material entities, i.e., study observable behavior.This program has led, on the part of behaviorists, to an orgy of “experiments” and “measurements,” with only this difference from the physical sciences: that behaviorists have been notoriously unclear as to what their experiments are to accomplish, what they are measuring, why they are measuring it, or what they expect to know when their measurements are completed. The practical success of their program has been nil. (This does not mean that every experiment performed by an advocate of behaviorism necessarily has been valueless; but that its value, if any, bears no intrinsic relation to the behaviorist thesis, i.e., the experiment did not require or depend on the experimenter’s commitment to behaviorism. Behaviorists were scarcely the first to recognize that psychology requires, among other things, the study of behavior under experimentally controlled conditions.)It is true that psychology has failed as yet to establish itself as a science; it is also true that classical introspectionists, such as Wundt, Titchener, and members of the so-called Würzburg school, were guilty of grave errors in their concept of the nature, scope, and methods of psychology. But the behaviorist program represents, not a solution or a step forward, but the abdication of psychology as such.While posturing as the expression of scientific objectivity, behaviorism, in fact, represents a collapse to methodological subjectivism. To be objective is to be concerned with facts, excluding one’s wishes, hopes, or fears from cognitive consideration; objectivity rests on the principle that that which is, is, that facts are not created or altered by the wishes or beliefs of the perceiver. If, therefore, a scientist decides to study a given aspect of reality, objectivity requires that he adjust his methods of investigation to the nature of the field being studied; ends determine means; he does not, arbitrarily, because it suits his convenience, select certain methods of investigation and then decree that only those facts are relevant which are amenable to his methods.No one, including the behaviorist, can escape the knowledge (a) that he is conscious and (b) that this is a fact about himself of the greatest importance, a fact which is indispensable to any meaningful
15account of his behavior. If the behaviorist is unequal to the task of formulating scientific epistemological principles for the use of introspection and for the integration of introspective data with psychological data obtained by other means, he is not justified in seeking to reduce an entire field to the level of his inadequacy. Arbitrarily to define the nature of conscious organisms in such a way as to justify one’s preferred method of study, is subjectivism.Behaviorists frequently attempt to defend their position by means of an epistemological confusion which they did not originate, but which is very common today among psychologists and philosophers: the argument that since states of consciousness are “private,” and since, therefore, they are not “publicly observable,” they cannot be the subject of objective, scientific knowledge.Phenomena of consciousness are “private,” in the sense indicated earlier, namely, that the only consciousness a man can experience directly is his own. But, as was also indicated, the inferences a psychologist makes, on the basis of his introspection, concerning the nature and functions of consciousness, may be checked by his fellow workers, who also have recourse to introspection—just as one scientist checks on the reported findings of another by repeating the other’s experiment in his own laboratory. If psychologists sometimes disagree about what they perceive, or about the correct interpretation of what they perceive, this is true of physical scientists also. And the method of resolving such differences is, in principle, the same: to investigate further, to compare data more carefully, to define terms more precisely, to explore other, possibly relevant facts, to check their conclusions in the light of the rest of their knowledge, to search for contradictions or non sequiturs in their reports.The objectivity of one’s conclusions depends, not on whether they are derived from “publicly observable” data, but on (a) whether they are true (i.e., consonant with the facts of reality), and on (b) the rationality of one’s method of arriving at them. Conclusions arrived at by a rational method can be confirmed by other men and are, in this sense, “publicly verifiable.” But the objective and the publicly observable (or verifiable) are not synonymous.Whatever men may learn from one another, each man, epistemologically, is alone; knowing is not a social process. If one man’s
16judgment is unreliable and nonobjective, because it is his own, a hundred unreliable, nonobjective judgments will not yield a reliable, objective one.So much for the mystique of the "publicly observable."The behaviorist assault on consciousness merely represents the extreme of a more general trend in modern psychology and philosophy: the tendency to regard consciousness or mind with suspicious hostility, as a disturbing, “unnatural” phenomenon which somehow must be explained away or, at the last, barred from the realm of the scientifically knowable.For centuries, mystics have asserted that phenomena of consciousness are outside the reach of reason and science. The modern “ scientific” apostles of the anti-mind agree. While proclaiming themselves exponents of reason and enemies of supernaturalism, they announce, in effect, that only insentient matter is “natural”—and thereby surrender man’s consciousness to mysticism. They have conceded to the mystics a victory which the mystics could not have won on their own.It is from such neomysticism that a genuinely scientific psychology must reclaim man’s mind as a proper object of rational study.
17Chapter Two—Man: A Living BeingNeeds and CapacitiesFrom the simplest unicellular animal to man, the most complex of organisms, all living entities possess a characteristic structure, the component parts of which function in such a way as to preserve the integrity of that structure, thereby maintaining the life of the organism.An organism has been described, correctly, as being not an aggregate, but an integrate. When an organism ceases to perform the actions necessary to maintain its structural integrity, it dies. Death is disintegration. When the life of the organism ends, what remains is merely a collection of decomposing chemical compounds.For all living entities, action is a necessity of survival. Life is motion, a process of self-sustaining action that an organism must carry on constantly in order to remain in existence. This principle is equally evident in the simple energy-conversions of the plant and in the long-range, complex activities of man. Biologically, inactivity is death.The action that an organism must perform is both internal, as in the process of metabolism, and external, as in the process of seeking food.The pattern of all self-preserving action is, in essence, as follows: an organism maintains itself by taking materials which exist in its environment, transforming or rearranging them, and thereby converting them into the means of its own survival.Consider the processes of nutrition, respiration, and synthesis, which, together with their related functions, comprise metabolism.
18Through the process of nutrition, the raw materials the organism needs are brought into its system; through respiration (oxidation), energy is then extracted from these raw materials; a part of this energy is then used in the process of synthesis which transforms the raw materials into structural components of living matter. The remaining energy, together with all the structural components, makes possible the continuation of the organism’s self-maintaining activity. Metabolism characterizes all living species.But now consider an example of the wider principle involved, that is peculiar to man: the activity of harnessing a waterfall in order to obtain the electric energy needed to power a factory engaged in the manufacture of farm equipment or clothing or automobiles or drugs. Here, the action is external rather than internal, behavioral rather than metabolic; but the basic principle of life remains the same.The existence of life is conditional; an organism always faces the possibility of death. Its survival depends on the fulfillment of certain conditions. It must generate the biologically appropriate course of action. What course of action is appropriate, is determined by the nature of the particular organism. Different species survive in different ways.An organism maintains itself by exercising its capacities in order to satisfy its needs. The actions possible to and characteristic of a given species, are to be understood in terms of its specific needs and capacities. These constitute its basic behavioral context.“Need” and “capacity” are used here in their fundamental, metaphysical sense (by “metaphysical,” I mean: pertaining to the nature of things); in this context, “need” and ''capacity" refer to what which is innate and universal to the species, not to that which is acquired and peculiar to the individual.An organism’s needs are those things which the organism, by its nature, requires for its life and well-being—i.e., for its efficacious continuation of the life-process. An organism’s capacities are its inherent potentialities for action.The concept of needs and capacities is fundamental to biology and psychology alike. Biology is concerned with the needs and capacities of living organisms qua physical entities. Psychology is concerned with the needs and capacities of living organisms qua conscious entities.
19Just as man possesses specific psychological capacities, by virtue of his distinctive form of consciousness, his conceptual faculty—so, by virtue of this same faculty, he possesses specific psychological needs. (I shall discuss some of these needs in Part Two.)When a physical or psychological need fails to be fulfilled, the result is danger to the organism: pain, debilitation, destruction. However, needs differ (a) in the degree of their temporal urgency, and (b) in the form of the threat which they potentially pose. This is most easily seen in the case of physical needs, but the principle applies to all needs.(a) Man has a need of oxygen and of food; but whereas he can survive for days without food, he can survive for only minutes without oxygen. Man can survive much longer without Vitamin C than without water; but both are needs. In some cases, the frustration of a need results in immediate death; in other cases, the process can take years.(b) Man has a need to maintain his body temperature at a certain level; he has internal adaptive mechanisms which adjust to changes in the external environment. If he is exposed to extreme temperatures beyond the power of his adaptive mechanisms to cope with, he suffers pain and, within a few hours, dies. In such a case, the disastrous consequences of need—frustration are direct and readily discernible; similarly with oxygen deprivation, food deprivation, etc. But there are instances of need-frustration in which the sequence of disaster is much less direct. For example, man has a need of calcium; there are regions in Mexico where the soil contains no calcium; the inhabitants of these regions do not perish outright, but their growth is stunted, they are generally debilitated, and they are prey to many diseases to which the lack of calcium makes them highly susceptible. They are impaired in their general ability to function. Thus, a need-frustration does not have to result in the organism’s destruction directly; instead, it can undermine the organism’s overall capacity to live, and thus make the organism vulnerable to destruction from many different sources. (This principle is important to remember in considering the frustration of psychological needs; we will have occasion to recall it in Chapter Twelve.)Science comes to discover man’s various needs through the consequences that occur when they are frustrated. Needs
20announce themselves through signals of pain, illness, and death. (If, somehow, a need were always and everywhere satisfied automatically—if no one ever suffered from any frustration of the need—it is difficult to surmise how scientists would be able to isolate and identify it.)Even when symptoms do appear, it is often a long process to discover the underlying need-deprivation. Men died of scurvy for many centuries before scientists traced the causal connection to a lack of green vegetables; and only in comparatively recent history did they learn that the crucial ingredient supplied by the vegetables is Vitamin C.Man is an integrated organism, and it is not surprising that the frustration of physical needs sometimes produces psychological symptoms—and that the frustration of psychological needs sometimes produces physical symptoms. As an example of the first: the hallucinations and loss of memory that can result from a deficiency of thiamin. As an example of the second: any psychosomatic illness—migraine headaches, peptic ulcers, etc.It is the conditional nature of life that gives rise to the concept of need. If a being were indestructible—if it were not confronted with the alternative of life or death—it would have no needs. The concept could not be applicable to it. Without the concept of life, the concept of need would not be possible.“Need” implies the existence of a goal, result, or end: the survival of the organism. Therefore, in order to maintain that something is a physical or psychological need, one must demonstrate that it is a causal condition of the organism’s survival and well-being.While biologists recognize this fact, many psychologists do not. They ascribe to man a wide variety of psychological needs, without offering any justification for their claims, as though the positing of needs were a matter of arbitrary choice. They seldom specify by what criterion they judge what are or are not needs; nor do they show how or why their lists of alleged needs are entailed by man’s nature as a living organism.Among the things that various psychologists have asserted to be inherent needs of man are the following: to dominate other men, to submit to a leader, to bargain, to gamble, to gain social prestige, to snub someone, to be hostile, to be unconventional, to
21be a conformist, to deprecate oneself, to boast, to murder, to suffer pain.These so-called needs, it must be emphasized, are held by their advocates to be innate and universal to the human species.A desire or a wish is not the equivalent of a need. The fact that a great many men may desire a thing, does not prove that it represents a need inherent in human nature. Needs must be objectively demonstrable. This should be obvious. But there are few facts that have been more recklessly ignored by most psychologists.Perhaps the most remarkable “need” ever posited by a psychologist is the one propounded by Sigmund Freud in his theory of the “death instinct.” 1 According to Freud, human behavior is to be understood in terms of instincts—specifically, the life instinct and the death instinct. The latter is the more powerful, says Freud, since all men eventually do die. These instincts, he claims, represent innate biological needs; man has a biological need to experience pain and to perish; in every cell of man’s body there is a ''will to die," an urge to “return” to an inorganic condition, to "reestablish a state of things which was disturbed by the emergence of life."2This theory represents the extreme of what can happen when psychologists permit themselves to speculate about needs while ignoring the context in which the concept arises and the standard by which needs are to be established.A need is that which an organism requires for its survival; the consequence of frustrating a need is pain and/or death; the postulate of a death instinct, of a need to die, of a need to experience pain, is literally meaningless. It is only on the premise of life as the goal that the concept of a biological need can be meaningful. The concept of a need to die—like the concept of a square circle—is a contradiction in terms.If man fails to fulfill his actual needs, nature threatens him with pain and death—but what does nature threaten him with if he fails to fulfill his alleged need to suffer and die?To move from the observation that all living things die to the conclusion that there exists within every cell of man’s body a “will to die,” is grotesque anthropomorphism. And to speak of an organism’s urge to “return” to an inorganic condition, "to re-establish a
22state of things which was disturbed by the emergence of life," is to be guilty of the crudest violation of logic: an organism does not exist prior to its existence; it cannot “return” to non-existence; it cannot be “disturbed” by the emergence of itself. Beyond the Pleasure Principle—the monograph in which Freud presents his theory of the death instinct—is surely one of the most embarrassing productions in all psychological literature.While the task of isolating and identifying man’s physical needs is far from completed, biology has made enormous advances in this direction. With regard to the task of isolating and identifying man’s mental needs, psychology is in a state of chaos.This chaos serves, however, to emphasize the fact that the nature of man’s needs has to be discovered. Needs are not self-evident. Alleged needs must be proven by relating them to the requirements of man’s survival.That man possesses psychological needs is indisputable. The widespread phenomenon of mental illness is evidence both of the existence of needs (which are being thwarted) and of the failure of psychology to understand the nature of these needs.Needs, Goals, and "Instincts"The psychologist, seeking to understand the principles of human behavior, observes (a) that man, as a biological entity, possesses various needs, and (b) that man characteristically acts to achieve various ends or goals.It is the existence of needs that creates the necessity of action—i.e., of goal-seeking. Even when the goals a particular man selects are incompatible with his needs, so that he is pursuing a course of self-destruction, this principle still remains true.The basic problem of motivational psychology may be formulated as follows: to bridge the gap between needs and goals—to trace the steps from the former to the latter—to understand the connection between them, i.e., to understand how needs get translated into goals.It should be obvious that the solution of this problem requires a consideration of man’s distinctive capacities. Yet in large measure, the history of motivational psychology represents an attempt to bypass man’s most distinctively human capacity, his conceptual fac-
23ulty, and to account for his behavior without reference to the fact that man can reason or that his mind is his basic means of survival.The behaviorist projection of man as a stimulus-response machine is one version of this attempt. The projection of man as a conscious automaton, activated by instincts , is another.The function which the concept of “demon” served for the primitive savage and the concept of “God” serves for the theologian, is served for many psychologists by the concept of “instinct”—a term denoting nothing scientifically intelligible, while creating the illusion of causal understanding. What a savage could not comprehend, he “explained” by postulating a demon; what a theologian cannot comprehend, he "explains’' by postulating a God; what many psychologists cannot comprehend, they “explain” by postulating an instinct.“Instinct” is a concept intended to bridge the gap between needs and goals, bypassing man’s cognitive (i.e., reasoning and learning) faculty. As such, it represents one of the most disastrous and sterile attempts to deal with the problem of motivation.Instinct theory enjoyed an enormous vogue in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and in the early years of the twentieth. Although its influence has been declining for the past several decades, it is still a major pillar of the (orthodox) Freudian school of psychoanalysis.Observing certain types of behavior which they believed to be characteristic of the human species, instinct theorists decided that the causes of such behavior are innate, unchosen, and unlearned tendencies which drive man to act as he does. Thus, they spoke of a survival instinct, a parental instinct, an acquisitive instinct, a pugnacity instinct, and so forth. They seldom attempted to define precisely what they understood an instinct to be; still less did they trouble to explain how it functioned; they vied with one another in compiling lists of the instincts their particular theory assumed man to possess, promising to account thereby for the ultimate sources of all human action.The most prominent of these theorists were William James, William McDougall, and Sigmund Freud. “Instinct,” writes James, “is . . . the faculty of acting in such a way as to produce certain ends, without foresight of the ends, and without previous education in the performance.” 3 “We may, then,” writes McDougall,
24″define instinct as an inherited or innate psycho-physical disposition which determines its possessor to perceive, and to pay attention to, objects of a certain class, to experience an emotional excitement of a particular quality upon perceiving such an object, and to act in regard to it in a particular manner, or, at least, to experience an impulse to such action." 4 If these definitions are less than illuminating, Freud’s formulation is outstanding in its unclarity. Freud writes of “instinct” as "a borderland concept between the mental and the physical, being both the mental representative of the stimuli emanating from within the organism and penetrating to the mind, and at the same time a measure of the demand made upon the energy of the latter in consequence of its connection with the body."5 In spite of the central role that instincts play in his system, this is as close as Freud ever comes to a definition.That mysterious force, “instinct,” is not a thought or an action or an emotion or a need. The attempt, on the part of some theorists, to identify an instinct as a “compound reflex” has been recognized as unsupportable and has collapsed. A reflex is a specific, definable neurophysiological phenomenon, the existence of which is empirically demonstrable; it is not a dumping ground for un-understood behavior.6To account for man’s actions in terms of undefinable “instincts” is to contribute nothing to human knowledge: it is only to confess that one does not know why man acts as he does. To observe that men engage in sexual activities and to conclude that man has a “sex instinct”—to observe that men seek food when they are hungry and to conclude that man has a “hunger instinct”—to observe that some men act destructively and to conclude that man has a “destructive instinct”—to observe that men usually seek out one another’s company and to conclude that man has a ''gregarious instinct"—is to explain nothing. It is merely to place oneself in the same epistemological category as the physician in the anecdote who “explains” to a distraught mother that the reason why her child will not drink milk is that "the child is just not a milk-drinker."The history of instinct theory, in the past fifty years, is the history of intense efforts, on the part of its supporters, to twist the meaning of language, of their formulations and of the facts of reality, in order to protect their doctrines from science’s growing recognition that traits and activities alleged to be “instinctive” are