The mind is but the passive recipient of impressions from without

universe-g3b6aaa786_1280 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The exercise of the locomotive faculty implies a consciousness of space as containing our own body; but the idea of space cannot be said to be derived from locomotion, since the mere volition to move implies a prior consciousness of this relation.

Space is thus not by itself an object of sensible intuition, but forms one element of all such objects, being presented in the form of a relation between parts out of each other, and hence being distinctly conceivable only in conjunction with the things related. Pure space has thus one character in common with concepts or general notions, namely that it cannot by itself be depicted to sense or imagination; but in all other respects it is essentially different from them.

A concept is logically as well as one only (for the division of spaces is purely arbitrary), and thus is not conceived, as predicable of individual objects under it, but as containing them in it. Space is thus an element of the sensitive consciousness presented in itself, not derived from or representative of anything else; and, though always manifested on the occasion of some special experience, it cannot be regarded as the product of experience, nor can its notion be constructed from empirical data. It cannot properly be described as an innate idea, for no idea is wholly innate; but it is the innate element of the ideas of sense which experience calls into actual consciousness.

To describe experience as the cause of the idea of space, would be as inaccurate as to speak of the soil in which it is planted as the cause of the oak; though the planting is the condition which brings into manifestation the latent powers of the acorn. To maintain that the mind contributes nothing to the formation of consciousness, because experience contributes something, is as unreasonable as to assert that the acorn may indifferently become an oak, or an ash, or an elm, according to the soil in which it is planted.

Yet such reasoning has often been used to prove that the mind is but the passive recipient of impressions from without. In the actual development of human consciousness, the condition of space accompanies every complete exercise of the bodily senses; for in all there is a local relation to a particular organ; and without this relation no kind of sensation can be fully realised as a mode of consciousness.

And this is all that is necessary to observe, so long as we are describing consciousness as it is, not constructing it as it might be. Whether any single organ of sense—smell, for instance, or hearing, supposing it to exist isolated from the rest— would be competent to furnish the empirical conditions under which the consciousness of space is realised, is a question which can only be approximately and conjecturally answered by a special examination of each sense. But such an examination would throw but little light on human consciousness as it actually exists.

***Excerpt from Henry Longueville Mansel, B.d.. Metaphysics or the philosophy of consciousness