Scientific Beliefs About Oneself

Part of the Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures book series


In the never-ending debate about the scope and limits of science, the hottest argument now centres on the scientific study of man himself. Can there be a science of man at all, in any comprehensive sense? Or is the idea in some way ultimately self-defeating, like that of pulling oneself up by one’s own shoelaces? My purpose in this paper is not to venture a direct answer to this ticklish question, but rather to highlight one or two desirable characteristics of a science which I think must inevitably be lacking in any attempt to turn the scientific spotlight upon ourselves. Whether we call the attainable residue by the name of ‘science’ is less important than that we see clearly what not to expect of it.


Mechanistic Universe Scientific Belief Agent Language Determinate Specification Metaphysical Doctrine 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    J. von Neumann, in Cerebral Mechanisms in Behavior, ed. Lloyd A. Jeffress (New York, 1951) p. 34 et passim.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    D. M. MacKay, ‘Brain and Will’, The Listener, 9 and 16 May 1957, also (revised) Faith and Thought, xc (1958) 103–15; idem, ‘On the Logical Indeterminacy of a Free Choice’, Mind, lxix (1960) 31–40; idem, ‘Information and Prediction in Human Sciences’, in Information and Prediction in Science, ed. S. Dockx and P. Bernays, Symposium of Int. Acad. for Phil. of Science, 1962 (New York, 1965) pp. 255–69; idem, Freedom of Action in a Mechanistic Universe, Eddington Lecture (Cambridge, 1967).Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    R. L. Franklin, Freewill and Determinism (London, 1968) p. 134.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    This is not to be confused with the distinction, to which Sir Arthur Eddington (‘Indeterminacy and Indeterminism’, Proc. Aristot. Soc. Suppt., x (1931) 161–82, esp. 175) and Lord Halsbury (‘Speculative Truth’, Philosophy, xxxii (1957) 289–301) among others have drawn attention, between explicability-in-retrospect and predictability. The scientific ‘determinism’ that we are considering would imply that human actions should be both explicable-in-retrospect and predictable in principle for non-participant observers. My point is that, even so, these actions need not, and in significant cases would not, be determinate in the metaphysical sense given.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    G. N. A. Vesey, ‘Agent and Spectator’, in The Human Agent, ed. G. N. A. Vesey (London, 1968) pp. 139–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 1.
    D. M. MacKay, (a) ‘Complementarity II’, Aristotelian Soc. Suppt., xxxii (1958) 105–22; (b) ‘A Mind’s Eye View of the Brain’, in Cybernetics of the Nervous System, ed. Norbert Wiener and J. P. Schade, Progress in Brain Research, 17 (Amsterdam, 1965) pp. 321–32; (c) ‘Complementarity in Scientific and Theological Thinking’, in J. Hick (ed.), Science/Religion: The Complementarity Hypothesis (in press).Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    D. M. MacKay, ‘Mindlike Behaviour in Artefacts’, Brit. J. Phil. of Sci., ii (1951) 105–21, esp. 118. On this my view is very similar to that expressed by Professor R. J. Hirst in his lecture two years ago on ‘Mind and Brain’ (R.I.P. Lectures, vol. 1:CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. The Human Agent, ed. G. N. A. Vesey (London, 1968) pp. 160–80). I do not, however, accept his argument on p. 178 that ‘an eventual theory of brain processes must be non-deterministic’ in order to make room for freedom of choice.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 4.
    D. M. MacKay (ed.), Christianity in a Mechanistic Universe (London, 1965) chap. 3.Google Scholar
  10. 1.
    For a recent survey of arguments that even the Laplacean model must suffer from a kind of ‘indeterminism’, see W. Hoering, ‘Indeterminism in Classical Physics’, Brit. J. Phil. Sci., xx (1969) 247–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1971

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations