The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Arthur F. Bentley

The Human Skin: Philosophy’s Last Line of Defense

Philosophy of Science, 8 (1)

Jan. 1941, 1-19.

HUMAN skin is the one authentic criterion of the universe which philosophers recognize when they appraise knowledge under their professional rubric, epistemology.  By and large -  except for a few of the great Critics and Sceptics - they view knowledge as a capacity, attribute, possession, or other mysterious inner quality of a “knower”; they view this knower as residing in or at a “body”; they view the body as cut off from the rest of the universe by a “skin”; all of which holds for philosophizing physicists and physiologists even as for the professionals of the arcanum itself.  If this assertion seems crude, one may recall that there are times when a bit of crudity is a fair physic for an inflamed subtlety.  In the case before us the factual crudity lies in the use of “skin” for a criterion, not in our calling attention to the fact.  The “skin” that is so used is, indeed, that of ancient anatomical schematism, unaffected by the transformation of understanding which modern physiological research has brought about.  Yet if philosophers cease thus crudely to employ it, all their issues of epistemology will vanish, and the very type of attack they make on cognition will be discredited; whereupon the task of determining the status of knowledge itself will pass from their hands to


those of the scientists who have taken over so many regions of philosophical arrogation in the past.  This is what I propose here to show.

Assuredly skin is a proper subject for examination in connection with the processes of knowledge, and assuredly matter-of-fact observation and report is appropriate to it.  If there is a “knower” and if there is a “known,” if one of these lies apart from the other and if there is a process of “knowing” which involves both, then skin lies somewhere along the line of march, and must be taken into account.

The philosopher will enter demurrer.  He will deny on principle that knowing can ever come to be dealt with by matter-of-fact techniques that concern themselves with the status of skins inside the course of the knowledges themselves.  He will assert that it is necessary to get behind the process in some highly specialized way to gain a vantage point for its appraisal, and that such an undertaking is his professional prerogative, its sacred maintenance his obligation.  Symbolic logic, that curious mixture of skill and superstition, is today claiming to occupy such a vantage point.  One of its flanks (the right flank it should doubtless be called, since it is the flank in which the superstition far outweighs the skill) even boasts its putative capacity to unify - God save the mark - all science.  “Getting behind” is, of course, a necessity in all research; it is also a characteristic of all behavior, including as Jennings found that of the infusoria. [1]  It is not an exclusive privilege of the philosophers, and our concern is solely with the technical efficiency of their method.

The philosopher, having no open truck with skin, leaps from essence to essence - from the essential knower to the essentially known.  He leaps with never so much as the twitch of an eye-lash to mark that he glimpses anything of significance lying in between.  Yet it is simple to show that skin - and indeed skin in its primitive anatomical character - dominates every position the philosopher occupies and every decision he makes.  Stripping off the subtle philosophical veilings let us get down to the naked evidence.

1. H. S. Jennings, Behavior of the Lower Organisms (1906) pp. 296 ff.


“Inner” and “outer” are ever present distinctions, however camouflaged, in philosophical procedure as well as in conventional speech-forms and in the traditional terminology of psychology.  What holds “inner” and “outer” apart?  The answer must come not by way of transcendental build-up but by indications of pertinent fact.  Bluntly the separator is skin; no other appears.  Trace the varieties of description historically, beginning with the early days of “soul.”  Apart from minor flights of fancy, “soul” reports itself as inhabitant of body, so long as mortal coil endures.  Body has skin for boundary, and skin thus fences off the mortal residence.  Skin in its way even operates as that which demarcates those bits of the universe destined to sing in the hereafter, and those destined to singe.  Soul is tempted by world, flesh, and devil, and skin is what keeps world and flesh apart, yielding also, it is said, many satisfactions to devil.  The later “actors” of psychology are all modelled on soul, down even to the last of the Freudian sub-mentalities and of the physiological substitutes, the difference being mainly in the degree of attenuation.  Psyches, minds, personalities, all belong in this class; skin is what holds them “in.”  Singly or in groups they are made to fill the intradermal region, whenever behaviors rather than physiological processes form the subject of discussion.  The greater their attenuation the more stridently they are apt to assert themselves as “real,” but also the more absurd becomes the account that is given of them.  Take the “internal environment” of current professional gossip.  An organism has an “external” environment.  This lies outside its skin.  Inside the skin we find, if we look closely and talk bluntly, the organism itself.  If there is an “internal” environment, then, where is it? And what is it environment to?  Its professional exploiters seem never to ask.  Claude Bernard meant by internal environment the blood as environing the bodily organs.  This is sound physiology.  Later physiologists have followed with valuable studies of the environing status of certain parts of the body to other parts.  This also is sound physiology.  But the psychologist’s case is sharply different.  In his use “internal environment” seems to require something akin to the aura of an Annie Besant


for its focal reference (P, v. 48). [2]  Leibniz made what was probably the most powerful effort in all philosophy to face the issues of “inner” and “outer” and get rid of the domination of skin.  His monads were to “mirror” the world without actual contact.  They are thus “windowless” in the sense that no path is traceable across their boundaries.  They are skin-impounded but not skin-traversable.  The private difficulties a monad would have with its privacy have been amusingly traced by Malisoff. [3]  Modern science stresses paths.  Leibniz destroyed paths to preserve innerness.  Nevertheless Leibniz rates high today: the integrity of his attack brings illumination to every inquirer above the level of the “internal environment.”  Those who hold the “inner” apart from nature may take him as they find him, while others gain ample incentive to trace the paths of nature across all knowledge. [4]

The above presentation of the basis of the “philosophical” technique must be left for the moment with this sketch.  It is a technique of the past surviving into the present.  We shall later summarize its ruinous defects.  Turn now to the techniques of the present - those we call “scientific” - and to the forecast they give of the future.  They are in sharp contrast.  They gather their facts where they may, and make a bouquet of actuals instead

2. Citations from some of my recent papers will be made in the text by the use of the letter “J” for the Journal of Philosophy, and “P” for the Psychological Review.  These papers are:

Sights-Seen as Materials of Knowledge, 7. Phil., 36, 1939, pp. 169-181.

Situational Treatments of Behavior, Ibid., pp. 309-323.

Postulation for Behavioral Inquiry, Ibid., pp.405-413.

Observable Behaviors, Psychol. Rev., 47, 1940, pp. 230-253.

The Behavioral Superfice, Ibid., 48, No. I, 1941.

3. “What is a Monad?” Phil. Sci., 7, 1940, pp. 1-6.

4. The generalization of the “inner” into a comprehensive or “absolute” form is a more recent program of philosophical escape.  Trailing its initial “innerness” with it to the end, it remains a program rather than an achievement, critically of high importance, constructively of none.  Its justification has rested in its importance as complement to the Newtonian absolutes, space and time.  When these last disintegrated in modern physics this justification disappeared.  When science ceases to have a base that is all “outer” then a complementary “pure inner” is no longer needed; then scientific techniques become available for direct application to cognitions, once we discover how to develop and use them.


of one of stylized artificials.  They look closely at skin as interior connective tissue of the events in progress.  The old pretense of skin to dominate everything vanishes instanter.  It is like having been scared of a ghost, and getting over being scared when you catch the cat.  Skin now enters for what it is worth in the process and for nothing more.

Knowings are forms of human behavior (P, v. 48).  By “behaviors” let us understand that special class of biological adjustments and adaptations which remains for inquiry after both the slow evolutions and the technically physiological processes have secured their separate study.  The word “behavioral” will thus cover the same field as “psychological,” provided, that we take our data as they are biologically presented without presumptuous recasting into either psychic or mechanistic forms.  Only because of the many hidden implications of “psyche” in current uses of “psychological” is the term “behavior” here preferred.

The reader may already be commenting that physiology has long since reduced skin to its proper place in behavioral process.  This comment he might support on the results of research into stimulations and reactions.  He is wrong.  Almost all of our present physiology, so far as its results are applied to knowledge behaviors, is in the same position with respect to skin as are the defective philosophies; its reports about behaviors are skin-dominated.  A display of this situation is a needed preliminary to further examination.

Physiological psychologists sometimes talk of physiological facts and psychological facts as the same; sometimes they talk of them as fellow-travelers; always they insist that when physiology has advanced far enough it will produce both physiological and psychological descriptions in one breath.  The discouraging truth is, however, that up to date physiology has not itself made one single psychological report directly in its own terms (P, v. 47, p. 238).  Even in the simplest physical-physiological stimulation train, the meanings of the words “stimulus” and “reaction” change sharply when shifted from physiological to psychological application.  We certainly agree that physiological knowledge is the background of psychological just as physical is the back-


ground of physiological [5] likewise that tropisms and sensitivities are transitional at their proper stage of inquiry just as viruses are at theirs.  But this in no way justifies current theorizing which proclaims physiological-psychological identity on the basis of a pun backed by faith, without positive advance towards organization in simple, direct, steady, scientific report.

This may best be displayed if we join some of Pavlov’s results with some of Dewey’s and bring them together into contrast with the current physiological-psychological attitude.  The labors of these two investigators admirably complement each other.  Back of them stand Darwin and Peirce who put the problem of knowledge “on location” for inquiry.  The Pavlov to consider is not the presumed mechanist of academic degradation, any more than the Dewey is the figure in whose name so many educational tradesmen have perpetrated misdemeanors and crimes.  The Dewey is he of the Logic [6] and of the fifty years of coordinated inquiry that have gone into it, just as the Pavlov is the technician of his own laboratory and none other.

Some forty-five years ago when the correlation of psychological with physiological states first became general Dewey noted [7] that the “reflex arc concept” of then current discussion had been adopted by psychologists as a convenient figure of speech to enable them to organize their rapidly growing masses of factual detail, and that its service to them was pictorial.  This was unquestionably correct report on what was then taking place.  He regarded it as progress but as not enough progress.  His

5. The view of science here taken is substantially that of the “levels of description” used by Malisoff in his presentation of “Emergence without Mystery” (Phil. Sci., 6, 1939, pp. 17-18).  Such a view introduces a new dimension of freedom for scientific advance.  The older science accepted as “reals” what were little more than remnants of primitive guesswork.  The newer science becomes able to express itself frankly on the level of its own skills.  In slight illustration, a generation ago physics and chemistry were differentiated in terms of “fact”; today in terms of objective and technique.  In the case of physiology and psychology the current differentiation is still in terms of “reals,” mitigated only by a credal consolidation.  The view advocated in the text makes technical achievement the test.  The sciences then appear not as reflections of “realms of reality,” but as “realms of inquiry” in their own right.  See also my Behavior, Knowledge, Fact (3935) pp.275ff.

6 Logic, The Theory of Inquiry, New York, Holt, 1938.

7. “The Reflex-Arc Concept in Psychology,” Psychol. Rev., 5 (1896), pp. 357-370.


objection was that too much of the old was still retained in the figure of speech - that the old was still “not sufficiently displaced.”  This very objection remains valid today.  Dewey proceeded to show that what the psychologists called “stimulus” and what they called “reaction” were, when isolated, not immediate data but truncated part-statements, while conversely the definite immediate data were functional in the sense that both stimulations and reactions had to be combined in description as phases of common event, if the description was to make sense and be safely usable.  Manifestly there is no attribution here of intradermal localization to psychological fact. [8]

Only in very recent years [9] has psychology begun to produce a series of constructions following out the lines of Dewey’s observa­tion (J, pp. 311-321; P, v. 47, pp. 239-243).  However from a very different quarter has come a development in thorough accord with it, if we are to judge not by casual verbalisms of the moment, but by long-range trends of research.  This is Pavlov’s work with perceptive activity, primarily in the case of the salivating dog. [10]  In the pursuit of his conditioned reflexes Pavlov arrived at a manner of description in terms of signs and signals which was

8. If any one is surprised at seeing Dewey, “the philosopher,” listed on the side of science in the matter of cognition, his late address “Nature in Experience,” (Phil. Rev., 49, 1940, pp. 244-258), may be consulted.  He has asserted again and again his naturalistic approach.  Thus in 1908 (7. Phil., Psychol., & Sci. Meth., V, 375) he wrote that the uncritical psychology which regards “intellectual operations… as having an existence per se…  and…  as distinct from the things which figure in inference-drawing” makes “the theory of knowledge, not logic… but epistemology.”  He has, of course, used the “personal” phrasing in much of his writing.  This is convenient, and often necessary when addressing certain large groups of hearers.  Not his mere use of a word, however, but his own statement of his intent in using it, must be taken as governing his theoretical approach.

9. Thus J. R. Kantor, Principles of Psychology, 2 vol., 1924, 1926; A Survey of the Science of Psychology, 1933.  K. Lewin, Principles of Topological Psychology, 1936.  J. F. Brown, Psychology and the Social Order, 1937.  Frequent phrasings in the earlier writings of Wertheimer and Koffka remind one of Dewey; and the most successful work of the Gestalt psychologists - that with colors - permits a very complete statement in this manner, even though the habitual Gestalt dualisms of sense and form, of outer and inner, and of physiological and psychological, cause serious deterioration in most other branches of their inquiries.

10. Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex, 1927. Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes, 1928.


radically opposed to the old “psychic” description and just as radically to all physiological camouflages of the psychic.  Psychic terms were barred in the laboratory as clumsy disturbers of the communicational peace.  He regarded himself neither as a psychologist nor as a “physiological psychologist,” but strictly and exclusively as a physiologist.  The difference is sharp. [11]  As a physiologist he declared that he was expanding physiology into new territory.  He divided physiology into two branches, a narrower or lower dealing with the integration of the work of all parts of the organism, and a broader or higher exploring the connection and equilibration of the organism and external conditions. [12]  This latter branch he stressed in terms of the activity of the cerebral cortex.  This stress covers one phase of the full activity: the intradermal phase.  The full physiology can not be developed exclusively there nor kept permanently in close confinement.  Pavlov’s own laboratory procedure does not hold it there.  The cerebral activity, as he saw it, was not assigned to the cortex as a power or capacity; his frequent researches into localization were of the legitimately factual type, and were not efforts at physiological-psychic identification.  What he studied was a process directly involving phenomena outside the skin along with phenomena inside, so that the region in which the physiological event took place - its locus - was literally wider than any region enclosed by a skin.  This characterization is not developed out of statements Pavlov himself made in commenting on his own work; indeed various expressions he used at one time or another in the course of his long career conflict with it.  It is a proper statement, nevertheless, of his actual procedure, of its lines of expansion, and of safe forecast for its future (J, pp. 311-314; P, v. 47, pp. 240-241; P, v. 48).  The very diffi-

11. One may perhaps say that the psychologist follows psyche, the physiological psychologist follows flesh-bound psyche, and the physiologist in Pavlov’s sense expands inquiry to full organic activity.  The difference between the last two, so far as behaviors are concerned, is like that between duplication of phrase and straight research, or between rubber stamp and test tube.

12  “A Brief Outline of the Higher Nervous Activity,” Psychologies of 1930, chap. ii, p. 207.


culties Pavlov had with the words “external” and “internal” [13] support this view if we remind ourselves that he was not a word-spinner but a fact-finder, for whom even a fumbling approximation to well-stated fact rated higher than the last word in verbal sanctification.

In exhibiting the manner in which Dewey on the one side and Pavlov on the other disregard skin as critical boundary and join thus in marked contrast to the conventional physiological-psychological attitude, we are already well on our way towards a consideration of the modern approach to inquiry which succeeds the traditional.  The modern setting is this: For special purposes biology may study an organism “as if alone.”  Nevertheless biology knows no “organism alone” as fact.  The words “organism alone” when used positively make no sense at all.  The facts for biology are “organisms-in-environment”- ”organisms-on-earth,” if one wants it pictorially phrased. [14]  Inquiries into behavior are primarily biological, but they differ from other branches of biological inquiry in that they find greatly increased intricacy in the ways in which the organisms are involved in the environments, and the environments in the organisms.  Moreover in comparison with the slow adaptations that are the rule in biological evolution, behavioral adaptations are lightning flashes.  But even lightning flashes are no longer seen as coming from the hand of Jove; they are instead readjustments of distribution.  The more this comes to be understood in its full evolu-

13. At times he treated the sub-cortical centers as the animal proper, with cerebrum environmental to it; again the cerebrum was  Connection between inner-sub-cortical and outer-environmental; other expressions seem to make “the rest” of the body environment to the cerebrum.  His hemispheres “analyze” for internal as well as for external: “Some of the most delicate elements and moments of skeleto-muscular activity become stimuli.”  Excitation may “originate” in cortex and be “initial stimulus.”  Pavlov’s manner of handling difficulties of this kind scientifically may profitably be compared with works in which similar difficulties appear, but in which essential existential statement is sought.  Burrow’s ¶The Biology of Human Conflict, 1937, developed out of Freudian antecedents, will well serve for this purpose.

14. From the biological point of view, and in terms of the organism as a whole, this functional status of stimulus with respect to organism is well brought out by Kurt Goldstein, The Organism, (1934; Eng. trans. 1939).  He does not, however, expand his statement in terms of the full situation of organism-environment.


tional setting, the more intimately will the fusion of organic and environmental participations in behaviors be manifest, even though this is in the sharpest contrast with the primitive view which continues to insist on “spirit” severance.

Let us return now to a consideration of the basic technique of the philosopher with his “inner knowers” and his “outer knowns” kept apart by an etherialization of an anatomical skin.  We have already said that it is a technique of the past surviving into the present, and that it has ruinous defects.  Examination of it shows:

a) that despite its luxurious flowering in the form of philosophical systems and creeds, it has never produced any generally acceptable organized knowledge of knowings;

b) that the inner “knower” it employs is a force, capacity, faculty, actor, or power belonging to that type of “forces” which competent sciences expel (P, v. 47, pp. 235-237) - physics today wholly, biology to sufficient extent so that the outcome is already clear;

c) that no such force or actor has ever been observed directly, it being a phenomenon of ascription rather than of description;

d) that terminological clarification fails whenever inners and outers must be closely examined as cases of fact (P, v. 48);

e) that even ecology has difficulty at the line of skin in seeking precise formulations for organism and environment (P, v. 48);

f) that closer descriptions are very greatly needed here as in all cases in which vehemence of belief is found in direct proportion to extent of ignorance;

g) that once we have abandoned attributions to isolated inners of the sub-scientific type, we can attain no description that makes sense at all for actual human behaviors - lovings, hatings, buyings, votings, fightings, helpings, talkings, schemings - without observing and describing the behavioral activity as itself positively and directly transdermal (P, v. 48).

The assertions in the preceding paragraph are “factual” in the sense that, giving sufficient detachment of purpose, any inquirer can make independent verifications.  The appraisal of their bearing upon inquiry into knowledge is not so easy, running as


it does far beyond the usual ranges of detachment.  To proceed to it we must not only assume the natural evolution of organisms in terrestrial environments, but we must do this completely, making it cover not only the structure but all of the behaviors of organisms, and we must do it honestly and sincerely, weeding out every reservation and every exemption that we may secretly make (P, v.47, p 250-251; v. 48).

Under a thorough-going assumption of evolution we may expect:

i) that “forces” of types that disappear from the advanced sciences will in the course of time disappear from the less advanced;

2) that radical reconstructions such as occur in the advanced sciences when incoherences of expression have been found insoluble will under similar conditions occur also in the less advanced;

3) that behaviors should be investigated where they are - that is, where observation of them can be made - without limitation to spots where grammatical convenience guesses them to be;

4) that knowledge processes are included with other behaviors, and can no longer claim special privilege as a unique type of “thing” or “event” in the world.

On this basis the procedures called “philosophical” are no longer sacredly untouchable but permit direct factual examination, so that their deficiencies can be appraised in their full gravity, and inferences as to needed reconstructions can be drawn.  In simple illustration of the type of change that may be involved, consider our grandfathers who in their innocence quite commonly believed in innate depravity and in the personal devil.  The grandsons, leastwise those of a scientific bent, have quit that simple view.  But these same grandsons for the most part still believe in a solipsistic intellect and in a regnant truth which, if they are good, they may some day look upon face to face.  The data we have marshalled serve, however, to indicate that the sweet odors of mentality are at one with the sulphurous fumes of the devil, and the isolated “I” of the single organism is no more to be assumed to have personal dealings with eternal truth


than with eternal evil or with any other of the personally guaranteed eternities the world has now discarded.

The philosopher faces a dilemma resting in the fact that the Newtonian space and time go hand in hand with the skin-encompassed knower, this latter being just a receptacle for the overflow of phenomena the former can not contain (P, v. 7, p. 236).  If the philosopher sticks to the knower in its old space and time, the only way he can get his knower to achieve its knowing in regions beyond the skin is through some form of magic, and the only path of escape he has ever found from the primitive magics is by way of verbal subtleties which are themselves just magics of an upper caste.  If on the other hand the philosopher discards the Newtonian scheme under the influence of modern physics, and if he discards the magic knower under the influence of modern cultural studies, then he will find his phenomena of inquiry developing a phase space - a system of their own - for their formulation, and his whole inquiry will pass beyond the range of official philosophical technique and fall fully within that of freely advancing science.

What, now, under the newer approach, will be the status of knower and known, of knowing and of knowledges, in terms of direct observation and description?  Where, in short, will one find the facts, if one looks for them?  The answer can not take the Newtonian form of “in the third pintpot on the second shelf of the cupboard,” or “in the upper right hand corner of such and such a section of a cortex.”  The kindergarten class must wait a little longer before it can be told.

The first step towards considering a “where” under the new approach will be by comparison with the kind of “where” that was offered under the old.  Under the old approach Cartesian coordinates could indeed be applied to the skin of the organism.  The result was not localization, but a pseudo- or quasi-localization.  The “knower” and the “known” entered as “existences,” whether frankly or in subtle shadings.  With soul weakened into psyche, and with psyche yielding to body as its “stand-in,” “knowing” could in a way be viewed as physiological process within the skin.  This supplied a confused pretense of definite-


ness to three of the four terms, viz., to knower, known, and knowing.  But what kind of definiteness could then be given to the fourth term, “knowledge”!  Knowledge, substantively viewed, was left to bear the brunt of the inquiry: Was it inside the skin, or out?  Was it flesh, or spirit?  Was it fact, or thought, or word?

To the direct question as to where knowledge is located, nobody under the old procedure has ever given a coherent answer.  Even to put such a question and press it steadily is regarded as ill-mannered.  Such possibilities as “in the head,” “in the mind,” “in the brain,” “on the library shelf,” “in the absolute,” or just “out there” in the facts are all sad answers; you can not stick to any one of them for three sentences without being in trouble.  A knower with nothing it knows, or a known without a knower to know it, is absurd, not in subtlety alone, but as an affair of the simplest verbal integrity; yet the discussions result in demanding one, or the other, or both, or neither - you can take your choice.

The issue does not appear in its full absurdity so long as one potters around with generalities.  When one gets down to the specific instance and demands the location of an item of knowledge - and this question the newer approach is compelled to ask, if it is to consider the matter at all - then the absurdity becomes violent.  The word “concept” is everywhere found in recent discussions about science to designate such an “item” of knowledge.  Its old scholastic implications have long since disappeared, and we may properly demand of the modern user of the word: Where can you show us a sample of these concepts you talk so much about?  We get no answer whatever in any modern sense.  Plenty of material is available for examination if we wish it: thus, Bridgman’s Logic of Modern Physics, Dewey’s Logic, almost any paper in Philosophy of Science, and many of the reports in technical journals such as the Psychological Review.  My own inquiry indicates that in perhaps half the cases of its use the word “concept” may be omitted and no reader ever be aware of the difference, while in nine-tenths of the remaining cases simple rephrasing will just as completely get rid of it.  An occasional instance remains in which the word suggests a slight


hesitancy in assertion, perhaps about the equivalent of the citation marks often used to hold a doubtful word up for inspection and sometimes this takes the firmer form of a “planning.”  But at its best it is a mere schematic term.  So far as any “existence” of its own in the way current uses imply is concerned it is abracadabra.  If any one who is not a psychist, and not merely wearing a verbal parade uniform, but who is seriously intent on precise statement in terms of the opposition of knower and known will indicate to me where a concept can be found as a fact, I shall be very gratefu1. [15]

The modern approach does not involve this confusion at all.  It gets rid of it at a single stroke.  Instead of starting with knowers and knowns which it proclaims as basic without pretending to “know” what they are, it starts with knower-known-knowing-knowledge complex to investigate.  It does not talk generalities about system; it investigates system as fact.  To be investigated as fact system must be present somewhere.  It must be terrestrial.  Location must be assignable, for knower, for known, for knowing, and for knowledge, in definite terrestrial spaces and times.  These spaces and times are biological.  To call behaviors biological without giving them literal terrestrial location is delusion.  Biological regions are regions of organic-environmental differentiation on earth, with organism and environment entering not as eternal verities or achieved basic knowledges but as themselves subjects of progressing inquiry.  Note the sharp difference between this and the philosophical approach which makes knowledge be concerned with something it calls “relation,” where “relation” is a primitive form of place-less naming for phenomena one senses as present but which one is unable to trace down as facts in space and time.  “Knowledge” itself in this philosophical process comes to appear as a sort of relation between relations, possessing placelessness, and in a

15. I think I shall not be violating any confidence if I say that Professor Bridgman once checked a portion of his own unpublished manuscript in which the word “concept” appeared fifty-three times, and found that without any sense of loss he could omit it in all but four cases; in two of these four, the casual word “notion” did service, leaving only two resistant cases out of the fifty-three.  Professor Dewey has written me that he has made sufficient examination to convince him that “the word is useless at least four-fifths of the time - my own writings included.”


comparably discreditable sense timelessness (and so non-factuality) in a sort of second degree.  Under the modern approach “relation” disappears entirely from the reckoning, [16] and full event and process is spread out for inquiry.  Knowledge is now recognized not as a kind of spaceless “being” but as phenomenon that is present there and there only where knower-known activity is under way.  “Knower” and “known” are now constrained - despite their Neanderthal footings and their colloquial universality - to submit at last to examination in system.  “Knowing” and “knowledge” no longer differ as though the former were a process and the latter its product, but show themselves as manners of stress in description.  In the biological regions in which behaviors occur, organisms are central – “nuclear,” if one will.  Knowing, knowledge, the knower, the known are all forms of description of the biological region examined when it is in action in a highly specialized way.  They involve no limitation to any spot or to any type of spot, nuclear or other, within the region, and no necessary prescript as powers, capacities, qualities, or properties of any spot.

In another paper (P, v. 48) dealing with the localization of behaviors generally, I have used the name “behavioral superfice” for the boundaries of any area in which organism-environment adjustments of the behavioral type are in progress.  Just as “skin” bounds the narrowly physiological activity of the organism, not geometrically but functionally, so “superfice” bounds the broadly physiological adjustments as we see these in expansion from Pavlov’s view.  In the particular case of the Pavlov conditioning, superfice brings dog, food, bell, and signalization all in one “system” of inquiry.  Anatomically skin rates as spatial determination; physiologically it involves durational ranges also.  For behavioral demarcations within superfice, and for knowledges

16. Dewey retains the word “relation” for symbol-organization, matching it against “connection” for non-language organization, and against “reference” to designate word-to-thing behaviors (Logic, p. 55).  His is the only intelligible use of the word “relation” with which I am acquainted, once the old spiritist scheme is superseded.  Just as the word “relation” can be rehabilitated, so also can the word “concept.”  On Dewey’s basis “concept” may appear as a forward looking possibility-realizing “idea,” or “rule,” or “habit” of behavior; or alternatively it may show itself as a name for certain intricate language behaviors.


above all else, the intimacy of durational-spatial involvement heightens; otherwise activity, event, could not be depicted within it.

In simple, casual, natural approach nothing interferes with our accepting a “knowledge” as present within a superfice any more than a living organism as present within a skin.  The sole interference comes from over-assertive “local” points of view.  Not as an attempt at nature-faking but as casual rhetoric we may say that from the local point of view of some ill-educated gene the epidermis of its organism would seem a far-off fantasy, absurd to insist upon.  Chromosome, cell, gland would doubtless - if they could blurt it out - be just as solipsistically self-centered as is any human “self” enjoying power of assertive speech.  A bullet, incidentally, like the captain in the civil war jingle, would be “worst of all,” as the self-assertiveness went round.  Since Darwin a certain modesty towards the universe, which the bullet lacks, has become common among men, though not in nearly high enough degree so long as the single man regards himself as aloof from the universe in the skin-protected pretense that “he” is something bullet-like “inside,” uniquely looking out.  Superfice is just one way of exhibiting the single man as literally component of his universe; the great argument in favor of its use is that its technical position is in line with other technical procedures of modern science.

A knowledge may be viewed as located “within” a superfice as simply as may electricity “within” a battery or an electron “within” an atom - much more simply in all probability after a little practice is had.  The interference, the obstacle, is mostly in a pattern of speech - a “patter” - to the effect that “nothing but spirit can know” which curiously survives among many men long after they have agreed that “no spirit exists.”  It is ultra-curious that our logicians today more than any others seem to regard this as logical.  Of the three courses open when describing behaviors - to go magic, to go fleshly, or to go situationally [17] systemic - the present approach deliberately selects the last.

17. The word “situational,” in much the sense that I use it (J, v. 47, p. 311), was suggested thirty years ago as an improvement on “social” by Addison W. Moore in his book [Pragmatism and Its Critics (p. viii, p. 230).  He saw pragmatism as evolutionary and non-solipsistic, and by illustrating upon the work of Royce and Baldwin he drove home the point (p. 22:) that no mere special pleading in the name of “evolution” or of the “social” would suffice, but that thorough basic development was needed.  He thus forecast the main characteristics of the present paper, though his early death left his work without further development.]

HHC: [bracketed] displayed on page 17 of original.


When one adopts the superfice as one’s aid and examines descriptions within it in supplement to descriptions within skin, one finds that the position of anatomy with respect to physiology in narrowly organic inquiry is matched by that of ecology to psychology in broader environmental inquiry.  Anatomy was once viewed as a study of structure in contrast with physiology’s study of function, but it stands now rather as offering a spatial abstraction preliminary to physiology’s full durational-extensional study.  Passing to regions within the superfice where organisms and environments are seen in action together, ecology employs in the main the static, structural, spatial approach, while psychology or, if one prefers, the wider Pavlov physiology undertakes the full durational-functional study.  Psychology stands thus towards ecology within a superfice as physiology stands towards anatomy within a skin.  Knowledge processes are the most intricate which psychology has to investigate.  Whether they are to be regarded as within the domain of psychology proper or as running beyond it in much the way that the psychological in general runs beyond the more narrowly physiological is unimportant.  What is important is the opportunity we now have for their technical investigation by procedures expanded directly from those of physics, physiology, and the less intricate psychology, under the steady maintenance of directly durational-spatial observation.

To assign knowledges and other behaviors to regions within superfices is a step much like that which mathematicians took when they introduced continuity.  Mathematicians were restlessly exploring, and the natural numbers did not suffice for all the realms they wanted to explore.  So they took on negatives, infinites, irrationals, imaginaries, transcendentals - all sorts of queer gentry.  They felt like sinners, but they went ahead and sinned - and thank God for that.  Only very recently have they


been losing their sense of guilt through finally becoming aware that after all the “naturals” are no sacred temple of “reality,” and that it is only right and proper that every operator should have its day.  The superfice enters as hypothesis; it enters to meet the needs of accumulating fact.  The experience of the mathematicians justifies us in trying anything not only once but often enough to satisfy ourselves how it goes.

The only test of hypothesis is in the results that frequent patient efforts secure.  In the present case two important forms of inquiry are under way that in the end will yield tests.

The first of these is an advance towards a consistent terminology of sign and symbol to cover all behavioral purposes, not in supplement to, but as complete substitute for, the old psychological terminology of faculty, quality, property, and power.  Locke, Berkeley, and Reid started one line of approach.  Peirce got a firm hold upon the most essential requirements, though the linguistic limitations of his day blocked all his efforts at positive advance, Jennings secured a sound initial expression in his study of the lower organisms.  Pavlov and Dewey have made by far the largest contributions.  In recent literature consider Hunter’s vicarious functioning, Brunswik’s cue-family, Bühler’s attempt to apply signs to the behavioral study of language, and Tolman’s various terminological applications of the word “sign.”  Klüver, Hull, Skinner, and doubtless many others with whose work I am not acquainted are furnishing building materials. [18]  Almost all this emerging terminology, however, comes still trailing tatters of the old mental glory.  Not till all the mentalist implications are stripped off, and the sign process is permitted to proceed under hypothesis within its own proper biological region can a clear test of its efficiency be secured.

18. Any Citations I might make to the work of the psychologists mentioned would require so much in the way of qualification and interpretation as to be impracticable here.  The best guide I know of to the impending development, although it barely mentions the word “sign,” and ends at the problem-setting with which the present examination begins, is the paper by Professor Fritz Heider, “Environmental Determinants in Psychological Theories” (Psychol. Rev., 46, 1939, pp. 383-410).  If the reader will take Heider’s terms “proximal” and “distal” for variations in the focus of inquiry as he establishes them, without pigeon-holing them in terms of conventional analogues, he will, I believe, find the discussion extremely profitable.


The second form of inquiry is that leading towards a general theory of language as human behavior.  Skeletonized linguistics, mechanistic fragments, psychic oddities, Freudian trifles are scattered around, but all together they do not add up to any coherent presentation of speech as a functioning phase of human behaviors.  A full situational development within the region of a superfice is indicated as a simple and promising procedure.

The development of this paper rests upon the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, his pragmatism, his fallibilism, and his long search for a living, as opposed to a static, 1ogic. [19]  It rests not upon results he immediately obtained but upon his vision and upon his endeavor; and upon these, indeed, in the form which John Dewey has independently paralleled or definitely advanced.

Of our coupled subject-matters, skin and philosophy, most attention has been given, perhaps unwisely, to the latter.  We may sum up with respect to skin.  1. Anatomically, as a separator, skin dominates philosophy.  2. Physiologically studied, it displays transition processes of organism-environment.  3. Sensation-perception problems can be surveyed in close correlation with such physiological inquiry; nevertheless, physiology has thus far yielded no continuous descriptive development even of this region of the behavioral.  4. As for knowledge problems, when the physiologist leaps to them at a single bound by way of the cortex, he employs skin like the philosopher as a separator rather than as a connector.  5. Further appraisals of the transitional status of skin in this region are essential.  6. In the mean time a type of superfice-bounded area has been displayed within which “a knowledge” can be located if it is to be viewed in skin-traversing rather than in skin-dismembered form.

Under the old approach - the philosophical - the pint-pot dreams of the ocean.  Under the new approach - the scientific - the pint-pot begins to get the measure of a pint, and epistemology goes to join alchemy and astrology in the limbo of man’s crude endeavors.

19. For Peirce’s non-mentalism, see E. Nagel, “Charles S. Peirce, Pioneer of Modern Empiricism,” Phil. Sci., 7, 1940, esp. pp. 73, 76, 79.