By John Stuart Mill
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Extra resources for An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (Collected Works of John Stuart Mill - vol 09)
But in a later footnote he drew back: It has been remarked to me by a correspondent, that a round square differs from a hard square or a heavy square in this respect, that the two sensations or sets of sensations supposed to be joined in the first-named combination are affections of the same nerves, and therefore, being different affections, are mutually incompatible by our organic constitution, and could not be made compatible by any change in the arrangements of external nature. This is probably true, and may be the physical reason why when a thing begins to be perceived as round it ceases to be perceived as square; but it is not the less true that this mere fact suffices, under the laws of association, to account for the inconceivability of the combination.
It is at the very best difficult to feel that a possible, but non-actual sensation is more solid, more material, more firmly part of the furniture of the world than an actual sensation is. Before turning to Mill's attempt to provide a phenomenalist account of personal identity, therefore, we should look to Mill's expansion of his analysis of matter in the shape of his account of our knowledge of its primary qualities. Mill's analysis is devoted to several different tasks, of which the most important is to show that the "psychological theory" can deal with the generation of the idea of Extension, which has long been considered as one of the principal stumbling blocks of the Psychological Theory.
The difficulty lies in Hamilton's explanation of the nature of the incapacity. Hamilton does not make any claim for its fundamental status. He explains it is a case of the general incapacity to imagine that there could be an increase or decrease in the quantum of existence in the world. This is, of course, a sort of relative of the principles of the conservation of energy or the conservation of matter; so read, Hamilton might be saying that the aim of causal explanation is to show how a fixed quantity of matter undergoes changes of form.