Conscious Will

Karey Perkins karey at
Fri Apr 26 17:24:03 EDT 2002

I get that Percy thinks mind and body are integrally
intertwined, mostly from "Is a Theory of Man Possible?"
in _Signposts in a Strange Land_.    Some quotes from
Percy's essay:

"What I am suggesting is that it is of little help to us
scientifically to regard man as composite of body, mind,
and soul and that it is a positive hindrance if we think
this explains anything."


"The biologist and learning theorist can't get hold of
mind and usually don't want to.  The Freudian
psychologist on the other hand has trouble getting out
of the psyche--his own psyche and that of his patients."


"The question am trying to raise with you is whether or
not we have settled for a view of man which is grossly
incoherent by any scientific canon.  That is to say, I
wonder if through a kind of despair or through sheer
weariness we have not given up the attempt to put man
back together again, if indeed he was ever whole, or
whether man isn't like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the
wall three hundred years ago, or rather was pushed by
Descartes [dualism] who split man into body and mind..."

What does this mean?  Obviously Percy is not dualist.
Is he saying that our distinctions of mind and body are
really artificial?  IE:  not just that they relate and
interact but are the same thing?

He also talks about his hospital where mental ailments
are treated by physical means and physical ailments
treated by mental solutions.

Clearly against dualism:  "But the main error, it seems
to me, of both the armchair behaviorist [clearly Percy
objects even to a physicalism as soft as behaviorism
here] and the armchair psychologist is not the quick
extrapolation from the simple hypothesis to complex
human reality, but rather the willingness of both to
accept the age-old split of the human creature into this
strange Janus monster comprising body and mind [ie:
Descartes' dualism]."

He relates all of this to Charles Pierce and Noam
Chomsky, both language specialists.

Any insights on all of this?  What "IS" Percy?  What is
he saying?


-----Original Message-----
From: Wade Riddick [mailto:riddick at]
Sent: Friday, April 26, 2002 4:11 PM
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
Subject: [percy-l] Re: Conscious Will

  "Do we consciously cause our actions, or do they
happen to us? Philosophers, psychologists,
  neuroscientists, theologians, and lawyers have long
debated the existence of free will versus determinism.

To quote the indubitable philosopher, Forrest Gump, "I
think maybe it's both."

If you've been breathing earlier in the day, chances are
it was autonomic.

Likewise, if you've ever thought about having sex at
some point in your life, that is very definitely the
rational influence of your genes upon your mind as they
try to reproduce half of themselves.

There are so many levels of rationality at work and in
conflict within us, it is almost stupid to get into this

I thought Percy was all about stressing the importance
of language having both a physical and a spiritual
component - sign, symbol and referent existing in some
sort of holy trinity. What did they call the heresy of
denying Christ's humanity?

There are literally a thousand and one chemicals I can
inject in you to make you psychotic, hallucinatory or
put you in some other condition which denies you
conscious will. Diseases like Alzheimer's exist whether
you chose to believe in them or not and they do erode
your ability to believe in things. Whether it's God
throwing the Book of Job at you or your fellow man or
mother nature, your body can still be broken. We are
imperfect creatures held up by myriad little braces and
supports and knocked down by things simply amazing in
their simplicity.

The message of _American Beauty_ might have been that
life is pretty good, even as you're losing it, but gun
control is a strong runner up. I don't think the movie
could exist without both. It needs that contradiciton
(contra = against; dicere = to speak).

Wade Riddick

-- An archive of all list discussion is available at .
Visit the Walker Percy Project at .
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Percy-L mailing list