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Record number: WCP4070

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Patrick Proctor ("Pat") Alexander
9 November 1875

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, The Dell, Grays, Essex to Patrick Proctor ("Pat") Alexander [none given] on 9 November 1875.

Record created:
06 March 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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LETTER (WCP4070.4014)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
Cambridge University Library
Finding number:
MS Dar 270, 1:6
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

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The Dell, Grays, Essex

Nov 9th. 1875.

Dear Sir1

I have to thank you for sending me your volume on "Moral Causation" - which I have read with much interest. Though much of reasoning and criticism is I confess somewhat beyond me.

In most cases it seems to me that your criticisms of Mr. Mill2 are very successful, but there are a few points in which I dont think your criticism just. For example at pp. 151-160 Mr. Mill seems to me to be not open to your criticism. On p. 158. you say - "In order to be recognised & identified with a present sensation as also mine plainly the sensation in the past, must then have been so cognised."--

[[2]] This does not seem so clear. A first sensation could hardly have produced any thought -- anything but sensation;-- the thought - that it is I that feel - may well be supposed to be developed in the way Mr. Mill suggests,-- by comparison with the memory of a like previous sensation. At p.160. L[ine]5 - you argue that if the Ego was not cognised at the first sensation, it was not in existence,-- only these are very different things. Again in the notes-- "If the impressions are recognised as reflection to have been over they must originally have been known to have been over."--

This does not seem at all necessary, and in fact seems very improbably; for we often remember facts & impressions which we did not notice at the time, [[3]] and it is quite conceivable that the first sensation may, especially if instantaneous, have led to no thought whatsoever, the individual necessarily lapsing instantly with a state of unconsciousness, till the second sensation,-which, if similar, might arouse the memory of the first, and thereby excite the thought. My own idea is that a lay series of sensations would be necessary before any self-consciousness would be aroused.

I also think you do not do justice to Mr. Mills "Firmanent Possibilites of Sensation" theory. I never understand this to be just forward as an explanation of the external world, & as a sufficient suppresent substitute for it;- but solely as [[4]] compact statement of all that we can primarily infer, from our sensations;- causes and an external world being a secondary inference. As such it appears to me a correct and useful definition of the direct inferences from senstaion,-- and as leading clearly (as you point out) to some permanent cause & causes for these recurring identical sensations. That these causes are truly represented by our sensations is another question altogether, into which as far as Mr. Mills definition is concerned it was not necessary to enter. If this is a fair representation of the purport of Mr. Mills theory of "Permanent Possibilities" it does not seem to me open to the criticism you make in it.

I do not suppose these few [[5]] crude remarks will have any novelty for you, but they may be of interest as showing you how one fresh to the subject looks at some of the questions and arguments you have so elaborately and skillfully set forth.

I suppose I owe your kind present to the few words in your little book on Spiritualism which I gave in any small volume on the same subject. I greatly [[6]] enjoyed your dissection of Tyndalls weak & presumptions article. I only hope you send him a copy as otherwise he may not have seen it.

Believe me | Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

P.P Alexander Esq.


1. Mr. Patrick Proctor Alexander [philosopher 1823-1886], author of Moral Causation (1875)

2. John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 - 8 May 1873) was a British philosopher, political economist and civil servant. He was the author of The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IX - An Examination of William Hamiltons Philosophy (1865) which Mr. Alexander is criticizing.

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