NL VII: “Appetite”

Index to this series

How can we compare two states of mind? This is the question of Chapter VII of The New Leviathan. The answer is contained in the chapter’s title. “Appetite” is a name, both for the chapter and for the fundamental instance of comparing a here-and-now feeling with a “there-and-then” feeling. We compare these two feelings because we are unsatisfied with the former, but prefer the latter.

It would seem then that appetite is at the root of memory. Thus we are among the ideas of the opening verses of The Waste Land of T. S. Eliot, who attended Collingwood’s lectures on Aristotle’s De Anima at Oxford (and was just a year older):

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

April mixes memory and desire? Memory is desire, although desire is more than appetite and is the subject and title of Collingwood’s Chapter XI. If winter does indeed keep you fed, then winter snows will make you forgetful, because what we remember are only feelings of satisfaction that we do not feel now.

On first reading Collingwood’s chapter on appetite for this article, I did not see an obvious analysis of the chapter into parts. The chapter has 57 paragraphs, numbered consecutively 7. 1 through 7. 69 with a jump from 7. 46 to 7. 5. Further consideration suggests that each ¶7. N begins a new section, which I shall number as §N.

§1

“By synecdoche or ellipsis”—by letting a part stand for the whole, or by eliding the remainder of the whole—we may call hunger a feeling. But hunger is not merely a feeling; it is an appetite. Being an appetite, hunger involves two “feeling-states.” Thus appetite is a paradox. To be hungry is to have the feeling of satisfaction as a possibility, but not as an actuality.

How is this possible? How can we have a feeling that we do not have? We may ask this question; but the fact is that we do feel hungry: hunger is an object of immediate consciousness. It would be the Fallacy of Misplaced Argument (introduced in ¶4. 73) to try to argue ourselves out of feeling hungry.

On the other hand, we may not know what we are hungry for. “Appetite is blind,” as Collingwood will say in ¶7. 5. It is also possible to have the unpleasant feelings of being hungry, without actually being hungry, because, again, hunger also involves somehow the feeling of being satisfied, and we may not have this feeling in any sense.

Sang Joni Mitchell,

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?

You do not know you are satisfied until you are unsatisfied. I think Collingwood suggests the inverse: you cannot know you are unsatisfied until you are satisfied or have been satisfied. You cannot be hungry if you have never been full. This is not an excuse for not feeding starving people. One can feel the pains of hunger without the hunger itself.

When we go without eating, we may become irritable, making this or that irrelevant demand, without realizing that what we really need is food. Is it fair to say then that we have not reached the level of being hungry in Collingwood’s sense?

By way of considering this question, I recall a time when I was quite young and was staying with my sister and three cousins at my aunt and uncle’s house in the country. We spent a sunny day running around playing. Then I lost energy and developed a headache. I was not experienced enough with life to be able to say, “I am ill.” Somebody else had to infer this from my sluggish actions. Perhaps a cousin noticed these first, and then my aunt, who had me sleep in the master bedroom that night, as she did her own children when they were ill.

We can understand illness as appetite for wellness. In this sense then, I was not quite ill on that day in West Virginia, because I was not fully conscious of not being my usual self. Evidently I must have been somewhat conscious though, or I could not now recall the incident.

Real hunger would seem to be a refusal to put up with being hungry. It is asking the question, “How can things be better?” One may not know the answer, but at least one is aware that there is an answer.

Too many people seem unaware. They put up with things they should not put up with. I do not mean they put up with hunger, in the sense of a lack of food. On the contrary, we are surrounded by commercial exhortations us to consume particular products, and many of us heed the command.

Many people refuse to tolerate temperatures at home that are outside a narrow range. I say this on a day in May when the air outdoors is warmer than I would keep it indoors in winter; but I am in a flat in a building with central heat, and the will of the families in the other flats is to keep toasty warm, so they can wear tee-shirts in winter, even if we have to spending lots of money on imported gas. The furnace is boiling away as I write; I can hear the sound of it travelling through the pipes. My own radiator is off, and I am barefoot and in shirt-sleeves.

So people do refuse to tolerate some things, like wearing a sweater in winter; but then they must put up with something else, like sending their wealth abroad for fossil fuels. Should they not re-think their priorities? I think they are caught in the “South Indian monkey trap” described by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In fact I find no evidence that such a device really exists; but the idea is clear. Monkey puts hand in hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake, to grasp a handful of rice. Monkey cannot remove hand without releasing the rice. But not removing the hand will ultimately mean suffering pains worse than hunger.

I again try to make sense of this by thinking of my own life. I recall another childhood incident. I was sitting in a car in a parking lot one evening with two friends and their mother. We were waiting for the father, I don’t know why. The mother lit a cigarette. The windows of the car were up. Probably the air conditioning had been on. I was incredulous and indignant that this woman would subject us to breathing her smoke. But I did not express my feelings. And I was not at a stage of development when I was bold enough take action. All I knew how to do was to sit and suffer.

My moving to Turkey involved some suffering. I had to squat under a shower head that was night high enough. I had to pick up saucepans with two hands, because they did not have single long handles. These problems were trivial, and they are no longer problems, because I made the necessary adjustments to my own behavior, and I got used to them.

However, I shall never be reconciled to the expectation of car drivers that anybody weaker than themselves must get out of their way. When they see people in the road ahead of them, they do not slow down; they honk. I must respect this habit if I want to live. But I will not recognize it as just.

By the way, I might contrast the selfishness of Turkish driving habits with a generosity in other areas that makes Americans look like barbarians. Nothing is simple.

§2

Everybody walking in a Turkish city must always be vigilant, lest a car run them over. I call this suffering; somebody who grew up with it just takes it as a fact of life. If such a person decided not to take it any more, how would this happen?

Taking on this question would be jumping ahead in The New Leviathan. For now the relevant question is, How do we rise above the mere feeling of hunger—for food, for air, for health—to hunger itself? The act of rising above is an act of practical consciousness. Collingwood distinguishes between practical and theoretical consciousness. Practice is doing; theory is merely seeing, or apprehending: taking. Hunger is a forming of concepts, and:

7. 22. … Concepts or abstractions are not things lying about the world, ready-made, like blackberries, for the sedulous micher to find; they are things that man makes (and perhaps not man alone, but man alone is what we are studying) by an act of practical thinking; and if he then finds them ready-made it is because that act has made them.

Nothing requires us to act:

7. 28. There are no laws of development or progress. Occasions arise when certain kinds of progress, certain steps in development, are possible for a mind.

7. 29. They are never necessary. Whether the mind takes the step that is possible for it depends on the mind’s practical energy.

Conceptual thinking was, in Chapter IV, called selective attention. We shall consider what this means in the next section; meanwhile, let us note that, while concept-formation is not necessary, it is not at first intentional either:

7. 25. It is useless to ask why [a person] takes this or any other of the steps which initiate the various stages of mental development.

7. 26. If ‘Why?’ means: ‘With what intention?’ the answer is that these steps are not intentional. Intention begins to exist only when the development of mind has brought it to choice (chapter xiii). Until then mind has been developing (so to speak) in its sleep.

I approve of Collingwood’s refusal to try to answer certain questions. But then, as a student, I was accused of such a refusal myself by a tutor at St John’s College. I suppose some people would say we come to form concepts by a law of development. The existence of such a law would be a logical consequence of the axiom that everything that happens, happens by law. In human affairs, this is not a good axiom. At any rate, it is not an axiom that we accept for ourselves. At every moment, what we do next is decided, not by law, but by ourselves. In acting at every moment, we may indeed follow a law: but that is only because we choose to do so.

§3

We have already observed that selective attention creates distinctions that did not exist before. I suppose this kind of talk is what made “realists” refer to Collingwood derisively as an “idealist.” But Collingwood’s way of putting things is the most salutary.

In his discussion, Collingwood alludes to the painters who have learned to see the world naively, without all of the distinctions that we take for granted, or sometimes with distinctions that we no longer see. For an example, I recall now a talk in Ankara by an algebraic geometer who had switched over to studying computer vision. The speaker showed the audience a line drawing executed by computer. The drawing was not a total success, according to the speaker, because there was a line in the sky indicating the edge of a cloud. The speaker did not want the computer to distinguish between cloud and open sky. I myself thought the computer saw the world more as an Expressionist would, and there was nothing wrong with that.

We do not create the world that we see out of whole cloth; we work with what is there. But what is there? Outside my window, there are apartment buildings with the morning sun behind them, and birds flying above them; but this description represents my own analysis of the scene, and the analysis—particularly the apartment buildings—might not be recognized by a hunter-gatherer suddenly brought in from the Amazon basin, or by a young child.

When I think of being a child, I remember seeing the world as mostly a blur. I know that the blur is not merely an artefact of memory. For example, there was an impressionistic painting, reproduced in one of the volumes of the Childcraft series, that supposedly depicted a bull: only I could not see it. My father could see it, and he tried to help me see it, but I could not. In a later year, I could.

I remember children’s drawings, perhaps even by myself, that depicted people as heads with arms and legs attached directly. There was no body. Does the child artist fail to see the world as it really is? What does the child say if you ask him or her, Where is the body? I do not know, but from fictional works that I consumed as a child, two examples come to mind of questions about others’ perceptions that do not yield answers that are satisfactory to the questioner.

  1. In the Star Trek episode called “Spectre of the Gun,” Kirk and his men find themselves in a mock-up of Tombstone, Arizona, compelled to be participants in the Gunfight at O.K. Corral.

    Kirk is perceived by a townsman as Ike Clanton, and no amount of arguing can make the man see otherwise. Still wearing his Starfleet uniform, Kirk asks, “Do these clothes look like yours?”

    “Not exactly.”

    “Have you seen clothes like this before?”

    “Sure.”

    “Where?”

    “On the Clantons.”

  2. In the last volume of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Dwarves think they have been shut up in a stable. Other characters have experienced the stable door as a passage into another world, which turns out to be heaven; but the Dwarves cannot see this heaven.

As Collingwood acknowledges, we do generally see distinctions in our visual field as ready-made. Further reflection shows however that we do make these distinctions ourselves.

Selective attention is evocative thinking:

7. 32. With the delimiting of the patch or other selection…goes the act of evocative thinking: the act of arousing in yourself by the work of thought feelings you do not find as ‘given’ in yourself.

7. 33. These I call evocations; they form a context inseparable from any selection and are connected with it by logical relations, logic being the science that studies the structure of concepts (7. 39) or, which is the same thing, the relations between them.

It sounds as if I cannot see the glass of tea that I have just poured without having some feelings about it. Like every sensation, the sensation of the glass of tea has an emotional charge, as described in Chapter IV. But apparently that emotional charge need not involve any thirst for the tea. Thirst is more specific, as Collingwood describes in the next section.

§4

Appetite is an unpleasant feeling that evokes, or from which is evoked, a contrasting pleasant feeling. This is the “initial stage” of “appetitive action or doing what you want.” What we want is not pleasure simply, but satisfaction: a change from the unpleasant to the pleasant. The section is short and may be quoted in its entirety:

7. 4. We are now ready to explain what appetite is. By selective attention a man isolates in his present state of feeling a group of feelings consisting of a gnawing sensation at the stomach, a general organic sensation of weakness and lassitude, and so on (3. 32), the whole carrying an unpleasant emotional charge.

7. 41. These form a selection from his here-and-now, which as a product of selective attention is a concept or part of a concept and requires a context provided by evocation.

7. 42. This must be a there-and-then of feelings comparable with those of the selection and contrasting with them as pleasant with unpleasant.

7. 43. The man is attracted away from the here-and-now towards the there-and-then not by pleasure itself but by the abstract notion of pleasure, or rather of the pleasure-potential attached to the there-and-then, its superiority in pleasure to the here-and-now.

7. 44. His practical movement of escape from the here-and-now towards the there-and-then, as instigated by this notion of pleasure-potential, is appetitive action or doing what you want; and the initial stage of this movement is appetite or wanting.

7. 45. The pleasure-potential of the there-and-then, as abstractly conceived, is satisfaction.

7. 46. No man wants pleasure as such; what he wants is satisfaction, the satisfaction of appetites he has.

In an earlier article I discussed the thinking that a host should do for the sake of her or his guests. Part of this thinking involves the truth of Collingwood’s last paragraph. We do not want pleasure, as conceived by somebody else; we want satisfaction of the wants that we have conceived for ourselves. Thus hosts must not assume that what pleases them must will automatically please their guests.

Now, such thinking is not universal and indeed becomes bizarre when set in broader context:

…The French are also very keen on commensality [eating together]. According the Crédoc consumer studies and research institute, 80% of meals are taken with other people. “In France meals are strongly associated with good company and sharing, which is undoubtedly less so in other countries,” says Loïc Bienassis, a researcher at the European Institute of Food History and Culture.

Americans take a radically different approach. There is nothing sacred about meals: everyone eats at their own speed, depending on their appetite, outside constraints and timetable. As long ago as 1937 French writer Paul Morand was surprised to see New Yorkers lunching alone, in the street, “like in a stable”. US practice is so different from French ritual that it sometimes requires explanation. “There’s a secondary school in Toulouse which organises exchanges with young Americans,” says social anthropologist Jean-Pierre Poulain. “To avoid any misunderstandings teachers warn families before their children leave that the start of their stay will not be marked by an evening meal, as in France. When the young visitors arrive they are shown the fridge and told they can help themselves whenever they like.”

(Source: France remains faithful to food as meals continue to be a collective affair by Anne Chemin, translated from Le Monde, published in the Guardian Weekly for 11.04.14 as “Why the French hate to eat alone.”)

Moreover:

§5

“Appetite is blind.” Having an appetite does not mean that we know what we want, but only that we want something. Appetite is given immediately to consciousness; its analysis into the unsatisfactory and the satisfactory is an abstraction.

§6

However, we engage in this abstraction “as naturally and as unconsciously as bees make honey out of flowers”:

7. 62. Some people talk about abstractions as if they were nasty things with which a wise man would have nothing to do.

7. 63. But as soon as thought develops beyond its most primitive embryonic stage as mere apprehension of the given it begins making abstractions. However far it pushes the process of development it never leaves off.

7. 64. To fancy that when thought begins making abstractions it condemns itself to live in a world of abstractions and turns its back on reality is as foolish as to fancy that an unborn child, when it begins building itself a skeleton, turns its back on flesh and blood and condemns itself to live in Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones.

7. 65. The life of a vertebrate is a symbiosis of flesh and bone; the life of thought is a symbiosis of immediate consciousness with abstractions.

7. 66. It is a further development of the same foolish fancy when people obsessed with this fancy (like F. H. Bradley in the late nineteenth century and H. Bergson in the early twentieth) look forward to a divine event whereby thought shall not only return into the womb but there digest its own skeleton.

7. 67. The cure of these nightmares and nightmarish hopes is to recollect that abstractions are only second-order objects made by the mind out of its immediate first-order objects as naturally and as unconsciously as bees make honey out of flowers; and that a wealth of abstractions indicates not poverty in immediate consciousness but abundance of it, as a wealth of honey in the comb shows, not that the bees have left of visiting flowers, but that they have visited flowers to some purpose.

7. 68. I will not ask whether (as is commonly supposed) non-human animals have appetites. I will only observe that, if they do, it is a mistake to suppose (as is commonly supposed) that their minds are unequal to conceptual thinking. For appetite is a product of conceptual thinking.

7. 69. Appetite is a name for the inherent restlessness of mind. The blindness of appetite means that this restlessness drives it unconsiously from an indeterminate here-and-now to an indeterminate there-and-then in quest of a future not so much dark as blank: a quest due to no choice, guided by no reason, directed on no goal. Choice and reason and goal are not among the sources or conditions of appetite, they are among its products.

This Collingwood ends the chapter by emphasizing the fundamental status of appetite.

Collingwood’s mention of non-human animals calls to mind such works as Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?” and Mary Midgley’s Beast and Man. I recall the latter to suggest various ways in which what we “see” in animals, such as a constant struggle for survival, has more to do with our own sense of the world than with what animals actually do.

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  1. […] NL VII: “Appetite” […]

  2. By NL VIII: “Hunger and Love” « Polytropy on June 30, 2014 at 11:57 am

    […] an abstraction from loving (¶8. 17). In commenting on the previous chapter, I suggested that appetite was the origin of memory. Now Collingwood is suggesting that the specific kind of […]

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