A concept of Hughlings Jackson: "The Physiological Bottom of the Mind"

Vision Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham B4 7ET, United Kingdom

The young John Hughlings Jackson had to be dissuaded from giving up medicine in favor of "a literary life" by Jonathan (later Sir Jonathan) Hutchinson. Hutchinson is nevertheless on record as believing that "it might have been a yet greater gain for the world at large if Hughlings Jackson had been left to devote his mind to philosophy" (1). In this contribution I examine the philosophical position Jackson expressed in scattered passages in his writings. In particular I discuss the metaphysics implied by his term "the physiological bottom of the mind" (2). Although it is clear that his major philosophical debt is to Herbert Spencer it is also clear that he had more than nodding acquaintance with the philosophical literature of the nineteenth and earlier centuries. His concept of the "physiological bottom of the mind" combines Kantian, Darwinian, Spencerian and other philosophical influences. It also looks forward to some of the existentialist analyses of the twentieth century (3). This paper will consider these influences and discuss how far Jackson was able to square his everyday observations on the neurological ward with a philosophy of mind.


  1. Hutchinson, J., 1911, British Medical Journal, vol. 2, p. 952
  2. Selected Writings, ed. J. Taylor (New York: Basic Books, 1958), vol. 2, p. 111
  3. Smith, C.U.M., 1982, "Evolution and the problem of mind: part 2, John Hughlings Jackson", J. Hist. Biol., 15, 241-62

Session V -- 19th to 20th Centuries
Tuesday, 13 June 2000, 9:00 - 9:30 am

Fifth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Providence, Rhode Island, USA