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Neutral Monism

First published Thu Feb 3, 2005; substantive revision Thu Jan 28, 2010
Neutral monism is a monistic metaphysics. It holds that ultimate reality is all of one kind. To this
extent neutral monism is in agreement with idealism and materialism. What distinguishes neutral
monism from its better known monistic rivals is the claim that the intrinsic nature of ultimate
reality is neither mental nor physical. This negative claim also captures the idea of neutrality:
being intrinsically neither mental nor physical in nature ultimate reality is said to be neutral
between the two.

1. Introduction
2. History
3. The Neutral Entities
o 3.1 Mental, Physical, Neutral
o 3.2 Different Notions of Neutrality
o 3.3 Identifying the Neutral Entities
4. Background: Realism and Empiricism
o 4.1 Neutral Entities and the Given
o 4.2 Realism about the Given
o 4.3 Giving up Substance
o 4.4 Giving Up the Ego
5. Reduction and Construction
o 5.1 What Is it to Reduce?
o 5.2 Reduction of the Mental
o 5.3 Reduction of the Physical
6. Arguments for Neutral Monism
o 6.1 Suggested by the Development of Physics and Psychology
o 6.2 Philosophy of Physics
o 6.3 Unity of Science
o 6.4 Parsimony
7. Objections to Neutral Monism
o 7.1 Not Neutral but Mental
o 7.2 Leaving out What it's Like
o 7.3 The Nature of the Extra-Cranial World
o 7.4 Principles of Bundling
o 7.5 Error
8. Philosophical Applications
o 8.1 The Mind-Body Problem
o 8.2 The Problem of Perception
o 8.3 Knowledge and the War against Introjection
9. Neutral Monism and Other Doctrines
o 9.1 Neutral Monism and Other Forms of Reductionism
o 9.2 Neutral Monism and Panpsychism
o 9.3 Neutral Monism and Emergentism


9.4 Neutral Monism and the Dual Aspect Theory

9.5 Neutral Monism and The Neo-Russellians
10. Concluding Remarks
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1. Introduction
Monisms, neutral or otherwise, differ on the question whether ultimate reality is one or many.
With the possible exception of Spinoza (see the section Neutral Monism and the Dual Aspect
Theory) neutral monists have chosen pluralism: there are many neutral entities, but they are all
of one basic kind. Moreover, neutral monism is noneliminativist: there is more to reality than just
the basic neutral entities. There are also all of the commonly recognized physical and mental
entities. This minimal characterization of the doctrine suffices to define the two central questions
neutral monism must answer. First, what is the nature of the neutral entities that form ultimate
reality? Second, what is the relationship of these neutral entities to everything else that exists?
Though neutral monism is a quite general doctrine about the nature of reality, it is usually
understood in a much narrower sense, viz., as an attempt to come to terms with the mind-body
problem. This focus on the relationship of mind and body has naturally led neutral monists to
break the second question into two more limited ones. Thus we end up with three questions:

What is the nature of the neutral entities that form ultimate reality?
What is the relationship of these neutral entities to matter?
What is the relationship of these neutral entities to mind?

Most versions of neutral monism are versions of noneliminativist reductionism. Mental and
physical phenomena are real but reducible to/constructible from the underlying neutral level. It
differs from other versions of reductionismbe they materialistic or mentalistic, eliminative or
noneliminativeby insisting on the neutrality of the basis. And its reductionism sets it apart
from certain versions of nonreductive theoriesemergentism and the dual aspect theory come to
mindwith which it is sometimes compared or identified.
Not all versions of neutral monism answer questions (i)(iii) in the same way. A commitment to
just the core of the doctrine places only minimal constraints on the final shape of a fleshed out
version of the theory. Any given version of neutral monism is, to a large extent, a function of the
philosophical goals and the other philosophical commitments that guide its creator in the
construction of the theory. What we confront, in every single case, is a core of neutral monistic
ideas, mixed up with a rich and varying set of better or worse philosophical ideas and aspirations
that are largely independent of neutral monism proper. This must be kept in mind when
evaluating the versions of neutral monism on record. Some of their features that tend to offend
contemporary philosophical sensibilities the most may be dispensable scaffolding only.

2. History
The notion of neutrality once occupied a central position in the discussion of the mind-body
problem. No fewer than nine of the seventeen possible types of mind-body theory on C. D.
Broad's famous list of 1925 (Broad 1925) are classified as forms of neutralism. An updated
version of this list would most likely not even contain the term neutrality (or any of its
cognates). The notion of neutrality, and hence the doctrine of neutral monism, plays no role in
the current debate. It lives on only as an obscure encyclopedia entry.
The number of neutral monists is small; the number of self-declared neutral monists is
considerably smaller; the number of philosophers whose classification as neutral monist has gone
unchallenged is probably zero. The lists of neutral monists vary considerably in length and
composition. The list below contains the names contained in the intersection of most of them,
plus a few additions.
Baruch Spinoza (163277) leads off most lists. It can be argued, however, that he is better
classified as a dual aspect theorist or a panpsychist rather than as a neutral monist. (see the
section Neutral Monism and the Dual Aspect Theory below).
Phenomenalists, dualists, materialistically inclined naturalists, and neutral monists have, by
turns, recognized and rejected David Hume (17111776) as one of their own. The attempt to
claim him as an ancestor of neutral monism is therefore controversial. But the following
quotations make a strong case for counting Hume as an early proponent of the doctrine.
I shall at first suppose; that there is only a single existence, which I shall call indifferently object
or perception, according as it shall seem best to suit my purpose, understanding by both of them
what any common man means by hat, or shoe, or any other impression, convey'd to him by his
senses. (Hume 1739, 366)
What we call a mind, is nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions, united together
by certain relationsNow as every perception is distinguishable from another, and may be
consider'd separately existent; it evidently follows, that there is no absurdity in separating any
particular perception from the mind; that is, in breaking off all its relations, with that connected
mass of perceptions, which constitute a thinking beingIf the name of perception renders not
this separation from a mind absurd and contradictory, the name of object, standing for the very
same thing, can never render their conjunction impossible. External objects are seen, and felt,
and become present to the mind; that is, they acquire such a relation to a connected heap of
perceptions, as to influence them very considerably in augmenting their number by present
reflexions and passions, and in storing the memory with ideas. The same continu'd and
uninterrupted Being may, therefore, be sometimes present to the mind, and sometimes absent
from it, without any real or essential change in the Being itself. An interrupted appearance to the
sense implies not necessarily an interruption in the existence. The supposition of the continu'd
existence of sensible objects or perceptions involves no contradiction. (Hume 1739, 207208)
These passages suggest two central ideas of Neutral monism. First, there is the idea of neutral
entities: entities that are not intrinsically or essentially percepts or objects but can be counted as

either, given the relevant context. Second, the idea that mind and body are reducible
to/constructible from these neutral entities. Though this may not be the only plausible reading of
these passages (see, e.g., Bricke 1980, Flagge 1982, 1991, Backhaus 1991) the case for counting
Hume as an early neutral monist has considerable merit. While it may be controversial whether
Hume really was a neutral monist, his enormous influence on the development of subsequent
versions of neutral monism is beyond serious doubt.
Ernst Mach (18381916) occupies a central position in the history of neutral monism. He
influenced William James and Bertrand Russell and, through them, all of the writers on neutral
monism in the English speaking world. His importance for the development in the German
speaking world is hard to overestimate. Among the philosophers to build on Mach's ideas was
Rudolf Carnap in his Aufbau. (Carnap 1928) As a physicist who also did physiological and
psychological research, Mach strove to adopt an inclusive and economical framework that would
allow him to pursue all of these inquiries in a unified and coherent fashion. In the simple
components of experiencehot and cold, red and green, sweet and sour, etc.he finds the basic
elements whose functional interrelations are studied by the various sciences. While a given
element is, intrinsically, neither mental nor physical, the various groups to which it belongs may
display functional relationships that are characteristic of physics or of psychology. In this case
the neutral element forms part of the subject matter of physics and of psychology. It can be
called physical, qua constituent of the one group, and mental, qua constituent of the other group,
but is the same unchanging element that is regarded in these two different contexts:
Thus the great gulf between physical and psychological research persists only when we
acquiesce in our habitual stereotyped conceptions. A color is a physical object as soon as we
consider its dependence, for instance, upon its luminous source, upon other colors, upon
temperatures, upon spaces, and so forth. When we consider, however, its dependence upon the
retinait is a psychological object, a sensation. Not the subject matter, but the direction of
investigation, is different in the two domains. (Mach 1886, 1718)
The primary source for Mach's views on neutral monism are a number of essays and chapters
contained in his books that were originally published in (Mach 1886), (Mach 1905), and (Mach
1923). The size of these books grew significantly as they went through numerous editions. Some
of the important papers on neutral monism are not contained in the available English translations
of these works.
Richard Avenarius (184396) wrote at the same time as, but independently of, Mach. They
happily acknowledged the considerable convergence of their thoughts about neutral monism (and
numerous other topics). Together with Mach he was the main target of Lenin's attack on
empiriocriticism. His influence on German Positivism was strong. Due to its difficulty his work
finds few readers. Avenarius's name is now primarily associated with the notion of introjection.
It happens when the object of perception is mistakenly taken to exist in the perceiverit is the
internalization of the seen etc. into the human being (Avenarius 1891, 200). According to
Avenarius, the consequences of this mistaken inward projection are momentous:
And it is this introjection which, as a rule turns the before me into an in me, the disclosed
into an imagined [Vorgestelltes], the constituent of the (real) environment into a constituent

of the (ideal) thinking, the tree with its mechanical energies into an appearance of the stuff of
which dreams are made. (Avenarius 1891, 201)
In thus creating an inner world, the natural monism of experience is bifurcated into a world in
which mind and matter, self and world stand opposed to each other. The purpose of Avenarius's
monumental Critique of Pure Experience is to overcome this pathological development and to
restore the natural, thoroughly monistic, conception of the world. The main sources for his
reflections on neutral monism are contained in his (Avenarius 1888/90), (Avenarius 1891), and
(Avenarius 1894/95). Beginning with the second edition of his (Avenarius 1891), the last three
essays were reproduced as an appendix to this work.
Joseph Petzoldt (18621929) is one of a number of German speaking positivists who took
themselves to be working in the tradition of Mach and Avenarius. Petzoldt is notable for the
dedication with which he tried to bring this philosophy to a broader audience. About three
quarters of his substantial (Petzoldt 1900) are dedicated to a careful and more approachable
exposition of the main ideas of Avenarius's Critique of Pure Experience (1888/90). And in his
(Petzoldt 1906) is a somewhat popularized retelling of the history of philosophy seen through the
critical eyes of his heroes Mach and Avenarius. Petzoldt is included in this list as a representative
of the many less well known philosophers in the positivist tradition who were enthusiastic
champions of neutral monist thought as we find it set out in the much more original works of
Mach and Avenarius.
William James's (18421910) empiricismhis radical standing by experience (James 1904a,
52)plays a central role in his adoption of neutral monism. His critique of the of the relational
account of experienceaccording to which the self directs an act onto an objectwas the model
upon which Russell shaped his analysis of experience. James presents this argument as an attack
on a particular conception of consciousness. He finds it in the Neo-Kantian tradition and in the
early analytic tradition. And today we can find it in philosophies as diverse as existentialism and
philosophical naturalism. Roughly, it is the notion of consciousness as a diaphanous, transparent,
elusive medium or container of some sort in which the objects of consciousness appear. The
objects in consciousness are clearly before the mind. But consciousness itself seems to elude our
grasp forever. This thin notion of consciousness is the one James wants to eliminate:
I believe that consciousness, when once it has evaporated to this estate of pure diaphaneity, is
on the point of disappearing altogether. It is the name of a nonentity, and has no right to a place
among first principles. Those who still cling to it are clinging to a mere echo, the faint rumor left
behind by the disappearing soul upon the air of philosophy. (James 1904b, 2)
His radical proposal is to simply discard this shadowy something and to make do with what
remains, with what used to be the object of the conscious act. He introduces the term pure
experience to stand for this datum. Prior to any further categorization, pure experience is,
according to James, neutralneither mental nor material:
The instant field of the present is at all times what I call the pure experience. It is only virtually
or potentially either object or subject as yet. For the time being, it is plain, unqualified actuality,
or existence, a simple that. (James 1904b, 23)

Mind and matter, knower and known, thought and thing, representation and represented are then
interpreted as resulting from different groupings of pure experience. The essays in which James
sets out his radical empiricism are among the most influential and most readable documents of
the neutral monistic literature. It is probably fair to say that James converted Russell to neutral
monism. And his influence on the neutral monists among the American New Realists is massive.
The primary source for James's views on neutral monism are the essays collected in his (James
Ralph Barton Perry (18761957) is the most visible of the American New Realists to adopt
neutral monism. As student and friend of James he spent considerable time explaining James's
views. He produced some of the clearest expositions of the doctrine. But he also extended
James's radical empiricism. His treatment of realism in his (Perry 1912a) does, for example,
contain a chapter on A Realistic Philosophy of Life in which such topics as faith, value, and
morality are treated. But Perry did not shy away from criticizing James's views. He is, for
example, keenly aware that James's writings on neutral monism invite the objection that neutral
monism is but phenomenalism relabeled. James is criticized for not making it sufficiently clear
that pure experience must be able to exist outside of all consciousness.
If pure experience is indeed neutral, then it is capable of being actual in the absence of that
peculiar modification of itself which constitutes consciousness. But James frequently writes as
though experience and conscious experience were the same thingit is regrettable that James
was not more persistently and stubbornly consistent in this own radicalism. If experience is to
have the physical and metaphysical scope which he attributed to it, it must be boldly
emancipated from all conscious or mental implications. (Perry 1938, 98100)
The main source for Perry's views about neutral monism is contained in his (Perry 1912a).
Edwin B. Holt (18731946), one of the American New Realists, developed a detailed neutral
monist theory of consciousness. After arguing that the fact is that both minds and physical
objects are and are real, and they are composed of one and the same substanceneutral stuff
(Holt 1914, 124), Holt tries to show how consciousness can find its place in this world of neutral
elements. He begins with the idea that an organism is capable of responding to certain aspects of
its environment. The features of the environment that are thus selected he calls a cross-section of
the environment. This environmental cross-section is comparable with the cross-section [of the
environment] defined by a searchlight (Holt 1914, 174). Armed with these notions, Holt is
ready to present his account of consciousness:
We have seen that the phenomenon of response defines a cross-section of the environment
without, which is a neutral manifold. Now this neutral cross-section outside of the nervous
system, and composed of the neutral elements of physical and nonphysical objects to which the
nervous system is responding by some specific response,this neutral cross-section, I submit,
coincides exactly with the list of objects of which we say we are conscious. This neutral crosssection as defined by the specific reaction of reflex-arcs is the psychic realm:it is the manifold
of our sensations, perceptions and ideas:it is consciousness. (Holt 1914, 182)
This makes consciousness external and objective in the highest degree:

Consciousness is extended in both space and time:in space as spatial objects are extended,
consciousness being actually such parts of the objects as are perceived, i.e., such parts as are
consciousness; and in time as a quarter-hour, a day, or a week, is extendedConsciousness also,
of course, changes in time and moves about in space. (Holt 1914, 210211)
There is no trace of introjection in this picture; the house of the brain is not haunted as Holt
puts it. (Holt 1914, 310). There is much else in Holt's work that is remarkable. Though his focus
is on the mind-body problem and on consciousness in particular, Holt's neutral monistic picture
is notable for its ambition to present a more comprehensive neutral monistic metaphysics. His
attempt to find a place for logic and mathematics in his neutral monism are remarkable, if
perhaps not successful. The main sources for Holt's views about neutral monism are his (Holt
1912) and (Holt 1914).
After sympathizing with neutral monism for some time (see especially Russell 1914, Russell
1918), Bertrand Russell (18721970) finally adopted it in his (Russell 1919). Russell's enduring
fame is responsible for the fact that neutral monism did not completely vanish from the
philosophical spotlight. But the identification of neutral monism with Russell's views has also
had some unfortunate consequences. First, over the years Russell's account of neutral monism
underwent considerable change. That made it difficult to get a clear fix on the doctrine. Second,
the final version of Russell's neutral monism is very far removed from the sort of view we find in
James, Mach, and Avenarius. It does, for example, exhibit the sin of introjection in the most
striking way. That has caused considerable confusion about the nature of neutral monism and the
question whether or when Russell did or did not reject it. None of this helped to improve the
reputation of neutral monism. While Russell is responsible for some of the darkness currently
surrounding neutral monism, a good part of it must be attributed to impatient and unsympathetic
readings of his work. The detail and rigor of his presentation of neutral monism surpasses that
found in the works of the other authors working in this tradition. Hence Russell's work will be
referenced frequently throughout this entry. The main sources for Russell's views on neutral
monism are his (Russell 1921), (Russell 1927a, b), and (Russell 1956a).
In the course of the recent Russell renaissance a number of authors have started to pay attention
to the considerations that led Russell to neutral monism. While all of these authors stop short of
embracing neutral monism, their works show marked parallels to Russell's central ideas. Daniel
Stoljar (2001, 2006), Grover Maxwell (1978), Galen Strawson (2003), and Michael Lockwood
(1981, 1989, 1998) gravitate toward physicalism. David Chalmers (1996, 2003) and Peter Unger
(1999) are more inclined to consider neutral monism as a live option.
Kenneth Sayre's (1929-) version of neutral monism is highly original. It shares none of the
striking but nonessential features that are common to all the other versions of neutral monism
discussed here. Unlike all the other versions of the doctrine it is not an outgrowth of an amalgam
of realist and empiricist philosophemes. Information theory and Platonism form the background
in which Sayre's interpretation of neutral monism is rooted. Sayre sets out his project in the
following terms:
If the projectis successful, it will have been shown not only that the concept of information
provides a primitive for the analysis of both the physical and the mental, but also that states of

informationexisted previously to states of mind. Since information in this sense is prior to

mentality, but also implicated in all mental states, it follows that information is prior also in the
ontological senseSuccess of the present project thus will show that an ontology of
informational states is adequate for an explanation of the phenomena of mind, as distinct from an
ontology of physical events. [And Sayre adds:] It is a reasonable conjecture that an ontology of
information is similarly basic to the physical sciences (Sayre 1976, 16)
More recently Sayre has provided the following helpful characterization of his position:
Neutral Monism is the view that neither mind nor matter is ontologically basic, but are both
reducible (in some appropriate sense of reduction that requires specification) to another more
fundamental principle that is neutral between them. The neutral monism I advocate holds that
the fundamental principle to which both mind and matter are reducible is not a substance in any
sense (Aristotelian, Cartesian, whatever), but is rather [a] structure of a sort that can only be
represented mathematically. This structure is what information theoristscall information.
The neutral monism I advocate, accordingly, has more in common with the ontology of the late
Platonic dialogues than with that of the early Russell which the name neutral monism
commonly brings to mind. (Memo circulated in the Notre Dame philosophy department)
Many of the objections directed against neutral monism are primarily concerned with the
peculiarities that mainstream neutral monism inherits from its accidental rootedness in realist and
empiricist traditions described below. The fact that nearly all extant forms of neutral monism
share these peculiar but nonessential features makes it easy to overlook that they are merely
accidental features of neutral monism. The existence of Sayre's version of the doctrine is a most
welcome check on these sorts of arguments. By comparing it to the standard versions of neutral
monism we can, for example, see that the pervasive link between the neutral elements and
perceptual contents is a mere historical artifact: most neutral monists happened to be empiricists
of sortshence this particular link. Sayre's choice of mathematical structures as the
fundamental stuff forcefully brings home the point that this near universal way of specifying
the neutral basis is not written into the neutral monist doctrine. The main source for Sayre's
views on neutral monism is his (Sayre 1976).

3. The Neutral Entities

3.1 Mental, Physical, Neutral
Given that the definition of neutrality involves the notions of the mental and the physical (or
mind and body), the neutral monist must rely on some notion of the physical and the mental. But
the explication of these notions is not the main task of neutral monism. Different ways of
drawing the mind/body distinction will yield different versions of neutral monism. For the nature
of the entities that are neutral between mind and body will depend on the nature of mind and
body. Neutral monism is not committed to any particular way of drawing the mind/body
distinction. That is not to say, of course, that neutral monism is compatible with all possible
ways of drawing the distinction. Proposals that define the mental and the physical as
complements of each other are unacceptable; for they leave no room for a realm that is neutral
between the two. Proposals that make irreducibility into a defining characteristic of mind or body

are unacceptable; for they rule out reductionist approaches by fiat. Within these constraints there
is a wide variety of notions of mind and body that neutral monists can and do work with.
The main task of a neutral monist theory is therefore to show how, given a certain notions of
mind and body, a class of neutral entities can be specified and how mental and physical states
can be reduced to/constructed from these entities. The success of a given version of neutral
monism should be judged primarily on the basis of how well it handles these three problems.
One may still want to reject a theory that passes this test if it is based on a problematical or
absurd way of drawing the mind/body distinction. But this sort of critique is not a critique of
neutral monism as such; it is a critique of the way in which the problem is posed, not a critique
of the way in which this ill-posed problem was solved.

3.2 Different Notions of Neutrality

In the opening paragraph the notion of neutrality was introduced as follows:
1. A basic entity is neutral just in case it is intrinsically neither mental nor physical.
But there are other plausible ways of spelling out this notion. Reflection on the thesis that all
nonbasic physical and mental entities are reducible to/constructible from basic neutral entities
may lead one to one of the following explications of the notion of neutrality:
2. A basic entity is neutral just in case it figures in the reduction bases of both physical and
mental nonbasic entities.
3. A basic entity is neutral just in case it can figure in the reduction bases of both physical
and mental nonbasic entities.
Another approach to the notion of neutrality begins with the notion of law:
4. A basic entity is neutral just in case mental and physical laws are applicable to it.
These notions of neutrality are not equivalent and can pull apart. But neither proponents nor
opponents of neutral monism have been careful to distinguish them, thus inviting needless
Take, for example, Russell's discussion in The Analysis of Mind. Russell holds that there are
sensations, images, and particulars probably equally (or almost equally) transient, which make
up that part of the material world that does not come into the sort of contact with the living body
that is required to turn it into a sensation (Russell 1921, 144). In the following passage Russell
tells us how particulars of these three kinds differ from each other and what sorts of laws are
applicable to them:
The American Realists are partly right, though not wholly, in considering that both mind and
matter are composed of a neutral-stuff which, in isolation, is neither mental nor material. I should
admit this view as regards sensations: what is heard or seen belongs equally to psychology and to
physics. But I should say that images belong only to the mental world, while those occurrences

(if any) which do not form part of any experience belong only to the physical world. There are,
it seems to me, prima facie different kinds of causal laws, one belonging to physics and the other
to psychology. The law of gravitation, for example, is a physical law, while the law of
association is a psychological law. Sensations are subject to both kinds of laws, and are therefore
truly neutral in Holt's sense. But entities subject only to physical laws, or only to psychological
laws, are not neutral, and may be called respectively purely material and purely mental. (Russell
1921, 256)
Here we find Russell making use of three or four of the four neutrality criteria listed above. First,
sensations are classified as neutral, according to (1). Then images are declared not neutral,
according to (2) (or (3)both interpretations are plausible). Next particulars of the third kind are
deemed to be not neutral, according to (2). Finally criterion (4) is invoked to classify sensations
as neutral, and to explain what the notions of pure mentality and materiality amount to. And
Russell seems to imply that images and particulars of the third kind are, respectively, purely
mental and purely physical, according to criterion (4). Up to this point the liberal use of different
criteria has not caused any problemsthe various criteria cohere in yielding a position that,
remarkably, isn't recognizably neutral monist. But at the end of the book we find Russell
speculating about the ultimate scientific account, a fundamental unifying science. These passages
privilege (4)the law criterionand suggest a quite different picture (a much more truly neutral
monist picture, in fact):
I thinkthat an ultimate scientific account of what goes on in the world, if it were ascertainable,
would resemble psychology rather than physicssuch an account would not be content to speak,
even formally, as though matter, which is a logical fiction, were the ultimate reality. I think that,
if our scientific knowledge were adequate to the task, which it neither is nor is likely to become,
it wouldstate the causal laws of the world in terms ofparticulars, not in terms of matter.
Causal laws so stated would, I believe, be applicable to psychology and physics equally; the
science in which they were stated would succeed in achieving what metaphysics has vainly
attempted, namely a unified account of what really happens, wholly true even if not the whole of
truth, and free from all convenient fictions or unwarrantable assumptions of metaphysical
entities. (Russell 1921, 3056)
This is a powerful expression of a monistic vision. One set of laws governs all particulars. So all
particulars are neutral, according to the law criterion. And there are other passages in Russell's
textutilizing criterion (1)that also suggest a neutral monistic interpretation:
The data of psychology do not differ in their intrinsic character from the data of physics. I have
maintained that sensations are data for psychology and physics equally, while images, which
may be in some sense exclusively psychological data, can only be distinguished from sensations
by their correlations, not by what they are in themselves. (Russell 1921, 297)
Particulars that form part of no experience are not mentioned in this passage. But the idea it
conveys is that all particulars are intrinsically the same. So if sensations are neutral because they
are intrinsically neither mental nor physical, and all other particulars have the same intrinsic
nature as sensations, then all particulars are neutral, at least according to the first definition of

neutrality. In this way criteria (1)-(4) do pull apart, sorting some of Russell's particularsimages
and particulars of the third kindinto mutually exclusive groups.
This has made it difficult to understand The Analysis of Mind. And there are other ways in which
the failure to distinguish these criteria has caused confusion. Some of the most prominent
interpreters of Russell appear to work with criterion (2), according to which neutral monism
holds that all constituents of the world must be experienced (be a constituent of a mind). This
vividly raises the suspicion that neutral monism is a version of phenomenalism. Moreover, this
interpretation makes it incomprehensible how Russell could continue to call himself a neutral
monist after admitting inferred and unexperienced particulars into the basis of his system. What
these critics fail to see is that Russell had other, nonequivalent, criteria of neutrality to work
with. Given these other criteria, the idea of neutrality does not give rise to the phenomenalism
suspicion and the existence of inferred and unexperienced particulars is unproblematical.
The point of this discussion is not to accuse Russell or his critics of being unclear about the
notion of neutrality. Nor is the goal to arbitrate between these (and other possible) notions of
neutrality. The purpose is to draw attention to the fact that a number of disputes centered on
questions such as: Can an unexperienced particular be neutral? Is X really a neutral monist?
When did X embrace/reject neutral monism? are fueled by no more than an insufficiently precise
notion of neutrality. Different criteria of neutrality are available and they yield different results
when applied to a given body of work. A critique of neutral monism that overlooks this point
will hold little interest.

3.3 Identifying the Neutral Entities

The minimal characterization of neutral monism yields limited information about the neutral
elements. One learns that (i) there are neutral elements, and that (ii) mind and matter are
constructible from them. This places certain constraints on what falls into the domain of neutral
entities: it must be neutral and the kind of thing from which mind and matter can be constructed.
The preceding discussion of neutrality has shown that this notion can be spelled out in various
ways, and that the consequences of adopting any one of them will vary according to how the
mind/matter distinction is spelled out.
Sense-dataconsidered as possible candidates for the basic entities of neutral monism
strikingly illustrate this point. Different ways of drawing the mind/matter distinction have placed
sense-data on the side of matter (e.g., Russell, 1914a,b; 1915); on the side of the mind (e.g.,
Frank Jackson, 1977); or on neither side (e.g., H.H. Price, 1932). If these three philosophers were
to help themselves to the first definition of neutralitya basic entity is neutral just in case it is
intrinsically neither mental nor physicalsense data would count as neutral for Price, but
Russell and Jackson would have to deny their neutrality (albeit for different reasons).
The requirement that mental and physical things be constructible from the neutral elements
further narrows down the scope of possible candidates for the basic elements of neutral monism.
Mach, for example, thinks that the basic entities of physics (considered as neutral) could not
serve as the elements of neutral monism because they do not satisfy the constructibility

Notice one thing. While there is no difficulty in building up every physical experience from
sensation, that is mental elements, we can foresee no possibility of representing any mental
experience in terms of elements currently used in physics: i.e., from the masses and motions in
the rigid form that alone is serviceable in that special branch of science. (Mach 1905, 12, fn 7)
Many contemporary philosophers will suspect that Mach got it backwards. For present purposes
it matters not whether Mach or his modern critics are right. Either way, the point illustrates the
claim that certain views about the construction of mind and matter appear to place substantive
limitations on what the basic elements of neutral monism can be.
Similar considerations apply to attempts to construct concrete reality out of abstract objects.
Neutral monists are not the only ones to have attempted this. The materialist Quine, for example,
has proposed to construe physical objects as classes of quadruples of numbers (Quine 1981,
17). One version of neutral monism finds the neutral basis in the domain of abstract objects:
mind and matter are viewed as information structures. Recently Chalmers has explored this idea
in his (Chalmers 1996). But the abstractness of his scheme is limited by the concession that the
information states that make up the world might have to be grounded in protophenomenal
properties. (See the section The Neo-Russellians). Sayre, on the other hand, makes no such
concession. He holds a pure information view according to which both mind and matter are,
ultimately, mathematical structures:
Contrary to current dogma in some quarters that materialism and dualism are the only
ontological options on the horizon, a more plausible alternative from the cybernetic point of view
is some version of neutral monismSayre attempts to articulate a monism in which neither
information-functions [in Shannon's technical sense] of cognitive activity nor probabilistic
functions at the quantum level of matter are further reducible to mental or physical features,
making mathematical (statistical) structures more basic ontologically than either mind or matter.
(Sayre 1996, 312)
Those who fail to see how to construct the concrete out of the abstract will hold that the
constructibility constraint on the neutral entities eliminates proposals along these lines. These are
some of the ways in which the possible domain of neutral entities is limited by such factors as
which criterion of neutrality is chosen, how the mind/matter distinction is drawn, and how the
process of construction is envisioned. But general constraints of this sort do not uniquely specify
a set of neutral entities. Which entities are singled out as the neutral base is, therefore, largely a
matter of the philosophical background assumptions guiding the neutral monist in the process of
theory construction.

4. Background: Realism and Empiricism

Sayre's version of neutral monism is rooted in the Platonic tradition, but the philosophical
background that shapes the development of the mainstream versions of the doctrine is
characterized by two factors: (i) a strong reaction against idealism; (ii) a wholehearted embrace
of empiricism. This shared philosophical background makes for a certain uniformity across the
different versions of neutral monism advocated by Mach, James, the New Realists, and Russell.
This mainstream version of the doctrine finds the neutral elements in the immediate data of

experiencein the given of traditional empiricism. And it construes these given elements of
experience as real and mind-independentin keeping with its anti-idealist or realist bias.
The expression the given, as it is used here, stands for the phenomenal features immediately
presented to us in experience: the tastes, the smells, the colors, the sounds, etc. that experience
(both veridical and nonveridical) acquaints us with. H.H. Price points to these features in the
following well known passage:
When I see a tomato there is much that I can doubt. I can doubt whether it is a tomato that I am
seeing, and not a cleverly painted piece of wax. I can doubt whether there is any material thing
there at all. Perhaps what I took for a tomato was really a reflection; perhaps I am even the
victim of some hallucination. One thing however I cannot doubt: that there exists a red patch of a
round and somewhat bulgy shape, standing out from a background of other colour-patches, and
having a certain visual depth, and that this whole field of colour is directly present to my
consciousness. (Price 1932, 3)
Price's red, bulgy patch is a characteristic example of an element given in experience.
Empiricismthe doctrine that all our concepts and all our knowledge are grounded in
experienceassigns a central role to the given. (For discussions of the given see: Price 1932,
Lewis 1929, Moser 1985, Fales 1996). The idea to identify the neutral elements with the
elements given in experience therefore naturally suggests itself to a neutral monist under the
sway of empiricism. Their realism leads the mainstream neutral monists to construe the given
elements of experience as mind-independent entities. The idealistic view that for these items to
be is to be perceived is rejected as fallacious. There is nothing intrinsically mental about Price's
red patch, nor does the existence of this red patch depend on Price's awareness of it. The patch
can exist prior to Price's awareness of it, and it can continue to exist after Price's attention has
lapsed. Thus the elements given to us in experience are credited with an autonomous existence.
Price's red patchrealistically construedis one of the neutral elements forming ultimate
reality. According to the mainstream version of neutral monism mind and matter are constructs
out of just such entities. This is how the joint operation of the empiricism and the realism that
shape mainstream neutral monism gives rise to its most characteristic claim: that the neutral
elements of being are given to us in experience.
The two sections that follow provide more detail about how empiricism and realismthe two
broad philosophical commitments in which mainstream neutral monism is rootedshape the
doctrine we find in the writings of Mach, James, the American New Realists, and Russell. The
subsequent sections on substance and the ego point to further consequences of the empiricist
point of view adopted by the mainstream neutral monists. The Humean dissolution of substance
together with the abandonment of the ego play an important role in establishing the case for the
neutrality of the given. Another trait of mainstream neutral monism is its embrace of the bundle
theory of concrete particulars (encompassing both persons and other things). This too is a
consequence of the empiricism informing the view. The relationship between neutral monism
and the bundle theory is discussed in the section Objections to Neutral Monisms subsection
Principles of Bundling.

It must be stressed that neutral monism is independent of the realism and empiricism that happen
to have shaped its best known versions. It does not entail them, nor is it entailed by them. The
close historical association of these doctrines makes it very difficult to understand the traditional
versions of neutral monism in isolation from this particular background.

4.1 Neutral Entities and the Given

The influence of a broadly Humean empiricism on the mainstream versions of neutral monism is
profound. The empiricist background is powerfully present in the thinking of the central figures
of neutral monism: Mach, James, and Russell. This basic empiricist stance played a big role in
shaping the doctrines that we now know as neutral monism. It guided the neutral monists to look
to the given in their search for the neutral entities. It encouraged them to deny substance, both
material and mental, thereby allowing them to construe the given in a suitably neutral manner. It
also made it quite natural for them to opt for bundle-theoretic accounts of persons and other
concrete particulars.
Neutral monism insists on the neutrality of the basic entities; nothing is said about their
epistemic accessibility. But a neutral monist who is also an empiricist will tend to search for
neutral entities in a domain that is immediately accessible in experience. The empiricist
sympathies of the neutral monists manifest themselves in their choice of neutral entities. James's
pure experience, Mach's elements, the sensations and images of the earlier Russell, and the
events and percepts of the later Russell are all rooted in the given of the empiricist tradition. In
this way the notion of a neutral entity gets tied up with the idea of immediate accessibility. This
connection between the notions of neutrality and givenness is a pervasive but inessential
ingredient at the core of most neutral monist doctrines.
When James tries to explain the nature of pure experiencethe materia prima of everything
(James 1905b, 138)he always points us to our sensations and feelings. Though he went back
and forth on the question of just how tight the connection between ordinary sensation and pure
experience is, he never broke this connection entirely. Sometimes he holds that it takes a special
state of consciousness to discover pure experience:
Pure experience is the name which I gave to the immediate flux of life which furnishes the
material to our later reflections with its conceptual categories. Only new-born babes, or men in
semi-coma from sleep, drugs, illnesses, or blows, may be assumed to have an experience pure in
the literal sensePure experience in this state is but another name for feeling or sensation.
(James 1905c, 934)
At other times James suggests that pure experience is readily given to us in everyday experience:
Let the reader arrest himself in the act of reading this article now. Now this is a pure experience,
a phenomenon, or datum, a mere that or content of fact. Reading simply is, is there; and
whether there for some one's consciousness, or there for physical nature, is a question not yet
put. At the moment, it is there for neither; later we shall probably judge it to have been there for
both. (James 1905b, 1456)

But at all times he holds that the domain of pure experience is right there, before our eyes, as it
Elements is the term that Mach prefers to use for his neutral entities. Red, green, blue, warm,
cold, etc. are typical examples. Despite the fact that Mach much prefers the less loaded term
elements, he acknowledged that usually, these elements are called sensations (Mach 1886,
22). This is so because our primary way of encountering elements is in the form of sensations:
We only use the additional term sensation to describe the elements, because most people are
much more familiar with the elements in question as sensations (colors, sounds, pressures,
spaces, times, etc.). (Mach 1886, 16)
Mach makes it quite clear that his elementswhether they be sensations or notare to be found
in the given elements of experience:
For me the elements A B C[these are complexes of colors, sounds, and so forth, commonly
called bodies] are immediately and indubitably given, and for me they can never afterwards be
volatilized away by considerations which ultimately are always based on their existence. (Mach
1886, 45)
In Russell's early writings on neutral monism experience is an important source of neutral
entities. Those that are experienced are our sensations and images:
The stuff of the world, so far as we have experience of it, consists, on the view that I am
advocating, of innumerable transient particulars such as occur in seeing, hearing, etc., together
with images more or less resembling theseSensations are what is common to the mental and
physical worlds; they may be defined as the intersection of mind and matter. (Russell 1921, 143
Russell's switch to an event ontology does not break the tight connection between the neutral
entitiesnow understood as eventsand experience. All of the examples he picks to illustrate
his notion of an event are experiences:
Everything in the world is composed of eventsAn event, as I understand itis something
occupying a small finite amount of space-timeWhen I speak of an event I do not mean
anything out of the way. Seeing a flash of lightning is an event; so is hearing a tyre burst, or
smelling a rotten egg, or feeling the coldness of a frog. (Russell 1927b, 222)
And Russell's way of singling out those events that are percepts nicely ties in with the traditional
epistemic claims made on behalf of the given. A percept, he tells us, is what is most indubitable
in our knowledge of the world (Russell 1927b, 105).
This accidental but pervasive association of empiricism with neutral monism explains why most
extant versions of the doctrine locate the neutral elements in experience, in the given. The
attempt to find the neutral basis in the given has one obvious virtue: it makes the neutral
elements into something with which we are intimately acquainted. This blocks the serious worry

that neutral monism is the pointless endeavor of reducing that which is (relatively) well
understoodmind and matterto something unknown and, possibly, unknowable. This way of
familiarizing us with the neutral basis does, however, immediately raise the new (and equally
serious) worry that neutral monism has now become a non-neutral, mental monism. For, surely,
it is obvious that the givenassuming that it is not a mythis as mental (and, therefore, nonneutral) as it gets.
The neutral monists were well aware of this problem and marshaled a number of considerations
in support of the neutrality of the given. First, they argued that the given element in experience is
real, in the sense of being mind independent. Second, and in keeping with their background
empiricism, they mounted an attack on substance, both mental and material. In a world devoid of
mental (and material) substances there is nothing to impart mentality (or materiality) to the given
features of experience. If there are no substances it follows that there is no substantial self. The
arguments directed against a substantive subject (self/ego) yield a third set of considerations in
support of the neutrality of the given. The primary purpose of these attacks is to get rid of
(apparently) irreducibly mental entities and capacities. But these considerations can also serve to
support the thesis of the neutrality of the given.

4.2 Realism about the Given

The turn away from idealism at the begin of the 20th century (pioneered by G.E. Moore, Russell,
and the American New Realists) led to an unconditional embrace of a certain form of realism
about the objects of mental states in general, and the objects of perceptual states in particular.
Realism about these objects amounts to the claim that they are mind-independent: their existence
does not depend on their being the object of a mental act. This realism, accepted by all the
mainstream neutral monists, plays the crucial role of stripping the given of its mentality. This is
the single most important step in shaping the given into a viable source of neutral elements. Note
that this realism is no more part of neutral monism than the empiricism with which it tends to go
hand in hand.
Moore thought that the correct analysis of sensation reveals that the blue, for example, of a
sensation of blue was a real, independent object:
And what my analysis of sensation has been designed to show is, that whenever I have a mere
sensation or idea, the fact is that I am then aware of something which isnot an inseparable
aspect of my experience. The awareness which I have maintained to be included in sensation is
the very same unique fact which constitutes every kind of knowledge: blue is as much an
object, and as little a mere content, of my experience, when I experience it, as the most exalted
and independent real thing of which I am ever awareMerely to have a sensationis to know
something which is as truly and really not a part of my experience, as anything which I can ever
know. (Moore 1903, 27)
According to T.P. Nunnwhose views on this matter influenced Russellcareful introspection
and the plain man support the principle that what is existentially present to the mind in
perception is something extra-mentalsomething that would be as it is in perception even if it
were not perceived. (Nunn 190910, 2023) Russell, not yet converted to neutral monism,

concurs. He holds that the objects that become our sense-data (the notorious sensibilia) are mindindependent:
Logically, a sense-datum is an object, a particular of which the subject is aware. It does not
contain the subject as a partThe existence of the sense-datum is therefore not logically
dependent upon that of the subjectThere is therefore no a priori reason why a particular which
is a sense-datum should not persist after it has ceased to be a datum, nor why other similar
particulars should not exist without ever being data. (Russell 1914a, 146)
Russell's way of making the transition from the nonmentality of the perceptual object to the
neutrality of sensations (or percepts) is traced out in the section Giving up the Ego below. The
quotes by Moore, Nunn and Russell emphasize the nonmentality and the independence of the
object of experience from its being experienced. Perry takes the matter further by insisting that
the independence and the neutrality of the object of experience are readily discernible in
When I attempt to discover the generic character of the contents revealed by introspection, I meet
at once with a most significant fact. Distributively, these contents coincide with other manifolds,
such as nature, history, and the contents of other minds. In other words, in so far as I divide them
into elements, the contents of my mind exhibit no generic character. I find the quality blue, but
this I ascribe also to the book which lies before me on the table; I find hardness, but this I
ascribe also to the physical adamant; or I find number, which my neighbor finds also in his mind.
In other words, the elements of the introspective manifold are in themselves neither peculiarly
mental nor peculiarly mine; they are neutral and interchangeable. (Perry 1912a, 277)
This is the way in which the neutral monists take their sort of realism to open up a window onto
what is subsequently identified as the world of neutral entities. Their inclination to see these
entitiesthe colors, noises, hardnesses, neutral gains additional support from a further
feature of the traditional empiricism they embrace.

4.3 Giving up Substance

Empiricism (of a Humean variety) influences the neutral monists in another significant way. The
elimination of substance, both material and mental, smoothes out the transition from realism to
neutral monism. The items that confront us in perceptionthe colors, sounds, textures, etc.are
best thought of as neutral because there do not exist mental and physical substrata that might
impart mentality or physicality to these items.
According to Humean empiricism the redness one experiences when seeing a tomato cannot be
taken as a physical property of the tomato's material substance; nor can it be taken to be a
modification of the spiritual substance of the perceiving mind. For on this view, neither one of
these substances exists. The redness itself is the primary datum. The tomato and the mind that
perceives it are constructed from such primary data. This is the sense in which the redness is
more fundamental than and neutral between the perceived physical object and the mind that
perceives it.

Mach's rejection of substancein the form of Kant's Ding an sichis not the fruit of his
empiricist philosophy but the direct result of an intuitive vision:
At about the age of fifteen, I lighted, in the library of my father, on a copy of Kant's
Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics. The book made at the time a powerful and ineffaceable
impression upon me, the like of which I never afterwards experienced in any of my philosophical
reading. Some two or three years later the superfluity of the rle played by the thing in itself
abruptly dawned upon me. On a bright summer day in the open air, the world with my ego
suddenly appeared to me as one coherent mass of sensations, only more strongly coherent in the
ego. Although the actual working out of this thought did not occur until a later period, yet this
moment was decisive for my whole view. (Mach 1886, 30)
But in retrospect Mach made his allegiance to Hume quite clear when he says: That my starting
point is not essentially different from Hume's is of course obvious (Mach 1886, 46). Russell's
rejection of material substance dates back to the period before he embraced neutral monism.
Upon adopting neutral monism this skepticism about substance is extended to mental substances.
In an amusing passage the substance philosophy is identified as one of the savage
superstitions of the cannibals (Russell 1956a, 138). Writing in a more sober tone, Russell has
this to say about substance:
The conception of substantial identity with varying properties is embedded in language, in
common sense, and in metaphysics. To my mind, it is useful in practice, but harmful in theory. It
is harmful, I mean, if taken as metaphysically ultimate: what appears as one substance with
changing states should, I maintain, be conceived as a series of occurrences linked together in
some important way. (Russell 1927a, 152)
The neutral monists among the American New Realists were also fully aware of the importance
of this move away from substance. Realists, like Thomas Reid, who did not abandon substance
were accused of having an alliance with substantialism (Perry 1912a, 103). And in reply to
Josiah Royce's claim that realism is fond of substances, of inner or deeper fundamental facts,
and of inaccessible universes Perry tells us that it happens that the realism of the present day
has strong aversions for these sorts of things (Perry 1912a, 103).
The most unforgiving attack on the notion of substance is contained in Joseph Petzoldt's book
Das Weltproblem (1906). The book presents the last 2500 years of philosophy as a long battle
against the pernicious substance concept. After many setbacks (the worst of which was held to be
Kant) the final victory allowed the neutral monist philosophies of Mach and Avenarius to
emerge. (Petzoldt prefers the label Positivism for this position). The confluence of empiricism,
the denial of substance, and the ideas of neutral monism is strikingly illustrated by this work.

4.4 Giving Up the Ego

Russell had given up on material substance long before accepting neutral monism. But his belief
in the substantial self and its mental acts was the main obstacle to his embracing neutral monism.
Reviewing James's Essays in Radical Empiricism he writes:

On ground of the purest empiricism, from mere inspection of experience, I for my part should
hold it obvious that perception is in its intrinsic nature a fact of relation, involving an act as well
as an object. For this reason, I cannot accept James's view, in spite of its very attractive
simplification of the world. (Russell 1912, 574)
But by the time he wrote The Analysis of Mind Russell had changed his mind. Empiricism now
seemed to dictate that the self be given up:
Empirically, I cannot discover anything corresponding to he supposed act; and theoretically I
cannot see that it is indispensable. We say: I think so-and-so, and this word I suggests that
thinking is the act of a person. Meinong's act is the ghost of the subject, or what once was the
full-blooded soul. (Russell 1921, 1718)
Thus he is now free to adopt a neutral monist position. The thought that leads him from the
demise of the self to the neutrality of sensations is interesting. By collapsing what used to be the
purely physical sense-datum with what used to be the purely mental sensory act he arrives at a
new entityunhelpfully called a sensationthat is neutral and can figure in both physical and
mental contexts.
If we are to avoid a perfectly gratuitous assumption, we must dispense with the subject as one of
the actual ingredients of the world. But when we do this, the possibility of distinguishing the
sensation from the sense-datum vanishes; at least I see no way of preserving the distinction.
Accordingly the sensation that we have when we see a patch of colour simply is that patch of
colour, an actual constituent of the physical world, and part of what physics is concerned
withBut it does not follow that the patch of colour is not also psychical, unless we assume that
the physical and the psychical cannot overlap, which I no longer consider a valid assumption. If
we admitas I think we shouldthat the patch of colour may be both physical and psychical,
the reason for distinguishing the sense-datum from the sensation disappears, and we must say
that the patch of colour and our sensation in seeing it are identical. (Russell 1921, 1423)
Looking back on his reasons for adopting neutral monism Russell provides a somewhat simpler
account of the role that the denial of the self played in his thinking:
So long as the subject was retained there was a mental entity to which there was nothing
analogous in the material world, but, if sensations are occurrences which are not essentially
relational, there is not the same need to regard mental and physical occurrences as fundamentally
different. It becomes possible to regard both a mind and a piece of matter as logical constructions
formed out of materials not differing vitally and sometimes actually identical. (Russell 1959,
We find the same empiricism-driven connection between neutral monism and the denial of the
self in Mach's thought. Treating the ego as a real unity, Mach (1886, 28) poses scientific,
epistemic, and ethical problems. When Mach declares that the ego must be given up (Mach
1886, 24), it is this understanding of the ego as a real unity that he has in mind. At the same time
he acknowledges the utility and importance of the ego, understood as a practical unity:

To bring together elements that are most intimately connected with pleasure and pain into one
ideal mental-economical unity, the ego; this is a task of the highest importance for the intellect
working in the service of the pain-avoiding, pleasure-seeking will. (Mach 1886, 23)
But he is quick to point out that the utility of this mental-economical unity is quite limited. In
purely theoretical contexts this notion may prove to be insufficient, obstructive, and untenable
(Mach 1886, 23). Thus Mach's acknowledgment of the limited utility of the ego, understood as a
practical unity, does not change his verdict that the ego must be given up.
James had discarded the substantive self, or the soul, long before he officially embraced his
radical empiricism. In The Principles of Psychology he calls it a complete superfluity (James
1890, 329)unobservable and devoid of explanatory power. Summing up his harsh critique of
the soul he has this to say:
Altogether the Soul is an outbirth of that sort of philosophizing whose great maximis:
Whatever you are totally ignorant of, assert to be the explanation of everything else. (James
1890, 329)
It should not come as a surprise to find the neutral monists engaged in the battle against the ego.
The ego is the single most threatening entity they have to deal with: a purely mental entity,
irreducible to neutral elements. Faithful to the tradition of Humean empiricism, mainstream
neutral monism attempts to circumvent this problem by adopting a bundle-theoretic account of
the self. This opens mainstream neutral monism to all the objections that have been leveled
against the bundle-theoretic account of the self. It is an interesting question whether the bundle
theory of the self is an integral part of mainstream neutral monism, or just another accidental
historical accretion that can easily be discarded, should it prove troublesome. (see the section
Objections to Neutral Monism subsection Principles of Bundling).

5. Reduction and Construction

5.1 What Is it to Reduce?
Neutral monism was introduced as a form of reductionism. But a quick glance at neutral monist
writings yields many passages that sound unabashedly eliminativist. Here is a sampling. Mach:
Both [object and ego] are provisional fictions of the same kind. (Mach 1905, 9). Russell:
What I wish to dois to re-state the relations of mind and brain in terms not implying the
existence of either (Russell 1956a, 135). Avenarius: What I know is neither physical nor
mental but only some third kind of thing. (Approvingly quoted in (Mach 1905, 13)). James: It
seems to me that the hour is ripe for it [consciousness] to be openly and universally discarded
(James 1904b, 3). But these statements are misleading. The project is not to radically redraw the
boundaries of our concepts. It is not being suggested that the concepts mind, matter, belief,
desire, self, etc. fail to carve nature at her joints. The reconstructed concepts map onto the old
ones. The difference is one of metaphysical depth only. Mach's declaration, say, that the ego is
irredeemable, is directed only against Cartesian dualism and, to use Dennett's illuminating term,
Cartesian materialism. Humean bundle selves are in no danger. And James would be surprised to

learn how literally his advice to discard consciousness has been taken by some contemporary
philosophers. He was merely urging us to adopt a relational definition of consciousness.
Even if it is granted that the proponents of neutral monism did not intend it as a form of
eliminativism, the worry that it is eliminativist may persist. All reductionist doctrines give rise to
this suspicion, as is evidenced by the ongoing debate about the place of the mind in reductive
materialism. At the end of the day the reductive materialist hopes to be able to describe and
explain the world in purely physical terms. The neutral monist has an analogous vision that in a
completed science, the word mind and the word matter would both disappear, and would be
replaced by causal laws concerning events (Russell 1927b, 226). This vividly raises the
question how the distinction between explaining and explaining away is to be drawn. Some have
argued that the boundary between reductionism and eliminativism a merely pragmatic matter.
But it must be noted that the difficulties that neutral monism encounters on this front are no
different from those that any reductionist doctrine has to face.
The neutral monists have employed various more or less clearly articulated strategies for the
construction or reduction of mental and physical entities. Most neutral monists will agree with
Sayre when he says that neither conceptual analysis nor empirical inquiry can establish the truth
of neutral monism. Instead Sayre opts for a version of the best explanation strategy, here
illustrated in its application to mental phenomena:
The appropriate tactic, I believe, rather is to offer the thesis as an explication of how perceptual
consciousness ought to be understood in the context of inquiry, and by way of support to show
that commonly recognized features of perception gain intelligibility when conceived in terms of
these informational processes. (Sayre 1976, 156)
Mainstream neutral monism starts out with the system of neutral elementsMach imagines it as
a viscous mass, at certain places (as in the ego) more firmly coherent than in others. (Mach
1886, 17) To say that a physical object or an ego exists in this system is to say that certain of the
system's elements are interconnected in certain characteristic ways. These functional element
complexes exhibit many of the important features of the physical objects and the selves of our
commonsense ontology. Thus the commonsense ontology of physical objects and selves finds its
place in the world of neutral monism. But Mach makes it clear that this constitutes only a partial
vindication of the ontology of commonsense. The scientist must transcend this superficial
ontological scheme and investigate the functional interconnections of the elements themselves.
Russell's notion of a logical construction originated in his work on mathematical logic. But he
argues that it is of quite general philosophical significance. He calls it the supreme maxim of
scientific philosophizing and formulates it as follows: Wherever possible, logical
constructions are to be substituted for inferred entities. (Russell 1914b, 149) A somewhat fuller
explanation of the method governing constructions reads as follows:
Given a set of propositions nominally dealing with the supposed inferred entities, we observe the
properties which are required of the supposed entities in order to make these propositions true.
By dint of a little logical ingenuity, we then construct some logical function of less hypothetical
entities which has the requisite properties. This constructed function we substitute for the

supposed inferred entities, and thereby obtain a new and less doubtful interpretation of the body
of propositions in question. (Russell 1914b, 150)
Prior to his conversion to neutral monism Russell argued that physical objects are constructions
out of sense-data. Upon accepting neutral monism he rejected sense-data. But the project of
construction became even more ambitious: both physical and mental objects are now understood
as constructions out of neutral elements.
The handful of examples of neutral monistic reduction sketches presented in the next two
sections may not inspire confidence. In fact, it may seem that the neutral monist reductive project
is hopeless. For it poses harder problems than those that have remained unsolved by materialistic
or idealistic versions of reductionism. Their respective starting points at least guarantee that the
job of accounting for the world is half done before it is even begun. The neutral monist, on the
other hand, starts with somethingthe neutral entitiesthat is less well understood than either
matter or mind, and neither matter nor mind may be assumed at the outset of the construction.
But a less bleak assessment of the situation is possible. Neutral monism's reductive rivals have
also had limited success. The neutral monist can explain this. Idealism and materialism start from
familiar but faulty conceptions of mind and matter. This negates the alleged head-start that these
reductionisms enjoy over neutral monism. More importantly, it explains why certain reductions
are not forthcoming. Take the hard problem of consciousness (Chalmers 1996), for example.
The neutral monist holds that the intractability of this problem is due to the faulty conception of
matter assumed in the materialistic framework. The difficult question how matter can produce a
sensation with intrinsic qualitative character does not even arise for the neutral monist. Matter
does not cause sensations. Matter is, instead, to be understood as a complex of particulars among
which there can be sensationsas Mach laconically puts it: Bodies do not produce sensations,
but complexes of elements (complexes of sensations) make up bodies (Mach 1886, 29). It is
true that the actual constructions of matter and mind may still be lacking. But at least the neutral
monist framework is one that makes these constructions possible.

5.2 Reduction of the Mental

Among the mental items that have received particular attention in the neutral monist literature
are consciousness (Holt 1914, James 1904b, Sayre 1976), knowledge (James 1904a, 1904b), the
emotions (James 1905, Russell 1921) the will (Russell 1921), belief (Russell 1921), and, most of
all, the self (James 1912, Mach 1886, Russell 1921). Not all writers emphasize the same topics;
but there is broad agreement about the mental targets for neutral monistic reduction.
Russell's Analysis of Mind is the most sustained attempt to present neutral monistic accounts of
mental phenomena. According to Russell, belief is the central problem in the analysis of mind.
It is the most mental thing we do, the thing most remote from what is done by mere matter
(Russell 1921, 231). A successful analysis must display it as composed solely of neutral
elements. Here is how Russell sums up his proposed analysis:
(a) We have a proposition, consisting of interrelated images, and possibly partly of sensations;
(b) we have the feeling of assent, which is presumably a complex sensation demanding analysis;

(c) we have a relation, actually subsisting, between the assent and the proposition, such as is
expressed by saying that the proposition in question is what is assented to. (Russell 1921, 251)
James devotes considerable attention the analysis of knowledge. He considers the case in which
he is thinking of (or imagining) Memorial Hall and raises the question what it would take for this
to be case of knowledge. He proposes the following answer:
If I can lead you to the hall, and tell you of its history and present uses; if in its presence I feel
my idea, however imperfect it may have been, to have led hither and to be now terminated; if the
associates of the image and of the felt hall run parallel, so that each term of the one context
corresponds serially, as I walk, with an answering term of the others; why then my soul was
prophetic, and my idea must be, and by common consent would be, called cognizant of reality.
(James 1904a, 5556)
James uses this example to illustrate one typical form of cognitiona situation involving two
pieces of actual experience belonging to the same subject, with definite tracts of conjunctive
transitional experience between them (James 1904a, 53). In this setting the first experience
functions as conceptual knowledge about the object represented by the second experience.
James's provides the following description of this sort of cognitive relation:
It consists in intermediary experiences (possible, if not actual) of continuously developing
progress, and, finally, of fulfillment, when the sensible percept, which is the object, is reached.
The percept here not only verifies the concept, proves its function of knowing that percept to be
true, but the percept's existence as the terminus of the chain of the intermediaries creates the
function. Whatever terminates that chain was, because it now proves itself to be, what the
concept had in mind. (James 1904a, 601)
The primary target for neutral monistic reduction is the ego. For it promises to be the most
reduction-resistant among the many mental items awaiting neutral monistic reconstruction. In
keeping with the empiricist background, one finds mainstream neutral monists embracing some
version of the bundle theory of the self. Mach states his view as follows:
The primary fact is not the ego, but the elements (sensations)The elements constitute the I. I
have the sensation green, signifies that the element green occurs in a given complex of other
elements (sensations, memories). When I cease to have the sensation green, when I die, then the
elements no longer occur in the ordinary, familiar association. That is all. Only and ideal mentaleconomical unity, not a real unity, has ceased to exist. (Mach 1886, 2324)
James's writings on radical empiricism only contain brief passages on the self. He maintains that
we can experience a peculiarly intimate relation that holds between terms that form states of
mind, and are immediately conscious of continuing each other (James 1904a, 45). The self can
then be understood in terms of this relation:
The organization of the Self as a system of memories, purposes, strivings, fulfillments or
disappointments, is incidental to this most intimate of all relations, the terms of which seem in
many cases actually to compenetrate and suffuse each other's being. (James 1904a, 45)

James's detailed account of a no-self theory of the self is contained in The Principles of
Psychology, dating back to his pre-neutral monist phase. Any bundle theorist, neutral monistic or
otherwise, would be well advised to mine the resources James provides there. James is quite
critical of the associationist accounts along Humean lines and attempts to take the account
significantly further.

5.3 Reduction of the Physical

There is some measure of consensus about the mental targets of reduction. It is less clear what
the appropriate physical candidates are. Much of the discussion is devoted to the concept of
matter. Many of the more concrete examples are taken from what Ryle calls medium sized dry
goods. But this focus on macro entities raises the question of the place of the microphysical
entities in neutral monism. The neutral monists are divided on this question. Mach famously
rejected unobservable entities and so saw no need to reconstruct them logically. But in Russell's
hands the theoretical entities of physics become he prime targets of reduction. This change of
focus is a symptom of profound reorientation of the whole neutral monistic project.
The following discussion begins by presenting two versions of the model of construction
employed by mainstream neutral monism. Both versions of this model suggest that observable
macro objects are the natural target of neutral monistic reduction. It closes with a more detailed
look at Russell's version of neutral monism and shows that the adoption of a different model of
construction forms an important step in Russell's tendency to identify the micro particles of
physics as the primary objects of neutral monistic reduction.
The neutral monism of Mach, James, and the American New Realists is epistemically motivated:
the aim was to break out from behind the curtain of sense-data (or ideas) and to allow the mind
direct access to the external things. This was achieved by classifying the given elements of
experience as neutral entities out of which the knowing mind and the known object where then to
be constructed. In the ideal case a particular neutral element would do double duty: the neutral
red patch would function as the color of the apple and as the sensation of the observer. On this
conception, the apple ends up being a construction of (at least) all of its appearancesits
redness, roundness, bulginess, taste, fragrance, etc. This is the sort of picture suggest by the
following passage from Mach: thing, body, matter, are nothing apart from the combinations of
the elements,the colors, sounds, and so forthnothing apart from their so-called attributes
(Mach 1886, 7). James presents a slightly more elaborate picture:
This pen, for example, is, in the first instance, a bald that, a datum, fact, phenomenon, content,
or whatever other neutral or ambiguous name you may prefer to apply. I called it a pure
experience. To get classified either as a physical pen or as someone's percept of a pen, it must
assume a function, and that can only happen in a more complicated world. So far as in that world
it is a stable feature, holds ink, marks paper and obeys the guidance of a hand, it is a physical
pen. That is what we mean by being physical, in a pen. (James 1905d, 1234)
James and Mach agree that the pen, considered as a physical object, consists of just the
properties it appears to have: it is the complex made up of a color, a shape, a texture, etc. But this
simple model leads to problems. An apple that presents a red appearance to one observer and a

shiny white appearance to another observer will suffer from an overcrowding of colors on its
surface. This sort of problem is addressed by Russell's more sophisticated account (dating back
to the time before his conversion to neutral monism). Russell locates the appearances out of
which the apple is constructed not at the place where the apple is, but at the places of the
observers to whom they appear. He uses the term perspective for the places at which the apple
presents an appearance. Many appearances will be available at a given perspective, viz.,
appearances of all the objects that are visible from that place. Employing this terminology of
perspectives, he provides the following instructions for the construction of the apple:
By the similarity of neighbouring perspectives, many objects in the one can be correlated with
objects in the other, namely with the similar objects. Given an object in one perspective, form the
system of all the objects correlated with it in all the perspectives; that system may be identified
with the momentary common-sense thing. Thus an aspect of a thing is a member of the
system of aspects which is the thing at that momentAll the aspects of a thing are real,
whereas the thing is a merely logical construction. (Russell 1914a, 96)
This alleviates the overcrowding problem: the red appearance and the shiny white appearance are
now no longer competing for the same spacethey each reside at the perspectives of the
observers to which they respectively present themselves. Assuming that no two observers can
occupy the same perspective, there is now enough room for all the colors the thing appears to
have. This proposal significantly changes the commonsense conception of a physical object, but
it does preserve the epistemic vision that motivated neutral monism in the first place: the mind
enjoys direct access to the physical worldknowledge and its object are one.
The characteristic feature of the of this construction procedure is that it gathers up into one object
the spatially scattered appearances of the object they are said to constitute. A particular oddity to
this way of proceeding is that the groups that are physical objects are hollowthe apple
presents apple-appearances all around it but it does not present such appearances where it is, i.e.,
in the region occupied by the apple. This central region may be as small as an electron or as
large as a star (Russell 1927a, 217). It is this feature of the view that critics such as A.O.
Lovejoy have in mind when they call Russell's view centrifugal realism (Lovejoy 1930, 203)
according to which all material thingsare built around holes (Lovejoy 1930, 198). Russell
happily acknowledged this consequence of his view and expressed in such slogans as: Matter
is a convenient formula for describing what happens where it isn't (Russell 1927b, 126).
Russell never abandons this construction procedure. But in his later works on neutral monism he
introduces a second construction procedure that amounts to a complete reversal of his earlier
model. The characteristic feature of second construction procedure is that it gathers up into one
object the events that are at the place that is occupied by the object they are said to constitute.
The first procedurethe distal modelrelies exclusively on construction materials that are not
locally available: the regular appearances of the object at all the different places at which it
appears; the second procedurethe proximal modelrelies exclusively on construction
materials that are locally available: the eventsamong which there are appearances of all the
different objects appearing thereoccurring at the place occupied by the object. It might be said
that the hole at the center of an object, distally construed, is the whole of the same object,

proximally construed. The slogan that Russell uses to characterize the proximal model is this:
The matter in a place is all the events that are there (Russell 1927a, 385).
Two factors explain the introduction of the proximal model. First, Russell had previously used
this sort of construction successfully in other areas. He constructs points (in space and in time)
out of groups of overlapping (or compresent) events. (Russell 1914a; he still uses the same
method in Russell 1927a and Russell 1948). Thus the strategy of constructing something out of
locally available particulars rather than out of far-flung appearances was well-established method
by the time he turns to neutral monism. Second, the version of neutral monism defended in The
Analysis of Mind does not provide a satisfactory account of sensations or experiences, i.e., of
those appearances that are actually enjoyed by a subject. Physical objects are constructions out of
their regular appearances, i.e., appearances undistorted by any intervening medium, such as fog,
colored glass, eyes and optic nerves. Hence sensations, which are irregular appearances of the
perceived physical object, are no part of it. That means that one's sensation of a red apple is not
part of the apple. And since this red apple sensation is not a regular appearance of any other
physical object either, it is not part of any physical object. The same holds true of all sensations.
So Russell's claim that sensations are what is common to the mental and physical worlds; they
may be defined as the intersection of mind and matter (Russell 1921, 144) is untenable. And the
place of sensations in the physical world remains a mystery. (Woodfield 1990 raises this problem
in an interesting way). The introduction of the proximal construction principle addresses this
problem. The causal theory of perception places sensations (or percepts, as they are later called)
into the brain of the perceiver. And according to the proximal model, the physical entities that
make up the brain are to be construed out of locally available particulars, among which are the
percepts. Thus the red apple percept finally finds a physical home, viz., the physical entity in the
percipient's brain which it helps to constitute (proximally). Invoking the proximal model of
construction, Russell asks: What sort of a group is [the electron]? and answers Obviously it
includes all the events that happen where the electron is (Russell 1927a, 3201). Bringing this
thought to bear on the question of the place of percepts in the brain, he writes:
While its [the brain's] owner was alive, part, at least, of the contents of his brain consisted of his
percepts, thoughts, and feelings. Since his brain also consisted of electrons, we are compelled to
conclude that an electron is a grouping of events, and that, if the electron is in a human brain,
some of the events composing it are likely to be some of the mental states of the man to whom
the brain belongs. (Russell 1927a, 320)
This is the path that leads Russell to consider the theoretical particles of physics as the primary
targets for neutral monistic construction.
The question whether the distal and the proximal models of construction can coherently coexist
is interesting, but Russell never addresses the issue. A neutral monist of Russell's persuasion may
be best served by abandoning the distal model altogether. The proximal model provides a
strategy for constructing the micro particles of physics. In the special case of the particles that
make up one's brain one is familiar with intrinsic nature of the particulars that enter into the
construction of the physical micro particles. In this unique case one is afforded an inside view of
matter. As to the intrinsic nature of the rest of the micro particles, one can only speculate. All
macroscopic physical objects are composed of physical micro particles. Contrary to the original

intent of mainstream neutral monism, macrophysical objects are not subject to neural monistic
construction, i.e., they are not to be understood as constructions out of appearances according to
the distal model. This view about the physical world combines physical reductionismof the
macrophysical to the microphysicalwith neutral monistic reductionism about the
microphysical. Every physical thing is composed of microphysical entities which are
constructions out of percepts and other neutral particulars.
This shift in the physical objects that are the targets of neutral monistic reductionthe shift from
the distal reduction of macrophysical objects to the proximal reduction of microphysical
objectsconstitutes a radical reversal of the original epistemic vision that inspired mainstream
neutral monism. This issue is taken up in the section Philosophical Applications subsection
Russell's Internalism.

6. Arguments for Neutral Monism

In the eyes of its proponents, the case for neutral monism rests in the way in which it combines a
number of virtues. It is a view of great ontological simplicity. Those who, like Russell and Mach,
praise ontological parsimony highly, are powerfully attracted to it. It is a view in which there is
no room for questionable metaphysical entities such as things-in-themselves or souls. The more
positivistically inclined among the neutral monistsMach, Avenarius, Petzoldtsaw this as a
great virtue. It is a view that, according to its champions, provides satisfying solutions to some of
the perennial philosophical problems. James, for example, believes that it does finally explain
how we can gain knowledge of the external world. And Russell thinks that it affords a
complete solution to the mind-body problem. It is a view that appears to be in tune with what
physics and psychology tell us about matter and mindthis is a point that Russell emphasized. It
is a view that provides a philosophical basis equally suitable for physical and psychological
research. Mach emphasized this point. And it is a view that fits naturally with the philosophical
background assumptionsempiricism and realismshared by all of the mainstream neutral
The neutral monists were much more interested in advertising and (to some extent)
demonstrating these virtues than in (i) constructing arguments to the effect that neutral monism
must be, or is, or probably is, or might be the true philosophy; and (ii) formulating arguments
against all the competing views. In part this may reflect the fact that the neutral monist literature
remained small, never got much beyond the programmatic stage, and did not draw large amounts
of criticism. And in part it may have to do with the peculiarity of some of its leading
philosophers. Mach did not much care to engage the philosophers and always emphasized that he
was not one of them. James, a friend of big pictures and philosophical visions, was not unduly
troubled by philosophical minutiae. And Russellwhile no stranger to argumentative precision
and philosophical controversywas primarily concerned to provide clear statements of the view,
as he felt that he had been almost universally misunderstood (Russell 1959, 12).
The list or arguments for neutral monism therefore consist, for the most part, in a list of it's
theoretical virtues and of the philosophical promises it held out.

6.1 Suggested by the Development of Physics and Psychology

Russell liked to motivate neutral monism by observing that physics was making matter look less
material while psychology was making mind more material. Neutral monism explains these
developments. Here is how he puts it in the Preface to The Analysis of Mind:
The view that seems to me to reconcile the materialistic tendency of psychology with the antimaterialistic tendency of physics is the view of William James and the American New Realists,
according to which the stuff of the world is neither mental nor material, but a neutral stuff,
out of which both are constructed. (Russell 1921, 6)

6.2 Philosophy of Physics

Russell argues that the abstractness of modern physics makes it difficult to see how there could
be perceptual evidence for physics. What is needed is an interpretation of physics which gives a
due place to perceptions; if not, we have no right to appeal to the empirical evidence (Russell
1927a, 7). Here is how Russell sets out the challenge for himself:
We shall seek to construct a metaphysics of matter which shall make the gulf between physics
and perception as small, and the inferences involved in the causal theory of perception as little
dubious, as possible. We do not want the percept to appear mysteriously at the end of a causal
chain composed of events of a totally different nature; if we can construct a theory of the
physical world which makes its events continuous with perception, we have improved the
metaphysical status of physics, even if we cannot prove more than that our theory is possible.
(Russell 1927a, 275)
In Russell's view, neutral monism rises to this challenge. This does not prove it correct, but it is a
strong argument in its favor.

6.3 Unity of Science

The main reason that is usually cited for Mach's adoption of neutral monism has to do with
considerations of the economy and unity of science. He famously says:
I make no pretensions to be a philosopher. I only seek to adopt in physics a point of view that
need not be left behind when one looks into the domain of another science. For they all should
form one whole, after all. (Mach 1886, 30. My translation)
Mach does not question that the traditional notions of body, mind, ego, etc. have their uses in the
limited domains for which they were created. For, unquestionably, every form of thought that
has been designedly or undesignedly constructed for a given purpose, possesses for that purpose
a permanent value (Mach 1886, 32). But when different disciplines come into contact with each
other new conceptual instruments are called for:
When, however, physics and psychology meet, the ideas held in the one domain prove to be
untenable in the other. From the attempt at mutual adaptation arise the various atomic and
monadistic theorieswhich, however, never attain their end. If we regard sensationsas the
elements of the world, the problems referred to appear to be disposed of in all essentials, and the

first and most important adaptation to be consequently effected. This fundamental viewcan at
present be adhered to in all fields of experience; it is consequently the one that accommodates
itself with the least expenditure of energy, that is, more economically than any other, to the
present temporary collective state of knowledge. (Mach 1886, 32)
This passage introduces another theme that played a central role in Mach's philosophy of
sciencethe principle of economy. It is closely related to the notion of parsimony which has
been a dominant role in Russell's thought.

6.4 Parsimony
Russell's supreme maxim of scientific philosophising (Russell 1914b, 149)another
formulation of which is Wherever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for
inferences to unknown entities (Russell 1924, 326)succinctly expresses the ideas that are
known as parsimony principles, principles of economy, or Occam's razor. Neutral monism can
be seen as a paradigm instance of this striving for parsimony. Upon finally accepting the neutral
monism, Russell tells us that this view is very attractive, and I have made great endeavours to
believe it (Russell 1919, 299). The value of this sort of economy is more than purely aesthetic.
Russell provides the following rationale for his principle: substituting propositions that do not
contain inferred entities for ones that do saves one (fallible) inferential step. The value of
employing constructions thus consist in an epistemic gain:
This is an economy, because entities with neat logical properties are always inferred, and if the
propositions in which they occur can be interpreted without making this inference, the ground for
this inference fails, and our body of propositions is secured against the need of a doubtful step.
(Russell 1924, 326)
The immense simplification (Russell 1959, 1034) afforded by neutral monism therefore
supports it on two counts: its makes neutral monism ontologically simpler and epistemologically
less risky than its rivals.

7. Objections to Neutral Monism

7.1 Not Neutral but Mental
The type of objection most frequently raised against neutral monism expresses the suspicion that
it is a mental, not a neutral, monism. The allegedly neutral elements are taken to be either wholly
or partially mental. This concern is stated in different ways. It is said, for example, that neutral
monism is a form of (Berkeleian) idealism, of phenomenalism, or of panpsychism. Commenting
on Mach (and Avenarius and Petzoldt), Lenin put the point this way:
No evasions, no sophisms (a multitude of which we shall yet encounter) can remove the clear
and indisputable fact that Ernst Mach's doctrine that things are complexes of sensations is
subjective idealism and a simple rehash of Berkeleianism. (Lenin 1909, 34)
And, for once, Karl Popper agrees with Lenin:

I do not think that [neutral monism] is a satisfactory theory. Its allegedly neutral elements are
only called neutral: they are, unavoidably, mental; and so is, clearly, the procedure of the
construction of physical objects. Thus neutral monism is so only in name. In fact, it is a
subjective idealism, very much in the Berkeleyan manner. (Popper/Eccles 1977, 199)
Recently Thomas Nagel has added his voice to this chorus. After expressing his sympathy with
the general idea of neutral monism, he concludes that this is too much like reducing the physical
to the mental (Nagel 200, 210). A number of the neo-Russellians (see the section Neutral
Monism and the Neo-Russellians) cite phenomenalism as a reason for distancing themselves
from Russell's neutral monism. Strawson tells us that when Russell adopts the name neutral
monism for his own view he seems too mean something very peculiar (and phenomenalistic)
by it. (Strawson 1994, 97) Herbert Feigl and Maxwell embrace the Russell of The Analysis of
Matter who, according to them, has abandoned neutral monism. Maxwell says that none of the
usual (phenomenalistic) senses of the term neutral monism apply to Russell's later work.
(Maxwell 1976, 354) Feigl states that the data upon which the [neutral monistic] construction is
based turn out to be items of immediate experience (sentience) and are thus mental after all
(Feigl 1958, 426). But by the time Russell writes The Analysis of Matter he has left behind his
early positivistic, phenomenalistic or neutrally monistic views (Feigl 1975, 267). And
Chalmers thinks that Russell's version of neutral monism raises the threat of panpsychism
(Chalmers 1996, 154) and might best be seen as a version of idealism (Chalmers 1996, 155). It
seems, then, that sympathizers and critics of neutral monism agree that there is nothing neutral
about neutral monism. The neutrality label only hides that fact that the monism in question is a
mentalistic one.
The mentalism suspicion has two (connected) sources. The alleged neutrality of the elements is
questioned, first, because it is thought that the elements cannot exist outside of minds; second,
because it is thought that they are intrinsically mental. The labels the neutral monists chose for
their elementsappearance, sensation, percept, pure experiencedo nothing to defuse
these concerns. And many of the things they have said about their neutral base of elements do
suggest that the mentality suspicion is justified.
Existence in the Mind?
I begin by briefly discussing how Mach, James and Russell fare with respect to the first
problemthe worry that the particulars at the basis of their systems can only exist in minds.
Mach is hard to pin down on general metaphysical questions of this nature. As a self-declared
non-philosopher, he does not seriously engage these sorts of questions. Here is a typical passage
in which he speaks with irony about the -isms so beloved by the philosophers:
All kinds of current popular views have been comfortably read into my words; I have been
accused of idealism, Berkeleyanism, even of materialism, and other -isms, of all of which I
believe myself to be innocent. (Mach 1886, 48)
It is probably best to think of him, anachronistically, as a Carnapian, as someone who is happy to
use whatever language is convenient for the job at hand, without thereby committing himself
to any metaphysical consequences. Winding up a discussion about the different goals and

assumptions embodied in the dualistic world picture of commonsense, a narrowly focused

scientific investigation, and the all encompassing sort of picture that he is trying to develop,
Mach writes:
Nothing will be changed in the actual facts or in the functional relations, whether we regard all
the data as contents of consciousness, or partially so, or as completely physical. The biological
task of science is to provide the fully developed human individual with as perfect a means of
orientating himself as possible. No other scientific ideal can be realized, and any other must be
meaningless. (Mach 1886, 367)
The point seems to be that anything goes, metaphysically speaking, so long as the enterprise
serves our goal of successfully navigating the world. Consequently it appears that the charge of
insufficient neutralitymostly articulated as the charge of phenomenalism or idealismis not
justified when directed against Mach. His neutrality extends across the various -isms of
which he is allegedly guilty.
Is there pure experience outside of all minds? James gives us two answers: a clear
methodological one and an obscure metaphysical one. Speaking about the method of radical
empiricism he has this to say:
The principle of pure experience is also a methodological postulate. Nothing shall be admitted as
fact, it says, except what can be experienced at some definite time by some experient; and for
every feature of fact ever so experienced, a definite place must be found somewhere in the final
system of reality. In other words: Everything real must be experienceable somewhere, and every
kind of thing experienced must somewhere be real. (James 1904c, 160)
James makes it clear that this methodological maxim is not intended as a claim about what there
is. In addressing the questions whether radical empiricism precludes the possibility of (a)
something unexperienced and (b) action of experience upon a noumenon he says:
My reply is: Assuredly not the possibility of eitherhow could it? Yet in my opinion we should
be wiseto restrict our universe of philosophical discourse to what is experienced or, at least,
experienceable. (James 1906, 243)
While refusing to entertain the hypothesis of trans-empirical reality at all (James 1905e, 195)
the Jamesian radical empiricist remains open to the possibility of a noumenal realm. But the
nature of this trans-empirical reality remains unclear. Is it made up of pure experiencesuch
portions of pure experience, presumably, as are neither experienced nor experienceable by
anybody? James's claim that pure experience is the materia prima of everything (James
1905b, 138) suggests as much. But James remains frustratingly elusive on the topic. Without a
clear answer to the question whether there is or can be pure experience outside of all minds, the
suspicion that James's neutral monism is really a form of idealism or phenomenalism cannot be
laid to rest.
The view that Russell's neutral elements are mentalin the sense of being confined to an
existence in he mindis quite popular and quite wrong. Its endorsement by such figures as W.T.

Stace (1946), A.J. Ayer (1971), and Feigl (1975) has given it considerable authority. But all of
Russell's work on neutral monism bears out the falsity of this view. In Russell's later work on
neutral monism (The Analysis of Matter and later works) the emphasis on mind-independence is
most glaringly obvious. Hence the critics who accuse him of phenomenalism are given to
interpret this work as a revolutionary (and welcome) change in his philosophy, amounting to an
abandonment of neutral monism. The mistaken view that Russell's earlier neural monism is
phenomenalistic naturally leads to this mistaken diagnosis of the development of his
philosophical views. Here is how Lockwood sums up his careful and persuasive rebuttal of the
phenomenalism suspicion:
Not only does no part o the definition of neutral monism in any way require that it be even quasiphenomenalistic, there is no phase in Russell's intellectual development at which he would
simultaneously have considered himself a neutral monist and any kind of phenomenalist at all.
Neutral monism and phenomenalism are both logically independent and, in the history of
Russell's thought, temporarily non-overlapping doctrines. (Lockwood 1981, 152)
The phenomenalism suspicion surfaced early, and Russell tried to set the record straight:
I have never called myself a phenomenalist, but I have no doubt sometimes expressed myself as
though this were my view. In fact, however, I am not a phenomenalist. For practical purposes, I
accept the truth of physics, and depart from phenomenalism so far as may be necessary for
upholding the truths of physics. (Russell 1922, 480)
Similar statements are scattered throughout all of his later works. But neither the antiphenomenalistic spirit of his neutral monism, nor his explicit disavowals of phenomenalism have
managed to take the wind out of the sails of the phenomenalism suspicion. A different, and
interesting, question concerns the quality of Russell's anti-phenomenalistic arguments and the
legitimacy of his anti-phenomenalistic assumptions. But these questions rarely take center stage
when it is stated that Russell's neutral monism is just a version of phenomenalism. For the most
part, the accusations seem to rest on the (admittedly very misleading) terminology that Russell
employs in stating his views. Statements like a thing just is the collection of its appearances do
indeed sound like the purest phenomenalism. But this impression vanishes without a trace once
Russell's idiosyncratic use of appearance is understood.
The use of the problematical terms appearance, sensation, percept, and pure experience
may well be the main source of the enduring appeal of the critic's conviction that the neutral
elements are confined to an existence in the mind. For the logic of these notions seems to require
a subject: appearances appear to someone; sensations, percepts, and experiences (pure or
otherwise) are always, and necessarily, owned by some subject or other. This poses two
problems. First, it seems to introduce a mental subjecta mental entity that owns these
experiences, percepts, etc. Second, if all of the monist's elements are mental, in the sense of
having to exist in a mind, then the resulting monism is mental, not neutral. Hume's bundle theory
of the selfembraced by all of the neutral monists in the empiricist traditionis an attempt to
answer the first problem. The owner of an experience is thereby reduced to a bundle of other
experiences. This gets around the need for an irreducibly mental owner of experience. But this
reconstruction of the subject does not afford a solution to the second problem. It still might be

true that every element must reside in a mind, albeit a mere bundle-mind. Again it was Hume
who showed how to address this second problem. He boldly proclaimed the independence of
All [particular perceptions] are different, and distinguishable, and separable from each other, and
may be separately consider'd, and may exist separately, and have no need of any thing to support
their existence. (Hume 1739, 252)
Following Hume's lead, the neutral monists adopted the following strategy: deny that
appearances or the given need a subject and maintain that the given is subjectless. We find this
idea explicitly endorsed in Mach and Russell. It also plays a prominent role in the ensuing
positivist tradition. Even before Russell rejected the ego and embraced neutral monism he
endorses the possibility of free floating appearances. These were the unsensed sensibilia of his
earlier system. Such free floating appearancesappearances that are not appearances for
anybodywould, for example, occur in a zombie:
Ifper impossibilethere were a complete human body with no mind inside it, all those
sensibilia would exist, in relation to that body, which would be sense-data if there were a mind in
the body. (Russell 1914b, 144)
But free floating appearances are not confined to the heads of the mindless. Any place from
which a given object could be perceived if an observer were present there contains an appearance
of that object. So appearances are not only independent of the minds that might be aware of
them; they are also independent of the sensory mechanisms that usually serve them up to
conscious minds:
It may be thought monstrous to maintain that a thing can present any appearances at all in a place
where no sense organs and nervous structure exist through which it could appear. I do not myself
feel the monstrosity. (Russell 1914b, 152)
By the time he writes The Analysis of Mind, Russell makes it clear that appearance is merely a
shorthand for a more general notion that has no built-in reference to a subject:
When I speak of appearances, I do so only for brevity: I do not mean anything that must
appear to somebody, but only that happening, whatever it may be, which is connected, at the
place in question, with a given physical objectaccording to the old orthodox theory, it would
be a transverse vibration in the ther. (Russell 1921, 101)
The decision to give up the (substantial) ego and to replace it with a construction of given
elements requires one to embrace the thesis of the subjectlessness of the given. The given is then
viewed as logically prior to any subject to whom it may be given, notwithstanding the
grammatical suggestion to the contrary that the term given carries with it. The thesis that the
given does not have a first-person ontology (John Searle's term) played a central part in the
ensuing positivist/empiricist tradition. It features prominently in Rudolf Carnap's Aufbau. He

The basis could also be described as the given, but we must realize that this does not presuppose
somebody or something to whom the given is given. (Carnap 1928, 102)
In section 65 of the same workentitled The Given Does Not Have a Subjecthe goes on to
develop this thesis at some length. And Moritz Schlick presents this thesis as a core tenet of any
true positivism:
The strongest emphasis should be laid on the fact that primitive experience is absolutely neutral
or, as Wittgenstein has occasionally put it, that immediate data have no ownerthe genuine
positivist denies (with Mach etc.) that original experience has that quality or status,
characteristic of all given experience, which is indicated by the adjective first personTo see
that primitive experience is not first-person experience seems to me to be one of the most
important steps which philosophy must take towards the clarification of its deepest problems.
(Schlick 1936, 4723)
For Mach the importance of the subjectlessness of the given resides in the following fact: the
elements of his neutral monism are derived from the given. Hence they will inherit certain
features of the given. If it turns out that the given presupposes an entity that is to be put together
out of elements, then the construction of this entity out of elements will be circular (assuming
that the elements inherit this crucial presupposition). More specifically: if the elements
presuppose the self, the construction of the self out of elements will be circular. This threat to
neutral monism is blocked if the given does not have a subjective ontology.
Intrinsically Mental?
The second well-spring of the suspicion that neutral monism is a form of phenomenalism (or
idealism, or panpsychism) is the conviction that the supposedly neutral elements are really
intrinsically mental. By insisting that the given is a window onto the neutral elements, the
mainstream of neutral monism naturally invites this challenge. For the given qualities of
experiencequalia, qualitative properties, phenomenal properties, sensory qualities and so on
have, traditionally, been taken to be paradigms of the mental.
James calls this kind of consideration the commonest objection against his claim that pure
experiences is neutral. The features of affective states are perceived as especially troublesome:
In our pleasures and pains, our loves and fears and angerswe have, I am told by many critics, a
great realm of experience intuitively recognized as spiritual, made, and felt to be made, of
consciousness exclusively, and different in nature from the space filling kind of being which is
enjoyed by physical objects. (James 1905b, 138)
Based, primarily, on the James-Lange theory of the emotions James concludes that affective
features can serve as an excellent corroboration (1905b, 142) of his theory. He also points to
the shifting place of secondary qualities in the history of philosophy as providing further
confirmation of the fact that

inner and outer are not coefficients with which experiences come to us aboriginally stamped,
but are rather results of later classification performed by us for particular needs. (James
Before embracing neutral monism Russell held a sense-datum theory. While textbook orthodoxy
now classifies sense-data as mental entities, sense-datum theorists typically took them, and the
properties they exemplify, to be nonmental. This tendency is very pronounced in Russell. In the
following passage he emphasizes the nonmental nature of the objects of sense:
Let us ask ourselves whether the quality designated by the word mental does, as a matter of
observation, actually belong to object of sense, such as colours or noises. I think any candid
person must reply that, however difficult it may be to know what we mean by mental, it is not
difficult to see that colours and noises are not mental in the sense of having that intrinsic
peculiarity which belong to beliefs and wishes and volitions, but not to the physical word.
(Russell 1915, 127)
Though written before his conversion to neutral monism, the passage can serve as a perfect
characterization of the neutral elements that replace the sense-data (and sensibilia) of Russell's
earlier view. The sensations he is left with upon giving up on the subject and its mental acts
inherit this nonmental, neutral character of his earlier objects of sense.

7.2 Leaving out What it's Like

The previous objection boils down the claim that the neutral monist's elements are too mental to
be neutral. The current objection reverses this charge. Thomas Nagela philosopher
sympathetic to the project of neutral monismhas recently leveled the following objection
against the Russellian version of the doctrine:
The theory also leaves untouched the problem of relating the subjectivity of the mental to its
physical character. Russell did have something to say about thisidentifying subjectivity with
dependence on the specific character of the individual brainbut I don't think this is sufficient.
(Nagel 2000, 210)
The short version of Russell's take on subjectivity goes like this:
Suppose some scenesay in a theatreis simultaneously seen by a number of people and
photographed by a number of cameras. The impression made upon a person or a camera is in
some respects like that made upon other persons and cameras, in other respects different. We
shall call the elements which are alike objective elements in the impression, and those which
are peculiar we shall call subjective. (Russell 1927b, 122)
In The Analysis of Matter (222225) Russell spells out this notion of subjectivity in some detail,
distinguishing three distinct sources of this sort of subjectivity, and so on. But those who share
Nagel's concern will not be impressed by an account along these lines, however detailed the
development. The notion of subjectivity that drives this objection is a quite different. According
to Nagel, an organism undergoes experiences with a subjective character if and only if there is

something that it is like to be that organismsomething it is like for the organism (Nagel 1974,
This account of subjective experience seems to involve two factors: (i) the qualitative factor
there being something it is like for someone; (ii) the subjective factorthere being someone for
whom it is like something. (see Levine 2001) The first factor finds a natural place in Russell's
neutral monism. Events with an intrinsic qualitative dimension are among the events that
constitute the matter of our brains. But in virtue of what do these qualitative events become like
something for me, for the subject? While Russell does not specifically address this question, the
bundle-theoretic framework does suggest an answer. These qualitative events get to be like
something for me because they (partially) constitute meI am the bundle to which they belong.

7.3 The Nature of the Extra-Cranial World

Lockwood closes his excellent piece on Russell's neutral monism (Lockwood 1981) with the
claim that it raises questions that seem exceedingly intractable:
Granted that we have no reason to believe in a radical qualitative discontinuity between the
mental and the physical, how are we to conceive those regions of the physical universe from
which we assume awareness to be absent? Does it make sense, even, to speak of intrinsic
qualities that, though in some sense continuous with the phenomenal, nevertheless do not
literally figure as features of a point of view, in Nagel's sensethere being, presumably, no
what is it like to be a chair? (Lockwood 1981, 157)
One might try to resist Lockwood's challenge by pointing out that, throughout his neutral monist
period, Russell's official position has been one of complete agnosticism with respect to the
intrinsic nature of the physical world (excepting living brains). This is readily apparent in his
later writings (Russell 1927a, 1948, 1956a, 1959). In these works the insight that we know
nothing about the intrinsic nature of matter is presented as they key for his proposed solution of
the mind-body problem:
The gulf between percepts and physics is not a gulf as regards intrinsic quality, for we know
nothing of the intrinsic quality of the physical world, and therefore do not know whether it is, or
is not, very different from that of percepts. (Russell 1927a, 264)
The Analysis of Mind is not usually read in this way. Russell is taken to affirm that sensations
are, literally, parts of the objects that are being sensed. It seems to follow that the rose that looks
red to me is (partially) composed of a red quale. But a careful reading of this early statement of
the doctrine reveals that Russell denies that sensations form part of the things we perceive. Only
the regular appearances of a thing make it up. It's irregular appearancesroughly, appearances
distorted by intervening mediado not form part of the matter of the appearing thing:
Every regular appearance is an actual member of the system which is the starBut presently the
light of the star reaches our atmosphere. It begins to be refracted, and dimmed by the mist, and
its velocity is slightly diminished. At last it reaches a human eye, where a complicated process
takes place, ending in a sensationNow, the irregular appearances [among which are the

sensations of the star] are not, strictly speaking, members of the system which is the star,
according to our definition of matter. (Russell 1921, 1345)
And Russell adds that it is a mistake to think that an irregular appearance of an object must bear
any resemblance to he regular appearances as regard its intrinsic qualities (Russell 1921, 136).
It follows that the agnosticism about the intrinsic qualities of matterso prominently on display
in Russell's later work on neutral monismis already in place in his first full statement of the
But it may be questioned whether the appeal to agnosticism is a satisfactory reply to Lockwood's
worry. For the point of Russell's insistence on our ignorance about the nature of matter is to
show that matter might, for all we know, be intrinsically similar to our experiences. And that is
already more than Lockwood is willing to grant. There is, moreover, one strand of Russell's
reflections on the causal theory of perception that seems to demand a degree of similarity
between the sensation or percept and the intrinsic nature of the matter that causes it. Were it not
for this similarity between the percept and the last link in the physical causal chain that produced
it, the appearance of the percept would be a mystery:
So long as we adhere to the conventional notions of mind and matter, we are condemned to a
view of perception which is miraculous. We suppose that a physical process starts from a visible
object, travels to the eye, there changes to another physical process, causes yet another physical
process in the optic nerve, finally produces some effect in the brain, simultaneously with which
we see the object from which the process started, the seeing being something mental, totally
different in character from the physical process which precede and accompany it. (Russell
1927b, 111)
Russell argues that his view of mind and matter renders this miracle intelligible by explaining
how a percept can be similar in nature to the physical process that produces it. If we adopt his
We no longer have to contend with what used to seem mysterious in the causal theory of
perception: a series of light-waves or sound-waves or what not suddenly producing a mental
event apparently totally different from themselves in character. (Russell 1927a, 400)
Note that the degree of mystery reduction is proportional to the degree of similarity in character
between the percept and its causal antecedent. That is, the mystery engendered by the causal
theory of perception, will only be dispelled if the intrinsic qualities of the perceptual mechanism
is sufficiently similar to that of the percepts it produces. This shows that Russell's commitments
concerning the intrinsic nature (of at least some) of the matter of which we are unaware is more
substantive than his avowed agnosticism might indicate.
It is tempting to think that the neo-Russellians (see the section Neutral Monism and the NeoRussellians)Chalmers and Stoljar in particularhave a solution to the problem that Russell
appears to face. Chalmers's protophenomenal properties and Stoljar's o-physical properties have
an intrinsic, qualitative nature while being distinct from the phenomenal properties of our
experience. But note that it is precisely the intelligibility of the objective existence of these

quasi-phenomenal propertiesproperties that are in some sense continuous with the

phenomenal propertiesthat Lockwood doubts. He does not even mention the possibility that
full-blown phenomenal properties might constitute those regions of the physical universe from
which we assume awareness to be absent. Presumably he considers this idea to outlandish to
even merit consideration.
There are questions that divide the philosophical community into those who see them as
exceedingly intractable and those who fail to see the problem altogether. Lockwood's question
may belong into this class. Russell, and Humeans in general, take it for granted that all
perceptions, being distinct may be conceiv'd as separately existent, and may exist separately,
without any contradiction or absurdity (Hume 1739, 634). So while they may be agnostic about
the intrinsic properties of the matter that makes up an ordinary chair, they are not disturbed by
the idea that these properties might be phenomenal, or protophenomenal, or o-physical. Unlike
Lockwood, they do not see that this could be so only if it were like something to be the chair, or
if the chair had a point of view. These intrinsic qualities exist without existing for anybody.

7.4 Principles of Bundling

According to the mainstream version of neutral monism, persons and other things are bundles of
neutral elements. This invites questions regarding the principles effecting the bundling. Hume,
the creator of the bundle theory, was the first to despair over this problem. The reasons for his
despair are not easy to discern. A recent paper distinguishes thirteen different interpretations of
Hume's objection to this own theory. (Ellis 2006). But even if the shortcomings of the bundle
theory are not as simple and as glaring as is sometimes suggested, the neutral monist may be well
advised to not tie the fate of neutral monism to the fate of the bundle theory.
Among the many features that mainstream neutral monism inherits from its empiricist roots is an
aversion to substance (in the sense of a substratum). Concrete particulars are accordinglyand
again in keeping with the empiricist backgroundviewed as bundles of particulars. In this way
the bundle theory makes its way into most versions of neutral monism and comes to seem like an
integral part of the doctrine. But it is no such thing. Consider, for example, the main rival of the
bundle theory: the theory according to which a thing is composed of a bare substratum together
with its attributes. A neutral monist treatment of the attributes can proceed along the same lines
as in the bundle theory. And the bareness of bare substrata appears to make them into paradigms
of neutralityideally suited for inclusion in a neutral monistic framework. It would seem, then,
that neutral monism is not wedded to any specific account of concrete particulars. Its association
with the bundle theory is a matter of historical contingency.
The mainstream neutral monist can sacrifice the bundle theory should the problems surrounding
the bundling relation prove intractable. But dropping this part of the standard package does not
endanger the core idea of neutral monism. Every neutral monist who strives for completeness
will want to offer an account of the structure of concrete particulars. And every theory in this
domain will be controversialas is borne out by any textbook on metaphysics. But the problems
that neutral monism encounters on this front are general metaphysical problems with no
particular bearing on neutral monism as such.

7.5 Error
Nonveridical experience poses a problem for realistic accounts of perception. Dreams,
hallucinations, and illusions are experiences in which the purported object of the experience does
not exist or fails to exist in the manner it is presented. These nonveridical experiences can,
therefore, not be construed as relations between a perceiver and these objects. Their nonexistence
unsuits them to play this role. And the relativity of perceptiona thing appearing to have
different perceptual properties from different vantage points, for different observers, and under
different conditionsappears to furnish every object with more properties than it can bear, many
of which are incompatible with each other. Given the strong element of realism in the
mainstream versions of neutral monism, one might expect that the existence of nonveridical
experience poses a problem for the doctrine.
But the neutral monists blithely deny that dreams, hallucinations, and illusions pose a difficulty.
The following statements by Mach and Russell make the point vividly:
When we consider elements like red, green, hot, cold and the rest, which are physical and mental
in virtue of their dependence on both external and internal circumstances, and are in both
respects immediately given and identical, the question as to illusion and reality loses its sense.
Here we are simultaneously confronted by the elements of the real world and of the ego. The
only possible further question of interest concerns their functional interdependence(Mach
1905, 78).
The first thing to notice is that there are no such things as illusions of sense. Objects of sense,
even when they occur in dreams, are the most indubitably real objects known to us. What, then,
makes us call them unreal in dreams? Merely the unusual nature of their connection with other
objects of senseObjects of sense are called real when they have the kind of connection with
other objects of sense which experience has led us to regard as normal; when they fail this, they
are called illusions. But what is illusory is only the inferences to which they give rise; in
themselves, they are every bit as real as the object of waking life. (Russell 1914a, 9293)
Mach and Russell do not endorse the absurd view that we never make mistakes. We do, but these
mistakes, which manifest themselves as unfulfilled expectations, are the result of hasty
assumptions and faulty inferences. But the experiences that occasion our errorssticks that look
bent when immersed in water, etc.are all encounters with reality. There is nothing mistaken or
inaccurate about them. Two features of the neutral monistic version of realism combine to yield
this astonishing result. First, the perceptual objects about which neutral monism is realistic are
not ordinary physical objects but neutral elements. An experience without an object would,
therefore, have to be an experience in which the corresponding neutral elements is missing. But
that is not possible becauseand this is the second pointthe experience is the neutral element
(when embedded in an appropriate context). For the neutral monist denies the duality of act and
objectthe patch of colour and our sensation in seeing it are identical (Russell 1921, 143)
and hence the possibility of an act of experiencing not directed at any object is impossible. An
experience of red, say, simply is a red element playing its role in a grouping of elements that is a
mind. If there is no red element, there is no experience as of red. And a red element that is not

appropriately integrated into a mental bundle is no experience at all. The case in which there is
an experience as of red without the corresponding red element cannot occur.
What this account presupposes is the possibility of elements that occur in mental bundles
without, at the same time, belonging to a bundle of elements that make up a physical object.
Russell has called these elements wild particulars:
It is to be observed that there is no a priori necessity for particulars to be susceptible of this
double classification [into mental and physical groups]. There may be what might be called
wild particulars, not having the usual relations by which the classification is effected; perhaps
dreams and hallucinations are composed of particulars which are wild in this sense. (Russell
1915, 1345)
This idea of the possibility of wild particulars survives Russell's turn towards neutral monism. In
The Analysis of Matter the same idea is expressed in the following terms: A percept may not
belong to any group [forming a physical object] at all; in that case it has no objectivity.
Hallucinations and dreams come under this head (Russell 1927a, 222). Note that an account of
the alleged illusions of sense that involves wild particulars is incompatible with at least one of
the definitions of neutrality presented above. If a basic entity is neutral just in case it figures in
the reduction bases of both physical and mental nonbasic entities, then a wild particularone
that belongs only to a mindis not neutral. Given this understanding of neutrality, a theory that
allows wild particulars cannot be counted as a neutral theory. But there are other accounts of
neutrality available, allowing the neutral monist to avoid this particular problem.
How satisfactory is the neutral monist way of saving realism from the problems posed by
nonveridical experience? On technical grounds, it must be counted a success: every experience
be it illusory, hallucinatory, a dream, or whatnotis guaranteed to have an object, viz. the
neutral element that is the experience. This result is a natural consequence of the theory. The
traditional problem that nonveridical experience poses for realistic theories of perception does
not even present itself in the neutral monist framework.
The relativity of perception raises a different problem: there is a perceived object, but it is in
danger of becoming the bearer of an open-ended number of incompatible properties. But objects
that underwent neutral monistic reconstruction according to the distal model (see the section
Reduction of the Physical) can accommodate an indefinite number of apparently incompatible
propertiesthe object has each of the many incompatible properties at a different place, viz.,
at the place from which it appears to have that property. This explains how an object can really
have all the many properties it appears to have. Thus neutral monism, employing the distal
model, is uncompromised by the fact of perceptual relativity.
Can this account satisfy those who adopted realism in the hope that it would yield an enormous
epistemic dividend: a direct, unmediated grasp of reality? The philosopher for whom reality
consists, first and foremost, of physical objects as ordinarily conceived, may have serious doubts.
The neutral monist's objects, constructed according to the distal method, are only very distant
relatives of the objects one originally wanted to know. The method turns an ordinary object into
an infinitely various porcupine, which is not merely here in this room (as we commonly take it

to be) but sticks out as it were in all sorts of directions and to all sorts of distances (Price
1932, 56) The neutral monist can explain how this porcupine can be directly known. But the
critic may hold that direct knowledge of porcupines is not worth having. The problem
encountered here is quite general and arises whenever ontological solutions to epistemological
problems are offered. The knowledge secured in this manner concerns objects that are quite
different from those one set out to know. Berkeley's reconstruction of physical objects is the
most notorious instance of this type. A philosopher encountering neutral monism with a firmly
entrenched conception of ordinary physical objects may find it no less objectionable than
Berkeley's proposal. But it is further question whether this reaction should cause a neutral monist
undue worry.
Especially Russell's later version of neutral monism stands in marked contrast to all other
versions of mainstream neutral monism. According to Russell, all objects of perception are
located in the percipient's brain. This means that Russell can avail himself of all the resources of
a traditional sense-datum theory in his account of error. But this advantage brings with it the
main disadvantage of the sense-datum theory: Russell's version of neutral monism is realistic
only in the most attenuated of senses. Every perception has a mind-independent object, but no
object of perception is ever external to the perceiver. (For more on this aspect of Russell's neural
monism see the section Russell's Internalism)

8. Philosophical Applications
The promise to solve certain problems is often the main reason to adopt a philosophical theory.
Neutral monism seemed to promise much to those who embraced it.

8.1 The Mind-Body Problem

Neutral monism is comprehensive metaphysics, but it has mostly been construed as an attempt to
address the mind-body problem. The solution of this problem is therefore the biggest
philosophical promise this theory makes to its advocates. As Russell sees it, the theory has kept
its promise:
[Neutral monism] affords an immense simplification. I was glad when I realized that
abandonment of the subject made it possible to accept this simplification and to regard the
traditional problem of the relation of mind and matter as definitely solved. (Russell 1959, 1034)
The solution turns, to a large part, on a clearing the field of bad metaphysical entities. The
two problems of the unfathomable thing and the equally unexplorable ego are disposed of
as pseudo problems. (Mach 1905, 8). For us Mach writes the world does not consist of
mysterious entities, which by their interaction with another, equally mysterious entity, the ego,
produce sensations, which alone are accessible. For us, colors, sounds, spaces, times,are
provisionally the ultimate elements, whose given connexion it is our business to investigate
(Mach 1886, 2930).

8.2 The Problem of Perception

Much of Russell's work (before and during his neutral monist period) was concerned with the
question how perception fits into the physical world and how perception can give us evidence of
the physical world. It is a problem in which the mind-body problem and the problem of
knowledge (see the next section) come together. The Analysis of Matter can profitably be viewed
as a lengthy meditation on the problem of perception. Here is how the problem poses itself for
All empirical evidence consists, in the last analysis, of perceptions; thus the world of physics
must be, in some sense, continuous with the world of our perceptions, since it is the latter which
supplies he evidence for the laws of physicsWe must therefore find an interpretation of
physics which gives a due place to perceptions; if not, we have no right to appeal to the empirical
evidence. (Russell 1927a, 67)
And neutral monism is the metaphysic of matter that bridges the gulf between physics and
perception (Russell 1927a, 275) by explaining how a percept can result from a purely physical
brain process in a nonmiraculous way. (see also the discussion in the section The Nature of the
Extra-Cranial World)

8.3 Knowledge and the War against Introjection

The other main reason to adoption of neutral monism was its promise to make the world
cognitively accessible again. The epistemic motivation for neutral monism is particularly clear in
My thesis is that if we start with the supposition that there is only one primal stuff or material in
the world, a stuff of which everything is composed, and if we call that stuff pure experience,
then knowing can easily be explained as a particular sort of relation towards one another into
which portions of pure experience may enter. The relation itself is a part of pure experience; one
of its terms becomes the subject or bearer of the knowledge, the knower, the other becomes the
object known. (James 1904b, 4)
Neutral monism tries to forge the tightest possible connection between the knower and the
knownthat of identity. James puts it as follows:
A given undivided portion of experience, taken in one context of associates, play[s] the part of
the knower, or a state of mind, or consciousness'; while in a different context the same
undivided bit of experience plays the part of a thing known, of an objective content. In a word,
in one group it figures as a thought, in another group as a thing. (James 1904b, 910)
Holt particularly emphasizes the numeric identity of thought with its object:
We have become wedded, or indeed welded to the phrasemy thought is of an objectwhen we
ought to say and meanmy thought is a portion of the objector better still,a portion of the
object is my thought:exactly as a portion of the sky is the zenith. (Holt 1914, 149)

If, as Aristotle said, thought and its object are one, so are sensations and perceptions one with
their objects. In fact, there are not sensations or perceptions and their objects. There are
objects, and when these are included in the manifold called consciousness they are called
sensations and perceptions. (Holt 1914, 219)
If thought and its object, percept and perceived, representation and represented are identical, then
the mind must break out of the confines of the brain. The neutral monists happily acknowledge
that thoughts ain't in the head: the soul, so called, is extended in space (Holt 1914, 153).
Avenarius was the most outspoken advocate of this idea. The original epistemic sin, as he sees it,
is the introjection of mental states into the brain. He spends considerable time providing a
genetic analysis of how the intellectual catastrophe of introjection could have happened. But he
also presents straightforward arguments that are supposed to show the falsity of introjection:
The brain has ganglia and nerve fibers, has neuroglia and vessels, has different colors (is colored
this way or that) and so on. But neither the most detailed anatomical dissection, nor an arbitrarily
powerful microscope would reveal thoughts qua components of thinking, much less thinking
itself as part or property of the brain. (Avenarius 1891, 67)
Considerations of this sort lead him to summarize his views about introjection in a remarkable
The brain is not the dwelling-place, seat or producer of thought; it is not the instrument or
organ, it is not the vehicle or substratum, etc., of thought.
Thought is not an indweller or command-giver, it is not a second half or aspect, etc., nor is it a
product; it is not even a physiological function of the brain, nor is it a state of the brain at all.
(Avenarius 1891, 76)
Mach approvingly quotes this passage and tells us that Avenarius conception seems to
approximate very nearly to my own. (Mach 1886, 28) Rudolf Wlassak, whom Mach quotes as
an authority on Avernarius, argues that the discovery of the illegitimacy of introjection reveals
all problems connected with the relation of our sensations, presentations and contents of
consciousness to the material things as well as the problems as to projection we meet in
theories of space, the exteriorization of the space-sensations, etc. as pseudo-problems. (Mach
1886, 54) And Petzoldt celebrates Avenarius for having done away with
the barbaric quid pro quo that lets the psychological sensations get into the brain together with
the physiological stimulations, and which then have to be moved back out again, of course.
(Petzoldt 1906, 170)
The radical externalism about the mental evidenced by these passages stands in the service of
overcoming the problem of the external world by making it into the immediate object of our
thought, or better, by making our thoughts be portions of it. That neutral monism allowed for this
nonidealistic fusion of mind and world, thereby opening our cognitive doors onto the world, was
what attracted most neutral monists to this doctrine in the first place.

Russell's Internalism
Finally, it must be emphasized that Russell's versions of neutral monism never did deliver the
direct perceptual grasp of the external physical object that the standard versions of the
mainstream doctrine were designed to achieve. While this many not be obvious in The Analysis
of Mind (see the discussion in the section The Nature of the Extra-Cranial World), Russell's
later works on neutral monism (Russell 1927a, 1927b, 1956a) emphasize the fact that perception
is limited to what goes on in our brains. Considerations about the causal theory of perception
persuade him to place the percept into the percipients brain. And the proximal model of
construction (see the section Reduction of the Physical) allows him to understand the
introjected percept as a constituent of the matter that forms the percipient's brain. Hence he can
proclaim that I know about what is happening in the brain exactly what nave realism thinks it
knows about what is happening in the outside world (Russell 1927b, 104). A slightly longer
version of this goes as follows:
I maintain an opinion which all other philosophers find shocking: namely, that people's thoughts
are in their heads. The light from a star travels over intervening space and causes a disturbance in
the optic nerve ending in an occurrence in the brain. What I maintain is that the occurrence in the
brain is a visual sensation. I maintain, in fact, that the brain consists of thoughtsusing thought
in its widest sense, as it is used by DescartesWhat I maintain is that we can witness or observe
what goes on in our heads, and that we cannot witness or observe anything else at all. (Russell
1959, 1819)
This position is still realistic in the minimal sense guaranteed by neutral monism: there can be no
objectless experience, because the object and the experience of it are onethere is one neutral
element (an event or percept) that plays this double role. But in all other respects Russell's
internalistic version of neutral monism is the antithesis of the realist spirit that informed the
versions of the doctrine we find in Mach, James, and the American New Realists. Perceptual
contact with external objects becomes as indirect and as inferential as in the representative
theories of perceptione.g., the sense-datum theorythat neutral monism was designed to
The pervasive externalism of mainstream neutral monism makes Russell's radical turn towards
internalism particularly disorienting. The point here is not to assess Russell's reasons for this
disturbing conclusion. The point is to demonstrate, one final time, how accommodating the
neutral monist framework is, and how little of that which may seem most characteristic about the
neutral monist doctrines on record is really part of neutral monism. Neither the externalism of
Mach, James, Avenarius, Holt, etc., nor the internalism of Russell have anything to do with
neutral monism. These doctrines may be what attracted these philosophers to neutral monism in
the first place. It may well be that these philosophers would have given up neutral monism had
they convinced themselves that it was incompatible with them. But none of this makes
externalism or internalism (or a host of other philosophical theses that tend to come along with
it) a part of neutral monism. Neutral monism proper may have many problems. But many of its
alleged problems are not problems of it but of some philosophical burr so firmly attached to
neutral monism that it is easily mistaken as an integral part of it.

9. Neutral Monism and Other Doctrines

Neutral monism was characterized as a noneliminativist version of reductionism. It takes mental
and physical phenomena to be real but reducible to the underlying neutral level. It differs from
other versions of reductionismbe they materialistic or mentalistic, eliminative or
noneliminativeby insisting on the neutrality of the basis. And its reductionism sets it apart
from certain versions of nonreductive theoriespanpsychism, emergentism, and the dual aspect
theory come to mindwith which it is sometimes compared or identified.

9.1 Neutral Monism and Other Forms of Reductionism

The claimed differences between neutral monism and other forms of reductionismmaterialism
and phenomenalismare easily stated, but they may be hard to assess in particular cases.
Consider phenomenalism (mentalistic reductionism), for example. The official difference
between neutral monism and phenomenalism is obvious: phenomenalism reduces everything to
mental entities; neutral monism reduces everything to neutral entities. The difficulty arises
because it can be questioned whether the allegedly neutral entities of a given version of neutral
monismMach's version, sayare genuinely neutral or merely relabeled mental entities. In this
case the dispute concerns the truth of a particular claim of a particular version of neutral monism,
not the overall structure of neutral monistic theories. Such a dispute can only be settled by a
careful investigation of the specific case. Various versions of neutral monism have been
suspected of phenomenalism. (see the section Not Neutral but Mental above). But the
materialism suspicion is rare or nonexistent. Most likely this is an artifact of the contingent
connection between the given and the neutral entities that characterizes mainstream neutral
The worry that neutral monism collapses into mentalistic or materialistic reductionism can also
be raised on a quite general level. It might be argued that the category of the neutral is inherently
problematical and that therefore the so-called neutral entities will either be mental or physical but
not neither. In this case the debate will have to address the concept of neutrality, not particular
accounts of neutrality offered by this or that version of neutral monism.

9.2 Neutral Monism and Panpsychism

Panpsychism is the doctrine that every physical particular enjoys some measure of mentality. On
the face of it, panpsychism and neutral monism are as different as could be. Neutral monism
reduces mental and physical phenomena, panpsychism does not; neutral monism holds that the
materia prima is neutral, panpsychism does not. And neutral monism assumes that there are
genuinely physical (i.e., nonmental) phenomena that need reducing, panpsychism does not.
Given these differences, it is not easy to see the force of the panpsychism accusation. The
thought must be that the allegedly neutral entities are not neutral between mind and matter but
really a little bit of each; and that the activity that the neutral monists describe as reducing
physical and mental phenomena to constructions of neutral entities is really not quite that, but
whatever it is that panpsychists do when they explain how it all hangs together.

Inasmuch as this raises a worry for neutral monism, it is of the same general kind as the one
encountered in the discussion of phenomenalism. Perhaps the panpsychist is right in suspecting a
that a given way of specifying the neutral elements yields physical elements that have a mental
admixture. But the problem may also be a quite general one: perhaps the world is such that the
only entities there can be (basic or otherwise) are psychophysical in nature.
A detailed investigation of the particular criterion of neutrality at issue will address the first
worry. The task of addressing the second, general problem is best entrusted to the panpsychist. If
it can be proven that everything is psychophysical, a problem may arise; but until then neutral
monism is in the clear.

9.3 Neutral Monism and Emergentism

It is tempting to think that neutral monism can be combined with emergentism. Begin with a
simple world that contains only neutral elements. As complexity increases physical and/or
mental features emerge from the neutral basis. This appears to be a world of which neutral
monism and emergentism are true. Ultimate realitythat upon which everything else depends
is neutral and monistic. And in its more developed form this world also contains emergent
features. But the neutral monist must resist this ecumenical compromise. Neutral monism is a
reductive thesis; emergentism is not. That is, neutral monism is true of a world only if putting it
through the (logical) grinder yields no nonneutral elements. A world with emergent features does
not satisfy this standard. Emergent featuresbe they mental or physicalcannot be reduced to
the lower level features from which they arise. Hence the grinder's output will contain neutral as
well as physical and/or mental elements. Both monism and neutrality are lost if emergentism is
added onto neutral monism.

9.4 Neutral Monism and the Dual Aspect Theory

The view with which neutral monism is most often compared or identified is the dual aspect
theory. The dual aspect theory takes many forms. Its relationship to neutral monism is therefore
difficult to discern. All versions of the theory appear to be committed to the view that there are
certain substancesgod or nature (Spinoza 1677), persons (Strawson 1959), body or brain
(Thomas Nagel, 1986), information (a view explored by David Chalmers 1996)that are
intrinsically neither material nor mental. Nevertheless these substances can present themselves
under the aspect of the mental and the aspect of the physical. And these aspects are distinct yet
inseparable and basic in the sense of being irreducible to each other or to anything else. The
neutral monistic note on which this theory seems to open quickly fades as the higher order
features of the two aspects are filled in. According to neutral monism a given group of neutral
elements is mental or physical depending on which other groups it happens to be connected with.
That is, the features of mentality and physicality are independent of each other. A given group of
elements might have both features, or one or the other, or neither. It all depends on the company
the group keeps. Therefore the two aspects of materiality and mentality are not inseparable. The
irreducibility claim fares no better. A group's being mental and/or physical just consists in it's
occurring in a certain context. That is, in the neutral monistic framework the features of
mentality and physicality are paradigms of reducibility.

The felt need to demarcate neutral monism from the double aspect theory is clearly expressed in
the following quotation from William James. In an attempt to fend off false friends he makes it
quite clear that he does not wish to be categorized as holding a double aspect view.
The positivism or agnosticism of our times, which is proud of its roots in the natural sciences, is
happy to describe itself by the name of monism. But it is a monism in name only. It poses an
unknown reality, but tells us that this reality always presents itself under two aspects, the
conscious aspect and the material aspect, And these two sides remain as irreducible as extension
and thought, the fundamental attributes of Spinoza's God. In effect, contemporary monism is
pure Spinozism. (James 1905, 109).
And a few pages later he tells us that his version of monism is absolutely opposed to the socalled bilateral monism of the scientific positivist or Spinozist (James 1905, 117). Mach's
refusal to identify his views with those of Gustav Theodor Fechnerthe leading double aspect
theorist in 19th century Germanyis similarly forceful:
The view here advocated is different from Fechner's conception of the physical and psychical as
two different aspects of one and the same reality. In the first place, our view has no metaphysical
background, but corresponds only to the generalized expression of experiences. Again, we refuse
to distinguish two different aspects of an unknown tertium quid; the elements given in
experience, whose connexion we are investigating, are always the same, and are of only one
nature, though they appear, according to the nature of the connexion, at one moment as physical
and at another as psychical elements. (Mach 1886, 61)
Questions can be raised about Mach's claim that Fechner's view requires a tertium quidFechner
is sometimes understood as asserting the identity of the physical and the mental. But Mach's
claim that his neutral monism is significantly different from Fechner's view stands, no matter
how this interpretative dispute is settled.

9.5 Neutral Monism and The Neo-Russellians

A handful of contemporary writers on the metaphysics of mind can be classified as neoRussellians. They use arguments and arrive at conclusions that bear a striking resemblance to
certain features of Russell's (later) neutral monism; but they stop short of endorsing it. The
central Russellian idea taken up by all of these authors is the thesis of the inscrutability of matter
(so labeled by John Foster in (1982)). It says that science tells us only about the relational,
structural features of matter; it is silent about the its intrinsic nature. The thesis suggests that the
difficulties we encounter in understanding the relation of mind and matter is due to a faulty,
nonscientific picture of matter. Adoption of a scientifically informed, thinned out, conception
of matter reveals the illusory character of the apparent conflict between mental and physical
properties. This core idea is to be found in all of the neo-Russellians. But they all reject Russell's
claims about the intrinsic nature of materthey all reject his way of providing stuffing for
matter (Armstrong 1961, 189). He held that matter is (partly) constituted by the phenomenal
properties that are given to us in experienceproperties that, according to him, are basic and

The agreement that Russell's way of providing stuffing for matter is a failure does not result in a
neo-Russellian consensus about how to account for the intrinsic nature of matter. But the
disagreement among the neo-Russellians is not complete. Significantly, all neo-Russellians join
ranks in rejecting Russell's claim that phenomenal properties are neutral. This view expresses
itself in the complaint that Russell's neutral monism is a form of idealism, or panpsychism, or
phenomenalism. These are rather different charges but they all express the worry that Russell's
neutral monism is really a form of mentalistic monism. Inasmuch as the neo-Russellian
movement can be seen as embodying an objection to Russell's neutral monism, it is this: Russell
attempt to secure a neutral basis in the phenomenally given did not succeed. Instead he ended up
with a version of idealism/panpsychism/phenomenalism.
The neo-Russellians deny that phenomenal properties, construed as neutral and basic, form the
intrinsic nature of matter. But their reasons for rejecting this suggestion differ, as do the
conclusions they reach upon discarding it. Some of them reject both parts of the claim, i.e., they
hold that the phenomenal properties are neither neutral nor basic. On this view phenomenal
properties are nonphysical mental properties that are, in some sense, dependent on a set of
nonmental properties. Accordingly, the philosophers in this group have to specify a new set of
properties that satisfy two criteria. These properties must be able to (i) constitute the phenomenal
properties and (ii) serve as the intrinsic nature of matter. Other neo-Russellians concede that
phenomenal properties are basic but deny that they are neutral. They follow Russell in holding
that the phenomenal properties help constitute the intrinsic nature of matter. But, as identity
theorists, they hold that these basic phenomenal properties are physical properties. By making
phenomenal properties basic, this position circumvents the daunting problem of construing
phenomenal properties out of (as yet unknown) nonphenomenal properties. But it does face the
difficulty of providing an intelligible account of what it is for a phenomenal property to be
Among contemporary and recent philosophers who either are neo-Russellians or are sympathetic
to neo-Russellian ideas we find David Chalmers (the only mere sympathizer in the lineup) and
Daniel Stoljar. They belong into the group pinning their hope on a third, as yet unknown, set of
properties that constitute both mind and matter. Grover Maxwell (and his teacher, Herbert Feigl),
Michael Lockwood, and Galen Strawson belong to the second group. While fully aware of
Russell's self-understanding as neutral monist, they suggest that he can profitably be read as an
identity theorist. In their hands neo-Russellianism turns into a version of physicalism.
Two quite distinct lines of thought lead Chalmers to seriously consider neo-Russellian ideas. One
the one hand, he is attracted to a picture of the world as a world of pure information (Chalmers
1996, 303). But in the end this picture strikes him as too thin and too inhospitable to the
properties that triggered this metaphysical speculationthe phenomenal properties. How can we
solidify this world picture while also finding place for the intrinsic natures of the phenomenal
properties? One way to do it is to adopt a Russellian strategy:
Perhaps, then, the intrinsic nature required to ground the information states is closely related to
the intrinsic nature present in phenomenology. Perhaps one is even constitutive of the other. That
way, we get away with a cheap and elegant ontology, and solve the two problems in a single
blow. (Chalmers 1996, 3045)

The other consideration that leads Chalmers to sympathetically consider Russellian ideas is
grounded in worry that naturalistic dualism leads to epiphenomenalism. By being made into the
categorical bases of the dispositional properties of physics the phenomenal properties are seen to
play an indispensable role in the causal process.
But Chalmers acknowledges that the Russellian viewthe view that makes the phenomenal into
(part of) the construction baseraises worries about idealism and panpsychism. Thus he
suggests that we consider a modified version of Russell's doctrine that holds that the intrinsic,
nonrelational properties that anchor physical/informational properties are protophenomenal
properties. The switch to protophenomenal properties has the result that the mere instantiation
of such a property does not entail experience, but instantiation of numerous such properties could
do so jointly (Chalmers 1996, 154). This lays to rest the panpsychism/idealism worry and
makes it plausible to classify this doctrine as a version of neutral monism. But this way of
addressing the panpsychism worry raises its own questions: What are these protophenomenal
properties and how do they combine into the phenomenal properties? Chalmers sees the problem
and states it forthrightly:
It is hard to imagine how this would work (we know that it cannot work for standard physical
properties), but these intrinsic properties are quite foreign to our conception. The possibility
cannot be ruled out a priori. (Chalmers 1996, 154)
But the neutral monist may think that we can do better than that. If Russell (and James, and
Mach) are right in holding that the qualitative/phenomenal properties encountered in experience
are neutral, the threat of idealism and panpsychism is empty. In that case there is no need to
postulate protophenomenal properties, and the questions about their nature and their relation to
phenomenal properties never arise.
Stoljar starts off in a Russellian vein: because physics traffics only in dispositional properties it
cannot tell us the whole truth about physical objects: it cannot tell us about the intrinsic nature of
the items that have these physical dispositions. At this juncture Russell proposes to conceptualize
the intrinsic nature of physical objects in neutral terms. But Stoljar disagrees. As he sees it, the
properties that are required by a complete account of the intrinsic nature of paradigmatic
physical objects (Stoljar 2001, 313) (together with the properties that supervene on these
properties) are physical properties. So we have two kinds of physical properties: those physical
theory tells us about (t-physical properties), and those that are needed to account for the intrinsic,
categorical nature of physical objects (o-physical properties). Notwithstanding their striking
differences, t-physical and o-physical properties are physical properties. Stoljar welcomes this
result for he develops his two-pronged analysis of the physical in the service of a defense of
The Russellian suggestion that qualitative properties might play the role assigned to o-physical
properties is brusquely rejected as incompatible with physicalism. Of course, the categorical ophysical properties are not themselves qualia. But in combinationperhaps also in combination
with the t-physicalsthey may constitute qualia (Stoljar 2001, 320). But this answer does raise
questions of its own. How are we to think of these o-physical properties? And how do they (plus
some t-physical properties) combine to form qualia? Stoljar sees that these are hard questions.

He acknowledges that we do not have (and may never have) concepts for his postulated class of
physical properties. And, naturally, it is unknown how unknown properties might combine to
form qualia.
What is the neutral monist to make of Stoljar's position? The arguments that Stoljar deploys are
similar to those that lead Russell to accept neutral monism. The only thing that seems to keep
Stoljar from taking the leap is his commitment to physicalism. But those who do not share
Stoljar's metaphysical commitments may see his arguments as weakening the case for
physicalism while strengthening the case for neutral monism. And those versions of the doctrine
that seek the neutral elements in the domain of the given do provide resources with which to
address questions raised by the introduction of o-physical properties. The Russellian neutral
monist anchors the neutral properties in the given, thereby turning them from unknown (or
unknowable) properties into properties that we know directly. And the question of how to
construe them out of underlying materials does not arisethey are the material that underlies all
else and nothing underlies them.
In his more recent work (Stoljar 2006), Stoljar approaches these issues from a different angle.
The ignorance hypothesisthe hypothesis that we are ignorant of a type of experience-relevant
nonexperiential truth (6)forms the centerpiece of his epistemic view. He sympathetically
presents Russell's speculations about the nature of these hidden experience-relevant properties.
But from Stoljar's current vantage point, any attempt to specify the nature of these nonexperiential but experience-relevant properties is both unnecessary and risky: We notice that the
more abstract position [that remains silent about the nature of these properties] is vastly more
plausible than its Russellian version[special character:mdash]and the reason is precisely that it is
so much less committal about the precise content of our ignorance (122).
Stoljar's aim is to show that the truth of the ignorance hypothesis suffices to block the most
powerful anti-physicalist arguments: arguments based on the conceivability of zombies
(Chalmers 1996) and the knowledge argument made famous by Frank Jackson's Mary case
(Jackson 1982). The Russellian neutral monist will grant that this limited goal may best be
served by Stoljar's noncommittal position. But he will also note that this strategy, even if
completely successful, will not explain how experience fits into the natural order. Russell's bold
speculations about the intrinsic, categorical nature of matter may well turn out to be false. Stoljar
is right about this. But, on the other hand, they do promise an intellectually satisfying account of
the place of experience in the world.
By identifying phenomenal properties with physical properties the neo-Russellians in the second
group arrive at a version of a materialistic identity theory pioneered by Schlick and Feigl
(Schlick 1918; Feigl 1958, 1975; see also Stubenberg 1997). Maxwell was a nonmaterialistic
physicalist (Maxwell 1978). Strawson used to be an agnostic materialist (Strawson 1994); now
he is a realistic materialist monist (Strawson 1999, 2003). And Lockwood is a Russellian
Materialist (Lockwood 1998). This profusion of labels must not blind one to the fact that these
authors share a vision of what true materialism/physicalism amounts to, a vision that differs
profoundly from that presented in the canonical texts on materialism. Strawson puts it most

When I say that the mental, and in particular the Experiential, is physical, and endorse the view
that experience is really just neurons firing, I mean something completely different from what
some materialists have apparently meant by saying such things. I don't mean that all aspects of
what is going on, in the case of conscious experience, can be described by current physics, or
some nonrevolutionary extension of it. Such a view amounts to radical eliminativism with
respect to consciousness, and is mad. My claim is different. It is that the Experiential (considered
just as such)the feature of reality we have to do with when we consider experiences
specifically and solely in respect of the Experiential character they have for those who have them
as they have themthat just is physical. (Strawson 2003, 512)
All three authors follow Russell in emphasizing our profound ignorance of the intrinsic nature of
matter. Physics and physiology provide us with no knowledge (or precious little) about the
intrinsic properties of individual brain events (Maxwell 1978, 395). As our knowledge of matter
shrinks our freedom to speculate about the relationship of mind and mater grows. Having
emphasized our ignorance of the intrinsic nature of matter, Maxwell continues: Thus the
possibility is entirely open that some of these brain events just are our twinges of pain our
feelings of joy and sorrow, our thoughts that two plus two equals four, etc. (Maxwell 1978,
395) Strawson thinks along parallel lines when he says:
Many take the [mind-body problem] to be the problem of how mental phenomena can be
physical phenomena given what we already know about the nature of the physical. But those
who think this are already lost. For the fact is that we have no good reason to think that we know
anything about the physical that gives us any reason to find any problem in the idea that mental
phenomena are physical phenomena. (Strawson 2003, 50)
And Lockwood pursues this idea further by hinting at the reasons why one might be tempted to
perform this, prima facie, unlikely identification of mental properties with the intrinsic features
of the physical. Consciousness provides us with a kind of window on to our brain, making
possible a transparent grasp of a tiny corner of a materiality that is in general opaque to us
(Lockwood 1989, 159). More recently he has spelled out this thought as follows:
Do we therefore have no genuine knowledge of the intrinsic character of the physical world? So
it might seem. But, according to the line of thought I am now pursuing, we do, in a very limited
way, have access to content in the material world as opposed merely to abstract casual structure,
since there is a corner of the physical world that we know, not merely by inference from the
deliverances of our five sense, but because we are that corner. It is the bit within our skulls,
which we know by introspection. In being aware, for example, of the qualia that seemed so
troublesome for the materialist, we glimpse the intrinsic nature of what, concretely, realizes the
formal structure that a correct physics would attribute to the matter of our brains. In awareness,
we are, so to speak, getting an insider's look at our own brain activity. (Lockwood 1998, 88)
This, then, is the materialist version of Russell's neutral monism. But the neutral monist who
looks for the reasons that persuade these philosophers to recast Russell's view in a materialist
vein finds little. Maxwell (1976, 354, fn. 25) and Strawson (1994, 97, fn. 6) make brief remarks
to the effect that neutral monism is phenomenalistic. Lockwood does not make this claimin
fact he has written the best reply to the ubiquitous phenomenalism suspicion (Lockwood

1981). Strawson further alleges that neutral monists are committed to the indefensible claim that
experience itself might be mere appearance, not really real at all (Strawson 1994, 53). His
thought is that neutral monism holds that experiential and nonexperiential phenomenaare
mere appearances of a single and single-natured substance whose nature we do not know
(Strawson 1994, 98). While this objection does have force against certain versions of neutral
monisme.g., a version that might be developed on the basis of Chalmers speculations about
protophenomenal propertiesit does not apply to Russell's version of the doctrine. Rather than
reducing away experience, Russell understands it as a neutral and basic, i.e., unreducible, feature
of reality.
On the whole it appears that the decision to adopt a materialistic reading of Russell's neutral
monism is more an expression of a commitment to materialism than a decision based on weighty
arguments against neutral monism. Strawson is disarmingly candid about this. On page one of
Mental Reality he informs the reader that he assumes that there is a physical world and that he
assumes monism and that these two assumptions amount to the assumption of materialism.
(Strawson 1994, 1) It is this kind of prior commitment to a world view that makes it so tempting
to interpret Russell as a materialist. While the neutral monist can respect this posture, it is a
sentiment he is under no obligation to share.

10. Concluding Remarks

The extant versions of neutral monism are complex doctrines combining a core of neutral
monistic ideas with a rich mixture of philosophical background assumptions, many of them quite
Some of the more striking and disconcerting features of a given version of neutral monism
Russell's final version, sayare therefore not flaws of neutral monism but of the hodgepodge of
ideas that has come to be known by this name.
The following claims, all of which feature prominently in Russell's discussion of neutral
monism, may serve to illustrate the point: the only thing one ever sees is ones own brain
(therefore the only brain the neurophysiologist observes while performing open brain surgery her
patient is her own brain); sensationscolors, sounds, smells, etc.are not mental but neutral;
ones thoughts are in ones head; the electrons in ones brain are composed of thoughts. These are
the sorts of claims that have tended to give neutral monism a bad name. But they form no part of
neutral monism nor do they follow from it. They are grounded solely in the philosophical
background assumptions on which Russell relies in working out his version of the doctrine.
The point of dwelling on the content and the role that these philosophical background
assumptions have played in the development of the extant versions of neutral monism is twofold.
First, a clear understanding of these assumptions makes it possible to evaluate them as well as
the complex neutral monistic doctrines they helped shape. Second, a clear understanding of these
assumptions makes it possible to reveal the minimal core of neutral monism by subtracting them
from the complex doctrines available in the literature.

Given the present philosophical climate, it seems unlikely that a fuller, philosophically and
historically more adequate, understanding of the extant versions of mainstream neutral monism
will result in their revival. But for those who remain disinclined toward dualism while having no
sympathy for the currently fashionable monisms, neutral monism, stripped of all its extraneous
accretions, may afford an interesting framework to explore. Reduced to its minimal core (see the
opening paragraph and the Introduction), neutral monism carries few commitments and offers
great flexibility of development.
Sayre's strictly informational version of the doctrine as well as the ideas recently explored by
Chalmers (protophenomenal properties) and Stoljar (o-physical properties) hint at the existence
of a great variety of possible hypotheses about the nature of ultimate reality awaiting further
exploration. The fixation on the hypothesis of the experiential, given-based, nature of ultimate
reality, so characteristic of the mainstream versions of neutral monism, is thereby overcome. The
discussion of the notion of neutrality (begun in the section The Neutral Entities) provides
additional evidence for the belief in the plasticity of the neutral monist framework. As additional
notions of neutrality become available the number of candidates for inclusion in the domain of
neutral entities may grow. And the exploration of the notions of construction and reduction may
prove to be of even greater importance in turning neutral monism into a viable alternative. The
prospects of carrying out the neutral monistic constructions of mind and matter are tied to the
availability of sufficiently flexible notions of construction or reduction. In the exploration of this
issue the neutral monist can join forces with his fellow reductionists.
While some of us may think that the cause of neutral monism is best served by adopting the
motto Back to Russell, the gist of these remarks has been to encourage a complete break with
the mainstream tradition of neutral monism. The elegant simplicity of neutral monism is barely
discernible under the enormous amount of old-fashioned philosophical baggage with which this
theory has been burdened. The best strategy may be to disregard this tradition and to focus on the
minimalist but very flexible framework afforded by the core claims of neutral monism. Falling
far short of embodying a theory, these core claims provide only theory schemaa schema that
can be filled in in quite diverse and unanticipated ways. Viewed from this perspective, neutral
monism may still hold some promise, even if it should be true that the mainstream versions of
the doctrine have been justly forgotten.


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consciousness | dualism | Hume, David | James, William | logical constructions | mind/brain
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of | physicalism | qualia | Russell, Bertrand | sense-data

I would like to thank David Chalmers for the help he gave me while writing this piece. His many
suggestions, all of them helpful and constructive, and his encouragement have been invaluable.
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Leopold Stubenberg <>