Henry Habberley Price (May 17, 1899 – November 26, 1984) was a British philosopher and logician, known for his work on perception and thinking. He also wrote on parapsychology. Price taught at Magdalen College (1922–24), Liverpool University (1922–23), and Trinity College (1924–35) before being appointed as Wykeham professor of logic at New College, Oxford (1935–59).
His earliest book, Perception (1932), rejected causal theories of perception, and attempted to develop instead a more sophisticated phenomenological method for articulating the relation between the notion of sense-data and physical objects. In Thinking and Experience (1953), he moved from perception to theories of thought, proposing an account of conceptual cognition, in which concepts were held to be a kind of intellectual capacity to recognize. Price’s theory led him to make logical propositions about the nature and existence of disembodied consciousness, both before and after death. He remained interested in psychical research throughout his career, and wrote on religion, parapsychology, and psychic phenomena. He viewed telepathy and clairvoyance as influences on the unconscious mind, and believed that the gathering of empirical proof of these influences would one day become possible.
Henry Habberley Price was born May 17, 1899, in Neath, Glamorganshire, Wales, and educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford. From 1917 to 1919 he served in the Royal Air Force, and it may have been this experience that led to his founding the Gliding Club of Oxford University and City. After getting a First at New College, he became, in his own words, "a professional philosopher." He taught at Magdalen College (1922–24), Liverpool University (1922–23), and Trinity College (1924–35), before his appointment as Wykeham professor of logic at New College, Oxford (1935–59). He lectured at many British universities, at Princeton, and at the University of California at Los Angeles. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1943 to 1944. Among the books he authored were Perception, Hume's Theory of the External World, Belief (his Gifford Lectures), and Essays on the Philosophy of Religion.
Price was described as a shy and reclusive person, belonging to no particular philosophical school or group. Several accounts have portrayed him as being so absorbed in abstract thought that he was unaware of anything else.
Henry Price died in Oxford on November 26, 1984.
Price is perhaps best known for his work on epistemology and the philosophy of perception. In his first major publication, Perception (1932), he rejected the prevailing phenomenalism of the time and attempted to develop instead a more sophisticated phenomenological method for articulating the relationship between the notion of sense-data and physical objects. He adopted the term “sense datum” from Russell and Moore who had used the term to refer to the collection of sense impressions associated with a particular object. Price's theories were further developed in Hume’s Theory of the External World (1940), in which he proposed to bridge the gap between Hume and Kant by using Hume’s concept of the imagination as the function that joins reason and the senses in the same manner in which Kant used the concept of a transcendental ego.
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 color-patches, and having a certain visual depth, and that this whole field of color is directly present to my consciousness.
In his book Thinking and Experience(1950), and his Gifford Lectures, published as Belief (1969), Price moved from perception to theories of thought. He rejected idealism and the symbolic theories then popular. He proposed instead a more neutral account of conceptual cognition, in which concepts were held to be a kind of intellectual capacity, manifested in a perceptual context as a recognitional capacity. Price did not regard concepts as some kind of mental entity or representation, but appealed to a species of memory distinct from event recollection.
Price thought his arguments about the nature of thought yielded logical conclusions that made it possible to offer meaningful propositions about the transcendent and the paranormal.
During his career he made many valuable contributions to the Journal and Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, and in 1839 he served as president of the Society. In his presidential address to the Society, he remarked that paranormal experiences were rare among highly educated people and suggested a number of techniques and practices that could heighten extrasensory perception. He recommended thinking in visual images, and physical procedures such as fasting, yoga exercises, and exposure to reduced atmospheric pressure at high altitudes. He also suggested that images, once created, might persist apart from the minds in which they originated.
Price stated that in discussing psychical research, the risk of talking apparent nonsense had to be taken, and predicted that in the future, the hesitancy of intellectuals to acknowledge such ideas would become a source of amusement. Price did not question whether a disembodied conscious existence after death was true, but whether such an existence could be coherent and intelligible. He proposed that this existence was analogous to the world of dreams, and reasoned that if the dream world was coherent, existence as a disembodied consciousness would also be coherent. Just as dreams are often constructed of auditory, olfactory, tactile, and visual imagery acquired during the waking state, consciousness after death would be built from mental images acquired during physical life and stored in the memory.
Dreams were often driven by desires, fears, or wishes; in the same way consciousness after death would be shaped by the emotional and mental events of the physical lifetime. Conflicts or bad desires experienced during the physical lifetime would create an unpleasant environment for the disembodied consciousness. Unlike in the world of dreams, in the next world individuals would be real and distinct persons, and would appear to each other in the form of telepathic apparitions (mind-to-mind communication mediated by recognizable visible forms). The disembodied consciousness would feel alive, just as it did in dreams. The next world would be no less real than the present one, though it would be spatially different and operate according to its own quasi-physical laws. Objects in this world would occupy a kind of space of their own, just as they did in the physical world.
Price believed that experiments with mental telepathy provided enough empirical evidence to disprove the materialistic theory that all mental phenomena originated from physico-chemical processes in the human body. He criticized materialistic theories of the subliminal mind as being inadequate to provide a useful explanation of mental phenomena.
Price also rejected the traditional Western dualistic conception of the human personality, originating from the theory of Descartes that the human being is a compound of two different but interactive substances, mind and body. He recommended recourse to an older philosophical tradition, found in Neo-Platonism, some Far Eastern religious philosophies, and some Christian thinkers, that divided human nature into three parts: Body, mind (or soul), and spirit. The mind (or soul), which did not have clear boundaries and related to both worlds, would then become the object of the psychological sciences.
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