Russell Reconciles Materialism and Consciousness
Russell was impressed by J.B. Watson, stating: "it is humiliating to find how terribly adequate this hypothesis turns out to be". Where 'this' was the contention that "thought processes" were merely "the habit of language". Russell also acknowledged that the psychoanalysts were onto something. He states, "What, I think, is clearly established, is that a man's actions and beliefs may be wholly dominated by a desire of which he is quite unconscious, and which he indignantly repudiates when it is suggested to him."
Even though Russell was sympathetic to the notion that some of our mental actions were driven from "unconscious" desire, he argued that this was merely a "causal law" of our behaviour and not the mysterious, mythological character psychoanalysts portray it as. Russell describes the psychoanalytic conscious vividly as "...a sort of underground prisoner, living in a dungeon, breaking in at long intervals upon our daylight respectability with dark groans and maledictions and strange atavistic lusts".
Russell comments that while psychologists were busy finding an objective, physical basis for their subject matter, physicists, with the advent of relativity were making their subject-matter less and less material. Russell seeks to reconcile the material and mental using the functional approach of William James and the "American new realists" (AOM, preface). "James's view is that the raw material out of which the world is built up is not of two sorts, one matter and the other mind, but that it is arranged in different patterns by its inter-relations, and that some arrangements may be called mental, while others may be called physical." (AOM, I) Russell reconciles monism by distinguishing matter from its arrangement.
However, Russell argues against the notion that the essence of everything mental is conscious (AOM I); suggesting that some mental acts are not-conscious. For example, perhaps one could have beliefs or desires that one is not conscious of? Russell says that a man could desire his lunch but not be conscious of it until he tells himself that he is hungry. Thus a desire is conscious only when we tell ourselves that we have it. (AOM I) He believes that "an "unconscious" desire is merely a causal law of our behaviour. namely, that we remain restlessly active until a certain state of affairs is realized, when we achieve temporary equilibrium If we know beforehand what this state of affairs is, our desire is conscious; if not, unconscious. The unconscious desire is not something actually existing, but merely a tendency to a certain behaviour; it has exactly the same status as a force in dynamics." (AOM I) Russell's talk of a dispositional subconscious mental states pre-dates Gilbert Ryle's similar argument from The Concept of Mind in 1949.
In conclusion, whilst Russell draws inspiration from contemporary theories of mind, he is not bound by them. Instead he creates a hybrid materialist view of the mental that acknowledges the explanatory force of associationism and the poverty of our own introspections, yet includes consciousness as a legitimate object of psychology to be explained.