1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Difference and Likeness

(Part 78)

(J) Intellection (cont.)

Difference and Likeness

"Difference," says Hume, "I consider rather as a negation of relation than as anything real or positive. Difference is of two kinds, as opposed either to identify [unity?] or resemblance. The first is called a difference of number, the other of kind." The truth seems rather to be that difference in the sense of numerical difference is so far an element in all relations as all imply distinct correlatives. To this extent even identify – or at least the recognition of it – rests on difference, that form of difference, viz., which is essential to plurality. But absolute difference of kind may be considered tantamount not, indeed, to the negation, but at least to the absence, of all formal relation. That this absolute difference – or disparateness, as we may call it, affords no ground for relations becomes evident when we consider (1) that, if we had only a plurality of absolutely different presentations, we should have non consciousness at all (comp. p. 45); and (2) that we never compare – although we distinguish, i.e., recognize, numerical difference – where presentations seem, absolutely or totally different, as are, e.g., a thunderclap and the taste of sugar, or the notion of free trade and that of the Greek accusative. All actual comparison of what is qualitatively different rests upon opposition or contrariety, i.e., upon at least partial likeness (comp. p. 46). This being understood, it is noteworthy that the recognition of such unlikeness is, if anything, more "real or positive" than that of likeness, and is certainly the simpler of the two. In the comparison of sensible impressions – as of two colours, two sounds, the lengths of the directions of two lines, &c. – we find it easier in some cases to have the two impressions that are compared presented together, in others to have first one presented and then the other. But either way the essential matter is to secure the most effective presentation of their difference, which in every case is something positive and, like any other impression, may vary in amount from bare perceptibility to the extremest distance that the continuum to which it belongs will admit. Where no difference or distance at all is perceptible, there we say there is likeness or equality. Is the only outcome, then, that when we pass from ab to ac there is a change in consciousness, and that when ab persists there is none? To say this is to take no account of the operations (we may symbolize then as ac – ab=cb, ab-ab=0) by which the difference or the equality results. The change of presentation (bc) and absence of change (0) are not here what they are when merely passive occurrences, so to put it. This is evident from the fact that the former is but a single presentation and the latter no presentation at all. The relation of unlikeness, then, is distinguished from the mere "position" of change by (1) the voluntary concentration of attention upon an and ac with a view to the detection of this change as their difference, and by (2) the act, relating them through it, in that they are judged unlike to that extent. The type of comparison is such superposition of geometrical lines or figures (as, e.g., in Euclid I. iv.) : if they coincide we have concrete equality; if they do not their difference is a line or figure. All sensible comparisons conform essentially to this type. In comparing two shades we place them side by side, and passing from one to the other seek to determine not the absolute shade of the second but its shade relative to the first, -- in other words, we look out for contrast. We so not say of one "It is dark," for in the scale of shades it may be light, but "It is darker"; or vice versa. Where there is no distance or contrast we simply have not two impressions, and, as said – if we consider the difference by itself – no impression at all. Two coincident triangles must be perceived as one. The distinction between the one triangle thus formed by two coinciding and the single triangle rests upon something extraneous to this bare presentation of a triangle that is one and the same in both cases. The marks of this numerical distinctness may be various: they may be different temporal signs, as in reduplications of the memory-continuum; or they may be constituents peculiar to each, from which attention is for the moment abstracted, any one of which suffices to give the common or identical constituent a new setting. In general, it may be said (1) that the numerical distinctness of the related terms is secured in the absence of all qualitative difference solely by the intellectual act which has so unified each as to retain what may serve as an individual mark; and (2) that they become related as "like" either in virtue of the active adjustment to a change of impression which their partial assimilation defeats, or in virtue of an anticipated continuance of the impression which this assimilation confirms.

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