1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > General Character and Growth of Intellection

(Part 71)

(J) Intellection (cont.)

General Character and Growth of Intellection

The distinctive character of this intellectual synthesis lies, we have seen, in the fact that it is determined entirely by what is synthesized, whether that be the elementary constituents of intuitions or general relations of whatever kind among these. It differs, therefore, in being selective from the synthesis of ideation, which rests upon contiguity and unites together whatever occurs together. In differs also from any synthesis, enough equally voluntary in its initiation, which is determined by a purely subjective preference, in that intellection depends upon objective relations alone. Owing to the influence of logic, which has long been in a much more forward state than psychology, it has been usually to resolve intellection into comparison, abstraction, and classification, after this fashion’ ABCM and ABCN are compared, their differences M and N left out of sight, and the class notion ABC formed including both; the same process repeated with ABC and ABD yields a higher class notion is not a mere string of ideas of concrete things, least of all such concrete things as this view implies. Not till our daily life resembles that of a museum porter receiving specimens will our higher mental activity to comparable to that of the savant who sorts such specimens into cases and compartments. What we perceive is a world of things in continual motion, waxing, waning, the centres of manifold changes, affecting us and apparently affected by each other, amenable to our action and, as it seems, continually interacting among themselves. Even the individual things, as our brief analysis of perception attempts to show (comp. pp. 55,56), is not a mere sum of properties which can be taken to pieces and distributed like type, but a whole combined of parts very variously related. To understand intellection we must look at its actual development under the impetus of practical needs, rather than to logical ideals of what it ought to be. Like other forms of purposive activity, thinking is primarily undertaken as a mean to an end, and especially the end of economy. It is often easier and always quicker to manipulate ideas than to manipulate real things; to the common mind the thoughtful man is one who "uses his head to save his heels." In all the arts of life, in the growth of language and institutions, in scientific explanation, and even in the speculations of philosophy, we may remark a steady simplifications of philosophy, we may remark a steady simplification in the steps to a given end or conclusion, or – what is for our present inquiry the same thing – the attainment of better results with the same means. The earliest machines are the most cumbrous and clumsy, the earliest speculations the most fanciful and anthropomorphic. Gradually imitation yields to invention, the natural fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc to methodical induction, till what is essential and effective is realized and appreciated and what is accidental and inert is discarded and falls out of sight. In this way man advances in the construction of a complete mental clue or master-key to the intricacies of the real world, but this key is still the counterpart of the world it enables us to control and explain.

To describe the process by which such insight is attained as a mere matter of abstraction deserved the stigma of "soulless blunder" which Hegel applied to it. Of course if attention is concentrated on X it must pro tanto be abstracted from Y, and such command of attention may require "some pains and skill." But to see in this invariable accompaniment of thinking its essential feature is much like the schoolboy’s saying that engraving consists in cutting fine shavings out of a hard block. The great thing is to find out what are the light-bearing and fruit-bearing combinations. Moreover, thinking does not begin with a conscious abstraction of attention from recognized differences in the way logicians describe. The actual process of generalization, for the most part at all events, is much simpler. The same name is applied to different things or events because only their more salient features are perceived at all. Their differences, so far from being consciously and with effort left of account, often cannot be observed when attention is directed to them: to the inexperienced all is gold that glitters. Thus, and as an instance of the principle of progressive differentiation already noted (p. 42), we find genera recognized before species, and the species obtained by adding on differences, not the genus by abstracting from the,. Of course such vague and indefinite concepts are not at first logically general: they only become so when certain common elements are consciously noted as pertaining to presentations in other respects qualitatively different, as well as numerically distinct. But actually thinking starts from such more potential generality as is secured by the association of a generic image wilt a name. So far the material of thought is always general, -- is freed, that is, from the local and temporal and other defining marks of percepts.

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