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genuinely universal concepts ; that is, ideas capable of truly
representing every member of a given class. The Conceptualist
agrees with the Nominalist in denying the existence of any
form of universality outside of the mind ; but on the other
hand he teaches that the mind has the power to construct
truly universal notions, quite distinct from the images of the
imagination ; and in proof of the existence of such universal
notions, he employs most of those arguments which we our-
selves adduce, although he does not follow some of them out
to their legitimate consequences. Conceptualism has varied
much in the hands of different writers, from Abelard (1079 —
1 142) to Kant and Lotze, and from these to more recent repre-
sentatives like Mr. Stout and Dr. J. Ward ; but they all agree
in rejecting that mechanical view of the mind which lies at
the basis of sensism and nominalism, and which conceives all
cognition as the product of the automatic composition and


conflict, agglutination and counteraction of sensuous impres-
sions, and they ascribe to the mind, under one form or another,
an inherently active power of co-ordinating and combining
individual sense impressions by means of these universal
notions which it constructs. For our own part, whilst we
gladly acknowledge the good wori< which Conceptualism has
done by its criticism of both Nominalism and Ultra-Realism,
we must insist on its deficiency in failing to recognize in
reriim iiatura real objective foundation for our universal ideas.
The a priori element in knowledge is exaggerated. The
universal concept is, in most of these systems, conceived as
a too purely subjective creation of the mind — a mental
abstraction devoid of a true foundation in external reality.
All knowledge becomes in their view essentially relative and
limited to our own mental states.

Moderate Realism. — There remains the doctrine of
Moderate Realism, taught in ancient times by Aristotle, and
in the middle ages by St. Thomas and the vast majority of
the schoolmen. This theory is generally ignored by modern
writers, who almost invariably represent the Scholastic
Philosophers as adhering en masse to the extravagant realism
of Plato or of William of Champeaux. Yet the well-known
fact that Aristotle ruled supreme in the schools from the
twelfth to the sixteenth century ought to have preserved even
those who never read a scholastic work from so egregious an
error. Moderate Realism holds with Conceptualism against
Nominalism that not only the common name of the members
of a class is universal, but that there are truly universal-
concepts, not mere sensuous images or phantasms, whether of
a singular or confused generic type. Secondly, it teaches
against both Conceptualism and Nominalism that there is a
real objective foundation for this universal concept, in the
perfectly similar natures of the members of the same class.
The essence, the constituent features, the nature, type, or
ideal plan, of man, triangle, silver, is repeated and contained
equally in each concrete sample of the class, however much
these may accidentally differ. It is, of course, numerically
different, and individualized by particular determinations in
each instance. But considered in the abstract apart from
these individual determinations it might equally well be
realized in any member of the class. The essence is thus
said to be potentially universal, and the concept of such an
essence can be employed to represent truly all the possible
members of the class. It is upon the perfect similarity of
natures in all the members of a class thus grasped in a
universal concept that the objective validity of science rests.
Cieneral notions are therefore not purely mental figments;


they are intellectual constructions, but reposing on objective
foundations in the real order of things. Moderate Realism
accordingly agrees with Nominalism and Conceptualism in
condemning the extravagant realism which maintained the
existence of universals formally as universals outside of the
mind. Universal ideas are abstractions, but still they have a
genuine basis in reahty, and it is for this reason that mathe-
matics and the other sciences have real validity. Such is the
doctrine of Moderate Realism advocated by Aristotle and
St.Thomas,^^ the only theory, we believe, at once in harmony
with introspection and capable of affording an adequate
groundwork for mathematics and the other sciences.

It is so satisfactory to find our teaching confirmed by such a
prominent and thorough-going sensationalist as G. H. Lewes,
that we shall cite him at length. We do this all the more
gladly as he acknowledges that the nominalist view of Mill
and Bain would render mathematical science indistinguish-
able from a series of worthless propositions deduced from a
collection of artificial definitions and arbitrary postulates :
"To the geometer the circle is not a round figure visible by
his eye, but a figure visible by his mind in which all the radii
from the centre are absolutely equal ; it is not this particular
circle, it is the ideal circle."^^ Again: "The objects of
mathematical study are reals in the same degree as that in
which the objects of any other science are reals. Although
they are abstractions, we must not suppose them to be
imaginary, if by imaginary be meant unreal, not objective.
They are intelligibles of sensibles ; abstractions ichich have their
corcretes in real objects. The line and the surface exist, and
have real properties, just as the planet, the crystal, and the

^^ " Unitas sive communitas naturas humanse non est secundum
rem, sed solum secundum considevationem." (St. Thomas, Sum. Theol.
I. q. 39, a. 3.) " Universalia secundum quod sunt universalia non
sunt nisi in anima. Ipsae autem naturae, quibus accidit intentio
universalitatis sunt in rebus." (St. Thomas, D^/i;?/;;^, lib. ii. lect. 12.)
" Ipsa natura cui accidit vel intelUgi, vel ahstvahi, vel intentio univer-
salitatis non est nisi in singularibus. Sed hoc ipsum quod est
intelligi vel abstrahi vel intentio universalitatis, est in intellectu. . . .
Humanitas quas intelligitur non est nisi in hi.-^c vel illo homine ; sed
quod humanitas apprehendatur sine individualibus conditionibus,
quod est ' ipsam abstrahi,* ad qnod sequitur intentio universali-
tatis, accidit humanitati secundum quod percipitur ab intellectu."
{Sum. Theol. I. q. 85, a. 2, ad 2.) " Humanitas enim est aliquid in re,
non tamen ibi habet rationem universalis quum non sit extra animam
aliqua humanitas multis communis: sed secundum quod accipitur
in intellectu, adjungitur ei per operationem intellectus intentio
secundum quam dicitur species." {Id. I. Dist. ig, a. 5, ad i.)

^'^ Problems of Life and Mind, Vol. I. p. 344.



animal exist and have real properties. It is often said, ' The
point without length or breadth, the line without breadth,
and the surface without thickness are imaginary ; they are
fictions, no such things exist in reality.' This is true, but
misleading. These things are fictions, but they have a real
existence, though not in the insulation of ideal form, for no idea
exists out of the mind. These abstractions are the limits of
concretes. Every time we look on a pool of water we see a
surface without thickness, every time we look on a parti-
coloured surface we see a line without breadth as the limit
of each colour. Both surface and line as mathematically
defined are unimaginable, for we cannot form images of them,
cannot picture them detached; but that icJiich is tinpicturable
may be conceivable, and the abstraction ivhich is impossible to
perception and imagination is easy to conception. It is thus that
scnsibles are raised to intcUigiblcs, and the constructions of
science — conceptions — take the place of perceptions. But
the hold on reality is not loosened by this process. When we
consider solely the direction of a line we are dealing with a
fact of Nature, just as we are dealing with a fact of Nature
when we perform the abstraction of considering the move-
ment of a body irrespective of any other relations. . . . Not
only is it misleading to call the objects of Mathematics
imaginary, it is also incorrect to call them generalizations.
They are abstractions of intuitions. Any particular line we
draw has breadth, any particular circle is imperfect ; con-
sequently generalized lines and circles [scil., by imagination
= generic images) must have breadth and imperfection.
Whereas the line or circle which we intuit mathematically
is an abstraction from which breadth or imperfection has
dropped, and the figures we intuit are these figures under the
form cf th3 limit." {Id. 420.)

The student will find further information on this question
in our historical sketch in the next chapter.

Readings. — On the essential difference between Intellect and
Sense, cf. St. Thomas, De Anima, Lib. III. 1, 7 ; Contra Gentiles,
Lib. II. c. 66; Boedder, Psych. Rat, §§ 106 — 112; Mivart, On
Truth, c. XV. ; Balmez, Fundamental Principles, Bk. IV. ; Kleutgen,
Phil. d. Vorzeit, §§ 33 — 39. The universal concept is admirably
treated both by Abbe Piat, LTdee, pp. 50 — 64 ; iSo — 220 ; and by
Fere Peillaube, Theorie des Concepts, cc. 2, 3 ; see also Logic (present
series), cc. 7, 8. Green's Introduction to Hume's Treatise on Human
Nature contains an able examination of Sensism,



Origin of Ideas. — We have shown in our last
chapter that certain mental products are essentially
distinct from those of our sensuous faculties and
must be due to some higher power of the soul. The
question next arises : How are these supra-sensuous
results effected ? This is the problem of the Origin
of Intellectual Ideas. Epistemology, or the branch
of Philosophy which investigates the validity of
human knowledge in general, is peculiarly interested
in this question. For upon the answer given by
the Psychologist as to how our conceptions have
originated may seriously depend the Philosopher's
decision as to their worth and truth. The chief
solutions advanced are, (i) the hypotheses of Innate
Ideas, and a priori "Mental Forms ; (2) Empiricism
or the sensationalist theory; and (3) the Peripatetic
doctrine. The first exaggerates the contribution of
the mind to a maximum. The second reduces it to
a minimum. The third whilst deriving all know-
ledge from experience insists upon the important
part played by the rational activity of the mind in


the elaboration of knowledge. It will be dealt with
in the next chapter.

Furthermore, either in connexion with the
doctrine of innate ideas, or independently of it,
some modern philosophers have sought to solve
the problem of knowledge by metaphysical hypo-
theses concerning the relations subsisting between
the human mind and the Deity. The chief of these
have been the theories of Divine Assistance,
Ontologism, Pre-established harmony, and Monistic
Pantheism. We shall give a brief sketch of each.

Theory of Innate Ideas. — A common characteristic
of many philosophers who justly insist on the spirit-
uality of the soul is to unduly exaggerate the opposition
between mind and body, and some of them are inclined
to adopt an extravagant dualism, denying the possibility
of any mutual interaction between the spiritual and
material substances. Supra-sensuous mental pro-
ducts, such as the ideas of being, imity, the true, the
good, necessary truths, and the like, cannot, these
philosophers maintain, have been originated by sensuous
observation ; they are presupposed in all experience
and transcend it. They must consequently have been
innate or inhorn m the mind from the beginning, ante-
cedently to all acquired knowledge. Such, in a word, is
the case for this theory.

Disproof. — There are numerous fatal objections to
it. Firstly, it may be rejected as a gratuitous h3'pothesis.
Unless it be demonstrated that some portion of our
knowledge cannot be accounted for by the combined
action of sense and intellect, the assumption of such a
native endowment is unwarranted. But this demon-
stration is impossible. Moreover, the genesis of vastly
the greater portion of our knowledge can be traced to
experience, and there is every reason for supposing
that the residual fraction has arisen in the same way.
Secondly, by the very nature of the case there can be no
evidence of the existence of any ideas antecedent to


experience. Thirdly, all our earliest ideas are of objects
known by sensible experience, it is about such sensible
material objects our first judgments are elicited, and
to these we always turn to illustrate our loftiest and
most abstract conceptions. The words, too, employed
to express supra-sensuous realities are primarily drawn
from sensible experiences and material phenomena.
Moreover, persons deficient in any sense from birth are
deprived of a corresponding class of ideas. But these
facts are obviously in conflict with the supposition of a
supply of ready-made supra-sensuous cognitions from
the beginning. Lastly, we may add that the tendency
of physiological science is to make the doctrine of the
mutual independence of body and soul less tenable
every succeeding day.

Kant's doctrine and the other theories which we
have mentioned must be dealt with separately.

Empiricism. — The Sensationist oi Empiricist theory
of knowledge stands in the completest opposition to the
views of Kant, and of the supporters of innate ideas.
Starting from the assumption that sensuous and
intellectual activity are essentially the same in kind,
the aim of the former school is to make it appear that
universal and abstract concepts, necessary judgments,
self-consciousness, and all our higher spiritual cogni-
tions are merely more complex or refined products of
sense. The logical corollary of this theory, though
not usually brought prominently into notice, is the
repudiation of the spirituality of the soul, or at all
events the denial of all rational grounds for belief in
this most important doctrine. If all mental operations
are of a sensuous organic nature, then evidently there is
no reason for asserting that the soul of man is a
spiritual principle of an order superior to that of the
brute. The method of the empiricist is, on the one
hand, to depreciate the value of those peculiar charac-
teristics which mark ofi" our intellectual acts ; and, on
the other, to exaggerate the capabilities of sense.
Universal concepts are either confounded with the
concrete phantasms of the imagination, or their
existence is boldly denied. The necessity of axiomatic


judgments is explained as the effect of customary
experience ; and the notion of Self is analyzed into
a cluster of conscious states. All our cognitions, in
fact, are merely more or less elaborate products evolved
by the automatic action of association out of sense
impressions and their reproduced images. As the
mind itself is only the resulting outcome, the aggregate
of sensuous states, it can of course be endowed with no
superior active force capable of uniting, comparing, or
in any way working upon the materials of sense. This
indeed is the fundamental defect of empiricism. It
ignores the active energy of intellect with which the
mind is endowed, and consequently it can give no
adequate account of those higher intellectual concep-
tions on which we dwelt in the last chapter.

Historical Sketch of Theories of General Knowledge.

The advantage to the student of Psychology of even
a rough idea of the history of speculation on the subject of
Intellectual Cognition justifies us, we believe, in giving a
compendium of the leading theories on the question, together
with a few brief critical remarks on the most important

Innate Ideas: Reminiscence: Ultra-realism, — The originator
of the hypothesis of Reminiscence was Plato. The sensible
world is for him no true world at all. It is merely a congeries
of transient phenomena which changing from moment to
moment never really are. The real world, that which alone
truly ^'5 and does not pass away, is disclosed to us in our
intellectual ideas. Such universal concepts as being, unity,
substance, the beautiful, reveal to us, obscurely indeed, but still
with truth, the immutable and the necessary. Now these
spiritual notions cannot either directly or indirectly be
derived from sensuous perception ; they are natural endow-
ments of the soul, retained by it from a previous existence.
Truth, goodness, humanity, beauty, and the rest, however,
do not possess merely a subjective existence, as abstract
concepts in the mind. They formally exist as imiversals in
the genuinely real world of which the present material
universe is only a faint imperfect reflexion. In that celestial
land the human spirit formerly dwelt, and there contemplated
these ideas or abstract essences as they exist in themselves.
For some crime, now unknown, it was evicted from its true
home and incarcerated in the prison of the body. Although


much the greater part of its ancient knowledge was
obliterated, there yet remained in a dormant condition traces
of the mental acts by which the soul in its previous life
contemplated the real ideas. These imperfect mental states
are the universal ideas of our present experience, and they
awake on the occasion of sensuous perceptions. They are
not, however, in any way produced by, or elaborated out of
these latter. They are merely evoked from the inner
resources of the mind on the occurrence of corporeal pheno-
mena, which in a shadowy manner resemble the original
types — the Real Universals.

Criticism. — We have here the doctrine of exaggerated
realism. In this form it implies two distinctive tenets : (a)
the reality of universals ds such— Univevsalia extra rem vel
ante rem ; and {b) the existence of innate ideas by which these
are revealed. The former is a logical or metaphysical
problem, and for a complete discussion of the subject we
refer the reader to other volumes of the present series.^ The
second is properly a psychological question. Plato is un-
doubtedly right in accentuating the vital importance of the
intellectual elements of knowledge, but the assumption of a
pre-natal existence is arbitrary and untenable, whilst the
doctrine of real universals is laden with absurdities. The
only proofs urged in favour of the hypothesis of innate ideas
are the peculiar supra-sensuous character of intellectual
representations, and the fact that the answering of children
to judicious interrogation seems to show that they are
possessed of such ideas before they can have formed them
from experience. The first argument, however, has no force
against the Aristotelian theory, which accounts for supra-
sensuous ideas, as the result of the higher spiritual faculty of
the mind apprehending the universal nature of real sensible
objects. The second difficulty founded on the "heuristic"
method of instruction is also ineffective, for this regulated
process of interrogation is either virtually a means of teaching
and communicating the idea in question, or the latter is of
such a simple character as to be formed in at least a vague
manner in our earliest experience.

Descartes (1596 — 1650). Instead of explaining innate ideas
as " reminiscences " of cognitions of a previous life, Christian
philosophers conceived them as inscribed by God on the
soul at its creation. The earliest important thinker among
modern philosophers supporting the hypothesis of innate
ideas was Descartes. For him soul and body are two

^ Cf. Logic, c. viii. and the First Principles of Knoivledge, Pt. II.
c. iv. A good sketch of Plato's Philosophy is given in Stockl's
History of Philosophy, g§ 29, 30.


substances connected, indeed, at one point in the brain, as
the soul is situated in the pineal gland, but mutually inde-
pendent of each other. They are completely opposed to
each other in nature and have nothing in common. The
soul is simple; its essence is thought. The essence of matter
is extension. Accordingly real interaction between them is
impossible ; and their seeming mutual influence can only be
explained by Divine intervention, though this consequence
became clearer in the hand of Descartes' followers. He
divides ideas into three classes, adventitious ideas gathered by
sense-perception, /«2d;7/o2

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 25 of 63)