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difference in kind than that between the sensibility exhibited in



We can only cite a few typical phrases which will nevertheless
sufficiently justify our observations: "All thinking is repre-
sentation hke imagination, but it is of a different kind."
" Thinking deals with abstract qualities of things— that is,
aspects common to them and many other things, e.g., the
possession of life."

These statements are true, but directly opposed to
Nominalism, involved in Sensism, and frankly accepted by
Dr. Bain. If " thinking is representation like imagination,
but of a different kind,'' and if " abstract qualities of things,
that is, aspects common to them and many other things," can
be thus represented in thought, then evidently the Sensist
tenet that there can be no really general notions or concepts,
and that the only thing which is universal is the word or
name, is abandoned. Again : thinking, " like the simpler
forms of cognition, consists in discrimination and assimi-
lation, in detecting differences and agreements," but " it is
of a higher kind involving much more activity of mind. . . .
All thinking involves comparison. ... By an act of com-
parison is meant the voluntary direction of the attention to
two or more objects at the same moment, or in immediate
succession, with a view to discover differences or agreements."
This power he holds to be beyond that of even intelligent
brutes. Here, again, the description is correct, but utterly
incompatible with the empirical conception of the mind as a
mere collection of impressions.

Generic Images. — In treating of the nature and origin of
universal ideas. Dr. Sully adheres to Nominalism. He seeks,
indeed, to improve that doctrine, which has suffered some-
what severely under recent criticism, but yet accepts the old
sensist view, which confounds the phantasm of the imagina-
tion with the intellectual concept. He defines the concept as
"the representation in our minds answering to a general
name, such as sailor, man, animal." But, " what is in the
mind is a kind of composite image formed by the fusion or

passive sensations awakened by the reception of concrete im-
pressions, and the active and reflective energies exerted in reflective
attention to, and comparison of, these impressions. If there is a
mind in the sense of a real unit, an abiding energy, endowed with
intellectual or spiritual as well as sensuous powers, then it is con-
ceivable that such a mind should be capable of reacting through its
superior faculty, and of attending to, comparing, and reflecting
upon the sensuous impressions which it has received. But if all
mental life is essentially one in kind, and the mind itself but the
series of sensuous states, then, where this active self-direction and
this reflective comparing force is to come from, we confess ourselves
unable to conceive.


coalescence of many images of single objects, in which indi-
vidual differences are blurred, and only the common features
stand out prominently. . . . This may be called a typical, or
generic image.''

The Generic Image, like a composite photograph, is, in
fact, the residual effect of a series of impressions of similar
objects; the common lineaments are deepened whilst the
marginal and accidental variations annul each other, leaving
a vague outline. Dr. Sully believes that this generic image
offers " a way of reconciHng the opposed views. As generic it
differs in an important way from the detailed particular image.
As an image it meets the contention of the nominalist that all
ideation is at bottom imagination." {The Human Mind, p. 346.)

Criticism.— (i) This remark suggests the impression that Dr.
Sully has missed the significance of the controversy. Which-
ever side be right, the dispute between Nominalists and their
opponents is by no means so puerile. The difference between
the Sensationist conception of mental action and that of the
Kantian, Aristotelian, and other schools, which maintain the
reality of universal concepts, is of too fundamental a character
to be so easily bridged over. The hypothesis that the
universal concept is a decayed, worn-down image, instead of
being a distinct and definite phantasm, as implied by earlier
empiricists, is not hkely to win realist converts. (2) As a
matter of fact, this " generic " image is as far removed from
the universal concept proper as is a vivid definite image. It
is merely a confused fluctuating phantasm with the indi-
viduahzing characteristics partially obliterated ; a _ sort of
mean or average picture, somewhat as a figure seen in a fog.
But though imperfect and indistinct, it is still a representation
of a particular character. When the mathematician proves a
theorem concerning the triangle, whether the diagram on the
black-board be clear and distinct, or faded and obscure, it is
in itself equally individual; but it assists the intehect to hold
before its gaze throughout the process the complexus of attri-
butes which constitute the essence and nature of triangle— the
concept of triangle. The phantasm of the imagination,
whether vivid and definite, or vague and " generic," performs
a similar function, but in itself it is as individualistic as the
figure on the black-board.i^ Xhe concept alone is truly
universal, since it alone really and completely applies to all

19 " L'image generique d'homme, represente des traits qui ne
sont pas communs a tous les hommes ; tous les hommes n'ont pas
un age moyen, une taille moyenne. Les enfants et les vieillards les
grands et les petits des deux sexes sont des hommes, et la represen-
tation qui les embrassera tous pourra seule etre appelee generale et
universelle ou simplement concept." (Peillaube, op. cit. p. 66.)


possible members of the class. The concept too may be
quite distinct while the image is confused ; and the former is
stable whilst the latter varies from moment to moment. (See
above, pp. 237.) (3) Furthermore, it may be urged that the
generic image hypothesis is in conflict with the results of more
careful investigation into the working of the imagination. It
is clear from Galton's inquiries that people vary enormously
with respect to the vividness of their power of imagination
and visualization of past experiences. The best images which
many can form of absent individual objects, such as their
breakfast-table, their bed-room, or their father, are of the
vague "generic" type; whilst others profess to be able to
call up representations of these objects which rival the
original perceptions in liveliness and accuracy of detail.
When men think or reason about general classes of objects,
the indistinctness of their images naturally varies with their
individual powers of visualization. Some men apparently
employ much more distinct and vivid phantasms than others;
but the concept may be equally perfect and universal in both.
It can hardly be maintained that hazy images or confused
perceptions conduce to greater perfection of scientific notions,
yet this seems to be the logical consequence of the recent
theory which would reduce the general concept to the vague
and generic rather than to the clear and distinct phantasms of
the imagination. The truth is, it is radically different from both.^*'

^•^ Mr. G. F. Stout argues very effectiv^ely against the " generic "
image theory : "We may fairly, say that all images, as compared
with percepts, are vague, and it does not appear that the images
which are treated as representatives of a class, are more obscure
than others, or that they have a different kind of obscurity. If I
trace in my mind's eye the course of a river, or a particular walk
which I have taken, and if I do not make any extraordinary effort
to recall details, the images which pass through my mind are mere
outline sketches, in which certain characteristic features of objects
have a certain prominence, whilst the rest is left vague. Yet the
ideal train is wholly concerned with particulars, d^nd not with univer-
sals as such. Suppose that, on the contrary, I desire to bring before
my mind the general characters distinctive of the kind of substance
called " chalk." ... I find that the kind of image which suits my
purpose best, is one which is more definite and detailed than those
which serve my turn in recalling a series of particular facts. On
the whole, the obscure and fluctuating character of a mental image
seems rather to unfit it as a vehicle of generalization. , . . The
marginal obscurity makes the whole picture evanescent and fluctu-
ating. In many instances a percept better fulfils the function of a
class-type than a pictorial representation." (Analvtic Psychology,
Vol. II, pp. 180, 181. Cf. Peillaubc, Tltcorie dcs Concepts, pp. 57 — 68; Clarke, Logic, c. 7; and Kleutgen, op. cit. § 802.)


Positivism. — Sensationism and Empiricism, as we have
seen, lead as surely to phenomenism, or the denial of all
knowledge of things in themselves, as Kantianism. This
doctrine of nescience, which is now the creed of a large
number of scientists as well as professional philosophers,
received its most formal enunciation in the Positivism of
Auguste Comte (1798 — 1857), This is the substance of the
French philosopher's teaching : Metaphysics, or the investi-
gation of the first cause of things, of their inner nature and
last end, is a chimerical science. Human reason can never
learn anything about God, the soul, man's origin or destiny :
consequently Natural Theology and Rational Psychology are
alike illusory. Agnosticism, in fact, describes the true philo-
sophical attitude. The absolute in every form is unknowable ;
cognition is limited to the relative, the phenomenal. Theism,
atheism, pantheism, materialism, and spiritualism, are
equally irrational and indefensible. All attempts to search
after the ultimate causes of phenomena must be condemned
as worse than useless. All metaphysical entities, such as
substance, cause, faculty, force, should be banished from our
minds as empty and unreal phantoms. The aim of the
human intellect must henceforth be to observe, analyze, and
classify facts, to register the succession and coexistence of
phenomena, and then to generalize by induction so as to
formulate their laws ; but never may it seek in its reasonings
to transcend the field of experience. Laws of phenomena
constitute the goal of human science. Phenomena alone are
real, useful, positive. Positive science is therefore the science
of phenomena ; and the function of the Positive Philosophy
consists in the classification and methodizing of the

The sciences Comte arranges according to their com-
plexity after a hierarchical plan. Ascending in serial order
from the simpler, more abstract and prior in order of time,
they are thus placed : mathematics, astronomy, physics,
chemistry, biology, and sociology. Each depends upon all
the others which precede it. Psychology is merely a branch
of biology, to be investigated by objective methods (see
pp. 21, 22) ; whilst ethics is a department of sociology.

The other leading feature in Comte's system is the
historic conception of the three states. The human mind
in its development necessarily passes through three stages :
the theological, in which it explains natural phenomena by
the interference of personal agents — supernatural beings : the
metaphysical, in which it accounts for phenomena by meta-
physical entities, occult causes, and scholastic abstractions —
such as substances, forces, faculties, and the like ; finally, the


positive period, at last happily arrived, in which man abandons
all such futile investigations and confines himself to formu-
lating the laws which connect phenomena.

Later on Comte, acknowledging the necessity of an object
to satisfy the religious instincts of man's nature, crowned
his system by the invention of a curious species of religion —
the worship, with an elaborate ritual, of Humanity in general.
This last production of his speculative genius, however, met
with acceptance among very few of his followers. Indeed,
here in England the Positive Philosophy has experienced very
severe criticism at the hands of Spencer, Huxley, and others
who themselves profess many of its chief doctrines. In morals
Comte insisted much on altruism — aiming at the happiness not
of self but of others — as the ethical end of life. Christianity
fosters selfishness, and so the disappearance of Christian and
Theistic belief will lead, he prophesies, to great purity and
perfection of general morality.

Criticism. — We have to deal only with the psychology
of Positivism. It is needless to do more than recall the utter
failure of Comte's attempt to discredit introspection and to
degrade the science of the mind into a branch of cerebral
physiology. The practical outcome of his teaching is
materialism. As to Comte's oft-repeated assertion, reiterated
by his followers, that we can never know anything of the
absolute, but only of the relative ; it is a piece of dogmatism
deriving its chief plausibility from an ambiguity we have
before alluded to, in such terms as absolute, noumenon,
phenomenon, and relative. (See pp. 158, 159.) If by
" absolute " or " noumenon," be meant some element of
reality which never stands in any relation to our faculties,
and so never reveals itself to the mind, then it is obvious we
can never know that " absolute " or " noumenon." But, if
under the term " absolute " be included, as these writers
intend, active essences in the world around us, agents
which really cause and do not merely precede events, an
abiding being v/hich is the real subject of our evanescent
conscious states as well as the truly absolute, the primary
cause and last end of finite perishing creatures ; then,
assuredly, the human mind can attain knowledge of the
" absolute." Reason knows the absolute by the very fact
that it cognizes the relative to be relative. Knowledge of the
relative, as such, involves as its necessary consequence
knowledge of the absolute. It is because it recognizes the
ere itures and events of the physical world along with its own
states and acts as relative that the mind is led to the discern-
ment of the absolute author in the one case, and the per-
manent ground in the other. The phenomenal, the changing,


the relative are all unthinkable without the real, the permanent
— the absolute, if we choose to call it.^^

The prohibition of Positivism to search for knowledge of
anything beyond the region of sensible experience is arbitrary
and vain, whilst Comte's prophecies regarding the quiescence
of the human mind in the positivist creed are already
notoriously falsified. The principle of causality appeals to the
reason both as an objective, transcendental law, embracing
all contingent existence, and as an imperative, insatiable
impulse in the quest of truth. The instinct to seek out the
ultimate ivhy as well as the how is the essential outcome of
the rational constitution of the human mind. It is this inap-
peasable curiosity which most of all distinguishes man from
the brute animal ; and has been the motive power which
has effected every great advance in the extension of human
knowledge. The view, therefore, that the highest develop-
ment of human reason can content itself with the mere
accumulation, registration, and generalization of sensible
facts, and can remain in stolid indifference to all those great
problems which have engrossed the loftiest intelligence from
Plato and Aristotle to St. Thomas and Dante, and again
from these down to Newton and Leibnitz, is possible only to
a mind blinded by anti-theological prejudice.

The Origin of Axioms and Necessary Truths : Associa-
tionist Theory. — Besides universal concepts, necessary truths,
and especially those which have been called synthetic a priori
judgments, have been advanced in proof of the existence of a
supra-sensuous faculty. Examples of these are the axioms of
mathematics : " Two things which are equal to a third are
(necessarily) equal to each other; " "Equals added to equals
give equals ; " " Two straight lines cannot inclose a space ; "
the principle of causality : " Nothing can begin to exist
without a cause;" and also self-evident ethical maxims:
" Right ought to be done ; " " Ingratitude is wrong," and so
on. These judgments, we maintain, affirm necessary and

"^ On the distinction between the Absolute simpUciter — God, and
the absolute secundum quid, or in a certain respect, that is, finite
substances viewed as wholes in themselves apart from particular
sets of relations, see Kleutgen, op. cit. § 542 ; also Vallet, Le Kantisme
et le Positivisme, c. iv. Martineau's Types, Vol. I. Bk. II. contains
one of the best reviews of Comte in English. The reader will find
a good account of Positivism in Auguste Comte, sa Vie, sa Doctrine,
and Le Positivisme depuis Comte, by P. Griiber, S.J. A. J. Balfour's
Defence of^ Philosophic Doubt and Foundations of Belief contain admir-
able criticism of the methods, assumptions, and consequences of


universal truths. They must hold ahcays and everywhere, even
in the most distant parts of the universe. God cannot infringe
them. The peculiar necessary character of these propositions
Kant sought to explain, as we have seen, by the hypothesis
of subjective forms or laws inherent in the constitution of the
mind. Empiricism endeavours to account for this necessity by
mental association. The axioms are, it is asserted, mere
generalizations from continuous experience. They have
been reached by observation and comparison of the empirical
facts around us, and they may be legitimately extended by
inference throughout the world of our experience, but beyond
this we cannot assert that they must hold. In distant stars
2 + 3 may equal 4.

Historically, Hume was the first to try to systematically
account for the necessity of these judgments by sensuous
experience. Our conviction as to the necessity of the
principle of causality, and our belief in the reality of some
sort of influx of the cause into the effect, he explains as the
result of custom. Reiterated observation of one event following
another begets the delusion that there is some sort of nexus
between them ; while there is really nothing but succession.
Later sensationalists with much ingenuity extended the appli-
cation of this principle ; and the Law of Inseparable, Indis-
soluble, or Irresistible Association was claimed to be an
instrument capable of accounting for all our most important
intellectual principles. The leading modern representative
of the school on this question is J. S. Mill. In his Logic, and
in his Examination of Sir IV. Hamilton's Philosophy, he pro-
pounded and defended the doctrine that all so-called necessary
truths, mathematical axioms among the rest, are merely
generalizations from sensuous experience, and their seem-
ingly necessary character is only an instance of inseparable
or irresistible association between the ideas of the subject and
predicate which is created by their repeated conjunction.
Dr. Bain adopts the same view, and speaks in the most
confused manner of the various doctrines opposed to the
Empirical theory.-'^

" Mental Science, Bk. I. c. 6. He there confounds in an aston-
ishing fashion the hypothesis of innate ideas, the Kantian system of
a priori forms, and the intuitional theory as held by writers like
Drs. W. Ward, M'Cosh, and the great majority of modern anti-
phenomenists. The innate hypothesis maintains that the mind is
endowed from its birth with a disposition to evolve these cognitions
purely from its own nature. External occurrences may be the
occasion, but they really contribute nothing towards the genesis of
these principles. Innatism differs from the Kantian view by ascribing
real extra-mental validity to these first truths. Tho intuitional


The Associationist doctrine will be best exhibited by
a few citations from Mill, on Mathematical truths:
"What is the ground for our belief in (mathematical)
axioms ? What is the evidence on which they rest ? They
are experimental truths, generalizations from experience." '-^^
Accordingly it follows " that demonstrative sciences {e.g..
Geometry) are all without exception inductive sciences ; that
their evidence is that of experience." They cannot be
legitimately extended to " distant stellar regions," for we are
not justified in assuming the uniformity of nature far
beyond our experience, and axioms based on such experience
are limited to the regions where we know such uniformity to
prevail.2* The " feehng of necessity" with which mathe-
matical and metaphysical axioms are affirmed, is a product
of association. To say that a proposition is necessary is
another way of saying that its contradictory is inconceivable ;
and this is precisely'the effect to be expected from associa-
tion. "We should probably be able to conceive a round
square as easily as a hard square or a heavy square, if
it were not that in our uniform experience at the moment
when a thing begins to be round it ceases to be square, so that
the beginning of one impression is inseparably associated
with the departure of the other. . . . We cannot conceive
two and two as five, because an inseparable association
compels us to conceive it as four. . . . And we should
probably have no difficulty in putting together the two ideas
supposed to be incompatible {e.g., round and square, &c.), if
our experience had not first inseparably associated one with
the contradictory of the other." -^ Many such inseparable

theory teaches, indeed, that the mind is endowed with a native
faculty for the apprehension of such verities, but it denies that they
are purely subjective contributions. They have their origin in
experience, but neither their necessity nor universality are based
upon mere reiteration of experience. The human intellect, when an
appropriate object is presented to it, perceives certain necessary
relations holding between subject and predicate. It then affirms the
proposition as necessary, because it is compelled not by any a priori
form, or innate idea, but by the objective necessity of the relation which
is seen to hold in the reality.

23 Cf. Logic, Bk. II. c. V. § 4. It should not be forgotten that the
genesis and validity of a belief are different questions. Still, as we
have before ur^jed, they are often intimately connected, and the
range and application of a conviction may vitally depend on the
mode of its origin— a truth which the reader will perceive by
comparing the Kantian, Empiricist, and Intuitional theorie.s,

-* Logic, Bk. III. c. xvi. j- 4.

?5 Exam. (2nd Edit.) pp. 68, 6g.


associations are, he argues, effected by experience. Dark-
ness is necessarily associated in the minds of children and
timid persons with terror. We cannot revisit the scenes
of particular events without recalling them. The ancients
could not conceive people living at the Antipodes, from their
habitual experience that objects so situated would fall off.
Now, mathematical axioms and the other primary truths are
perpetually forcing themselves on our notice, and are con-
sequently eminently calculated to generate subjective
necessities of the character ascribed to them. It is, therefore,
illogical to postulate any other origin for these truths, since,
like all the rest of our knowledge, they can be accounted for
by association and sensuous experience. We have stated
the doctrine of Associationism upon this subject at length,
because it was considered for a number of years to be the
greatest achievement of the Sensist school, and because its
untenability, in spite of all the ingenuity devoted to its
elaboration, shows the utter insufficiency of the Empirical
theory of knowledge.

Criticism. — (i) In the first place the term inconceivable,
as has been pointed out by every successive writer on the
subject, is grievously abused. This word may signify among
other meanings, (a) unpicturable by the imagination, e.g., red
by the blind ; {b) incredible, though not intrinsically impossible,
e.g., a race of horned horses; (c) positively unthinkable, in the
sense that the proposition so characterized is seen to be
necessarily false. Now, throughout Mill's whole treatment
of the question, even after hostile criticism had forced him to
advert to the ambiguity, he confounds these various meanings

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 28 of 63)