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Psychology: empirical and rational online

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case is the establishing of a relation between two
notions by the mediation of a third notion. The hitting
upon this middle-term is the ever-recurring problem of
scientific discover}^ as its accurate determination and
definition is the essence of scientific proof. To isolate
the attribute M, which constitutes the reason, ground,
or cause of P, and is implicit in the complex concrete
S, is the work of the insight of the Man of Genius.
And the human race has to wait for a Newton to detect
amid the infinite complexity of two such diverse
phenomena as the falling apple and the circumvolving
moon the hitherto invisible M — the force of gravitation.
Implicit reasoning". — Were it not for the danger of
rousing the ire of the logician, the psychologist might
define the syllogism as that particular form of reasoning
which mankind do not use. In ordinar}^ literature, in
conversation, or in his natural processes of thinking,
man never formulates an inference in the shape of
major, minor, and conclusion. The most common form
of argument is the enthymcme, in which either the con-
clusion or one of the premises is suppressed. Very
often the conclusion comes first, and one of the premises
is merely invoked to justify it ; whilst not infrequently
the inference emerges into consciousness with so tran-
sient and so indistinct an apprehension of the reasons
upon which it rests, that it seems doubtful whether they
have ever been reall}' perceived. Indeed, it is often
impossible to draw an}^ but an arbitrar}' distinction
between simple external perception, judgment, and
reasoning. Thus, whilst walking on Wimbledon


Common, I observe an object amongst some furze at a
little distance. After a few seconds of attentive
observation, I mentally pronounce the object to be a
deer most pvohably escaped from the neighbouring park. The
judgment that the object is a deer, I call a perception;
the opinion that it has escaped from the park, I call an
inference. Yet the former act of assent, like the latter,
is due to a process of reasoning from past recollections
and present apprehension of shape, colour, movement,
limbs, antlers, etc., performed sub-consciously with such
rapidity that I arrive at the conclusion without being
aware of the steps by which it has been reached.
Many of these data will, however, be at once consciously
realized if the decision is challenged.

Inferences concerning the concrete facts of life are
nearly all of this kind, and the conclusions which we
form from moment to moment are generally the result
of a mass of reminiscences, perceptions, feelings,
opinions, facts, and experiences of every sort, mingled
together with a complexity that defies analysis, or at
all events renders adequate exposition in logical form

I impossible. The diagnosis of a malady by the doctor,
the decision of the authorship of a painting by an art
critic, the prevision of the market by the man of
business, the divination of the coming storm by the

I" sailor, and our own appreciations of the characters of
our intimate friends, whether we call such judgments
- acts of intuition, tact, or perceptions of common-sense,
are all in their origin based on acts of observation and
ratiocination which have become so easy and rapid that
at last the intermediate links and reasons cannot be
discovered without considerable effort. The strength
h of the great majority of our beliefs on familiar subjects
so far outweighs the grounds which we can assign for
them, that when we attempt to formulate an argument
m abstract logical shape, they seem to be unfounded
prejudices. My conviction, for instance, that my father
would not calumniate me, that England is an island,
that the ^neid was not written in the Middle Ages,
could receive no adequate justification if I had to
express the grounds for it in syllogistic form. Yet my


assent may be perfectly rational, and in no way
exceeding the evidence.

The Logic of real life. — Newman's Grammar. — It is in
the rare skill with which he expounded, and the clearness
and felicitous richness with which he illustrated this wide
field of our actual rational life, that Newman's great contri-
bution to Logic and Psychology lies — a work the value
and wide-reaching influence of which have been but very
inadequately recognized by English psychologists and
logicians. The multifarious and complex character of the
evidence which underlies our religious and moral convictions
in particular, is shown by the superior force of the cumulative
method of arguing over formal syllogistic proof in these
departments, especially when it is used to stimulate our own
implicit reasonings. This is well exemplified by Newman in a
passage cited from Pascal: "' Consider the establishment of
the Christian religion,' says the French philosopher. ' Here
is a religion contrary to our nature, which establishes itself in
men's minds with so much mildness, as to use no external
force ; with so much energy, that no tortures could silence its
martyrs and confessors ; and consider the holiness, devotion,
huniiUty of its true disciples ; its sacred books, their super-
human grandeur, their admirable simplicity. Consider the
character of its Founder ; His associates and disciples,
unlettered men, yet possessed of wisdom sufficient to con-
found the ablest philosopher ; the astonishing succession of
prophets who heralded Him ; the state at this day of the
Jewish people who rejected Him and His Religion ; its per-
petuity and its holiness, the light which its doctrines shed
upon the contrarieties of our nature; — after considering these
things, let any man judge if it be possible to doubt about its
being the only true one.' This is an argument parallel in its
character to that by which we ascribe the classics to the
Augustan age. . . . Many have been converted and sustained
in their faith by this argument, which admits of being power-
fully stated; but still such a statement is after all only
intended to be a vehicle of thought, and to open the mind to
the apprehension of the facts of the case, and to trace them by
their implications in outline, not to convince by the logic of its
mere wording. Do we not think and muse as we read it, try
to master it as we proceed, put down the book in which we
find it, fill out its details from our own resources, and then
resume the study of it.""

The great mass of our practical, moral, social and political
as well as scientific faiths have their sources in informal and

'' Grammar of Assent, pp. 306 — 308,


implicit inferences of this kind ; and it is by working through
such channels rather than by formal arguments, that perma-
nent real assents are obtained. By controversy a man is
rarely persuaded of anything except of the truth of his own
view. Philosophical positions rushed by a logical assault are
not permanently retained. Intellectual assent extorted at the
point of the syllogism soon rebels. It is by the gradual
process of sapping and mining that convictions are subverted
and conversions effected. It is by famine that beliefs are
starved and atrophied. And such is the infirmity of the
human mind, that unless it be frequently reinforced, it will
be compelled by the slow but constant pressure of the siege
all around to capitulate and surrender its most cherished,
perhaps even its best warranted faiths.

Thought differently viewed by Psychology and Logic. —
Although the diverse standpoints of the Logician and the
Psychologist with respect to mental phenomena in general
have been already indicated (pp. 7, 8) their different ways of
regarding thought in particular seem worthy of notice here.
Whereas thinking constitutes in the language of the Schoolmen,
a common "material object"' for both, the " formal object,"
that is, the special aspect under which they consider this
phenomenon is essentially different in the case of each. The
aim of Logic is primarily practical — to secure truth in our
judgments and reasonings: that of Empirical Psychology is
speculative — to study and describe these operations as mental
facts interesting in themselves, apart from their veracity or
falsehood. To attain its end Logic seeks to determine the
various ideal forms or types of valid inference. For this
purpose, by an act of abstraction it considers concepts,
judgments, and reasonings, //; facto esse, as the scholastics
said, that is, as finished products — portions of thought
crytallized into solid pieces. It classifies concepts according
to their meaning, content, and extent. It examines the several
possible forms of judgments, their import, quantity and
(juaHty, in order to define their mutual implications. It
studies their various legitimate combinations in which con-
sistency of thought is maintained, and it then forinulates
precepts — rules of the syllogism and canons of induction — by
which fallacies may be avoided and correctness in judging
and reasoning preserved.

Empirical Pyschology, on the other hand, is directly con-
cerned only with the actual behaviour of the intellect. Its
desire is to ascertain how men do reason ; not how they ought
to reason. It considers our conceptual, judicial, and ratio-
cinative acts not as solidified abstractions, but as they really
do occur in a fliiid condition forming continuous portions of


the current of our mental life. It observes them in fieri — in
the making. It endeavours to analyze them in order to
discover their genesis and their relations to emotions, desires,
and other conscious states. Whilst Logic considers almost
exclusively the objective meaning of our intellectual acts
Psychology is specially interested in their subjective source and
their inner nature. Whilst the former science limits itself
to the investigation of the structure — the Morphology, as
Bosanquet calls it, of mature explicit thought, and confines
itself to judgments characterized by certainty; the latter
studies the growth and development of thinking in all its stages,
whether implicit or explicit, and attends alike to all forms
and degrees of assent. Finally, the philosophical or rational
Psychologist is specially interested in the functional activities
of the Intellect as affording valuable evidence for important
metaphysical conclusions as to the inner nature of the mind.

Belief. — There has been much discussion during
the past two centuries as to the nature of belief. In
general the tendency has been to exaggerate its claims
at the expense of knowledge, and then by representing
it as irrational to destroy the foundations of all certitude.
Belief has been variously assigned to the cognitional,
emotional, and volitional faculties ; and its sphere has
been made to comprehend all forms of assurance, from
trust in human or divine testimony to convictions
of the validity of primary truths. Amongst English
Psychologists at the present day it is generally set in
simple contrast to Imagination, as signifying assent to
objective reality.

Historical Sketch. — With Hume who, here as elsewhere,
saw more clearly and accepted more heroically than any ot
his followers the conseauences of Sensism, all assertions,
except those regarding purely ideal truths, are expressions
of belief. Although we may be said to knoic that " equals
added to equals give equals," and all propositions deduced
from this, we can only be said to believe that real material
objects exist. The principle of causality too, is not a
cognition, but a. persuasion or belief. Furthermore, when belief
is analyzed, it is found according to Hume to consist in
the '* superior force or vivacity, or solidity, or firmness, or
steadiness " of those ideas which are believed to be objec-
tively valid. He sometimes speaks in a vague way of an
element of " sentiment " forming the essence of belief, but he
finally defines the latter act as '• a lively idea related to or


associated with a present impression." With my present
vision of a distant tree there is associated a " Hvely idea " of
tactual and other sensations. My beUef in the reahty of the
object is merely the superior vivacity by whicli this " lively
idea " surpasses the creations of fancy. This explanation is
inadequate. Independently of the fact that Hume charac-
terizes as belief what should be properly described as
knowledge, the resolution of belief into mere intensity of
imagination is refuted by everyday experience. The scientist
is assured of the existence of infinitesimal vibrations in an
unimaginably elastic medium ; and we all, in fact, believe in
numberless objects of which we can form none or but the
faintest ideas, whilst we hold to be unreal many things which
the imagination represents with the greatest distinctness.

James Mill also calls cognition of external reality belief;
and in a similar manner would reduce this mental act to an
"inseparable" or " indissoluble association" between ideas.
Belief in the events of to-morrow, in ghosts during darkness,
in a real external world, and in my own past experience,
are all merely instances of continuous association. A
present impression irresistibly arouses another by associa-
tion, and that association constitutes belief. Against this
view may be urged two objections. First, the assenting act
of the mind, in which the essence of belief consists, is
confused with the causes of that assent. Though associations
may generate belief, they are not thereby the belief itself.
Secondly, in many cases where association has begotten a
deception, the mind may discover its error and disbelieve in
the illusion although the association remains, as in the case
of the apparent fixity of the earth.

Dr. Bain formerly identified belief with readiness to act.
He held that belief is " in its essential import related to
Activity and Will," and that in fact it is merely a "growth
or development of will under the pursuit of immediate ends."^
Subsequently, however, he abandoned the old view, and now
looks on the phenomenon as a fact or " incident of our intel-
lectual nature, though dependent as to its force on our active
and emotional tendencies." '^ The chief factors in its
development are innate "spontaneity" and "primitive
credulity." Dr. Bain's attempt merely adds to the list of
failures, (i) Readiness to act may be sometimes, though it
is not always, a test or indication of belief, but it is poor logic
to confound the sign with the thing signified, or the effect

8 Cf. Mental Science, Bk. IV. c. viii. (ist Edit.)
^ Cf. Note appended to last edition of Mental Science ; see also
Emotions and Will (3rd Edit.), p. 536.


with the cause. (2) Again, so far from its being a growth of
our active voHtional power, the essential feature of the act
of beHef is in many cases the passive or recipient attitude
of the mind. (3) The analysis of belief into "primitive
credulity " savours suspiciously of the vicious circle. For
the sensist, who denies knowledge of aught except sensations,
and who must logically reduce the external world to an
aggregate of mental states, the problem here is to explain
the act termed " belief," which is involved in external per-
ception and memory, but absent from imagination. Now,
to resolve belief into a group of elements including "primitive
credulity," is to resolve it into a tendency to believe too easily,
plus some other factors This obviously is no real analysis.
The simple truth is tnat the acquiescence of the mind ii:
its own cognitions cannot be resolved into any simpler act.

Three questions concerning Belief. — To secure
clearness it is needful to separate three distinct
questions : (A) What mental states are to be comprised
under belief? or, How is it demarcated from knowledge?
(B) What are in general the mental causes, or conditions
which most influence belief ? (C) What are the usual
psychical effects and manifestations of belief? ^^

(A) Nature of Belief. — Belief is opposed to doubt
rather than to disbelief: for frequently to disbelieve a
statement means positive belief in its contradictor\\
If a proposition is presented to us and neither the
grounds for nor against it compel assent, there arises
a state of intellectual hesitancy in which the mind is
unable completely to adhere to one side or the other
from fear of the opposite being true. This is the
condition of positive doubt — a mental attitude that is
generally disagreeable, since the mind naturally seeks
its appropriate good in the assured possession of truth.
When the motives in "favour of one alternative seem
stronger tlian those on the other side, the mind tends
in the direction of the former, but still with a lurking
fear that the latter may be true. This acceptance of
a proposition based on a probability, that is, on motives
not excluding all reasonable anxiet}' as to the possi-
bility of error, is called an opinion. In opposition to

" Cf. Professor Adamson, " Belief," Encyd. Brit. (9th Edit.)


both doubt and mere opinion, the term belief is used to
include many forms of assent.

Belief and Knowledge.— (i) In a very wide and vague
sense of the word belief is made to embrace every form of
cognition. Belief in its own validity is in fact an aspect or
essential feature of all knowledge. Hamilton takes advantage
of this usage to found cognition upon belief — but with grave
peril to the certainty of all knowledge. (2) The word belief
is also used to express the various degrees of assent, falling
somewhat short of full certainty, with which the mind may
adhere to a proposition ; belief is here equivalent to a very
probable opinion. (3) Again, from time immemorial, this
word has been used to denote the acceptance of a truth on
testimony. (4) Lastly, the term is also employed by
psychologists to designate a large class of convictions in
which our acquiescence may be so complete as to exclude
all reasonable doubt, but which yet in ordinary language are
frequently distinguished from knowledge. The chief assur-
ances of this class would seem to be firm assents where the
evidence, though sufficient to afford certitude, has not been
analyzed or clearly realized in consciousness. Apart, therefore,
from that inaccurate usage according to which we are
described as believing axiomatic principles or that our know-
ledge is true, we find three classes of judgments in which the
mental state is called belief. We are said to believe {a) that
a penny will not turn up heads six times running ; {b) that
there were two revolutions in England during the seventeenth
century; and also (c) such statements as that trains will run,
that newspapers will be published, and that bridges will bear
us up to-morrow. Regarding the first and second classes,
there is no difficulty; probable opinions and trust in testimony
may be rightly described as belief and easily distinguished
from knowledge. The appropriateness of applying the term
belief to the third class of assurances — a class roughly
equivalent to what Cardinal Newman calls " simple assents "
as opposed to "complex or reflex assents" — is not so clear.
The principal objection to ranking these mental states as
belief lies in the difficulty of determining how much formal
analysis or conscious realization of the grounds of a conviction
is necessary to constitute it a cognition. The chief justifi-
cation for such a course is based on the obscure and
indistinct manner in which the evidence is apprehended.

Under Knowledge we would include (i) all truths of the
necessary order seen to be immediately or mediately evident ;
(2) all truths of the physical or contingent order revealed in
my own experience, whether as (c.) facts of internal conscious-


ness, (b) facts given in external perception, or (c) recollections
of memory ; (3) all truths explicitly inferred by logical
reasoning from such known facts. Thus I kuoK> the mathe-
matical axioms and all theorems which I have deduced from
them by formal reasoning. I know that calumny is wrong.
I also know my own feelings. Further, matters-of-fact, objects
and events in the external world disclosed to my own
observation, my personal identity, and past experiences
recollected by memory should be included within the sphere
of knowledge. That I have an extended body, that my house
contains two storeys, that I am the same being who opened
Mill's Logic about two minutes since, are all matters ol
cognition. Lastly, I k)ww all truths which I have consciously
reasoned out from these more immediate cognitions. What
is knowledge to one man may therefore be belief to another.

Both compared. — We do not imply that such precision
as this can be observed in everyday language. We merely
seek to define a distinction vaguely felt, and confusedly
indicated in ordinary modes of expression, but which points to
real and important psychological differences. If we accept
this defineation of the fields of knowledge and belief, or even if
we confine belief to the two smaller classes — probable opinion
and trust in testimony — we see the motive for the frequent
description of the one as intelligent, the other as comparatively
blind, although both acts pertain to the intellect. Cognition
requires that the truth assented to be mediately or immediately
intrinsically evident. Belief, at least in the narrower sense,
has for its object the inevident, or what is but extrinsically
evident.'^ In the former state there is always full assent ; in
the latter acquiescence may at times be only partial. In the
one case we are completely determined by the objective
evidence or reality of the fact ; in the other we may be
largely governed by volition, emotion, and other subjective
dispositions of the soul. It is this element of truth which
lies at the root of Hamilton's statement : " Knowledge and
Belief differ not only in degree but in kind. Knowledge is a
certainty founded upon insight ; belief is certainty founded
upon feeling. The one is perspicuous and objective, the
other obscure and subjective." It is true that knowledge is
eminently rational, whilst belief may be largely instinctive or
emotional ; still, possibility of error can at times be as
securely excluded in states of mind justly called beliefs as in

^' In scholastic language a truth is said to be intrinsically evident
when by its own nature it enforces assent. It is cxttinsicaUv evident
if necessarily acquiesced in by virtue of authority or testimony in
its favour. For a treatment oi evidence as the criterion of certitude,
cf. First Principles of Knoivlcdge, c. xiii.


the clearest knowledge. Since, however, thq essential feature
in the mental state of belief is the admission by the intellect
of some truth impressed upon it, those psychologists misread
consciousness who ascribe the act itself to the voluntary or
affective faculties.

From this demarcation of knowledge and belief it will
follow that truths transcending phenomenal experience,
such as the existence and attributes of God, the nature
of the soul, the reality of a future life, and the like, when
demonstrated by strict logical reasoning from evident facts
and principles, can be kmnvn as well as believcdP The term
faith is more especially employed to signify belief in supra-
sensible things on the authority of Divine Revelation. Such
supernatural belief requires, according to Catholic Theology,
the co-operation of grace, and exceeds in both reliableness
and dignity the avouchments of natural intelligence.

(B) The Causes of belief. — The forces which
determine belief are manifold. Looking from the
outside at our beliefs as a system — the complexus of
views, opinions, and convictions possessed by each of
us, on moral, religious, social, scientific, and political
matters — we are forced to admit that they are very
largely the result of our intellectual environment or what
Mr. Balfour happily styles the "psychological atmos-
phere" or "climate" in which we live. If we turn to
the particular acts of judgment exercised from day to
day throughout our lives, it is clear that our inherited
character as well as our acquired habits of thought
have an important part in determining assent wherever
the evidence is not conclusive. Still it is in the proxi-
mate conditions of belief that the psychologist is most
interested ; and these may be classed as (i) Intellectual,
(2) Emotional, (3) Volitional.

(i) Intellectual factor.— Amon°^st the causes of belief must

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 33 of 63)