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“ he was first acquainted with. And thus, those “ woods, which were originally the proper names of “ individuals, would each of them insensibly become " the common name of a multitude."*
“ It is this application" (he continues) " of the “ name of an individual to a great number of objects, “ whose resemblance naturally recals the idea of that 64 individual, and of the name which expresses it, " that seems originally to have given occasion to the 6 formation of those classes, and assortments, which, « in the schools, are called genera and species ; ard of " which the ingenious and eloquent Rousseau finds “ himself so much at a lofs to account for the origin. " What constitutes a species, is merely a number of “ objects, bearing a certain degree of resemblance to “ one another; and, on that account, denominated " by a single appellation, which may be applied to “ express any one of them.”+
This view of the natural progress of the mind, in forming classifications of external objects, receives fome illustration from a fact mentioned by Captain Cook in his account of a small island called Wateeoo, which he vifited in failing from New Zealand to the Friendly islands. « The inhabitants," says he, were *66 afraid to come near our cows and horfes, nor did
they form the least conception of their nature. " But the sheep and goats did not surpass the limits
* The same account of the progress of the mind in the formation of genera, is given by the Abhé de Condillac.
“ Un enfant appelle du nom d'Arbre le premier arbre
que nous lui montrons. Un second arbre qu'il voit en“ suite lui rapelle la même idée ; il lui donne le même
nom ; de même à un troisième, à un quatrième, et voilà *"le mot d'Arbre donné d'abord à un individu, qui devient
pour lui un nom de classe ou de genre, une ideé abstraite qui comprend tous les arbres en général.”
+ Dissertation on the Origin of Languages, annexed to Mr. Smith's Theory of Mural Sentiments,
of their ideas ; for they gave us to understand that “ they knew them to be birds. It will appear," he adds,“ rather incredible, that human ignorance could “ ever make so strange a mistake, there not being “ the most distant fimilitude between a sheep or
goat, and any winged animal. But these people “ seemed to know nothing of the existence of any “ other land animals, besides hogs, dogs, and birds. “ Our sheep and goats, they could see, were very “ different creatures from the two first, and therefore " they inferred that they must belong to the latter " class, in which they knew that there is a confider“able variety of species.”-I would add to Cook's very judicious remarks, that the mistake of these iflanders probably did not arise from their confider. ing a sheep or a goat as bearing a more ftriking resemblance to a bird, than to the two classes of quadrupeds with which they were acquainted ; but to the want of a generic word, such as quadruped, comprehending these two fpecies ; which men in their fituation would no more be led to form, than a person who had only seen one individual of each species, would think of an appellative to express both, instead of applying a proper name to each. In consequence of the variety of birds, it appears, that they had a generic name comprehending all of them, to which it was not unnatural for them to refer any new ani. mal they met with.
The classification of different objects supposes a power of attending to some of their qualities or attributes, without attending to the rest; for no two objects are to be found without fome specific difference; and no assortment or arrangeinent can be formed among things not perfectly alike, but by losing fight of their distinguishing peculiarities, and limit. ing the attention to those attributes which belong to them in common. Indeed, without this power of attending separately to things which cur senses
present to us in a state of union, we never could have had any
idea of number; for, before we can consider different objects as forming a multitude, it is neces. fary that we should be able to apply to all of them one common name ; or, in other words, that we fhould reduce them all to the fame genus. The various objects, for example, animate and inanimate, which are, at this moment, before ine, I may class and number in a variety of different ways, according to the view of them that I chuse to take. I may reckon fuccessively the number of sheep, of cows, of horses, of elms, of oaks, of beeches ; or I may first reckon the number of animals, and then the number of trees; or I may at once reckon the number of all the organized substances which my senses present to
But whatever be the principle on which my claflification proceeds, it is evident, that the objects numbered together, must be considered in those respects only in which they agree with each other; and that it I had no power of separating the combinations of sense, I never could have conceived them as forming a plurality.
This power of considering certain qualities or attributes of an object apart from the rest ; or, as I would rather chufe to define it, the power which the understanding has, of separating the combinations which are presented to it, is distinguished by logicians by the name of abstraction. It has been fupposed, by some philosophers, (with what probability I shall not now inquire,) to form the characteristical attribute of a rational nature. That it is one of the most important of all our faculties, and very inti. mately connected with the exercise of our reasoning powers, is beyond dispute. And, I flatter myself, it will appear from the sequel of this chapter, how much the proper management of it conduces to the fuccess of our philofophical pursuits, and of our general conduct in life.
The subserviency of Abstraction to the power of Reasoning, and also, its fubferviency to the exertions of a Poetical or Creative Imagination, shall be afterwards fully illustrated. At present, it is sufficient for my purpose to remark, that as abstraction is the ground-work of classification, without this faculty of the mind we should have been perfectly incapable of general speculation, and all our knowledge must neceffarily have been limited to individuals ; and that some of the most useful branches of science, particularly the different branches of mathematics, in which the very subjects of our reasoning are abstractions of the understanding, could never have poffibly had an existence. With respect to the subserviency of this faculty to poetical imagination, it is no less obvious, that, as the poet is supplied with all his materials by experience; and as his province is limited to combine and modify things which really exist, so as to produce new wholes of his own; so every exertion which he thus makes of his powers, presupposes the exercise of abstraction in decomposing and separating actual combinations. And it was on this account, that, in the chapter on Conception, I was led to make a distinction between that faculty, which is evidently simple and uncompounded, and the power of Imagination, which (at least in the sense in which I employ the word in these inquiries) is the result of a combination of various other powers.
I have introduced these remarks, in order to point out a difference between the abstractions which are subservient to reasoning, and those which are subservient to imagination. And, if I am not mistaken, it is a diftinction which has not been sufficiently attended to by some writers of eminence. In every instance in which imagination is employed in forming new wholes, by decompounding and combining the per. ceptions of sense, it is evidently necessary that the
poet or the painter should be able to state to himfelf the circumstances abstracted, as separate objects of conception. But this is by no means requisite in every case in which abstraction is subfervient to the power of reasoning ; for it frequently happens, that we can reason concerning one quality or property of an object abstracted from the rest, while, at the same time, we find it impossible to conceive it separately. Thus, I can reason concerning extension and figure, without any reference to color; although it may be doubted, if a person poffefsed of fight can make extension and figure steady objects of concep- tion, without connecting with them one color or another. Nor is this always owing (as it is in the instance now mentioned) merely to the affociation of ideas; for there are cases, in which we can reason concerning things separately, which it is impossible for us to suppose any being so constituted as to con
Thus, we can reason concerning length, abstracted from any other dimension ; although, surely, no understanding can make length, without breadth, an object of conception. And, by the way, this leads me to take notice of an error, which inathematical teachers are apt to commit, in explaining the first principles of geometry. By . dwelling long on Euclid's first definitions, they lead the student to suppose that they relate to notions which are extremely mysterious ; and to strain his powers in fruitless attempts to conceive, what cannot poffibly be made an object of conception. If these definitions were omitted, or very slightly touched upon,
and the attention at once directed to geometrical reasonings, the student would immediately perceive, that although the lines in the diagrams are really extended in two dimensions, yet that the demonstrations relate only to one of them; and that the human understanding has the faculty of reasoning concerning things separately, which are always