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Continuation of the fame Subje&.-Differences in the Intellectual Characters of Individuals, arifing from their different Habits of Abflraction and Generalifation.
IN N mentioning as one of the principal effects of civilifation, its tendency to familiarife the mind. to general terms and to general propofitions, I did not mean to fay, that this influence extends equally to all the claffes of men in fociety. On the contrary, it is evidently confined, in a great meafure, to those who receive a liberal education; while the minds of the lower orders, like thofe of favages, are fo habitually occupied about particular objects and particular events, that, although they are fometimes led, from imitation, to employ general expreflions, the use which they make of them is much more the refult of memory than judgment; and it is but feldom that they are able to comprehend fully, any procefs of reafoning in which they are
It is hardly neceffary for me to remark, that this obfervation, with refpect to the incapacity of the vulgar for general fpeculations, (like all obfervations of a fimilar nature,) must be received with fome reftrictions. In fuch a state of society as that in which we live, there is hardly any individual to be found, to whom some general terms, and fome general truths, are not perfectly familiar; and, therefore, the fore
going conclufions are to be confidered as descriptive of thofe habits of thought alone, which are most prevalent in their mind. To abridge the labour of reasoning, and of memory, by directing the attention to general principles, instead of particular truths, is the profeffed aim of all philofophy; and according as individuals have more or lefs of the philofophic fpirit, their habitual speculations (whatever the nature of their pursuits may be) will relate to the former, or to the latter, of these objects.
There are, therefore, among the men who are accustomed to to the exercise of their intellectual powers, two claffes, whofe habits of thought are remarkably diftinguished from each other; the one clafs comprehending what we commonly call men of business, or, more properly, men of detail; the other, men of abstraction; or, in other words, philofophers.
The advantages which, in certain refpects, the latter of these poffefs over the former, have been already pointed out; but it must not be supposed, that these advantages are always purchased without fome inconvenience. As the folidity of our general principles depends on the accuracy of the particular obfervations into which they are ultimately refolvable, so their utility is to be estimated by the practical applications of which they admit: and it unfortunately happens, that the fame turn of mind which is favour. able to philofophical pursuits, unless it be kept under proper regulation, is extremely apt to difqualify us for applying our knowledge to ufe, in the exercise of the arts, and in the conduct of affairs.
In order to perceive the truth of thefe remarks, it is almost fufficient to recollect, that as claffification, and, of confequence, general reafoning, prefuppofe the exercise of abftraction; a natural difpofition to indulge in them, cannot fail to lead the mind to overlook the specific differences of things, in attending to their common qualities. To fucceed, however, in practice, a familiar and circumftantial acquaintance with the particular objects which fall under our obfervation, is indifpenfably neceffary.
But, farther: As all general principles are founded on claffifications which imply the exercife of abstraction; it is neceffary to regard them, in their practical applications, merely as approximations to the truth; the defects of which, must be supplied by habits acquired by perfonal experience. In confidering, for example, the theory of the mechanical powers; it is usual to fimplify the objects of our conception, by abstracting from friction, and from the weight of the different parts of which they are compofed. Levers are confidered as mathematical lines, perfectly inflexible; and ropes, as mathematical lines, perfectly flexible ;-and by means of these, and fimilar abstractions, a subject, which is in itself extremely complicated, is brought within the reach of elementary geometry. In the theory of politics, we find it neceffary to abftract from many of the peculiarities which diftinguifh different forms of government from each other, and to reduce them to certain general claffes, according to their prevailing tendency. Although all the governments we have ever seen, have had more or lefs of mixture in their
compofition, we reafon concerning pure monarchies, pure aristocracies, and pure democracies, as if there really exifted political establishments correfponding to our definitions. Without fuch a claffification, it would be impoffible for us to fix our attention, amidst the multiplicity of particulars which the fubject prefents to us, or to arrive at any, general principles, which might ferve to guide our enquiries in comparing different inftitutions together.
It is for a fimilar reason, that the fpeculative farmer reduces the infinite variety of foils to à few general descriptions; the phyfician, the infinite variety of bodily conftitutions to a few temperaments; and the moralift, the infinite variety of human cha racters to a few of the ruling principles of action.
Notwithstanding, however, the obvious advantages we derive from thefe claffifications, and the general conclufions to which they lead; it is evidently impoffible, that principles, which derived their origin from efforts of abstraction, should apply literally to practice; or, indeed, that they fhould afford us any confiderable affiftance in conduct, without a certain degree of practical and experimental skill. Hence it is, that the mere theorist fo frequently expofes himself, in real life, to the ridicule of men whom he despises; and in the general estimation of the world, falls below the level of the common drudges in business and the arts. The walk, indeed, of these unenlightened practitioners, must neceffarily be li mited by their accidental opportunities of experience; but, fo far as they go, they operate with facility and fuccefs; while the merely fpeculative philofopher, although
although poffeffed of principles which enable him to approximate to the truth, in an infinite variety of untried cafes, and although he fees, with pity, the narrow views of the multitude, and the ludicrous pretenfions with which they frequently oppose their trifling fucceffes to his theoretical fpeculations, finds himself perfectly at a lofs, when he is called upon, by the fimpleft occurrences of ordinary life, to carry his principles into execution. Hence the origin of that maxim, "which" (as Mr. Hume remarks) has been fo industriously propagated by the dunces of every 66 age, that a man of genius is unfit for business."
In what confifts practical or experimental skill, it is not easy to explain completely; but, among other things, it obviously implies, a talent for minute and comprehenfive and rapid obfervation; a memory, at once retentive and ready; in order to present to us accurately, and without reflexion, our theoretical knowledge a prefence of mind, not to be difconcerted by unexpected occurrences; and, in fome cafes, an uncommon degree of perfection in the external fenfes, and in the mechanical capacities of the body. All these elements of practical skill, it is obvious, are to be acquired only by habits of active exertion, and by a familiar acquaintance with real occurrences; for, as all the practical principles of our nature, both intellectual and animal, have a reference to particulars, and not to generals, fo it is in the active scenes of life alone, and amidst the details of business, that they can be cultivated and improved. The remarks which have been already made, are fufficient to illuftrate the impoffibility of acquiring