Jacques Maritain Center : The First Principles of Knowledge

Chapter III.
Objectivity of Ideas, Whether Singular or Universal.


  1. Proof of the validity of the senses is only a part of the general refutation of idealism; ideas are not mere refined sensations but reach objects above the sensible order.
  2. Various forms of idealism.
  3. What we have to establish in general.
  4. Arguments for this purpose. (a) There is no self-contradiction in the way in which the realist supposes thought to transcend itself, and to reach out to objects distinct from itself. (b) Idealism is contrary to self-evident truth, and in its extreme form cannot be asserted without refuting itself.
  5. Caution against taking too narrow a view of what is meant by the reality of the object.
  6. Special difficulty as to the reality of universal ideas. (a) The possibility of a finite nature being specifically repeated in many individuals: a repetition which is impossible to an infinite nature. (b) Universality is fundamentally in things, formally in the mind alone; hence the determination of the reality proper to a universal idea, (c) The insufficiency of the pure sensist view, and of the analogy borrowed from the average photograph. (d) The purpose served by multiplying observations and comparisons of individuals in forming the universal idea. (e) How we manage to use common terms, which are not perfectly universalized. (f) Not at all need we fancy, that every word is one definitely universalized term. (g) Difficulty raised against the possibility of abstraction, on the score of inseparable association in experience.
  7. Conclusion.


1. IT would be an error to limit the problem of idealism idealism to the, material world; and hence the last chapter does not cover the whole of the ground which has to be covered. A question more deep- reaching and more universal is, whether our ideas in general attain to objective reality, be this material or immaterial.

That our ideas are not bounded by our sensations, but have a wider range, must be allowed by all who will take the trouble to go through an analysis of the notions which they possess.{1} It is true that a trace of man's organic conditions clings to his highest intellectual actions; but all the same these clearly manifest a power above sense. Against the theory advocated by Hume, and more or less favoured by many other English philosophers, that ideas are faded, attenuated, and almost etherialized sensations, facts are in dead opposition. Even Lewes, who so largely makes verification by the senses the criterion of real knowledge, has the candour to say: " Ideas are not impressions at all, and hence not faint impressions. Ideas are not sensible pictures. The least experience is sufficient to convince us that we have many ideas which cannot be reduced to any sensible picture." Mr. Huxley, in his manual on Hume, is also a witness in our favour, maintaining that "the great merit of Kant is, that he upholds the doctrine of the existence of elements of consciousness which are neither sense-experiences nor any modifications of them." Plain facts of self-analysis do not need the support of confessions made by adversaries; but such support may usefully be borrowed as an accessory.

2. To say now what precisely is idealism, presents a considerable degree of difficulty, because of the Protean character of the object to be dealt with; but without being able to tie the wily trickster down to one shape, we may be able to effect a sufficient capture for purposes of inspection. Negatively an important observation is, that it is not idealism to maintain that the thing-in-itself is unknowable, when by thing-in-itself is meant an object out of all relation to knowledge. The stoutest realist would allow so much. But idealism has its root mainly in these two contentions, that mind cannot go outcide of itself or of its own conscious states, and that least of all can mind truly represent to itself external matter. The idealist, who on these grounds should venture to affirm that there is nothing outside his thought, and especially nothing material, would be so manifestly guilty of unwarrantable dogmatism, that we may pass him by and consider only the more plausible adversary, the strength of whose position lies in its being agnostic. He does not deny, he only pleads his inability positively to affirm anything beyond the idealistic limit. This limit he may variously set according to any one of the following formulae. I am certain (a) only of present states of consciousness, as of subjective coruscations or modes; (b) only of present along with certain remembered and certain safely expected states; (c) only of past, present, and future states along with my substantial mind as the subject of these states. So far the two fundamental principles of idealism have been fairly, though in varying degrees, respected there has been no passage beyond the thinking self, and there has been no assertion of independent matter. But many who would not dare to take up the last-mentioned of the three positions, make no hesitation in assuming the next, which is to idealism really a more formidable position, namely, (d) I am certain only of a series of conscious states which I know as my mind, and of other series which I know as states of consciousness in other minds. (e) With regard to an outer material world, some idealists, not quite thoroughgoing, claim to have a knowledge that it exists and acts upon them, but disclaim all knowledge about its real nature and properties.

The above divisions are not meant historically to represent the several schools of idealism, but rather to show progressive steps from the extremest to a more moderate doctrine. Berkeleyism, as having been already described, is omitted. In all cases idealism is founded mainly on a common difficulty which is felt against realism -- a difficulty which shall now be stated in the words of an upholder of the system. The following passages, culled from Professor Caird's work on Kant, will convey the information required. "The knowledge of thinas must mean that the mind finds itself in them, or in some way, that the difference between them and the mind is dissolved." "How can anything come within consciousness which is essentially different from consciousness? How can we think that which is ex hypothesi unthinkable?" "We can know objects because in so far as their most general determinations are concerned, we produce the objects we know." Thus the one method of asserting a knowledge of things is in some way to identify thing with thought, to make thought in some way the producer of its own things, so that esse shall be percipi. If a dualism, a real division between thought and thing, is allowed, then you have thought transcending itself and reaching to something other than itself; and the only way to get over this difficulty is by some such rough-and-ready but logically unjustifiable means, as that employed by Professor Clifford, when he says that he is satisfied with his ancestry for having evolved his mode of consciousness, and adds, "How consciousness can testify to the existence of anything outside of itself, I do not pretend to declare." Thus the alternatives seem to be either to identify thing with thought, or to pass from thing to thought, as it were, by brute force; unless, indeed, we are prepared to give up the attainability of real knowledge altogether, and confess that all things are unknowable, except passing mental conditions.

3. One point, which has already been incidentally mentioned, may here be distinctly emphasized, when we are about to state what exactly we undertake to establish against idealism. In asserting that ideas cannot transcend themselves, no plausible idealist affirms that there is no transcendent reality: he only asserts the powerlessness of the mind to make sure of it. As Mr. Bain{2} remarks in an article in Mind, "The statement that there is no existence beyond consciousness, is not what an idealist would make; but what he says is, that we know only what we perceive. Conscious properties make up object and subject alike: consciousness contains its object states and its subject states, and all our knowledge lies within the compass of these." In opposition to idealism as so propounded, without making special reference to the outer world of matter which was dealt with in the last chapter, we have as our substantial task to show (a) that there is no contradiction in the fact of the intellect, through its ideas, knowing objects really other than itself; and (b) that the objective reality of ideas must be admitted, because of its self- evidence, and because the fact cannot even be denied without its being at the same time implicitly asserted.

4. These being substantially the points to be made good, the requirements will be found satisfied under the following arguments and conclusions:

(a) Bilocation, or being present in two different places at once, is not naturally possible to a material body. This is true, but does not affect realists, who do not suppose an idea to be an extended body, which has at the same time to transfer itself to a distant space. So far, however, as an idea is indirectly subject to the conditions of space, it is physically present in only one spot, namely, in the soul united to a narrowly circumscribed body. But besides having, as all other things have, a physical entity, an idea has something else peculiar to itself, its vis intentionalis, as the scholastics say, its power of going forth, not mechanically, but by way of intellectual perception. Now, coolly to affirm, as idealists are in the habit of doing, that this power is unable to attain to anything outside the thinking subject, is not only the veriest piece of dogmatism, but is against the evidence of experience. Not by any a priori assumptions, nor by a false analogy drawn from physics, but by the accurate interpretation of conscious facts, are we to know what ideas can do. A door-post, which has no ideas, can never be taught what is the power of ideas. A man, precisely because he has ideas, can judge of their value, and his judgment must be formed on the case as presented in consciousness, not upon some hypothesis wholly arbitrary. Using the method of selfintrospection, we find that our ideas are -- in the wide sense of the word things -- things having a perceptive power. Nor is there the shadow of an argument to suggest that the perceptive power cannot reach to other objects, even to objects purely material and unintelligent. As we do not know how intelligence produces its marvellous act, as that mysterious spiritual agency is above our ken, it is very arbitrary on our part to limit thought by the analogies of mechanical action. Such an attempt breaks down at every point. Even idealists themselves show the little store they set by their own theory in straightway disregarding it, and transgress. ing the boundaries put by themselves. Their main limitation is that thought shall not transcend itself: hence, theoretically, present consciousness, viewed as a fact, ought with them to be the whole of positive knowledge. Yet they one and all trust memory and expectation, thereby openly going beyond present fact. Few would seek escape by a hopeless attempt to deny this: hence Mill candidly confesses, "The psychological theory cannot explain memory."{3} The few, however, who are venturesome enough to make the denial, would find their bold course lead only to speedy confusion; for they would have to abide rigorously by their statement, "We know only our present conscious condition." "Very well," is the reply, "define your term 'present.' If it is an absolute, unextended point, then it is of no service to you, and is most flagrantly against the law that a certain persistence in consciousness is necessary in order to secure advertence. If your 'present' is not an unextended point, then it has a certain duration: it involves a past and a present, and you begin to be in the same condition as your bolder brethren, who openly claim to believe in memory and expectation, and who so far give up the dogma that thought cannot transcend itself."

Another surrender, and a more glaring one, of the same dogma, is the almost unanimous admission by idealists of "other men," or other consciousnesses; which is surely a full confession, that for thought to reach an object other than itself, it needs the accomplishment of no self-contradictory feat.

If considerations like the above have the salutary effect only of making the idealist less confident of his assumed position, and more respectful to the secure judgment of the orbis terrarum; if they only rouse him to ask himself by what right he takes it for granted, that thought must be shut up in itself, then they have been not without the beginnings of success.

(b) To carry these beginnings further, we may urge upon the thorough-going idealist, to whom thought is not for certain anything more than a mental firework, that he has been all along supposing the objective validity of thought in arguing out his conclusion;{4} and that his very assertion, as to the nature of ideas, is founded on the belief that his ideas concerning this point are objectively valid. On the strength of valid ideas he tries to prove ideas invalid, thus taking up the position of the universal sceptic, which we have seen to be untenable. Also we have seen that evidence is the guarantee of truth. Now to any one who will make fair use of his faculties, there is evidence for the general truth that his ideas are objectively real, even when they are about objects not actually existent, but only possible. The result cannot be the conclusion of strict demonstration, that is, of an inference from the known to the unknown. For no premisses can be framed which do not assume the conclusion. The fact, then, must be taken on its own self-evidence, than which no other and no better guarantee can be given. Mediate knowledge, through means of proof, has no advantage over intuition, for it must rest finally on intuition; nor is the evidence whereby we see the sequence of an argument more valid than the evidence, whereby we assent to the simpler truths of immediate knowledge. To fancy otherwise is a common delusion with our adversaries.

But about intuition there is a confusion to be cleared up, and a mistake to be removed. Some limit intuition to the case where the object itself is actually present in the mind; as is the condition of those facts of our own consciousness, which, Malebranche says, we know "without ideas," or as the scholastics would say, through no vicarious "species." How, then, do the schoolmen, insisting on the need of the "species" for all objects outside the mind itself, yet manage to assert an intuition of some such objects? By means of the distinction, already explained, between a signum quo and a signum ex quo. Unfortunately adversaries, from a leaning to materialism' often test the case only on the merits of external bodies, about which there is admittedly a difficulty, such as to cause certain followers even of orthodox philosophy to declare themselves "cosmothetic idealists" -- that is, they hold that an inference is requisite to make sure of the externality of a body. But setting aside this vexed question, we can have recourse to intuitions of truths, the objects of which are certainly not part of ourselves, and not in themselves bound up with the actual existence of an outside world of matter. Such for example are the truths contained in the propositions, "What is, cannot at the same time not be;" "Every new event must have an adequate cause." Here the ideas, "being," "not being," "event," "cause," cannot really be resolved into simpler constituents, but are seen in themselves, as soon as they are possessed, to be no idle fireworks of the mind, but to have an objective meaning, leading at once to the enunciations above made. They are signa quibus, a phrase fairly illustrated by some quotations to be found in Hamilton's edition of Reid's Intellectual Powers,{5} where, however, neither author nor editor are exactly of our mind. Take first this note of Hamilton's: "Arnauld did not allow that perceptions and ideas are really or numerically distinguished, i.e., as one thing from another; nor even that they are modally distinguished, i.e., as a thing from its mode. He maintained that they are really identical, and only rationally discriminated, as viewed in different relations; the indivisible mental modification being called a perception, by reference to the mind or thinking subject, an idea by reference to the mediate object, or thing thought." This word "mediate" should have been omitted: the immediate object of the mind, as percipient, is not primarily the idea itself -- though we shall see self also entering in, when we come to describe consciousness -- but it is that which is signified by the idea. This immediate object is always given intuitively, though it may require an inference to refer it to some larger whole, or to settle its existence in or as some actual thing. In other words, every idea has a meaning, that is, an immediate object; every idea is the intuition of an object, complete or partial. Hence Descartes is cited in the place referred to, as describing ideas to be "thoughts so far forth as they bear the character of images,"{6} and Buffier as writing: " If we confine ourselves to what is intelligible in our observations on ideas, we shall say that they are nothing but mere modifications of the mind as a thinking being. They are called ideas with regard to the object represented, and perceptions with regard to the faculty representing. It is manifest that our ideas, considered in this sense, are not more distinguished than motion is from a body moved." Besides, then, the intuitions of states of self, we may have intuitions of objects that are not self; and the view that the mind first looks at an image within itself, and then vainly tries to compare this image with some object wholly outside itself, would be very fatal to realism, if it were the true account of the process: but it happens to be a caricature, or at any rate an unintentional piece of very bad drawing.

Briefly to resume. Our refutation of idealism is, that its falsehood appears upon immediate evidence, for no one can have the normal faculties of a man without some real knowledge coming home to him, and showing him that he has really the power to know. To argue against this fact is to imply its admission. Hence, in the First Part of this book, the capability of the human mind to attain to truth was put down as the first condition to be granted at the very outset of philosophy. Ideas cannot then, as Mr. Huxley surmises, be mere flashes in the mental pan, hitting no mark, and quite ineffectual for objective knowledge. If the argument against idealism should to some appear scarcely to be an argument, the reason lies, not in the weakness of the cause, but in the fact that the case is too elementarily clear to allow of demonstration strictly so called; and in that sense alone "the opposite of idealism cannot be proved." Man, being intelligent, in the very exercise of his faculty is immediately assured of its existence and of its validity, and to ask a more roundabout proof is to demand the preposterous and the impossible. Every idea is necessarily representative or cognitive of something, and only in the rare instances where we are reflecting upon our ideas themselves, are ideas the direct and principal objects of our intellect.

5. When we assert that the object of our ideas is real, the word "real" is very liable to misunderstanding. In a narrower sense "real" means only the actually and physically existent; but as used in this chapter, the "real" is whatever either has or might have its own physical existence, and does not exist formally as an object of thought alone, as also whatever is a real aspect of such an actual or possible entity. It is what logicians strictly understand by "a first intention," as opposed to "a second intention," that is, to an object which, as formally described, could not exist except as the term of the mind, because the mind, with its abstractions and reflections, has imposed upon it some conditions essentially mental. Such are genera and species, subjects and predicates, and universal ideas, all which are essentially logical entities, with no more than a ground for their formation, in the extra-mental order. Besides these, everything else which is truly the object of an idea, is, in the present use of the word, "real;" though often that which is allowed to pass for an idea, is in fact no idea at all, being but a contradictory medley of ideas, never fused into one idea. It is a false judgment, or fancy, that there is such fusion between mutually repellent elements, for example a square triangle."

6. It is useless, however, to urge the objective reality of ideas unless a special explanation is given of universal ideas, which seem to be condemned by the admitted fact, that every real object, actual or possible, is singular. Under the very false impression that all realism, when the word is used in its connexion with universals, must be of the exaggerated form, which asserts universality a parte rei, modern writers overlook that moderate realism which, giving to things what belongs to them, and to the mind's own operations what belongs to them, is manifestly the true doctrine.

(a) We shall get at the root of the solution if we observe the difference of condition between an infinite nature and a finite. The infinite nature does not allow of a multiplicity of individuals: there is but one God, and there cannot be more, for, as is shown in natural theology, a plurality of individuals, having a nature infinitely perfect, involves a contradiction, so that the three Persons are but one God.{7} But the case is altered with finite natures. Among them no one individual can claim to exhaust the possibilities of the nature; no one is so a man as to fill up, in his own person, the whole capabilities of humanity. However great the man, there is room enough in creation for others; and if "there is no necessary man," still more is there no all-exhaustive man. Any created nature, and any character about it, may be specifically repeated an indefinite number of times. In the controversy between Leibnitz and Clarke as to whether two examples of the same species can be so thoroughly alike that the only difference existing between them is that they are individually diverse, the affirmative is the right answer. Anything that has once been done may have its exact copy in another individual, yet the individualities are separate. Another Adam, in all respects like Adam, but not Adam, might have been the first man. But here we see reason enough why no universality a parte rei is possible. There always must be the difference that one individual is not another, while, de facto, besides this, there are always other differences, at least in accidentals. Nevertheless, we cling to what we have before said, and, insisting on the similarities in the midst of mentally negligeable dissimilarities, we affirm that the real likenesses between several creatures give the foundation for universal ideas.

(b) We have now to determine the way in which universal ideas can be formed, so as to be predicable of real things and still not to introduce any falsehood into the predication. It is certain that all the individual differences cannot be physically abstracted; such abstraction must be mental; and the mind has to be careful not to attribute its own processes to nature. By virtue of its reflective power the human intellect has a mode of coming to agreements with itself, which wonderfully serve the purposes of knowledge. Thus, being finite, it cannot directly represent to itself what an infinite object is; but by a contrivance it can obtain sufficiently an idea of the infinite; for it knows what limited being is, and it has only to deny the limit in order to form a true, though imperfect, conception of the infinite. Similarly it is by a contrivance that we fashion for ourselves a universal idea, the requisites of which are, that it shall be "univocally predicable of several individuals, taken singly or distributively." Thus "man" is predicable of Peter, Paul, John, and James: all and each are men. A direct and a reflex universal must both conspire to make up the whole. The direct universal is of "first intention:" it picks out some nature or attribute, prescinded from its individuality, as in the perfectly unindividualized conception of virtue, vice, substance, round. The individuality is not denied, but merely put out of the reckoning, as is indeed all "extension" of the term. Next comes the reflex universal due precisely to the addition of "extension" by the observation that a concept so prescinded may be applied to each of many individuals presenting the notes contained in the comprehension. "Mammal," let us say, is the notion we gather from the inspection of a cow; advertence to the applicability of this idea to many individuals, actual or possible, gives the reflex universal. Because of the process which forms the direct universal, the universal is sometimes called an abstract idea; and it is so inasmuch as it is always abstracted from individualizing differences. But because Pure Logic has found it convenient to define "abstract term" as one which goes a greater length in the way of abstraction, and exhibits a form without a subject," e.g., "rotundity," "humanity," "mammality;" we may respect this appropriation of a word, and say that "rotund," "human," "mammal," are prescinded or abstracted terms instead of calling them abstract. The abstraction, it cannot be too often remarked, is mental and not attributed to the things themselves: whereas the characters expressed by the prescinded terms are in the things themselves, and are attributed to them. It is a real predication when we say of a corpulent old gentleman that he is "human," "rotund," and "mammalian."

To go through the whole account once more in the way of illustration. Looking at a triangle, we see its essence to be a plane figure bounded by three straight lines. This is our intellectual insight into the quiddity or whatness of the thing. Any existent triangle will be scalene, or isosceles, drawn in white chalk, or in red chalk, and so forth: but content with the quiddity, we neglect these individual peculiarities, though any one of them might be singled out, and treated just as we are treating the essential triangularity itsell But to rest content with one example at a time, we have the prescinded conception, "plane figure bounded by three straight lines." This is the direct universal, universal as yet only in potentia but made so in actu, when we recognize it, on reflexion, to be a concept which is one in many different individuals, actual or possible. There may be thousands of figures, each of which is a triangle, and admits, univocally with the rest, the predicate "triangle." The one concept, regarded as the common predicate of many, is a logical entity, a "second intention:" the direct meaning of that concept, in "comprehension," is literally true of each individual, and is "a first intention."

The whole of which doctrine is condensed by the scholastics into the phrase, "Universals are formally only in the mind, but fundamentally they are in things." Things are really like one another; and this is the foundation whereon the mind proceeds to build, when conceiving the likeness, and prescinding from individual differences, it ranks similar individuals under one common idea. We each fall under the concept "man," though no single one of us is simply "man" without individual differences, and though physically we each form no unity with other men.

(c) The objection that every idea is physically one thing, with one meaning attached to it, simple or complex, can be met by us with the reply that this holds of the direct universal, and is remedied, for purposes of universality, by the reflex act which we have described. For example, an idea of triangle is one psychological state of the mind, and it has one complex signification: but on reflexion this one signification can be applied to several. individuals. Hereupon we are led to remark the incompetence of the sensist theory, which accounts for universals thus: Repeated sensations from resembling bodies produce a common image by a process comparable to a recent device in photography. The photographs of several persons, for example mathematicians, either by a simultaneous or by a successive method, are superposed and combined into one image, on the principle that only those features which are repeated sufficiently often in the different originals will leave a marked impression on the sensitized plate upon which the aggregate image is thrown. Other features are either lost, or but faintly indicated. The result is that a sort of average face stands out, in which enthusiasts are glad to find the resemblance of some individual who has been famous in mathematics, and who is thus proved to have had the typical countenance. By no such process could a universal idea be reached; for the average image is still singular, applicable rather to none than to all mathematicians; for even the favourite to whom it is assigned is allowed to be not accurately represented. Moreover, the photograph has no self-referring power at all: it keeps strictly at home. Assuredly there is no power in sense- images properly to abstract and universalize; and such common images as the lower animals can frame certainly do not reach to the standard of universal ideas. Hence we must insist very strongly on the strictly intellectual character of the process of universalizing, and on the fact that abstraction is no mere dropping of sensile details, without the addition of some active power of intelligence which is above sense.{8}

(d) If to form a general notion it is often necessary to multiply observations and comparisons of individuals, the reason is not that suggested by the analogy of the average photograph. One observation would suffice for the framing of any universal idea, if at once we could observe things through and through, and know all about them. One observation as to how a circle is drawn would, as a matter of fact, suffice for the universal idea of a circle, because the mode of genesis is so clear. But in physical matters we are liable to all those difficulties of generalization which are studied under the heading of Induction, and for which Mill's canons were originally devised, and have since been improved upon by later writers.

(e) The difficulties of universalizing are often so great that we do not accomplish the result, but manage to get along with terms still left in the vague. An ordinary man has never found it necessary to settle for himself precisely what he means by a tiger, a hippopotamus, or even a horse. He has vaguely outlined images of these several animals in his brain, and these suffice for ordinary purposes. If called upon to assign the precise marks which he included under each name, he would be nonplussed; the finer discrimination would be beyond his powers. A rustic, whose idea of fish was formed simply on what the hawker sold him under the pleasant name of "fresh herring," would be quite puzzled if taken into a town to see an aquarium, or even a fishmonger's shop: while a day spent with a merman "at the bottom of the deep blue sea," would utterly overwhelm him by the endless display of fishy varieties. Even a learned man may often be betrayed into calling a whale a fish, and it was a fish so far as the old usage went. In view of facts like these, we have only to say, that ideas which have never been properly abstracted and universalized must not be brought as specimens of universal ideas. There are genuine specimens, and these we must use as illustrations. We shall find them especially in mathematical and moral definitions: as also in some of those physical laws -- for example, the laws of motion, which have been satisfactorily formulated.

(f) What has been asserted of ideas is still more applicable to words. An idea strictly is never vague: and if an idea is said to be indefinite or to vary, it is not one idea, but the addition or the subtraction of ideas, or the element of indistinctness, which is variable. Why, the mere exercise of school-boy translation was enough to teach us, how far words are from having each a neatly defined signification, and the special employment of technical terms by scientific men is a contrast which calls attention to the looseness of ordinary usage. Certainly, we cannot flatter ourselves that, by the aid of a dictionary, we shall be able to read intelligently any book written in our own language, no matter how recondite the subject. Words, then, are no immediate test of the doctrine about universals.

(g) We may take leave of the matter with an answer to a difficulty which Mill{9} urges in this shape: In order to get your abstracted general term you must isolate its contents: but this the law of inseparable association forbids you to do: what has always been united in experience and cannot be conceived to be disunited, must always cohere in thought. Against this fancied difficulty, the power of the mind, by reflexion, to come to agreements with itself, must once more be insisted upon. To abstract a common nature or a common attribute, it is not necessary to shut out concomitant ideas of individual peculiarities; it is quite enough to know which are the common notes, and to resolve to take account of them alone. It is possible in society to ignore the presence of a man, of which yet you are aware. If any one has the general notion of a plane triangle as a plane figure bounded by three straight lines, it in no way stops his reasonings upon this abstracted nature, if there is concomitantly in his imagination, or in his thoughts, the representation of scalene or isosceles properties. These may be present to the mind and yet wholly left out of count in a selected line of thought. Otherwise all reasoning would be baffled: for we always have an accompaniment of variously suggested ideas going along with the main ideas, but excluded from entrance upon the course of argument. Whatever may be our doctrine about the number of thoughts that can be present to the mind at one time, we must find room for that familiar experience, whereby consciousness has its point of greatest attention surrounded by a region of diminishing advertence, and shades off into the subconscious and the unconscious. There is one brightest spot, and round it there is a fainter halo: there is a substantial vesture of thought, and to it adheres a fringe. But we can abstract what part of the whole we like, by our will to do it. Ideas need not be in our mind like so many sharply distinct atoms: they may be there after the analogy of parts in a network or in an organized body, and yet we can fix upon such a portion as we choose, and equivalently isolate it. Mill himself allows that we can so do, though he makes a great fuss about the inseparability of uniformly associated ideas:{10} "The formation of a concept does not consist in separating the attributes, which are said to compose it, from all other attributes of the same object. We neither conceive them, nor think them, nor cognize them in any way, as a thing apart, but solely as forming, in combination with other attributes, the idea of an individual object. But though thinking them only as part of a larger agglomeration, we have the power of fixing our attention on them, to the neglect of the other attributes with which we think them combined. While the concentration of attention actually lasts, if it is sufficiently intense, we may be teniporarily unconscious of any other attributes, and may really, for a brief interval, have nothing present to our mind but the attributes constituent of the concept. In general, however, the attention is not so completely exclusive as this: it leaves room in consciousness for other elements of the concrete idea. General concepts, therefore, we have properly speaking, none; but we are able to attend exclusively to certain parts of the concrete idea, and by that exclusive attention we allow those parts to determine exclusively the course of thoughts as called up by association." If Mill would only cease to make mind so much of a mere machine, and if he would make it, instead, an intellectual faculty proceeding on insight, with a vast power of spontaneity, with a power to reflect, to abstract, and to come to agreements about its own operations: and, if further he would observe that to think certain characters apart need not mean, and does not mean, the same thing as to think that in real objects these characters do actually exist apart; then he would have little scruple in revoking that portion of his own declaration: "General concepts we have properly speaking none." Also he would make less of the necessity for an association with words, such that "the association of the particular set of attributes with a given word is what keeps them together in the mind, by a stronger tie than that with which they are associated with the remainder of the concrete image." If only he could have formed a truer conception of how human intelligence works, and had taken warning in season from the necessity under which he found himself to make such confessions as, "I have never pretended to account by association for the idea of time," Mill would have ceased to regard it as a misfortune, that mankind ever took up the expression, "General conception."

7. The object of this whole chapter has been to defend the objective validity of ideas in general; but not of course to say, in detail, what ideas in each science are the correct representatives of reality. The main root of difference between adversaries and ourselves, is that they will insist, contrary to us, in regarding knowledge as primarily not a knowledge of things but of ideas. They imagine that what we first of all know are always subjective affections as such -- signa ex quibus and not signa quibus -- and then of course they see no way to a proof that these subjective affections are like objects without; rather they are inclined to believe that there can be no likeness, but at most a symbolic correspondence. But this is not the legitimate interpretation of the doctrine that the mind perceives through ideas. The mind perceives through ideas, not in the sense that it looks at ideas first, and then passes on to infer things; but in the sense that the mind, at least under one aspect, begins as a tabula rasa, and only in proportion as it stores itself with ideas is it rendered by them cognisant of objects. The mind, as informed by an idea, is cognisant of an object: but the idea, as has been so often repeated, is a signum quo, not signum ex quo; it has not first to be known, but is itself constitutive of the act of knowledge. A world of misconceptions would be saved if the right view of the office of ideas were acquired -- misconceptions which have led to the false definitions of truth exemplified in our opening chapter. In support of our own definition we need only a right appreciation about the nature of ideas; then ideas are seen to be objectively valid, and true knowledge is perceived to be the conformity of thought to tlilng. We thus escape the deduction from Helmholtz's theory of sensation -- the deduction, namely, that our sensations being non- resembling, signs of external things, all our ideas are nonresembling signs so far as they concern objects outside ourselves. Briefly, we recognize that we have a power of real knowledge, not reducible to a mechanical reaction, or quasi-chemical combination.


(1) It is a fancy of some semi-idealists that the thing-in-itself is something out of a relation to knowledge, and therefore not knowable for what it is. The mind gives to this unintelligible thing a form of its own, frames a symbol for it, but symbol and symbolized have nothing alike between them.

(2) The supposed impossibility of knowledge transcending the conscious state is really not kept to, by those who profess to keep within the impossible limit. Thus Mr. Spencer{a} has to have recourse to all the convenience of knowledge extending beyond the conscious state, under the subterfuge of calling this knowledge by another name. He savs, "though consciousness of an existence, which is beyond consciousness, is inexpugnable, the extra-conscious not only remains inconceivable in nature, but the nature of its connexion with consciousness cannot be truly conceived. Ever restrained within its limits, but ever trying to exceed them, consciousness cannot but use the forms of its activity in figuring to itself that which cannot be brought within these forms." Thus we are conscious of an outer reality which we do not conceive or know. The artifice here is ingenious but unsatisfactory; any fact which consciousness enables us with certainty to predicate, deserves to be called knowledge.

(3). The word "intuition" has been employed above with a risk of misinterpretation. For, not to mention other views, on a theory given more or less explicitly by different writers, an "intuition" stands for an implanted instinct to believe something, without either imniediate or mediate evidence. As used in this work, an intuition is no innate idea or perception, and no specially communicated knowledge: it is simply knowledge on immediate evidence. An instance in point is man's perception that his ideas have objective validity; on perceiving a clear truth he has an intuition of the validity of his faculties; and without this intuition he never could ascertain the fact by strict process of inference.{b} There are, moreover, intuitive perceptions beyond this matter of self-consciousness and in the region of the non-ego.

(4) Another point, already touched upon, may be further elucidated. With logicians an "abstract" idea is strictly one representing "a form without any subject," e.g., "humanity." But any universal term abstracted from individual peculiarities, is often called abstract, e.g., "man." The fact is there are degrees of abstraction increasing in extent: from the concrete article in his hand the bowler, at a cricket-match, may progressively abstract the terms ",ball," "spherical," "sphericity." Only the last of these words is an abstract in the full sense required by Pure Logic. With Hegel any word, not significant of the whole universe, was an abstract term, so complete did he make the unity of the whole. Thus, as we are not omniscient, all our knowledge would be abstract, though Hegel calls much of it concrete as judged by its own lower standard.

(5) In admitting that the mental process departs, in the formation of universal ideas, from strict reality, we are only allowing the mind to do what it often does without risk of falsehood. In nature the line of progress is from causes to effects: in our knowledge the progress ordinarily is from effects to causes; what logically is the premiss to a conclusion is often, in the ontological order, a consequence of the fact, or the principle, stated in the conclusion. We may argue God's wisdom from the order in creation, but the order in creation is a consequent upon the Divine wisdom. Again, we often make mental distinctions where we know there is no real distinction: as when we divide God into a nature with distinct attributes. Any departure, therefore, which in the formation of universals is made away from reality, can be recognized as such, and need not be asserted of the reality. To the real that alone need be assigned which belongs to it.

(6) Hence we know what to reply to those who, like Professor Huxley, maintain that our generalized laws of nature are not real but ideal. It is true that, supposing the law to he correctly formulated, there is no general law of gravitation apart from the several particles of matter which attract; but as each and all do attract, the universalized law is real in all that it attributes to nature. The difficulty is solved in the general solution of the problem concerning the reality of universal ideas; and to declare that generalized laws are not real, is a statement more likely to mislead than to instruct. They are real so far as they are applied to nature, and have their foundation there.

(7) Now that we are coming to an end of the doctrine about universals, we may observe that there seems more difficulty about individualizing our ideas than about universalizing them. The Divine nature excepted, every other term, in its mere statement, might belong to an indefinite number of individuals. "The first man" might have been quite another; and all that we have recorded of Julius Caesar might have been verified of another man, down to the minutest detail, which human description can record. For we never have an intuition of individuality itself as such. Our demonstrative pronoun itself, backed up by additional terms, "this very individual," is left a universal, unless we can fix it, proximately or remotely, by some fact of concrete experience. Touch a thing, while you call it "this," and you are fastening upon an individual; but mere ideas without an experienced connexion in fact either your own experience or the experience of some one else, -- will not carry you out of the universal. "This man" has no individuality till it is somehow concreted in experience.

(8) The true doctrine about realism was settled very early in the course of the scholastic disputations; not that some did not continue to go wrong, but the right statement was elicited and widely recognized. This is a point on which it is hopeless to consult an ordinary nonscholastic author; as soon as ever you see him starting the subject of the old controversy about universals, as a rule you may say to yourself, "Now for some quite incompetent criticism, and a large display of ignorance." As a single specimen of one who early formulated the doctrine of moderate realism we will take neither Albert the Great nor St. Thomas, but a contemporary Dominican, the preceptor in the home of St. Louis of France, Vincent of Beauvais.{c} "Universals," he writes, "are not in the intellect alone. For men have one common undivided nature, which is humanity, by reason of which each is called man; and that which is thus participated by all is called universal." Realism of the most extravagant type! the reader will perhaps exclaim; but let him have the patience to continue. "What is common is their specific likeness, which by the intellect is taken in abstraction from the individitalities. For as a line cannot exist apart from matter, and yet the intellect makes no false judgment when it abstracts the line from the matter, because it does not think that the two are really separable, but merely thinks of the line without taking account of the matter; so in general any universal, though it cannot be apart from its singulars, yet can become an object of intelligence, while no attention is being paid to what is individual." This clear explanation invites comparison with modern statements, such as that of Dr. Maudsley, when he says, that while "no animal, as far as we can judge, is capable of forming an abstract idea, there is good reason to think that the more intelligent animals are able to form a few general ideas." Generalization without abstraction is impossible, if the author is speaking strictly of a general idea. To return to the mediaevalists, however; they so talk of abstracting the essence from the individual accidents, that a reader might suppose they confined universals to essential predications. But though they thus emphasize one of the most important cases of universalization, they fully allow that any attribute may be abstracted and made a universal term; but in all instances alike this will be considered in its quiddity or nature, for accidents also have their quiddity.

(9) The objective validity of ideas once established, it is not necessary explicitly to argue that judgments and reasonings are valid processes, when they properly embody these ideas. Distinct propositions on these subjects may be found in the ordinary text- books;{d} but it is not difficult for any intelligent reader to guess the substance of the arguments employed.

{1} Aristotle (Metaphysics, Bk. I. c. i.) makes this distinction his very starting point.

{2} On the strength of the fact that they do not dogmatically affirm that there is no reality beyond ideas, some idealists repudiate the name of idealists as applied to themselves.

{3} Examination, Appendix.

{4} Palmieri, Logica Critica, Thesis vi.

{5} Essay ii. c. vii.

{6} Cogitationes prout sunt tanquam imagines.

{7} This hint cannot be developed here.

{8} See Kant's clumsy attempt to mediate between individual sense-image and universal idea by means of his schemata or monograms of the imagination. (Critique of Pure Reason, Max Müller's Translation, Vol. II. pp. 124, 491.)

{9} Examination, c. xvii. pp. 320, 321. Contrast St. Thomas, Ia. q. 85, a. 2, ad 2am.

{10} Examination, 1, c.

{a} See the opening chapters of First Principles.

{b} Recur to what is said in the body of this chapter about intuition (pp. 313-319).

{c} Quoted by Stöckl, Geschichte der Philosophie, under the name Vincent de Beauvais. Compare how this doctrine differs from Mill's popular fallacy about the scholastic doctrine. (Logic, Bk. I, c. vi. § 2.) He has the effrontery to put down exaggerated realism as "the most prevalent philosophical doctrine of the middle ages." (Examination, c. xvii. pp. 308, 309.)

{d} Palmieri, Logica Critica, Theses xiv., xviii.

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