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TRUE THEORY OF GENERALIZATION REPEATED.-INCONGRUITY
IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE CONCEPTUALISTS.—SMITH'S THEORY OF THE INVENTION OF GENERAL TERMS IN RUDE PERI
SOCIETY.-ABSURDITY OF NOMINALISM. - USE OF
GENERAL TERMS NOT TO ENABLE MAN TO REASON, BUT TO
My last Lecture, Gentlemen, was employed on a subject, which has engaged, in an eminent degree, the attention of philosophers, both from the difficulty which was supposed to attend it, and from the extensive applications which were to be made of it, as the ground-work of every proposition, and consequently, of all our knowledge. It was necessary, therefore, to give you a sketch of the great controversy as to Universals, that so long divided the schools,-of which one party, that of the Realists,-formerly so powerful, when the general theory of the primary mental functions of perception accorded with the Realism,—may now, when our theory of perception is too simple to accord with it, be considered as altogether extinct. It was scarcely possible that universal forms, or species, should continue to hold a place in the philosophy of mind, or in our systems of dialectics, when even sensible species had been universally abandoned.
In stating the opinion, on the subject of this controversy, which I consider as the only one worthy of your assent, and indeed so obviously just, that it seems to me as if it could scarcely have failed to occur to every mind, but for the darkness of insignificant terms and phrases, with which the controversy itself had enveloped it, I endeavoured to free it, as much as possible, from this
mere verbal darkness, and to exhibit the process to you in that simple order of succession in which it appears to me to take place.
The process I stated to be the following ;
We perceive two, or more objects—this is one state of the mind. We are struck with the feeling of their resemblance in certain respects. This is a second state of the mind. We then, in the third stage, give a name to these circumstances of felt resemblance, a name which is, of course, applied afterwards only where this relation of similarity is felt. It is unquestionably not the naine which produces the feeling of resemblance, but the feeling of resemblance which leads to the invention, or application of the name; for it would be equally just and philosophic to say, that it is the name of the individual, John, or William, which gives existence to the individual, John, or William, and that he was nobody, or nothing, till the name, which made him something, was given, as to say, that the name man, which includes both John and William, is that which constitutes our relative notion of the resemblance of John and William, expressed by their common appellation; and that, but for the name, we could not have conceived them to have any common or similar properties,—that is to say, could not have had any general relative notion, or general idea, as it has been wrongly called, of human nature, of the respects in which John, William, and all other individual men agree. So far is the general term from being essential to the rise of that state of mind which constitutes the feeling of resemblance, or, in other words, to the general notion, whatever it may be, which the term expresses ; that it is only for a very small number of such general relative feelings, that we have invented general terms. There are scarcely any two objects at which we can look, without
perceiving a resemblance of some sort ; but we never think of giving a name to each pair of relatives, on account of some slight circumstance in which they may have been felt by us to agree, more than we think of giving a name to every separate individual object which we perceive,—to every blade of grass in our fields,to every rose on a bush, or even to every rose-bush in our garden. It is necessary, for the convenience of social life, that we should hare general terms to express the most important general resemblances,-a general word, man, for example, to express briefly
those very general circumstances of resemblance which we discover in all the individuals to whom that name is given, and thus to save us from the repetition of innumerable proper names, when we speak of circumstances common to the whole multitude ;-it is not necessary that we should have a general term to express, in like manner, every less extensive resemblance which we may discover in any two or more individual men; and, accordingly, for such minute resemblances we do not invent any general term, yet the feelings of resemblance, or notions of general circumstances of agreement, though they may be more or less important, so as to tempt in some cases, and not in other cases, to the use of a common appellation, are still in kind, as mere feelings of relation, the same, whether the general term for expressing them be invented or not; and feelings which arise as much when no name is given, as when a name is given, cannot surely be dependent on names that do not exist, in the greater number of cases, at all, and that when they are formed, exist only after these very feelings which they are invented to express.
If our mind be capable of feeling resemblance, it must be capable of general notions, which are nothing more than varieties of this very feeling ; for we surely cannot perceive objects to resemble each other, without perceiving them to resemble each other in certain respects, rather than in others; and this very notion of the respects in which they are similar, is all that is meant by the general relative feeling.
The circumstances, in wbich all individual men agree, form my general notion of man, or human nature. When I use the term man, I employ it to express every being in whom these circumstances are to be found,—that is to say, every being who excites, when considered together with the other beings whom I have before learned to rank as man, the same relative feeling of resemblance. When I hear the term man, these general circumstances of agreement occur to me vaguely, perhaps, and indistinctly; but probably as distinctly as the conception of the individual John, or William, which recurs when I hear one of those names.
Indeed, there can be no doubt that the exact meaning of our general terms is much more distinctly conceived by us than that of our particular terms,—that we have a far clearer notion of a line, for example, than of an inch, or three-fourths of an inch,-of rec
tilinear angles in general, as formed by the meeting of any two straight lines in any direction, than of an angle of sixty-five degrees, for which one particular inclination of the meeting lines is absolutely necessary, and an inclination, which only the nicest measurement can discriminate, from that which forms an angle of sixty-four or of sixty-six. The general term, it is evident, in proportion as it is more and more general, involves the consideration of fewer particulars, and is, therefore, less confused; while the particular term must involve all the particulars included in the general one, with many more that distinguish the species or the individual, and that are difficult themselves to be distinguished, in consequence of the faintness of the limits in which they shadow into each other. To this it is owing that the sciences, which are most strictly demonstrative, —that is to say, the sciences, in which our notions are the clearest,-are not those which relate to particular objects, and which, consequently, involve particular conceptions and particular terms, but the sciences of number and quantity, in which every term is a general one, and every notion, there, fore, which it expresses general.
With each advance in generalizing, the general notion, or the feeling of resemblance in certain circumstances, becomes different, because the circumstances in which it is necessary that the general resemblance should be felt, are fewer, and common, therefore, to a greater number of objects; the general term being, in every stage, applicable to the whole number of objects, as exciting, when considered together, that relative feeling of similarity, the suggesting of which is all that constitutes the variety, species, genus, order, or class.
The words John, man, animal, substance, in the progressive scale of generalization, are words which I understand, and none of which I feel to be exactly synonymous with the others, but to express either less or more, so as to admit progressively of wider applications than could be allowed at a lower point of the scale. Since they are felt, then, not to be exactly synonymous, each term, if it be understood at all, must excite in the mind a different feeling of some sort or other, and this different state of mind is nothing more than a notion of agreement in certain circumstances, more or fewer, according to the extent of the generalization.
If, then, the generalizing process be, first, the perception or conception of two or more objects,—2dly, the relative feeling of their resemblance in certain respects,-3dly, the designation of these circumstances of resemblance, by an appropriate name,—the doctrine of the Nominalists, which includes only two of these stages,--the perception of particular objects, and the invention of general terms, must be false, as excluding that relative suggestion of resemblance in certain respects, which is the second and most important step of the process; since it is this intermediate feeling alone that leads to the use of the term, which otherwise it would be impossible to limit to any set of objects. Accordingly, we found that, in their own impossibility of accounting, on their own principles, for this limitation,—which it is yet absolutely necessary to explain in some manner or other,—the Nominalists, to explain it, uniformly take for granted the existence of those very general notions, which they at the same time profess to deny,– that, while they affirm, that we have no notion of a kind, species, or sort, independently of the general terms which denote them, they speak of our application of such terms, only to objects of the same kind, species, or sort, as if we truly had some notions of these general circumstances of agreement, to direct us,—and that they are thus very far from being Nominalists in the spirit of their argument, at the very moment, when they are Nominalists in assertion,-strenuous opposers of those very general feelings of the truth of which they avail themselves, in their very endeavour to disprove them.
If, indeed, it were the name which formed the classification, and not that previous relative feeling, or general notion of resemblance of some sort, which the name denotes, then might any thing be classed with any thing, and classed with equal propriety. All which would be necessary, would be merely to apply the same name uniformly to the same objects; and, if we were careful to do this, John and a triangle might as well be classed together, under the name man, as John and William. Why does the one of those arrangements appear to us more philosophic than the other? It is because something more is felt by us to be necessary, in classification, than the mere giving of a name at random. There is, in the relative suggestion that arises on our very perception or conception of objects, when we consider them to