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that throughout this history [that of the development or growth of abstraction] the development is a development: the faculty of abstraction is everywhere the same in kind. And the next thing is that this development is everywhere dependent on the faculty of language."
Now, in our present work we have to encounter a singular difficulty. We have, by means of written language, to make it clear to those who read and who mostly think in words, what thought is and can become without words. Fortunately, Mr. Romanes agrees with us in perceiving that, in man, abstraction and the formation of distinct, unequivocal ideas, can take place without words.* As we shall have occasion, later on, to consider his examples, we will defer citing any ourselves till the occasion referred to arises.
But Mr. Romanes introduces ambiguity and confusion at once, saying, “ All the higher animals have general ideas of 'Good-for-eating' and 'Not-good-foreating'. .. for ... the animal . . . subjects the morsel to a careful examination before consigning it to the mouth. This proves, if anything can, that such an animal has a general or abstract idea of sweet, bitter, hot, and, in general Good-for-eating and Not-good-for
* He quotes M. Taine's account of a little girl eighteen months old, who was amused by her mother hiding in play behind a piece of furniture and saying “ Coucou.” Again, when her food was too hot, when she went too near the fire or candle, and when the sun was warm, she was told “Ça brûle.” One day, on seeing the sun disappear behind a hill, she exclaimed, “'A bule coucou," which showed, of course, that without speech she had formed concepts, which might be expressed by the terms, “ Bodies giving forth heat,” and “The action of hiding behind an object.”
eating—the motives of the examination clearly being to ascertain which of these two general ideas of kind is appropriate to the particular object examined.”
Now, the inner nature and faculties of an organism can only be judged of by the outcome of its powers, whatever these may be. If these “higher animals” really had ideas of the kind, and consciously performed voluntary acts of examination in order to see “which of two general ideas” might be applicable in any given case, then of a surety we should soon be made unmistakably aware of it by other, less equivocal, manifestations of their possession of intellectual faculties like our own. But it is evident that a profound difference between the psychical powers of men and brutes does, in fact, exist, and therefore the interpretation of their actions which Mr. Romanes gives, cannot be the right one. Interpretations of that kind might carry us very far. We might say that plants have abstract ideas of “Suitable-for-nutrition” and “Not-suitable-for-nutrition," and of the still more abstract ideas, “Big-enough-to-beworth-a-prolonged-effort" and "Not-big-enough-to-beworth-a-prolonged-effort.” For the plant called Venus's looking-glass (Dionæa) will snap together the blades of its singular leaf to catch an insect, but not to catch a non-digestible object. More than this, if the blades of its leaf have closed on an insect of insignificant size (not worth its catching) they will unclose and let it go again; while otherwise they will hold it till it is killed and digested. Even the sundew (Drosera) exhibits what might be called a similar process of estimation due to “general ideas," since the actions of
its glandular hairs are similarly discriminating. We, however, do not attribute even sensation to these plants on the strength of their economical, practically purposive, actions. Neither do we attribute to the higher animals the possession of the ideas “Good-for-eating,” or “Not-good-for-eating” on the strength of those unconscious, instinctive actions of theirs which have a superficial resemblance to our acts of intellectual, voluntary discrimination. Not only the “higher animals," but very lowly animals also, possess multitudes of complex associations of feelings and motions. Amongst them are associations of definite pleasant odours as preceding definite and corresponding savours, as well as associations between various affections of sight and touch and similar pleasant savours. What, then, is more to be expected than that when a group of previously unexperienced sensations are brought before an animal (the new object submitted to the animal's senses) such commonly habitual actions as smelling it, feeling it, and looking round it, should automatically take place? Thus, instead of saying, "When we see animals determining between similar alternatives by” actions externally like our own, "we cannot reasonably doubt that the psychological processes are similar,” we should express ourselves as follows: “Knowing by the widest inductions that we and brute animals are fundamentally different in nature, we should expect à priori that actions externally similar were due to causes internally diverse.” Mr. Romanes says, “If I see a fox prowling about a farm-yard, I infer that he has been led by hunger to go where he has a general idea that there are a good many eatable things to be fallen in with—just as I myself am led by a similar impulse to visit a restaurant.” We should say, “The fox has been led by hunger to visit a place presenting appearances and giving forth odours which have become associated in its sensitive faculty with pleasant consequences on previous occasions." We not only concede, but affirm that even very lowly animals have sensuous cognitions and sense perceptions of the kinds of creatures on which they prey, or which may be their enemies. But such affections need not be (and the general outcome of their psychical faculties forbids them to be) more than those “sensuous universals” before referred to, which are fundamentally and utterly different in nature from the very lowest kind of ideas.
We have elsewhere * taken all the pains we could to draw out distinctly and fully, to the best of our ability, the distinction between those lower psychical faculties which we evidently share with brutes, and those intellectual powers in which we are convinced they have no share. We have shown how, merely by means of associated feelings, such sense-perceptions, sensuous general cognitions, and sensuous inferences may take place even in us, quite apart from true perceptions, general ideas, and inferences.
With this reference we must pass on to what we have lately said Mr. Romanes next treats of_namely, the process of “abstraction.”
The power of abstraction, he tells us,t depends on
See “ On Truth," chaps. xiv., XV., pp. 178–223, t p. 30.
reflection, and this again “on Language, or on the power of affixing names to abstract and general ideas.”
To this we reply, (1) that abstraction does not depend on reflection, but takes place in us spontaneously without it, and (2) that abstraction does not depend on language, but also takes place without it.
As to our first reply, we would point out that animals have a sensitive faculty which, when stimulated by the presence of external objects, can associate together in groups and groups of groups, the sensations such external objects excite, and can combine them with revived past feelings of similar kinds, thus forming “sensuous perceptions."* On the occurrence of similar but slightly varied experiences, this faculty can give rise to those compound impressions which we have termed “sensuous universals,” † and which Mr. Romanes (as we shall see) calls “Recepts, or generic ideas.”
All these affections we men (inasmuch as we are animals, though rational ones) also possess; but we have a further faculty which brutes, we are convinced, have not. Upon the occurrence in us of such sensuous perceptions as have just been referred to, we have the faculty of generating — spontaneously and directly, without reflection--true, intellectual, abstract, general ideas. These ideas also may be elicited, continue to exist, and be communicated, without words. For, as we shall see abundantly, later on, they may exist in deaf-mutes, and can be conveyed from mind to mind by manual signs. Each man, however, consists of both an immaterial energy (one form of which is intellect) and an animal
* See“ On Truth,” p. 188. See above, pp. 44, 45.