The Art of Logical Thinking or the Laws of Reasoning
|In considering the process of thinking, we must classify the several steps or stages of thought that we may examine each in detail for the purpose of comprehending them combined as a whole.
In actual thinking these several steps or stages are not clearly separated in consciousness, so that each stands out clear and distinct from the preceding and succeeding steps or stages, but, on the contrary, they blend and shade into each other so that it is often difficult to draw a clear dividing line.
The first step or stage in the process of thinking is that which is called a concept.
A concept is a mental representation of anything. Prof. Wm. James says: “The function by which we mark off, discriminate, draw a line around, and identify a numerically distinct subject of discourse is called conception.”
There are five stages or steps in each concept, as follows:
Before a concept may be formed there must first be a presentation of the material from which the concept is to be formed. If we wish to form the concept, animal, we must first have perceived an animal, probably several kinds of animals—horses, dogs, cats, cows, pigs, lions, tigers, etc. We must also have received impressions from the sight of these animals which may be reproduced by the memory—represented to the mind. In order that we may have a full concept of animal we should have perceived every kind of animal, for otherwise there would be some elements of the full concept lacking. Accordingly it is practically impossible to have a full concept of anything. The greater the opportunities for perception the greater will be the opportunity for conception. In other books of this series we have spoken of the value and importance of the attention and of clear and full perception.
Without an active employment of the attention, it is impossible to receive a clear perception of anything; and unless the perception has been clear, it is impossible for the mind to form a clear concept of the thing perceived. As Sir Wm. Hamilton has said: “An act of attention, that is an act of concentration, seems thus necessary to every exertion of consciousness, as a certain contraction of the pupil is requisite to every exertion of vision…. Attention, then, is to consciousness what the contraction of the pupil is to sight, or to the eye of the mind what the microscope or telescope is to the bodily eye…. It constitutes the half of all intellectual power.” And Sir B. Brodie said: “It is attention, much more than in the abstract power of reasoning, which constitutes the vast difference which exists between minds of different individuals.” And as Dr. Beattie says: “The force with which anything strikes the mind is generally in proportion to the degree of attention bestowed upon it.”
Following the stage of Presentation is the stage of Comparison. We separate our general concept of animal into a number of sub-concepts, or concepts of various kinds of animals. We compare the pig with the goat, the cow with the horse, in fact each animal with all other animals known to us. By this process we distinguish the points of resemblance and the points of difference. We perceive that the wolf resembles the dog to a considerable degree; that it has some points of resemblance to the fox; and a still less distinct resemblance to the bear; also that it differs materially from the horse, the cow or the elephant.
We also learn that there are various kinds of wolves, all bearing a great resemblance to each other, and yet having marked points of difference. The closer we observe the various individuals among the wolves, the more points of difference do we find.
The faculty of Comparison evidences itself in inductive reasoning; ability and disposition to analyze, classify, compare, etc. Fowler says that those in whom it is largely developed “Reason clearly and correctly from conclusions and scientific facts up to the laws which govern them; discern the known from the unknown; detect error by its incongruity with facts; have an excellent talent for comparing, explaining, expounding, criticising, exposing, etc.” Prof. William James says: “Any personal or practical interest in the results to be obtained by distinguishing, makes one’s wits amazingly sharp to detect differences. And long training and practice in distinguishing has the same effect as personal interest. Both of these agencies give to small amounts of objective difference the same effectiveness upon the mind that, under other circumstances, only large ones would make.”
Following the stage of Comparison is that of Abstraction. The term “Abstraction” as used in psychology means: “The act or process of separating from the numerous qualities inherent in any object, the particular one which we wish to make the subject of observation and reflection. Or, the act of withdrawing the consciousness from a number of objects with a view to concentrate it on some particular one. The negative act of which Attention is the positive.” To abstract is “to separate or set apart.”
In the process of Abstraction in our consideration of animals, after having recognized the various points of difference and resemblance between the various species and individuals, we proceed to consider some special quality of animals, and, in doing so, we abstract, set aside, or separate the particular quality which we wish to consider. If we wish to consider the size of animals, we abstract the quality of size from the other qualities, and consider animals with reference to size alone. Thus we consider the various degrees of size of the various animals, classifying them accordingly. In the same way we may abstract the quality of shape, color or habits, respectively, setting aside this quality for special observation and classification. If we wish to study, examine or consider certain qualities in a thing we abstract that particular quality from the other qualities of the thing; or we abstract the other qualities until nothing is left but the particular quality under consideration. In examining or considering a class or number of things, we first abstract the qualities possessed in common by the class or number of things; and also abstract or set aside the qualities not common to them.
For instance; in considering classes of animals, we abstract the combined quality of milk-giving and pouch-possessing which is possessed in common by a number of animals; then we group these several animals in a class which we name the Marsupialia, of which the opossum and kangaroo are members. In these animals the young are brought forth in an imperfect condition, undeveloped in size and condition, and are then kept in the pouch and nourished until they are able to care for themselves. Likewise, we may abstract the idea of the placenta, the appendage which connects the young unborn animal with the mother, and by means of which the fœtus is nourished. The animals distinguished by this quality are grouped together as the Placental Mammals.
The Placental Mammals are divided into various groups, by an Abstraction of qualities or class resemblance or difference, as follows: The Edentata, or toothless creatures, such as the sloths, ant-eaters, armadillos, etc.; the Sirenia, so-named from their fancied resemblance to the fabled “sirens,” among which class are the sea-cows, manatees, dugongs, etc.; the Cetacea, or whale family, which although fish-like in appearance, are really mammals, giving birth to living young which they nourish with breast-milk, among which are the whales, porpoises, dolphins, etc.; the Ungulata, or hoofed animals, such as the horse, the tapir, the rhinoceros, the[Pg 32] swine, the hippopotamus, the camel, the deer, the sheep, the cow, etc.; the Hyracoidea, having teeth resembling both the hoofed animals and the gnawing animals, of which the coney or rock-rabbit is the principal example; the Proboscidea, or trunked animals, which family is represented by the various families of elephants; the Carnivora, or flesh-eaters, represented by various sub-families and species; the Rodentia, or gnawers; the Insectivora, or insect feeders; the Cheiroptera, or finger-winged; the Lemuroidea, or lemurs, having the general appearance of the monkey, but also the long bushy tail of the fox; the Primates, including the monkeys, baboons, man-apes, gibbons, gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-outangs and Man.
In all of these cases you will see that each class or general family possesses a certain common quality which gives it its classification, and which quality is the subject of the Abstraction in considering the particular group of animals. Further and closer Abstraction divides these classes into sub-classes; for instance, the family or class of the Carnivora, or flesh-eaters, may be divided by further Abstraction into the classes of seals, bears, weasels, wolves, dogs, lions, tigers, leopards, etc. In this process, we must first make the more general Abstraction of the wolf and similar animals into the dog-family; and the lion, tiger and similar forms into the cat-family.
Halleck says of Abstraction: “In the process of Abstraction, we draw our attention away from a mass of confusing details, unimportant at the time, and attend only to qualities common to the class. Abstraction is little else than centering the power of attention on some qualities to the exclusion of others.”
Arising from the stage of Abstraction is the stage of Generalization. Generalization is: “The act or process of generalizing or making general; bringing several objects agreeing in some point under a common or general name, head or class; an extending from particulars to generals; reducing or arranging in a genus; bringing a particular fact or series of facts into a relation with a wider circle of facts.”
As Bolingbroke says: “The mind, therefore, makes its utmost endeavors to generalize its ideas, beginning early with such as are most familiar and coming in time to those which are less so.” Under the head of Abstraction we have seen that through Abstraction we may Generalize the various species into the various families, and thus, in turn, into the various sub-families. Following the same process we may narrow down the sub-families into species composed of various individuals; or into greater and still greater families or groups. Generalization is really the act of Classification, or forming into classes all things having certain qualities or properties in common. The corollary is that all things in a certain generalized class must possess the particular quality or property common to the class. Thus we know that all animals in the class of the Carnivora must eat flesh; and that all Mammals possess breasts from which they feed their young. As Halleck says: “We put all objects having like qualities into a certain genus, or class. When the objects are in that class, we know that certain qualities will have a general application to them all.”
Following closely upon the step of Generalization or Classification, is the step of Denomination. By Denomination we mean “the act of naming or designating by a name.” A name is the symbol by which we think of a familiar thing without the necessity for making a distinct mental image upon each occasion of thought. Or, it may be considered as akin to a label affixed to a thing. As in the case of the algebraic symbols, a, b, c, x, and y, by the use of which we are able to make intricate calculations easily and rapidly, so may we use these word symbols much more readily than we could the lengthy descriptions or even the mental images of the thing symbolized. It is much easier for us to think “horse” than it would be to think the full definition of that animal, or to think of it by recalling a mental picture of the horse each time we wished to think of it. Or, it is much better for us to be able to glance at a label on a package or bottle than to examine the contents in detail. As Hobbes says: “A word taken at pleasure to serve for a mark, which may raise in our minds a thought like to some thought we had before, and which being pronounced to others, may be to them a sign of what thought the speaker had or had not, before in his mind.” Mill says: “A name is a word (or set of words) serving the double purpose of a mark to recall to ourselves the likeness of a former thought and as a sign to make it known to others.”
Some philosophers regard names as symbols of our ideas of things, rather than of the things themselves; others regard them as symbols of the things themselves. It will be seen that the value of a name depends materially upon the correct meaning and understanding regarding it possessed by the person using it.
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By WILLIAM WALKER ATKINSON
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