JAMES: Principles of Psychology [Ch. XXVIII]

Below, I quote the summary of Chapter 28 provided by James. There is a brief post script, in which James argues against Lamarck’s theory that acquired traits are inherited.

“The mind has a native structure in this sense, that certain of its objects, if considered together in certain ways, give definite results; and that no other ways of considering, and no other results, are possible if the same objects be taken.

The results are ‘relations’ which are all expressed by judgments of subsumption and of comparison.

The judgments of subsumption are themselves subsumed under the laws of logic.

Those of comparison are expressed in classifications, and in the sciences of arithmetic and geometry.

Mr. Spencer’s opinion that our consciousness of classificatory, logical, and mathematical relations between ideas is due to the frequency with which the corresponding ‘outer relations’ have impressed our minds, is unintelligible.

Our consciousness of these relations, no doubt, has a natural genesis. But it is to be sought rather in the inner forces which have made the brain grow, than in any mere paths of ‘frequent’ association which outer stimuli may have ploughed in that organ.

But let our sense for these relations have arisen as it may, the relations themselves form a fixed system of lines of cleavage, so to speak, in the mind, by which we naturally pass from one object to another; and the objects connected by these lines of cleavage are often not connected by any regular time- and space-associations. We distinguish, therefore, between the empirical order of things, and this their rational order of comparison; and, so far as possible, we seek to translate the former into the latter, as being the more congenial of the two to our intellect.

Any classification of things into kinds (especially if the kinds form series, or if they successively involve each other) is a more rational way of conceiving the things than is that mere juxtaposition or separation of them as individuals in time and space which is the order of their crude perception. Any assimilation of things to terms between which such classificatory relations, with their remote and mediate transactions, obtain, is a way of bringing the things into a more rational scheme.

Solids in motion are such terms; and the mechanical [p. 677] philosophy is only a way of conceiving nature so as to arrange its items along some of the more natural lines of cleavage of our mental structure.

Other natural lines are the moral and æsthetic relations. Philosophy is still seeking to conceive things so that these relations also may seem to obtain between them.

As long as things have not successfully been so conceived, the moral and æsthetic relations obtain only between entia rationis, terms in the mind; and the moral and æsthetic principles remain but postulates, not propositions, with regard to the real world outside.

There is thus a large body of a priori or intuitively necessary truths. As a rule, these are truths of comparison only, and in the first instance they express relations between merely mental terms. Nature, however, acts as if some of her realities were identical with these mental terms. So far as she does this, we can make a priori propositions concerning natural fact. The aim of both science and philosophy is to make the identifiable terms more numerous. So far it has proved easier to identify nature’s things with mental terms of the mechanical than with mental terms of the sentimental order.

The widest postulate of rationality is that the world is rationally intelligible throughout, after the pattern of some ideal system. The whole war of the philosophies is over that point of faith. Some say they can see their way already to the rationality; others that it is hopeless in any other but the mechanical way. To some the very fact that there is a world at all seems irrational. Nonentity would be a more natural thing than existence, for these minds. One philosopher at least says that the relatedness of things to each other is irrational anyhow, and that a world of relations can never be made intelligible.”

“I must quit society. I would rather undergo twice the danger from beasts and ten times the danger from rocks. It is not pain, it is not death, that I dread, — it is the hatred of a man; there is something in it so shocking that I would rather submit to any injury than incur or increase the hatred of a man by revenging it. . . . Another sufficient reason for suicide is that I was this morning out of temper with Mrs. Douglas (for no fault of hers). I did not betray myself in the least, but I reflected that to be exposed to the possibility of such an event once a year, was evil enough to render life intolerable. The disgrace of using an impatient word is to me overpowering.”


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