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Conception, Judgment, Reasoning

( Originally Published 1899 )

EVERY act of the mind is more or less complex, calling into exercise as it does a variety of activities. Its name depends upon the activity most prominent in consciousness. Imagination is dependent upon memory for its materials, memory upon perception, perception upon sensation. In certain measure, also, the reverse is true, as has been explained. Apperception involves them all. The additional general intellectual processes named are conception, judgment, and reasoning.

Formerly the term conception had a twofold signification. It was used as synonymous with perception, or individual notion, and also as signifying the notion of a class. It is now fast losing the former meaning and is being used in the latter sense. It will be used here as applied to mental pictures as general notions only. Notions of classes are built up by analysis and synthesis much in the same way as notions of individual objects. As an illustration, a child meets for the first time a few dozen apples of different varieties. He examines one and finds it nearly spherical, with a positive indentation and a stem at one end and a slight depression with rudiments of leaves at the other. He notes the covering, the difference in the outside and the inner part of the flesh, the kinds of seeds and seed cases, the texture and taste. He examines another, and a score of them, and discovers that in all these things they practically agree. Some are larger than others; some are tart, some sweet, some mealy, some soft, others hard. They vary in color and a little in general shape, but the points of likeness recur so often and are so clearly marked that they enter into the notion or mental picture of the class apple as a whole. He recognizes objects as apples only as they possess those characteristics. A large number of green leaves are examined. Each leaf is found to be flat, to possess a midrib with branches and a network of veins, to be composed of a pulpy cellular center, to have a stem on which it rises from the twig, though varying greatly in form, in margin, in thickness, and in special character of venation. The common or like elements are united into a mental picture of leaves in general a picture which any ordinary leaf will fit. If you were to mold a leaf out of clay, or cut one out of paper, or draw a picture of one, in all cases you would make it more or less in accord with this general notion or picture. What is true of the apple or leaf is also true of the triangle, or square, or sphere, or fish, or star, or house, or wagon, or flower.

For the above reasons a conception may be defined as an image which symbolizes the general processes by which all the individual members of the class to which it belongs are constructed. The conception of a triangle is that of a polygon with three sides and three angles. With that image only in the mind, you may construct ten thousand triangles, no two being alike save in the requirement of the conception three sides and three angles. Sometimes few, sometimes many elements enter into the conception to distinguish the class from other classes. In a simple way life is the only element that enters into the conception of animate objects to distinguish them from inanimate objects; the spinal column to distinguish the class vertebrates from the invertebrates; solidity to distinguish ice from water. It is true that in each ease other characteristic elements may be implied, but they follow by virtue of the existence of the ones named.

The analysis of the process just explained shows the following steps:

1. Attention to one particular element found common to all the individuals of the class, as the sphericity in the apples, the midrib in the leaves, the three angles in the triangles, life in animate beings, etc.

2. The comparison of the element as discovered in the individual members of the class and of other classes and the verification of identity and difference.

3. The gradual separation or abstraction of that common element from the individuals in the class and its formation in the mind purely as an abstract mental image.

4. The union or synthesis of the several elements found common to all the individuals in the class into one whole, making the conception proper.

It must be apparent that the greater the care taken in verifying the common elements, and the greater the number of individuals examined, the more accurate and complete will be the conception.

The preceding paragraphs may be made clearer by taking some small cubes of different material and following up the steps through which you lead the children in helping them to form a conception of a cube. When you think they have a fair idea of it, put the cubes out of sight and give them some clay out of which to mold a cube. The definition of a concept will then mean much more to you. After helping them to a mental picture of a square, give them pencils to draw it, and what has been said will appear still plainer. Make a number of similar experiments; you will probably observe that what you are doing is very much like " teaching school," but that you have possibly been overlooking the importance of each step in the notion-building process. The investigation will show you that some children easily pick out the more important and characteristic common that is, like elements, while others note the more superficial and the more variable. As an illustration, one child will speak of the sphericity of the apples, while another will mention their color; one will note the rib and venation structure of the leaf, while another will be absorbed in the outline of the margin. The consequence in the first case is that the fundamental likenesses are discovered and a correct conception easily built up, while in the other the differences are noted and an adequate notion is impossible.

All knowledge-getting, however simple or complex the process, results in conceptions that is, in general notions. The process is a universalizing process—that is, the mind uses the individual to build the general idea. The meaning of every individual is to be found only in the common the like elements of the individuals of the class to which it belongs. That the child should be taught to form conceptions accurately, rapidly, and comprehensively needs then no urging.

Judgment is the process of discovering and verifying the relations of things. It has been called the typical act of knowledge. The two great relations are those of identity and difference. These relations may be of form, size, color, texture, movement, quality, quantity, time, space, part and whole, cause and effect, etc. Every sentence is a formal statement of a judgment. The child says the apple is red. He means that the color agrees with his mental pictures of redness. He says that' the knife is sharp, and means that its edge agrees with his notion of sharpness. He says that the dog runs fast, that the house is large, the time is long, the tree is far away, the stove is hot, the iron is heavy, the baby is crying, and ten thousand other things, for similar reasons. It was stated in the last paragraph that the knowledge-getting process is a universalizing process. Look now at each of the above sentences and see that the subject is an individual object, and that the predicate —that which tells something about the subject is an abstract, universal notion or conception that had already been built up in the mind and with which it was familiar. The child simply finds and puts the individual object in the class where it belongs—the apple with the red things, the knife with the sharp things, the dog with the fast runners, the house with the large things, the time with the long things, the tree with the far-away things, etc.

There are, then, in every judgment, as in every sentence, a perception and a conception; the former expressed in the subject and the latter in the predicate. The former is the individual and the latter the universal. The judgment affirms their agreement or disagreement. Judgment, then, may be defined as finding the universal in the individual. The accuracy of a judgment depends upon three things: (1) The accuracy of the perception, or individual notion; (2) the accuracy of the conception, or general notion; (3) the accuracy of the comparison upon which the idea of agreement or disagreement is based. Inaccuracy in any one of these may result in a wrong judgment. You see again how interdependent are all the knowledge-getting processes. If now you recall the fact that every mental picture of an object is made up of things learned about it, you will see that in reality each element in it is the result of a judgment. You will also see that every affirmative judgment you may make about an object gives you a new element to put into the mental picture of it. What is true of the individual notion is also true of the general notion. Judgment, then, is also involved in all apperception. At first it appears in consciousness as a. formal effort at discovering likeness and differences, but afterward it is more or less absorbed in the ready apperception of the attributes of objects. It serves as a means of verifying apperception. Psycho-logically speaking, the test of a judgment is its harmony with the other related judgments already formed.

In its earlier life the child seems to apprehend likeness and difference intuitively that is, without any special effort at finding them. As already stated, the likeness thus discovered is usually rather of the superficial or the more attractive than of the fundamental order. It is only as he begins to find the less evident or the essential that formal judgment is called into requisition. Here you will discover the principal difference between the judgment of the child and of the man. A knowledge of essentials and of the more universal elements comes only with experience and education. A child's judgment is confined to narrow limits and to few details. It deals almost exclusively with concrete objects. It is often scarcely more than impulse, but profits and grows wiser by experience. Test your children on their judgment of the lengths of several horizontal lines you draw on the blackboard; the heights of people not standing near together; the colors of ribbons shown them; the likenesses of oranges and lemons, of leaves, of grains, of things very much unlike as well as very much alike. Not only will you discover how greatly they differ in their ability to judge, but also how greatly each child's judgment, will vary in the different classes of objects presented to him. Find out, if possible, the reason in each case.

Judgment proper endeavors to find the relations between two things, ideas, or objects by direct comparison. This process is sometimes called implicit reasoning, though judgment is certainly the better term. It often happens, however, that the comparison can not be directly made between two objects of thought, but that it can be made through the medium of a third. This process is based on the principle that things that are equal to or like a certain other thing must be equal to or like each other. If 3 and 1 equal 4, and 2 and 2 equal 4, then 3 and 1 must equal 2 and 2. If a stick is one foot in length and a second stick is also one' foot in length, the two sticks must be equal in length. If each of two pencils is like a third, they must be like each other. If cats have retractile claws, and this animal is a eat, it must have retractile claws. The process is still a process of finding likenesses, or a process of identification. It is more complex than judgment, because of the third or intermediate element used for connecting the other two.

The reasoning process may then be defined as the operation of the intellect by which the relations of certain things are found through the medium of others. Every reasoning process stated in a compact way takes the general form of the syllogism in which but three elements, or notions, enter. So, more definitely speaking, reasoning is simply finding the relation of two ideas through the medium of a third. Note that there are two notions in a judgment and three in a syllogism. The elements or terms of a judgment are notions; the elements of a syllogism are judgments, each judgment in a syllogism having two terms. The following is the general form of the syllogism:

1. y is x.

2. z is y.

3 z is x.

The part which y plays is easily seen. It simply serves as a medium by which the relation of x and z is discovered. If investigation shows that 1 is true and also that 2 is true, then 3 follows of necessity. 1 is called the major premise, 2 the minor, and 3 the conclusion; x is called the major term, z the minor, and y the middle. The middle term must be a universal or general notion in at least one of the premises. The major and minor terms must mean the same thing, no more, no less, in each place used. A concrete illustration will help to a clearer understanding of the syllogistic form:

All plants have a circulating fluid called sap. This object is a plant.

This object has a circulating fluid called sap.

Make other syllogisms of a similar character and see whether such a process is valid.

The illustration just given is known as a deductive syllogism. Deduction is the reasoning process which proceeds from a general principle to a particular fact. Its major premise is always some agreed or some proved principle. An example of the former is found in the following:

A polygon having four equal sides and four right angles is called a square.

This polygon has four equal sides and four right angles.

This polygon is a square.

Induction is the reasoning process which proceeds from individual facts to general principles and laws. Unless the major premise of the deductive syllogism is agreed upon or is a definition, it must be established in some way as a basis for the argument. This is done by the inductive process just defined. The major premise in the first concrete syllogism was established in some such way as this: One plant after another was examined until a large number, including almost every kind and variety, had been tested and each was found to contain a circulating fluid. What was found true of so many and under such a variety of conditions was supposed to be true of all plants, and hence the general statement

All plants have a circulating fluid.

The conclusion in the inductive process is based upon the general belief in the uniformity of nature. It holds that whatever is true of the representatives of a class under a sufficient number of varying conditions may be accepted as true of all the members of the class, and consequently of the class as a whole. The facts in inductive reasoning are drawn from our experiences.

A child quickly learns to draw general conclusions from his experiences. A hot stove or poker or lamp chimney or teakettle burns him, and he quickly decides that hot things burn. This gives him at once the major premise for the deductive syllogism:

Hot things will burn me.

This stove is hot.

This stove will burn me.

In many cases children generalize and reach conclusions too quickly. Often one single experience will prove sufficient to satisfy them. A child is snapped at by a dog, and he immediately concludes that all dogs will bite or snap at him. He is given bitter medicine in a spoon, and thinks that everything offered him in a spoon is bitter. A little friend of mine calls everybody nice who gives her candy. I have some large friends who do the same thing, however! As soon as the child thus generalizes about a class of objects, he makes the application very promptly to an individual case. My little girl was very shy of a stranger one morning, but when I told her that he was my. friend she went to him at once, nestling down in his arms as though she had known him familiarly for years. At another time I picked her up at the head of the stairway and started downstairs with her head pointing below. She sprang up instantly, throwing her arms around my neck, exclaiming, "Papa, you will let me fall! " Though I assured her that her " dear papa would not let her fall," she replied, " Well, papa, that is the falling way, anyhow!"

Prof is anything that convinces the mind of a fact or principle. It may come through observation, experimentation, or reasoning. There can be no reliable reasoning which is not based upon accurate and many-sided observation and experimentation. As the mind of the child is satisfied with so little evidence, it is also easily moved to change its views, particularly if pleasure or advantage appears. Henry's mother easily secured a promise from him that he would not play marbles for keeps, but when he saw that he was the best player at school he changed his mind about it. The child's reasoning must be in large measure about concrete things, but the process needs no less careful training on this account. Transition is not made at once to abstract reasoning. That comes gradually. Ability to comprehend the abstract comes only by long practice in comprehending the concrete. Every effort to force the ,former will prove an injury to the child.

There is a physiological side to reasoning as well as to perception. Brain cells are the machinery by which the mind thinks. They are, like every other part of the body, developed and perfected by intelligent exercise. Brain control comes much in the same way as muscular control. Nerve centers are built up, correlated, and made responsive to the varying and increasingly complex demands of the mind only in Nature's way and in Nature's time. Recent investigations show that the nerve cells of the brain probably grow with mental activity by putting out branches that interlace more or less with each other, building up " apperception masses" that act together under appropriate stimuli, thus indefinitely multi-plying the mind's capacity for work. Everybody knows how hard it is to think when his " brain won't work." There is more philosophy in the statement, however, than everybody supposes. A brain that is accustomed to light thinking will no more think deeply than will the hands of a pianist accustomed to light and catchy music play at sight the highest creations of the masters. It is as difficult to train the uncultivated brain of an adult to think and to reason out great problems as it is to train the fingers of a full-grown man to become expert at the piano or the violin. If the mind of a Newton were placed in the head of a forester, it would be even more helpless from lack of a proper brain than would the mind and genius of Paderewski from lack of supple fingers if placed in the brain of a blacksmith. The education of the thinking and reasoning activities of the child, then, should not be postponed to the later years of his school life, but should conscientiously and intelligently accompany every stage in his development. When a child, he ought to be permitted to think and to reason as a child. He has plenty of things to think about and to raise questions about if he is exercising his senses as urged in the opening chapter. Stimulate inquiry and investigation, and his vision will be wider and deeper with every rising sun.

The first inquiries of the child are more about what things are. He soon, however, begins to raise questions about the causes of things. He wishes to know why things are so and so. These questions reveal to you the things about which he is probably able to reason. If you have become familiar with children's ways of seeing things, you will hardly fail to find the way to help them in their reasoning processes. First find out what they know about the class in general. Íf that, applied to the inquiry, does not give the answer, guide them by experimentation and induction to discover the proper principle. Of course, there should be nothing formal or mechanical about the process. If every little detail were followed, interest would die at once. In ordinary reasoning the full form of the syllogism is seldom thought out even by adults, much less by children. By a single movement the middle term is seen to connect the other two, and their identification is at once announced.

Remember, again, that the end of all knowledge-getting is the building up of general or universal notions, and that, as the object of a judgment is to add another element to the mental image already forming, so the reasoning process, though by a little longer route, serves the same purpose.

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