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ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF IDEAS.
ON THE PROCESS OF DEVELOPMENT IN IDEAS.
It is a characteristic of our minds to be ever engaged in passing judgments on the things which come before them. No sooner do we learn, but we judge; we allow nothing to stand by itself: we compare, contrast, abstract, generalize, adjust, classify; and we view all our knowledge in the associations with which these processes have invested it.
Of the judgments thus exercised, some are mere opinions, which come and go, or remain with us only till an accident displaces them, whatever influence they may exert meanwhile. Others are firmly fixed in our minds and have a hold over us, whether they are principles of conduct, or are views of life and the world, or fall under the general head of belief. These habitual judgments often go by the name of ideas, and shall be called so here.
Of these ideas,—religious, political, or otherwise relating to human affairs,—some are real, that is, represent facts existing; and others are mere imaginations, and stand for nothing external to themselves. Thus the heathen mythology, or the Cartesian system of vortices, supplied a variety
of ideas, which were but fanciful and unreal ; whereas the idea of a saint, or a hero, or a tyrant, or what are called the laws of motion, are the representatives of things.
Ideas thus described, being of the nature of judg. ments, must, properly speaking, be considered as true by those who hold them. The absence, however of this condition of course does not change their nature: thus poets are familiar with fable; orators and pleaders make a case or embellish a character; and philosophers lay down some great principle, not necessarily as representing a fact, but as a generalization of phenomena, convenient, fact or not, for the purposes of science.
The number of persons holding an idea is no warrant for its objective character, else the many never could be wrong; for uniformity of education, or the sympathy kindled by enthusiasm, may carry many minds into one state, in which belief in certain ideas, and the mistake of formulæ or usages for external truths, will be natural or necessary. Such are popular superstitions; or the law of honour, as professed by men of the world; or the heated notions created by mob oratory; all of which are as / baseless and untrue as they are influential. Again, a whole train of investigation or inference may depend on the original adınission of some one proposition which is false; and the consequent unanimity with which separate minds regard and treat the same matters may be unfairly taken as a concurrent evidence of the truth of the conclusions at which they arrive.
But when one and the same idea is held by persons who are independent of each other, and are variously circumstanced, and have possessed themselves of it by different ways, and when it presents itself to them under very different aspects, without losing its substantial unity and its identity, and when it is thus variously presented, yet recom
mended, to persons similarly circumstanced; and when it is presented to persons variously circumstanced, under aspects, discordant indeed at first sight, but reconcilable after such explanations as their respective states of mind require; then it seems to have a claim to be considered the representative of an objective truth.
For instance, there is a general sentiment obtaining at very different times and places, and variously expressed, concerning the danger of unmixed pros:perity, or security, or high spirits; as signified in the proverbs, “Pride will have a fall,” and “Many a slip,” or the Scotch saying about persons who are "fie," or the Greek plovepòv ó Saíuwv, and the like; which is proved by that manifold testimony to be well founded, or to be a real law in human affairs.
“Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” is an instance, on the other hand, of a popular cry long sustained, to which numbers and energy contribute no credibility.
An idea ever presents itself under different aspects to different minds, and in proportion to that variety will be the proof of its reality and its distinctness. On the other hand, meagre and monotonous statements, and those simply reiterated, as in the case of the Ephesian clamour, betoken ideas which are unreal, or which are not properly understood by the speakers. Or such characteristics denote mystery, that is, dim information taken on faith; as we see in the theological enunciations of Scripture.
Ideas are not ordinarily brought home to the mind, except through the medium of a variety of aspects; like bodily substances, which are not seen except under the clothing of their properties and influences, and can be walked round and surveyed on opposite sides and in different perspectives and in contrary lights. And as views of a material object may be taken from points so remote or so distinct that they seem at first sight incompatible, and especially as their shadows will be disproportionate or even monstrous, and yet all these will be harmonized together by taking account of the point of vision or the surface of projection, so also all the representations of an idea, even all the misrepresentations, are capable of a mutual reconciliation and adjustment, and of a resolution into the subject to which they belong, and their contrariety, when explained, is an argument for its substantiveness and integrity, and their variety for its originality and power. realities are not ours at will, but then only and as far as is given us; and they present themselves very variously, and in various measures to individual minds.
For instance, persons who have not cultivated the science of music are often slow to believe that the harmonies of its great masters are more than a display of skill, or than literally a composition, which falls in with the fancy of particular persons, and is taken up by others as a fashion; as though its laws were conventional, and proficiency in it a mere successful application of general talent to a medium of exhibition accidentally chosen, and as if the satisfaction it affords were felt not spontaneously but upon rule, the mere approbation of those who were witnessing instances of conformity to principles which they had themselves arbitrarily propounded: that is, they do not believe in the existence of truths or laws about the beauty of sounds in the nature of things, external to particular minds, affecting various persons variously, and mastered by them in various degrees, as the case may be. An instance in point may be mentioned of a person under this impression, who was greatly astonished to be told by another who had some knowledge of the art, and a sensibility to musical creations, that, in spite of this, he was not able to compose; for he took it .for granted that any one of fair abilities who knew the rules could put them into practice, and impart to himself a pleasure which was of his own making. But ideas which are conversant with
Since an idea, as has been already said, cannot be viewed except under particular aspects, the formal statements under which it is conveyed are practically identical with itself. They introduce us to that idea from which they are derived, and, so far as they seem to oppose, they correct each other, and serve to impress a fuller and more exact representation of their original upon the mind.
And hence, if the illustration on which we are proceeding be correct, there is no one aspect such, as to go the depth of a real idea, no one term or proposition which can duly and fully represent it; though of course one representation of it will be more just and appropriate than another, and though when an idea is very complex, it is allowable to consider its distinct aspects as if separate ideas, for the sake of convenience. Thus with all our intimate knowledge of animal life, and the structure of particular animals, we cannot give a true definition of any one of them, but are forced to enumerate properties and accidents by way of description, Nor can we enclose in a formula that intellectual fact, or system of thought, which we call the Platonic philosophy, or that historical phenomenon of doctrine and conduct which we call the heresy of Montanus or of Manes. Again, if Protestantism were said to lie in its theory of private judgment, and Lutheranism in its doctrine of justification, this would be an approximation to the truth; but it is plain that to argue or to act as if these were adequate definitions would be a serious mistake. Sometimes an attempt has been made to ascertain the “leading idea," as it has been called, of Christianity; a remarkable essay as directed towards a divine religion, when, even in the instance of the