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CHAPTER III

HOW INDIVIDUAL AND GENERAL NOTIONS ARE DIS

TINGUISHED FROM EACH OTHER

All knowledge is built up from individual and general realities, so that instruction is always occupied with one or the other. It has been seen that differences in method are due first of all to the order in which these two are presented; some teachers would begin with the general notion or rule, and furnish the individual instances later, as the rule for the plural of nouns ending in s, x, sh, etc., while others would take the opposite course. Since these two kinds of notions are of vital importance, it is well to have a clear understanding of the meaning of each.

The notions that are furnished apparently through the senses alone are individual notions. For instance, the images of the many things about us gained through the sense of sight belong to this class. I have an individual notion of the penholder with which I am now writing, of the room in which I am sitting, and of the meadow that I see from my window. Touch, without the aid of sight, gives a similar kind of notion ; blind men get

Sources of individual notions.

definite mental pictures of the objects about them by the use of their hands. It is an individual notion that one receives when he perceives the color of a flower, the odor of an apple, or the chirp of a bird. Thus each sense may be the source of individual notions or percepts, without the aid of the others. Usually, however, they work together, giving a combined result, as when one determines through the senses of sight, smell, touch, and taste that a certain object is an apple. In this case the idea is certainly very complex, but since it must be referred to one definite object it is called an individual notion.

Further than that, individual facts and relationships, as well as material things, are a source of particular notions. For example, when we read in history that Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the English Parliament with gunpowder in 1605, we picture an individual factor notion. Again, when we say in grammar that the word Parliament in this sentence is the direct object of the verb blow up, and is, hence, in the objective case, we speak of the individual relation existing between a particular word and another expression; in other words, we have a fact in mind which is as individual or concrete in its nature as is the color of a particular flower.

The nature of general notions is best seen by Origin and directing attention to the way in which they arise. growth of If one has seen but one chair, he has, then, only an notions.

individual notion of chair; he has an object in mind of a certain size, color, material, weight, shape, etc. On seeing a second one, differing only in material from the first, the material of which it is made begins to be recognized as a subordinate matter. Let a dozen different kinds be seen, and more of those properties that are variable or individual come to be recognized as such; as, for instance, the color, weight, shape, etc. But some characteristics remain ever the same, though they be few in number. Each chair would be found to have a back and to be intended for a seat. If one hundred of them were perceived, these common qualities would appear one hundred times, while others would appear only once, or several times, but not all of the time. These common or general properties compose the general notion, so far as it has been found. There is one important limitation, however. It could easily happen that each of the hundred chairs seen has not three or five legs, but just four. In that case, according to the statement just made, the general notion chair might signify an object with a back and four legs, that was intended for a seat. But although all chairs thus far made were made with four legs, we know that it is not a necessary or essential property of chairs; they can have a larger or smaller number. Hence the word chair should signify an object with a back and intended for a seat. The idea expressed by this definition is what is meant by the general notion chair;

accurate

notions.

it is the sum of those characteristics that are both common and essential to chairs. It is by no means easy to distinguish the essential Difficulty of

getting qualities of an object from those that are common or usually present, but accidental. Every individual general thing has very many characteristics, most of which are entirely peculiar to itself. But it requires much study to determine whether some of the more common ones are essential or not. For example, is it a necessary property of chairs that they be movable, that they be intended for one person, and that they approximate a certain size? Webster's dictionary includes the first two of these three limitations in the first definition of chair; it states that a “chair is a movable single seat with a back.” Evidently the third is not considered a necessary property. Owing to the great difficulty in distinguishing what qualities are absolutely essential to a given object, it is seldom that really correct general notions even about common things are reached. Few educated men can correctly define table or knife, or house on the spur of the moment, or even after reflection. Likewise, their conceptions of trade-centres and of social laws presented through literature and history (as suggested in the preceding chapter) are often quite undefined.

Still, children have a vague general notion of these things. Wherein, then, are their generalizations different from those of educated people? The difference lies in the degree to which accidental qualities are

Psychical and logical general notions.

distinguished from essential ones. For a clear understanding of general notions it is necessary to realize that there are two kinds; namely, the crude and the pure.

As soon as children begin to use the plural number, to say even two intelligently, they are beginning to generalize. Of course, the individual characteristics of things are entirely confused with those that are common and necessary, and this confused state of mind exists throughout childhood. It is the only state reached by uneducated people in regard to most things. Such crude concepts are technically named psychical notions.

As already stated, even carefully educated men do not entirely escape this confusion. But their concepts are so much more nearly correct that they are often given a separate name, i.e. logical notions. A really logical notion is one that is absolutely correct, or one that is entirely free from accidental properties; it is, therefore, a pure notion, in distinction from the crude (or mixed) ones held by the uneducated. It is rather the ideal toward which people work than the goal which they actually attain, although in certain studies, as mathematics and grammar, logical notions are probably reached. It is one of the chief aims of instruction to develop psychical into logical notions; progress in education means a clearing up of crude notions. Children should be gradually led to set aside, as unimportant, many of

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