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Chapter 8

Abstraction
As we have seen, the first stage or step in the process of
Thought is that called Perception, which we have considered
in the preceding chapter. Perception, as we have seen, is the
process by which we gain our first knowledge of the external
world as reported to us by the channels of sense. The Perceptive
faculties interpret the material which is presented to us by
the senses. Following upon Perception we find the processes
resulting from the exercise of the group of faculties which are
classified under the general head of Understanding.
Understanding is the faculty, or faculties, of the mind by
means of which we intelligently examine and compare the
various percepts, either separating them by analysis, or else
combining them by synthesis, or both, and thus securing
our general ideas, principles, laws, classes, etc. There are
several sub-phases of Understanding which are known to
psychologists and logicians as: (1) Abstraction; (2) Conception
or Generalization; (3) Judgment, and (4) Reasoning, respectively.
In this chapter we shall consider the first of these sub-phases or
steps of Understanding, which is known as Abstraction.
Abstraction is that faculty of the mind by which we abstract
or draw off, and then consider apart, the particular qualities,
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properties, or attributes of an object, and thus are able to
consider them, as things or objects of thought. In order to
form concepts or general ideas, from our percepts or particular
ideas, we must consider and examine two common points or
qualities which go to make up differences and resemblances. The
special examination or consideration of these common points
or qualities result in the exercise of Abstraction. In the process
of Abstraction we mentally draw away a quality of an object
and then consider it as a distinct object of thought. Thus in
considering a flower we may abstract its qualities of fragrance,
color, shape, etc., and think of these as things independent of the
flower itself from which they were derived. We think of redness,
fragrance, etc., not only in connection with the particular flower
but as general qualities. Thus the qualities of redness, sweetness,
hardness, softness, etc., lead us to the abstract terms, red, sweet,
hard, soft, etc. In the same way courage, cowardice, virtue, vice,
love, hate, etc., are abstract tenns. No one ever saw one of these
things they are known only in connection with objects, or
else as abstract terms in the processes of Thought. They may
be known as qualities, and expressed as predicates; or they may
be considered as abstract things and expressed as nouns.
In the general process of Abstraction we first draw off and
set aside all the qualities which are not common to the general
class under consideration, for the concept or general idea
must comprise only the qualities common to its class. Thus in
the case of the general idea of horse, size and color must be
abstracted as non-essentials, for horses are of various colors
and sizes. But on the other hand, there are certain qualities
which are common to all horses, and these must be abstracted
and used in making up the concept or general idea.
So, you see, in general Abstraction we form two classes: (1)
the unlike and not-general qualities; and (2) the like or common
qualities. As Halleck says: 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


Abstraction
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to the class. Abstraction is little else than centering the power
of attention on some qualities to the exclusion of others .
While we are forming concepts, we abstract or draw off certain
qualities, either to leave them out of view or to consider them
by themselves. Our dictionaries contain such words as purity,
whiteness, sweetness, industry, courage, etc. No one ever
touched, tasted, smelled, heard, or saw purity or courage. We
do not, therefore, gain our knowledge of these through the
senses. We have seen pure persons, pure snow, pure honey;
we have breathed pure air, tasted pure coffee. From all these
different objects we have abstracted the only like quality, the
quality of being pure. We then say we have an idea of purity,
and that idea is an abstract one. It exists only in the mind which
formed it. No one ever saw whiteness. He may have seen white
clouds, snow, cloth, blossoms, houses, paper, horses, but he
never saw whiteness by itself. He simply abstracted that quality
from various white objects.
In Abstraction we may either (1) abstract a quality and set it
aside and apart from the other qualities under consideration, as
being non-essential and not necessary; or we may (2) abstract a
quality and hold it in the mind as essential and necessary for the
concept which we are forming. Likewise, we may abstract (1) all
the qualities of an object except one, and set them aside that we
may consider the one quality by itself; or we may (2) abstract
the one particular quality and consider it to the exclusion of
all its associated qualities. In all of these aspects we have the
same underlying process of considering a quality apart from its
object, and apart from its associated qualities. The mind more
commonly operates in the direction of abstracting one quality
and viewing it apart from object and associated qualities.
The importance of correct powers of Abstraction is seen
when we realize that all concepts or general ideas are but
combinations of abstract qualities or ideas. As Halleck says:
The difference between an abstract idea and a concept is that
a concept may consist of a bundle of abstract ideas. If the class