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The difference between the effect of a perception and an idea, in awakening associated thoughts and feelings, is finely described in the introduction to the fifth book De Finibus.
“We agreed,” says Cicero, “ that we should take our afternoon's walk in the academy, as at that time of the day it was a place where there was no resort of company. Accordingly, at the hour appointed we went to Piso's. We passed the time in conversing on different matters during our short walk from the double gate, till we came to the academy, that justly celebrated spot; which, as we wished, we found a perfect solitude. I know not,” said Piso, “ whether it be a natural feeling, or an illusion of the imagination founded on habit, that we are more powerfully affected by the sight of those places which have been much frequented by illustrious men, than when we either listen to the recital, or read the detail, of their great actions. At this moment, I feel strongly that emotion which I speak of. I see before me, the perfect form of Plato, who was wont to dispute in this very place; these gardens not only recall him to my memory, but present his very person to my senses. I fancy to myself, that here stood Speusippus; there Xenocrates, and here, on this bench, sat his disciple Polemo. To me, our ancient senate-house seems peopled with the like visionary forms; for, often, when I enter it, the shades of Scipio, of Cato, and of Lælius, and, in particular, of my venerable grandlather, rise to my imagination. In short, such is the effect of local situation in recalling associated ideas to the mind, that it is not without reason, some philosophers have founded on this principle a species of artificial memory."
This influence of perceptible objects, in awakening associated thoughts and associated feelings, seems to arise, in a great measure, from their permanent operation as exciting or suggesting causes. When a train of thought takes its rise from an idea or conception, the first idea soon disappears, and a series of others succeeds, which are gradually less and less related to that with which the train commenced ; but in the case of perception, the exciting cause remains steadily before us; and all the thoughts and feelings which have any relation to it,crowd into the mind in rapid succession; strengthening each other's effects, and all conspiring in the same general impression.
I already observed, that the connexions which exist among our thoughts, have been long familiarly known to the vulgar as well as to philosophers. It is, indeed, only of late that we have been possessed of an appropriated phrase to express them; but that the general fact is not a recent discovery, may be inferred from many of the common maxims of prudence and of propriety, which have
They were like distant voices resounding from beyond the ocean, and with magical power transporting us from one hemisphere to the other.”—Personal Narratire, &c. &c. Vol. III. pp. 90, 91.
plainly been suggested by an attention to this part of our constitution. When we lay it down, for example, as a general rule, to avoid in conversation all expressions, and all topics of discourse, which have any relation, however remote, to ideas of an unpleasant nature, we plainly proceed on the supposition that there are certain connexions among our thoughts, which have an influence over the order of their succession. It is unnecessary to remark, how much of the comfort and good-humor of social life depends on an attention to this consideration. Such attentions are more particularly essential in our intercourse with men of the world ; for the commerce of society has a wonderful effect in increasing the quickness and the facility with which we associate all ideas which have any reference to life and manners ;* and, of consequence, it must render the sensibility alive to many circumstances which, from the remoteness of their relation to the situation and history of the parties, would otherwise have passed unnoticed.
When an idea, however, is thus suggested by association, it produces a slighter impression, or, at least, it produces its impression more gradually, than if it were presented more directly and immediately to the mind. And hence, when we are under a necessity of communicating any disagreeable information to another, delicacy leads us, instead of mentioning the thing itself, to mention soinething else from which our meaning may be understood. In this manner, we prepare our hearers for the unwelcome intelligence.
The distinction between gross and delicate flattery, is founded upon the same principle. As nothing is more offensive than flattery which is direct and pointed, praise is considered as happy and elegant, in proportion to the slightness of the associations by which it is conveyed.
To this tendency which one thought has to introduce another, philosophers have given the name of the Association of Ideas; and as I would not wish, excepting in case of necessity, to depart from common language, or to expose myself to the charge of delivering old doctrines in a new form, I shall continue to make use of the same expression. I am sensible, indeed, that the expression is by no means unexceptionable ; and that, if it be used, as it frequently has been, to comprehend those laws by which the succession of all our thoughts and of all our mental operations is regulated, the word idea must be understood in a sense much more extensive than it is commonly employed in. It is very justly remarked by Dr. Reid, that “memory, judgment, reasoning, passions, affections, and purposes ; in a word, every operation of the mind, excepting those of
The superiority which the man of the world possesses over the recluse student, in his knowledge of mankind, is partly the result of this quickness and facility of association. Those trifling circumstances in conversation and behavior, which, to the latter, convey only their most obvious and avowed meaning, lay open to the former, many of the trains of thought which are connected with them, and frequently give him a distinct view of a character, on that very side where it is supposed to be most concealed from his observation.
sense, is excited occasionally in the train of our thoughts ; so that if we make the train of our ihoughts to be only a train of ideas, the word idea must be understood to denote all these operations.” In continuing, therefore, to employ, upon this subject, that language, which has been consecrated by the practice of our best philosophical writers in England, I would not be understood to dispute the advantages which might be derived from the introduction of a new phrase, more precise and more applicable to the fact.
The ingenious author whom I last quoted, seems to think that the association of ideas has no claim to be considered as an original principle, or as an ultimate fact in our nature. “I believe,” says he,“ that the original principles of the mind, of which we can give no account, but that such is our constitution, are more in number than is commonly thought. But we ought not to multiply them without necessity. That trains of thinking which by frequent repetition have become familiar, should spontaneously offer themselves to our fancy, seems to require no other original quality but the power of habit.”
With this observation I cannot agree; because I think it more philosophical to resolve the power of habit into the association of ideas, than to resolve the association of ideas into habit.
The word habit, in the sense in which it is commonly employed, expresses that facility which the mind acquires, in all its exertions, both animal and intellectual, in consequence of practice. We apply it to the dexterity of the workman : to the extemporary fluency of the orator; to the rapidity of the arithmetical accountant. That this facility is the effect of practice, we know from experience to be a fact; but it does not seem to be an ultimate fact, nor incapable of analysis.
In the Essay on Attention, I showed that the effects of practice are produced partly on the body, and partly on the mind. The muscles which we employ in mechanical operations, become stronger, and become more obedient to the will. This is a fact, of which it is probable that philosophy will never be able to give any explanation.
But even in mechanical operations, the effects of practice are produced partly on the mind; and, as far as this is the case, they are resolvable into what philosophers call the association of ideas or into that general fact, which Dr. Reid himself has stated, " that trains of thinking, which, by frequent repetition, have become familiar, spontaneously offer themselves to the mind.” In the case of habits which are purely intellectual the effects of practice resolve themselves completely into this principle: and it appears to me more precise and more satisfactory, to state the principle itself as a law of our constitution, than to slur it over under the concise appellation of habit, which we apply in common to mind and body.
The tendency in the human mind to associate or connect its thoughts together, is sometimes called, but very improperly, the
imagination. Between these two parts of our constitution, there is, indeed, a very intimate relation ; and it is probably owing to this relation, that they have been so generally confounded under the
When the mind is occupied about absent objects of sense, (which, I believe, it is habitually in the great majority of mankind,) its train of thought is merely a series of conceptions ; or, in common language, of imaginations. * In the case, too, of poetical imagination, it is the association of ideas that supplies the materials out of which its combinations are formed ; and when such an imaginary combination is become familiar to the mind, it is the association of ideas that connects its different parts together, and unites them into one whole. The association of ideas, therefore, although perfectly distinct from the power of imagination, is immediately and essentially subservient to all its exertions.
The last observation seems to me to point out, also, the circumstance which has led the greater part of English writers to use the words imagination and fancy as synonymous. It is obvious, that a creative imagination, when a person possesses it so habitually that it may be regarded as forming one of the characteristics of his genius, implies a power of summoning up at pleasure, a particular class of ideas; and of ideas related to each other in a particular manner; which power can be the result only, of certain habits of association, which the individual has acquired. It is to this power of the mind, which is evidently a particular turn of thought, and not one of the common principles of our nature, that our best writers (so far as I am able to judge) refer, in general, when they make use of the word fancy ; I say, in general ; for in disquisitions of this sort, in which the best writers are seldom precise and steady in the employment of words, it is only to their prevailing practice that we can appeal as an authority. What the particular relations are, by which those ideas are connected that are subservient to poetical imagination, I shall not inquire at present. I think they are chiefly those of resemblance and analogy. But whatever they may be, the power of summoning up at pleasure the ideas so related, as it is the ground-work of poetical genius, is of sufficient importance in the human constitution to deserve an appropriated name; and, for this purpose, the word fancy would appear to be the most convenient that our language affords.
Dr. Reid has somewhere observed, that “the part of our constitution on which the association of ideas depends, was called, by the older English writers, the fantasy or fancy ;” an use of the word, we may remark, which coincides, in many instances, with that which I propose to make of it. It differs from it only in this, that these writers applied it to the association of ideas in general, whereas I restrict its application to that habit of association, which is subservient to poetical imagination.
* Accordingly, Hobbes calls the train of thought in the mind, “ Consequentia sive series imaginationum.” “ Per seriem imaginationum intelligo successionem unius cogitationis ad aliam.”—Leviathan, cap. iii.
According to the explanation which has now been given of the word fancy, the office of this power is to collect materials for the imagination ; and, therefore, the latter power presupposes the former, while the former does not necessarily suppose the latter. A man whose habits of association present to him, for illustrating or embellishing a subject, a number of resembling, or of analogous ideas, we call a man of fancy : but for an effort of imagination, various other powers are necessary, particularly the powers of taste and of judgınent: without which, we can hope to produce nothing that will be a source of pleasure to others. It is the power of fancy which supplies the poet with metaphorical language, and with all the analogies which are the foundation of his allusions; but it is the power of imagination that creates the complex scenes he describes, and the fictitious characters he delineates. To fancy, we apply the epithets of rich or luxuriant; to imagination, those of beautiful or sublime.
Of the Principles of Association among our Ideas.
The facts which I stated in the former section, to illustrate the tendency of a perception, or of an idea, to suggest ideas related to it, are so obvious as to be matter of common remark. But the relations which connect all our thoughts together, and the laws which regulate their succession, were but little attended to before the publication of Mr. Hume's writings.
It is well known to those who are in the least conversant with the present state of metaphysical science, that this eminent writer has attempted to reduce all the principles of association among our ideas to three: resemblance, contiguity in time and place, and cause and effect. The attempt was great, and worthy of his genius; but it has been shown by several writers since his time, that
See, in particular, Lord Kaimes's Elements of Criticism, and Dr. Gerard's Essay on Genius.-See also Dr. Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric, vol. i p 197.
It is observed by Dr. Beattie, that something like an attempt to enumerate the laws of association is to be found in Aristotle, who, in speaking of recollection, insinuates, with his usual brevity, that “the relations, by which we are led from one thought to another, in tracing out, or hunting after,” as he calls it, “any particular thought which does not immediately occur, are chiefly three, resemblance, contrariety, and contiguity."-See Dissertations, Moral and Critical, p. 9; also
The passage to which Dr. Beattie refers, is as follows:
“Οταν ουν αναμνησκομεθα, κινουμενα των προτερων τινα κινησεων, έως αν κινηFouer, meg is éZELVY Bluft. Διο και το εφεξής θηρευομεν νου σαντες απο του νυν, , ή αλλου τινος, και αφ' όμοιου, ή έναντιου, και του συνεγγυς. Δια τουτο γινεται η avaumois.-Aristot. de Memor. et Reminisc., vol. i. p. 681., edit. Du Val.