The Death of the Moth, and Other Essays

§ 10. This faculty of laying up and retaining the ideas that are brought into the mind, several other animals seem to have to a great degree, as well as man. For to pass by other instances, birds learning of tunes, and the endeavours one may observe in them to hit the notes right, put it past doubt with me, that they have perception and retain ideas in their memories, and use them for patterns. For it seems to me impossible, that they should endeavour to conform their voices to notes (as it is plain they do) of which they had no ideas. For though I should grant sound may mechanically cause a certain motion of the animal spirits, in the brains of those birds, whilst the tune is actually playing; and that motion may be continued on to the muscles of the wings, and so the bird mechanically be driven away by certain noises, because this may tend to the bird’s preservation: yet that can never be supposed a reason, why it should cause mechanically, either whilst the tune is playing, much less after it has ceased, such a motion of the organs in the bird’s voice as should conform it to the notes of a foreign sound; which imitation can be of no use to the bird’s preservation. But which is more, it cannot with any appearance of reason be supposed (much less proved) that birds, without sense and memory, can approach their notes nearer and nearer by degrees to a tune played yesterday; which if they have no idea of in their memory, is no-where, nor can be a pattern for them to imitate, or which any repeated essays can bring them nearer to. Since there is no reason why the sound of a pipe should leave traces in their brains, which not at first, but by their after-endeavours, should produce the like sounds; and why the sounds they make themselves, should not make traces which they should follow, as well as those of the pipe, is impossible to conceive.

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The Death of the Moth, and Other Essays, by Virginia Woolf, free ebook

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§ 7. But though these complex ideas, or essences of mixed modes, depend on the mind, and are made by it with great liberty; yet they are not made at random, and jumbled together without any reason at all. Though these complex ideas be not always copied from nature, yet they are always suited to the end for which abstract ideas are made: and though they be combinations made of ideas that are loose enough, and have as little union in themselves, as several other to which the mind never gives a connexion that combines them into one idea; yet they are always made for the convenience of communication, which is the chief end of language. The use of language is by short sounds to signify with ease and dispatch general conceptions: wherein not only abundance of particulars may be contained, but also a great variety of independent ideas collected into one complex one. In the making therefore of the species of mixed modes, men have had regard only to such combinations as they had occasion to mention one to another. Those they have combined into distinct complex ideas, and given names to; whilst others, that in nature have as near an union, are left loose and unregarded. For to go no farther than human actions themselves, if they would make distinct abstract ideas of all the varieties might be observed in them, the number must be infinite, and the memory confounded with the plenty, as well as overcharged to little purpose. It suffices that men make and name so many complex ideas of these mixed modes, as they find they have occasion to have names for, in the ordinary occurrence of their affairs. If they join to the idea of killing the idea of father, or mother, and so make a distinct species from killing a man’s son or neighbour, it is because of the different heinousness of the crime, and the distinct punishment is due to the murdering a man’s father and mother, different from what ought to be inflicted on the murder of a son or neighbour; and therefore they find it necessary to mention it by a distinct name, which is the end of making that distinct combination. But though the ideas of mother and daughter are so differently treated, in reference to the idea of killing, that the one is joined with it, to make a distinct abstract idea with a name, and so a distinct species, and the other not; yet in respect of carnal knowledge, they are both taken in under incest: and that still for the same convenience of expressing under one name, and reckoning of one species, such unclean mixtures as have a peculiar turpitude beyond others; and this to avoid circumlocutions and tedious descriptions.

How to do Philosophy – Paul Graham

§ 10. This may show us the reason, why, in the defining of words, which is nothing but declaring their significations, we make us of the genus, or next general word that comprehends it. Which is not out of necessity, but only to save the labour of enumerating the several simple ideas, which the next general word or genus stands for; or, perhaps, sometimes the shame of not being able to do it. But though defining by genus and differentia (I crave leave to use these terms of art, though originally Latin, since they most properly suit those notions they are applied to) I say, though defining by the genus be the shortest way, yet I think it may be doubted whether it be the best. This I am sure, it is not the only, and so not absolutely necessary. For definition being nothing but making another understand by words what idea the term defined stands for, a definition is best made by enumerating those simple ideas that are combined in the signification of the term defined; and if instead of such an enumeration, men have accustomed themselves to use the next general term; it has not been out of necessity, or for greater clearness, but for quickness and dispatch sake. For, I think, that to one who desired to know what idea the word man stood for, if it should be said, that man was a solid extended substance, having life, sense, spontaneous motion, and the faculty of reasoning: I doubt not but the meaning of the term man would be as well understood, and the idea it stands for be at least as clearly made known, as when it is defined to be a rational animal; which by the several definitions of animal, vivens, and corpus, resolves itself into those enumerated ideas. I have, in explaining the term man, followed here the ordinary definition of the schools: which though, perhaps, not the most exact, yet serves well enough to my present purpose. And one may, in this instance, see what gave occasion to the rule, that a definition must consist of genus and differentia; and it suffices to show us the little necessity there is of such a rule, or advantage in the strict observing of it. For definitions, as has been said, being only the explaining of one word by several others, so that the meaning or idea it stands for may be certainly known; languages are not always so made according to the rules of logic, that every term can have its signification exactly and clearly expressed by two others. Experience sufficiently satisfies us to the contrary: or else those who have made this rule have done ill, that they have given us so few definitions conformable to it. But of definitions more in the next chapter.

I had several motives, some more honorable than others
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§ 19. Secondly, That in relations we have for the most part, if not always, as clear a notion of the relation, as we have of those simple ideas, wherein it is founded. Agreement or disagreement, whereon relation depends, being things whereof we have commonly as clear ideas, as of any other whatsoever; it being but the distinguishing simple ideas, or their degrees one from another, without which we could have no distinct knowledge at all. For if I have a clear idea of sweetness, light or extension, I have too, of equal, or more or less of each of these: if I know what it is for one man to be born of a woman, viz. Sempronia, I know what it is for another man to be born of the same woman Sempronia; and so have as clear a notion of brothers, as of births, and perhaps clearer. For if I believed that Sempronia dug Titus out of the parsley-bed (as they used to tell children) and thereby became his mother; and that afterwards, in the same manner, she dug Caius out of the parsley-bed; I had as clear a notion of the relation of brothers between them, as if I had all the skill of a midwife: the notion that the same woman contributed, as mother, equally to their births (though I were ignorant or mistaken in the manner of it), being that on which I grounded the relation, and that they agreed in that circumstance of birth, let it be what it will. The comparing them then in their descent from the same person, without knowing the particular circumstances of that descent, is enough to found my notion of their having or not having the relation of brothers. But though the ideas of particular relations are capable of being as clear and distinct in the minds of those, who will duly consider them, as those of mixed modes, and more determinate than those of substances; yet the names belonging to relation are often of as doubtful and uncertain signification, as those of substances or mixed modes, and much more than those of simple ideas: because relative words being the marks of this comparison, which is made only by men’s thoughts, and is an idea only in men’s minds, men frequently apply them to different comparisons of things, according to their own imaginations, which do not always correspond with those of others using the same name.

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§ 73. And thus I have, in a short draught, given a view of our original ideas, from whence all the rest are derived, and of which they are made up; which if I would consider, as a philosopher, and examine on what causes they depend, and of what they are made, I believe they all might be reduced to these very few primary and original ones, viz. Extension, Solidity, Mobility, or the power of being moved; which by our senses we receive from body; Perceptivity, or the power of perception, or thinking; Motivity, or the power of moving; which by reflection we receive from our minds. I crave leave to make use of these two new words, to avoid the danger of being mistaken in the use of those which are equivocal. To which if we add Existence, Duration, Number; which belong both to the one and the other; we have, perhaps, all the original ideas, on which the rest depend. For by these, I imagine, might be explained the nature of colours, sounds, tastes, smells, and all other ideas we have, if we had but faculties acute enough to perceive the severally modified extensions and motions of these minute bodies, which produce those several sensations in us. But my present purpose being only to inquire into the knowledge the mind has of things, by those ideas and appearances, which God has fitted it to receive from them, and how the mind comes by that knowledge, rather than into their causes, or manner of production; I shall not, contrary to the design of this essay, set myself to inquire philosophically into the peculiar constitution of bodies, and the configuration of parts, whereby they have the power to produce in us the ideas of their sensible qualities: I shall not enter any farther into that disquisition, it sufficing to my purpose to observe, that gold or saffron has a power to produce in us the idea of yellow, and snow or milk the idea of white, which we can only have by our sight, without examining the texture of the parts of those bodies, or the particular figures or motion of the particles which rebound from them, to cause in us that particular sensation: though when we go beyond the bare ideas in our minds, and would inquire into their causes, we cannot conceive any thing else to be in any sensible object, whereby it produces different ideas in us, but the different bulk, figure, number, texture, and motion of its insensible parts.

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§ 7. If therefore we will warily attend to the motions of the mind, and observe what course it usually takes in its way to knowledge; we shall, I think, find that the mind having got an idea, which it thinks it may have use of, either in contemplation or discourse, the first thing it does is to abstract it, and then get a name to it; and so lay it up in its store-house, the memory, as containing the essence of a sort of things, of which that name is always to be the mark. Hence it is that we may often observe, that when any one sees a new thing of a kind that he knows not, he presently asks what it is, meaning by that inquiry nothing but the name. As if the name carried with it the knowledge of the species, or the essence of it; whereof it is indeed used as the mark, and is generally supposed annexed to it.