We have seen that Sensation is translated or interpreted into Perception; and that from the Percepts so created we may “draw off,” or separate, various qualities, attributes and properties by the analytical process we call Abstraction. Abstraction, we have seen, thus constitutes the first step in the process of what is called Understanding. The second step is called Generalization or Conception.
Generalization, or Conception, is that faculty of the mind by which we are able to combine and group together several particular ideas into one general idea. Thus when we find a number of particular objects possessing the same general qualities, attributes or properties, we proceed to _classify_ them by the process of Generalization. For instance, in a number of animals possessing certain general and common qualities we form a concept of a class comprising those particular animals. Thus in the concept of cow, we include _all cows_–we know them to be cows because of their possession of certain general class qualities which we include in our concept of _cow_. The particular cows may vary greatly in size, color and general appearance, but they possess the common general qualities which we group together in our general concept of _cow_. Likewise by reason of certain common and general qualities we include in our concept of “Man,” _all men_, black, white, brown, red or yellow, of all races and degrees of physical and mental development. From this generic concept we may make race concepts, dividing men into Indians, Caucasians, Malays, Negroes, Mongolians, etc. These concepts in turn may be divided into sub-races. These sub-divisions result from an analysis of the great concept. The great concept is built up by synthesis from the individuals, through the sub-divisions of minor concepts. Or, again, we may form a concept of “Napoleon Bonaparte” from the various qualities and characteristics which went to make up that celebrated man.
The product of Generalization or Conception is called a _Concept_. A Concept is expressed in a word, or words, called “A Term.” A Concept is more than a mere _word_–it is _a general idea_. And a Term is more than a mere word–it is _the expression of a general idea_.
A _Concept_ is built up from the processes of Perception, Abstraction, Comparison and Generalization. We must first perceive; then analyze or abstract qualities; then compare qualities; then synthesize or classify according to the result of the comparison of qualities. By perceiving and comparing the qualities of various individual things, we notice their points of resemblance and difference–the points wherein they agree or disagree–wherein they are alike or unlike. Eliminating by abstraction the points in which they differ and are unlike; and, again by abstraction, retaining in consideration the points in which they resemble and are alike; we are able to group, arrange or classify these “_alike things_” into _a class-idea_ large enough to embrace them all. This class-idea is what is known as a General Idea or a Concept. This Concept we give a general name, which is called a Term. In grammar our particular ideas arising from Percepts are usually denoted by proper nouns–our general ideas arising from Concepts are usually denoted by common nouns. Thus “John Smith” (particular; proper noun) and “Man” (general; common noun). Or “horse” (general; common), and “Dobbin” (particular; proper).
It will be seen readily that there must be lower and higher concepts. Every class contains within itself lower classes. And every class is, itself, but a lower class in a higher one. Thus the high concept of “animal” may be analyzed into “mammal,” which in turn is found to contain “horse,” which in turn may be sub-divided into special kinds of horses. The concept “plant” may be sub-divided many times before the concept “rose” is obtained, and the latter is capable of sub-division into varieties and sub-varieties, until at last a particular flower is reached. Jevons says: “We classify things together whenever we observe that they are like each other in any respect and, therefore, think of them together…. In classifying a collection of objects, we do not merely put together into groups those which resemble each other, but we also divide each class into smaller ones in which the resemblance is more complete. Thus the class of _white substances_ may be divided into those which are solid and those which are fluid, so that we get the two minor classes of solid-white, and fluid-white substances. It is desirable to have names by which to show that one class is contained in another and, accordingly, we call the class which is divided into two or more smaller ones, the _Genus_; and the smaller ones into which it is divided, the _Species_.”
Every Genus is a Species of the class next higher than itself; and every Species is a Genus of the classes lower than itself. Thus it would seem that the extension in either direction would be infinite. But, for the purposes of finite thought, the authorities teach that there must be a Highest Genus, which cannot be the Species of a higher class, and which is called the _Summum Genus_. The _Summum Genus_ is expressed by terms such as the following: “Being;” “Existence;” “The Absolute;” “Something;” “Thing;” “The Ultimate Reality,” or some similar term denoting the state of being _ultimate_. Likewise, at the lowest end of the scale we find what are called the Lowest Species, or _Infima Species_. The Infima Species are always _individuals_. Thus we have the _individual_ at one end of the scale; and _The Absolute_ at the other. Beyond these limits the mind of man cannot travel.