Thought-Culture or Practical Mental Training



We have seen that the Mind is that something within us which Thinks, Feels and Wills. There are various phases of these three forms of activity. These phases have often been called “the faculties of the mind,” although many authorities decry the use of this term, holding that it gives an impression of _several parts or divisions_ of the mind, separate and distinct from each other, whereas these phases are merely the several _powers or forms of activity_ of the Mind. Every manifestation of mental activity falls under one of the three before-mentioned general forms, i.e., Thinking, Feeling and Willing, respectively. Every manifestation of mental activity is either that of the Intellect, the Feelings, or the Will. Let us consider the first of these three general forms of mental activity–the Intellect.

The _Intellect_ is defined as: “That faculty or phase of the human mind by which it receives or comprehends the ideas communicated to it by the senses or by perception, or other means, as distinguished from the power to feel and to will; the power or faculty to perceive objects in their relations; the power to judge and comprehend; also the capacity for higher forms of knowledge as distinguished from the power to perceive and imagine.” The term itself is derived from the Latin term _intellectus_, the primary meaning of which is “to choose between,” which primary meaning will give the true essential meaning of the term in its present usage; namely, the faculty or phase of the mind by which we “choose between” things or by which we _decide_.

The phase or faculty of Intellect concerns itself with Thinking, in the particular and narrower sense of that term. Its products are _thoughts_, _mental images_ and _ideas_. An _idea_ or _mental image_ is a mental conception of anything, as for instance our conception which we express by the terms, _man_, _animal_, _house_, _etc._ Sometimes the word _idea_ is used to express merely the abstract or generalized conception of the thing, as, for instance, _Man_ in the sense of “all men;” while _mental image_ is used in the sense of the mental conception of some one particular thing, as a “_a man_;” it being held that no mental image can be had of a generalization. A _thought_ is held to be a mental product arising from a combination of two or more ideas or mental images, as for instance: “A horse is an animal;” “a man is a biped;” etc.

The Intellect is held to embrace and include a number of minor phases or faculties, such as Perception, Understanding, Imagination, Memory, Reason and Intuition, which are explained as follows:

_Perception_ is that faculty of the Mind which interprets the material presented to it by the senses. It is the power whereby we gain our knowledge of the external world, as reported to us by the channels of sense. Through Perception we are able to form ideas and mental images, which in turn lead to thoughts. The objects of which we become conscious through Perception are called _percepts_, which form the bases of what we call _concepts_, or ideas.

_Understanding_ is that faculty of the Mind by the means of which we are able intelligently to compare the objects presented to it by Perception, and by which we separate them into parts by analysis, or to combine them into greater classes, or wholes, by synthesis. It produces ideas, both abstract and general; also concepts of truths, laws, principles, causes, etc. There are several sub-phases of Understanding, which are known as: Abstraction, Conception or Generalization, or Judgment and Reasoning, respectively, which are explained as follows:

_Abstraction_ is that faculty of the Mind which enables it to abstract, or draw off, and consider apart from an object, a particular _quality_ or _property_ of an object, thus making of the quality or property a distinct object of thought apart from the original object. Thus are the _abstract ideas_ of _sweetness_, _color_, _hardness_, _courage_, _beauty_, etc., which we have abstracted or _drawn off_ from their original associations, either for the purpose of putting them out of sight and consideration, or else to view and consider them by themselves. No one ever tasted “sweetness” although one may have tasted _sweet things_; no one ever saw “red,” although one may have seen _red things_; no one ever saw, heard, tasted or felt “courage” in another, although one may have seen _courageous people_. Abstract ideas are merely the mental conception of _qualities_ or _properties_ divorced from their associated objects by Abstraction.

_Conception_ or Generalization is that faculty of the Mind by which it forms and groups together several particular ideas in the form of _a general idea_. By the processes of Conception we form _classes_ or _generalizations_ from particular ideas arising from our _percepts_. First, we _perceive_ things; then we _compare_ them with each other; then we abstract their particular qualities, which are not common to the several objects; then we _generalize_ them according to their resemblances; then we _name_ the generalized concept. From these combined processes we form a Concept, or _general idea_ of the class of things to which the particular things belong. Thus from subjecting a number of cows to this process, we arrive at the general Concept of “Cow.” This general Concept includes all the qualities and properties _common to all cows_, while omitting those which are not common to the class. Or, we may form a concept of Napoleon Bonaparte, by combining his several qualities and properties and thus form a _general idea_ of the man.