Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sydney Dobell—"We ought to have generalizations"

excerpt from

We ought to have generalizations, but not abstractions—i.e. the idea of Dog universal as derived from various species of dog, the idea of a true thing as derived from many species of true things, but not the idea of doghood or the idea of Truth. We have the idea of a soft thing as derived from many species of soft things, but not the idea of Softness. We have the idea of a beautiful thing, but not the idea of Beauty. A beautiful thing is that which in a particular kind of mind produces a particular kind of feeling. So of Virtue, Vice, Safety, Hardness, &c., &c., in all which we are verbally separating the qualities of things from the things. (Virtue is the abstraction of an abstraction—the quality of ‘the virtues,’ which are the qualities of good things.) Since we cannot know qualities, let us not name them. Let us speak not of Virtue, but of good things; not of Beauty, but of beautiful things; not of Truth, but of true things.


The mind of man is essentially recipient, and, in a wide sense, auditory. The loftiest poet is the deepest listener. In the meanest experience, as in the most exalted metaphysic, we find ourselves powerless to create or to explain, but we have yet to find the limit which forbids us to receive. The wisest among us cannot account for the humblest of our phenomena; but for all the host of the stars we have heaven enough within us, and we rise without effort from the grasshopper to the thunder.


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