Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII.: CLASSIFICATION, NAMING, AND RECOGNITION. - The Principles of Psychology
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CHAPTER VIII.: CLASSIFICATION, NAMING, AND RECOGNITION. - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Psychology 
The Principles of Psychology (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1855).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
CLASSIFICATION, NAMING, AND RECOGNITION.
§ 42. It needs but to read a page of any treatise on Logic, to sec that there is a close alliance between Reasoning and Classification. The alliance is much closer than is supposed. It is not simply that, as every logician holds, Reasoning presupposes Classification; but also that Classification presupposes Reasoning. This statement seems to involve a contradiction; and would do so, were Reasoning and Classification wholly distinct things. But the solution of the apparent paradox, lies in the fact, that they are different aspects of the same mental process—are the necessary complements of each other. Already in describing reasoning as the classification of relations, its near approach to the classification of entities has been implied: and if we remember that whilst, on the one hand, classification of relations involves classification of the things or attributes between which they subsist; on the other hand classification of entities involves classification of the relations among their constituent attributes; the kinship of the two will appear still closer. But let us compare them in detail.
It is self-evident that the idea underlying all classification is that of similarity. When we group an object with certain others, we do so on the ground that in some or all of its characteristics it resembles them. Whether it be in classing together the extremely like individuals constituting a species; whether it be in uniting under the general division, vertebrata, such apparently heterogeneous creatures as a fish and a man, a snake and a bird; or whether it be in regarding both animate and inanimate objects as members of the great class, solid bodies; there is always some community of attributes—always some similarity in virtue of which they are colligated. But, as was lately pointed out, similarity means equality or likeness of relations. When it is said that the two triangles ABC, DEF, are similar; the specific assertion involved is, that AB is to BC, as DE to EF; or, generally, that the quantitative relation between any two sides of the one, is equal to that between the homologous sides of the other. And when the two annexed
shells are classed as of the same species, it is manifest that, as before, the perception of similarity is a perception that the relations amongst the several parts of the one, are equal to, or like, those among the homologous parts of the other; not only in size, but to a great extent in colour, texture, and so on. What, then, is the difference between the acts of thought by which, from the perception of similarity in the triangles, there is evolved an inference respecting the value of some side; and by which, from the perception of similarity in the shells, there is evolved the idea of identity of class? The difference consists simply in this. Similarity has several implications: after the perception of similarity any one of these may present itself to consciousness; and according as one or other of the two leading kinds of implication is thought of, we have, either reasoning or classification. To speak specifically—It is impossible to perceive anything to be similar to another, or others, without, to some extent, thinking of that other, or those others: at the same time it is impossible to perceive similarity between things, without being more or less conscious of that likeness of relations which constitutes their similarity. Either of these two latent implications may become the subject of distinct contemplation. If we consciously recall the things to which this particular one is similar, we classify; if, consciously dwelling upon the likeness of relations, we think of certain implied attributes, we reason.
“But how,” it may be asked, “does this prove that classification presupposes reasoning; as well as reasoning, classification? It may be true that the intuition of similarity is their common root. It may be true that our conscious inferences involve acts of classing. But it does not, therefore, follow that our conscious acts of classing involve inferences.” The reply is, that in all ordinary cases, the majority of the like relations in virtue of which any object is classed with certain before known ones, are recognized, not by perception, but by reason. The structural, tangible, gustable, ponderable, and other sensible attributes, ascribed to an orange, are not included in the visual impression received from the orange; but, as all admit, are inferred from that impression. Yet these various inferred attributes are included in the concept—an orange. When I reach out my hand towards this reddish-yellow something, under the belief that it is juicy, and will slake thirst; I have already, in judging it to be an orange, necessarily conceived it as having various attributes besides the observed ones: every one of which I know to exist, only by the same process that I know the juiciness to exist. The act of classing, then, involves a whole group of inferences; of which the particular inference drawn is only one. And had some other been drawn, as that the taste was sweet, what is now distinguished as the inference would have been one of the data—one of the attributes involved in the judgment—this is an orange. Should any one contend that these various unspecified attributes are not inferred in the act of classing; but that the entire thought implied is—All reddish-yellow, spherical, polished, pitted bodies of a certain size are juicy; the untruth of the position will be at once seen on remembering what takes place, if a mock-orange made of painted stone is laid hold of. The unusual, the unexpected weight, and hardness, instantly lead to a change of classification: it is at once perceived that the body is not an orange. And this fact proves that something else than juiciness had been inferred; had been wrongly inferred; and had involved a wrong classification. Further evidence, were it needed, might be drawn in abundance from those higher processes of classification pursued by men of science, in which the reasoning is conscious and elaborate: the implication being that what is knowingly done in scientific classification, is unknowingly done in ordinary classification.
And herein lies another essential vice of the syllogistic theory. That theory proceeds upon the supposition that the act of referring any individual object to a class, is not an act of inference. The constant assumption is that the minor premiss, “This is a—,” is immediately known; whereas it is always known mediately. The process of reasoning is already involved in the cognition of the very data out of which the reasoning process is said to be evolved. On the hypothesis that the syllogism represents the entire ratiocinative operation, it is contended that its conclusion is necessary. Meanwhile, the all-essential fact which it posits as the foundation of that conclusion, is itself known by an unexpressed ratiocination. The concluded fact, and the fact from which it is concluded, stand on the same footing. The proposition—That which I see is an orange; has no greater certainty than the proposition—That which I see is juicy. The visual impressions of form, size, colour, and surface, received from it, form the sole ground for both propositions. The wider inference—It is an orange; can give no extra-validity to the narrower inference—It is juicy; seeing that for the first there is no more evidence than for the last. Yet the doctrine of the syllogism implies that the one is the warrant for the other—implies that I can directly know that this something belongs to the class, oranges, and, by so doing, can indirectly know that it is juicy!
No such insuperable difficulty, however, stands in the way of the theory now enunciated. A perception of similarity—an intuition of likeness of relations, underlying at once the act of classification, or general inference, and the act of ratiocination which gives any special inference, is the basis of either or both, as the case may be. Along with the visible attributes of an orange, may be represented to the mind in various degrees of distinctness, some, many, or all of the attributes before found in relation with such visible attributes; and, according to the mode in which they are represented, the thing predicated is the class, or some one or more of the attributes. If the various unperceived attributes are thought of in their totality, and no one of them becomes specially prominent to consciousness; then, the object in being mentally endowed with all the characteristics of its class, is conceived as one of that class, or is classified. But if one, or a group, of the unperceived attributes arrests the consciousness, and occupies it to the partial exclusion of the other unperceived attributes; then, we have a special inference, or what is verbally embodied as such. Of course the two processes being thus related, run into each other so readily and rapidly, that probably neither ever occurs without the other. It is scarcely possible that the aggregate of unperceived attributes should be thought of without some of them being represented to the mind more vividly than the rest; and it is scarcely possible that any one of them should so completely engross the mind as totally to banish all others. Always the special attribute inferred has for its indistinct background, those many accompanying attributes which constitute the conception of the object as one of a class; and always among the many attributes united in this classing conception, some one or more attributes stand out as incipient inferences. A latent classing accompanies the inferential act: latent inferences accompany the act of classing: and each continually arousing the other, alternates with it in consciousness. Thus we see that whilst likeness of relations is the intuition common to reasoning and classification; it results in one or the other, according as the relations thought of are total or partial.
§ 43. If we regard the name of a thing as a kind of conventional attribute, it will be manifest that, on the presentation of the thing to the mind, this conventional attribute becomes known, as any unseen real attribute becomes known—by an act of inference. The immediately perceived properties are thought of as standing towards various unperceived properties in relations like those previously experienced; and amongst these unperceived properties, is that of calling forth from human beings a certain articulate sound—the name. It is true that this property is not inherent; but depends on an almost accidental relation established between the thing and a limited class of minds. But the like is true of various other properties which we commonly ascribe to the thing itself. As all admit, the so-called secondary qualities of body are not intrinsic; but are the affections produced in our organs by unknown agents; and they so vary, that the same thing may be warm or cold, loud or low, pleasant or disagreeable, according to the character or state of the individual. If, then, these subjective and partially incidental affections, are regarded as attributes of the objects affecting us, and are often ascribed to them inferentially; we may say that the yet more purely subjective and incidental affections which an object produces on us when it suggests its name, is also in a strained sense an attribute, and becomes known by a similar mental process.
But it is by no means necessary to the argument that names should be thus considered as factitious attributes, dependent for their production, like secondary ones, upon organic conditions; though conditions that are far less constant. The fact, that the name of an observed object becomes present to consciousness after the same manner that an unperceived attribute does, may be rendered manifest without seeking any similarity between the things themselves. Observe what happens with a child. The name orange, which it probably first hears on a sample of that fruit being given to it, and which is often repeated in connection with similar visible and tangible attributes, is established in its mind as a phenomenon having a more or less constant relation to the various phenomena which the orange presents. Not having as yet any notions of necessary and accidental relations, the particular sound accompanying these particular appearances, is as much grouped with them as the particular taste is. When the particular appearances recur, a relation (like the previously experienced relation) between them and this allied sound, is as likely to enter into the mind, as a relation between them and the allied taste. The mental act is essentially the same; and though subsequent experiences modify it in so far as the resulting conception is concerned, they cannot alter its fundamental nature. The genesis of the thought by which a thing is named must ever remain identical in nature; and to the last, as at the first, likeness of relations must be the intuition implied in it.
Still more manifest will become the close kinship between naming and reasoning, when we call to mind that aboriginally, a name is a copy of some real attribute of the thing named. It is inferable alike from the prattling of children and from the speech of savages, that all language is in the beginning mimetic. Wherever we can trace out the origin of symbols used to convey thoughts—whether it be in the infantine habit of naming animals by imitating their cries, or in that of senselessly repeating the articulate sounds made by persons around; whether it be in the signs spontaneously hit upon by deafmutes, or those by which travellers in strange lands express their wants; whether it be in the dramatic gestures with which the uncivilized man ekes out his imperfect vocabulary, or in the simulative words of which that vocabulary so largely consists—we see, not only that the notion of likeness underlies all language, but that the symbols of thought, both vocal and mechanical (and even literal also), are at first, merely reproductions of the things signified. And if, as no one who has examined the facts can question, names, in their earliest unmodified forms, are either directly or metaphorically descriptive of one or more distinctive attributes; then, it is clear that primarily an act of naming is simply an inference becoming vocal. If a Bosjesman, catching sight of some wild animal, conveys the fact to his fellows by pointing towards it and mimicking the sound it is known to make; beyond doubt this sound came into his mind as an inferred attribute. And it differs from any other inferred attribute solely in this; that instead of being simply represented to his consciousness, it is further re-represented by his voice: the inference, instead of remaining ideal, becomes, in a sense, real. Not only, then, is it true, that by ourselves the name of a thing is always thought of in the same way that any inferred attribute is thought of; but we find that, originally, a name was literally an inferred attribute transformed—an inference which, arising in the mind of the individual by a representative act, is forthwith presentatively conveyed by him to other minds. It is scarcely needful to add that, developing as language does by insensible modifications and complications out of this primitive process of naming; it follows throughout the same general law. Almost losing, though it ultimately does, the marks of its inferential genesis; it needs but to watch the use of new metaphors and the coining of new words, to see under a disguised form, the same fundamental intuition of likeness of relations.
§ 44. From the acts of Classification and Naming, let us now pass to the act of Recognition. When the relations subsisting among any group of attributes, are not simply like the relations subsisting among some before-known group, but are in most, if not in all respects, equal to them; and when the attributes themselves (as those of height, breadth, colours, &c.) are also equal; then we conclude the object presenting them to be the same object that we before knew. Recognition differs from classification, partly in the fact that the two compared groups of relations usually present a much higher degree of likeness; but mainly in the fact that not only are the relations alike, but the constituent attributes are alike. There are two kinds of difference which objects present: difference in one or more of their sensible properties, as considered severally and separately; and difference in the mode in which these sensible properties are co-ordinated, or related to each other. If the relations differ, the objects are known to be of different species. If the relations are alike, but the properties as individually considered different; the objects are of the same species. And if the relations are alike, and the individual properties are alike—that is, if there is no discernible difference; we know the object as one previously perceived—we identify it—we recognize it. To speak more specifically—If, passing over all those wider classes, such as minerals, plants, &c., whose members present very few relations in common; and those narrower but still very comprehensive ones, such as houses, crystals, quadrupeds, which have a more decided similarity; and again, those yet narrower ones that are called genera—if, passing over all these, we confine our attention to those narrowest and most precise classes which unite individuals of the same kind, as asses, firtrees, balloons; we see that whilst in respect of each particular attribute, there need not be anything like equality, there must be equality, or at least extreme likeness, in respect of the mode in which the attributes are combined. Whether the ass be six feet long or four feet long—whether dark brown or light brown, does not affect the classification; providing the proportions of its body and limbs in their ensemble and details, are indistinguishable, or next to indistinguishable, from those of other asses. It matters not whether the fir-tree be one foot high or a hundred feet; it is still classed as a fir-tree, if the relations of the branches to each other and to the stem, in position, direction, and length, together with the proportions and grouping of the pin-shaped leaves, are like those of fir-trees in general. But that a particular person or place should be identified as a person or place before seen, implies in the great majority of cases, not only that the elements which compose the perception should stand to each other in relations that are indistinguishable from the remembered relations; but further, that each of the elements individually, should be indistinguishable from the remembered clement.
I say in the majority of cases, because, though this is the fundamental prerequisite to recognition, it is not always rigorously fulfilled. Were not objects liable to change, it might be affirmed without qualification. But our general experience of the changeableness of things, often leads us to predicate identity where there is not only some failure of likeness between the perceived and the remembered attributes, but when even the relations in which they stand to each other are no longer quite the same. Though, if the body be inanimate, we look for sameness in the dimensions and their several ratios, we are not prevented from knowing it again, by the absence of a corner, by some change of colour, by the loss of polish, and so on. And an animate body may be recognized as a particular individual, even though it has greatly altered in bulk, in colour, and even in proportions—even though a limb has disappeared, the face become thin, and the voice weak. But when, as in these instances, the identity is perceived, in virtue of some very distinctive attributes and relations which remain unaltered; it is manifest that the particular perceptions are interpreted by the help of sundry generalizations respecting the changes to which certain classes of bodies are liable; and that thus the act of simple recognition, properly so called, is greatly disguised. It should be remarked too, that in cases of this kind the distinction between Recognition and Classification is very liable to disappear. It frequently becomes a question whether the observed object is the identical one before seen, or another of the same class. Both which facts further confirm the definitions above given.
But perhaps the antithesis will be most clearly exhibited, by choosing a case in which recognition is impossible, in consequence of the extreme likeness of the individuals constituting the class. Suppose, while taking a needle from among sundry others of the same size, the whole paper-full is dropped on the floor. To fix upon the one which was about to be taken, is known to be hopeless. Why? Because the needles are so exactly alike in all respects, that no one of them is distinguishable from the others. Classification and Recognition here merge into one: or rather, there is no recognition of the individual, but only of the species. Suppose now, that the selected needle is a larger one than the rest. What follows? That it can be readily identified. Though it may be perfectly similar to the others—though the ratios of the several dimensions to each other may be exactly like the homologous ratios in the rest—though there may be complete equality of relations among the attributes; yet these attributes, separately considered, differ from the corresponding attributes in the others: and hence, the possibility of recognition. And in this case we see, not only the positive conditions under which only recognition can take place, but also the negative conditions. We see not only that the object identified must re-present a group of phenomena just like the group before presented; but also that there must be no other object presenting an exactly parallel group.
One further fact to be noticed is, that Recognition, in common with Classification, is a modified form of reasoning. It is not simply that reasoning is involved in cases where great change has taken place; as where a tree that has wholly outgrown recollection is identified, in virtue of its relative position to surrounding objects; but it is that where the recognition is of the simplest kind—where the recognized object is absolutely unaltered, there is still a ratiocinative act implied in the very predication of its identity. For what do we mean by saying of any particular thing, that it is the same which we before saw? And what suffices us as proof of the sameness? The conception indicated by the word same, is that of a perfectly definite assemblage of correlated phenomena not similar to a before-known assemblage, but indistinguishable from a before-known assemblage. On perceiving a group of attributes answering in all respects to a group perceived on a previous occasion, and differing in some respects from all allied groups, we infer that there coexists with it a group of unperceived attributes that likewise answer, in all respects, to those previously found to coexist with the perceived group. And should any doubt arise as to the identity of the object, then, by more closely inspecting it, by feeling it, by examining its remote side, by looking for a particular mark before observed, we proceed to compare the inferred attributes with the actual ones: and should they agree, we say the object is the same. This is the sole content of our notion of sameness. Whilst from minute to minute throughout our whole lives we are presented with groups of phenomena differing more or less from all previous ones; we are also continually presented with groups of phenomena that are absolutely indistinguishable from groups before presented. Experience teaches us that when the perceived portion of one of these groups is indistinguishable from the corresponding portion of one before perceived; then, the remaining portions of the two are also indistinguishable. And the act of recognition is simply an inference determined by this general experience, joined to that particular experience which the recognition presupposes.
From all which it is manifest that, regarding them both as forms of reasoning, Recognition differs from Classification, simply in the greater speciality and definiteness of the inferred facts. Whilst, on the one hand, in classing an observed object as a book, the implied inference is, that along with certain visible attributes there coexist such others as the possession of white leaves covered with print; on the other hand, in the recognition of that book as So-and-so's Travels, the implied inference is, that these white leaves are covered with print of a particular size, divided into chapters with particular titles, containing paragraphs that express particular ideas. Thus the likeness of relations involved in the intuition, is both more exact and more detailed.
§ 45. The general community of nature thus shown in mental acts called by different names, may be cited as so much confirmation of the several analyses. As, in preceding chapters, we saw that all orders of Reasoning—Deductive and Inductive, Necessary and Contingent, Quantitative and Qualitative, Axiomatic and Analogical—come under one general form; so here, we see both that Classification, Naming, and Recognition are nearly allied to each other, and that they also, are severally modifications of that same fundamental intuition out of which all orders of reasoning arise. Not only are Classification and Naming both of inferential nature; but they are otherwise allied as different sides of the same thing. Naming presupposes Classification; and Classification cannot be carried to any extent without Naming. Not only is it that Recognition and Classification are modes of ratiocination; not only is it that they often merge into each other, either from the extreme likeness of different objects, or the changed aspect of the same object; but it is that while Recognition is a classing of a present impression with past impressions, Classification is a recognition of a particular object as one of a special group of objects. And the weakening of these conventional distinctions—the reduction of these several operations of the mind, in common with all those hitherto considered, to variations of one operation, is to be expected as the natural result of analysis. For it is a characteristic of advancing science, continually to subordinate the demarcations which a cursory examination establishes; and to show that these pertain, not to nature, but to our language and our systems.