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TAINE’S DE L’INTELLIGENCE 1870 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E. Sparshott (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).
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TAINE’S DE L’INTELLIGENCE
Fortnightly Review, n.s. VIII (July, 1870), 121-4, headed (under the general heading, “Critical Notice”), “De l’Intelligence. Par H[ippolyte] Taine. Two vols. 8vo. Paris [: Hachette], 1870.” Signed “J. S. Mill.” The essay was reprinted in the posthumous 4th vol. of Dissertations and Discussions (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1875), 111-18. Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A notice of Taine’s book ‘de l’Intelligence’ in the Fortnightly Review of July 1, 1870” (MacMinn, 99). There is no copy of the essay in JSM’s library, Somerville College.
A manuscript fragment of part of the text (see 444a-a) is in the Mill-Taylor Collection, British Library of Political and Economic Science; there are no substantive variants between it and the printed text. For comment on the composition of the essay and related matters, see the Introduction and the Textual Introduction, lxviii-lxxiv and xci-xcii above.
Taine’s De l’Intelligence
m. taine is one of the most known in England—at least by repute—of the present generation of thinkers and writers in France. The fact that one of his principal writings is a History of English Literature,[*] has made his name, in a certain degree, familiar to the readers of our periodicals; and some are aware that his work contains ingenious and original views on the philosophy of literature. But so slender is the interest of most English readers in the philosophy of literature, or in any but the biographic and anecdotic portion of its history; and so excessive is the English distrust of all theories on the subject, that M. Taine’s work, notwithstanding its special relation to England, would probably be found to have obtained a greater amount of intelligent recognition, and even of intelligent criticism, in France. A fortune the reverse of this may be prophesied for the able and striking treatise which he has just published. It is fitted to obtain an earlier and higher appreciation in England than in France. The Philosophy of Mind at present excites greater interest, and is more studied, on this side the Channel, than at any former period of our history, except the brief interval which began with Locke and terminated with Hume and Reid; and M. Taine’s treatment of it has more in common with the best English speculation than with any of the philosophies now prevalent in France. Psychology and metaphysics have, it is true, a greater amount of nominal cultivation in France than in England; they are part of the curriculum of all the public establishments for higher instruction, which educate a far larger proportion of the better-off classes than our universities. But the official doctrine of those establishments is the effete philosophy of Royer-Collard, Jouffroy, and Cousin—no longer made stimulating to the intellect by the genius and vigour with which the doctrines of the school were originally given forth by its founders. The long ascendancy of Cousin in the University of France has filled all the chairs of philosophy with disciples, twice or thrice removed, of himself and of the Germans, with the practical effect of alienating most of the minds which have received any scientific training from the study of psychology altogether. M. Comte, the founder of the only rising philosophic movement in France, treated all scientific study of the mind, except through the medium of the brain—we might even say of the skull—as altogether irrational. Those, indeed, of his followers who adhere to the banner of M. Littré, have thrown off this with many other prejudices of their master, and are raising up readers and pupils for the English psychologists and for M. Taine. With the exception, however, of a very meritorious volume by M. Mervoyer,* M. Taine’s is the first serious attempt to supply the want of a better than the official psychology. His book has a freshness, a vigour, and a scientific spirit, to which we have been long unaccustomed in works of French origin respecting the mind; and though its ultimate influence will probably be great, it will for the present meet with no countenance from any of the recognised representatives of that department of French cultivation. But we feel certain that it will be welcomed, as soon as known, by the most advanced school of English mental science; for, while it has a marked and original distinctive character of its own, unlike any other treatise on the subject, it is in harmony and close alliance with many of the most thorough-going speculations of the Association school of psychology. It diverges from them only in the two concluding chapters, which, in our judgment, overleap the bounds of really scientific inference, and, without even the warrant of supposed intuition à priori, claim absolute validity through all space and time for generalisations of human thought, which we can only admit under the inherent limitations of human experience.
The method of M. Taine’s work is correctly described in his preface. He thereasays: Under the name of our Intellect, what I intend to treat of is our knowledge. The Intellect is only our faculty, capacity, or power of knowing; and faculties, capacities, and powers are not Things, or Entities, having an existence of their own, but merely a mode of classifying, under certain heads, the facts which, by the forms of language, they are spoken of as producing. I, therefore, go at once to the facts themselves, which, in the present case, are the various portions of our knowledge. I endeavour, first, to analyse this knowledge into its simplest elements; and afterwards to ascertain the laws which govern the assemblage of those elements, and to trace the manner in which, by the operation of these laws, our different kinds of knowledge are built up—from the simplest and most concrete perceptions, memories, and expectations, to our most universal concepts and judgments; and I attempt to estimate the certitude, and extent of validity, of all these.
The work, therefore, consists of two parts—an Analytic and a Synthetic. The first, or analytic part, entitled “The Elements of Knowledge,” is divided into four books—on Signs, on Images, on Sensations, and on the Physical Conditions of Mental Events. By signs, M. Taine does not mean exclusively names, but anything mental by means of which we think of things not present to our senses. A sign, he says, is always an image, more or less vague or faded. We think of an individual object by what is called our remembrance of it, that is, by a mental image, which, in the normal state, is very much vaguer and fainter than the impression of which it is a copy. We think of classes of objects by what is called a general idea, or general notion; this, however, is again an image, still more vague in the greater part of its contents, but in which the characters common to the whole class have been made artificially predominant and distinct, by being associated with a name. So that we always, in reality, think by means of images; but we can make a very faint and imperfect image do the work; and it is the instrument of naming, properly used, which alone, in any but the most simple cases, enables us to do this with safety. M. Taine gives a very instructive exposition of the mode in which (as pointed out by Leibnitz, Condillac, and others) these imperfect images do duty in our reasoning processes symbolically, in lieu of complete representations of objects. And he shows how, by the artifice of general names, which enables us to ensure the presence, in those mutilated images, of all such characters of the objects as are essential to the reasoning, we are able to arrive at true and definite conclusions respecting objects of which we cannot have a perfectly distinct conception—such as very high numbers, polygons with a thousand sides, and so forth.a
All our thoughts, then, being really images, our mental images form the subject of the second book. Their nature, and the laws of their recurrence, and of their decay or obliteration, are copiously illustrated by interesting experiences, drawn both from the healthy and from various morbid conditions. Images, again, being sensations more or less faded or weakened, sensations are next treated of; they are classified and analysed agreeably to the latest physiological discoveries and the most advanced psychology, until the most simple and elementary sensations, or what seem to be such, are arrived at. From sensations the author proceeds to their physical conditions, the constitution and functions, so far as ascertained, of the nervous system.
The analysis of our knowledge having thus been carried down to the simplest elements that can at present be reached, the second part—the Synthesis—commences. This also is divided into four books: Of the different kinds of Knowledge; the Knowledge of Bodies; the Knowledge of Mind; the Knowledge of what is general (des choses générales).
The first three of these books, and a great part of the fourth, are highly instructive reading to the student of analytical psychology. The distinction between the original and the acquired perceptions of our different senses, the origin and composition of our ideas of external objects, the ultimate analysis of the ideas of matter and mind, and many cognate subjects, are expounded, with great metaphysical acumen, a judicious avoidance of many wrong turnings into which previous thinkers have wandered, and a talent of exposition which adds as much to the substantial value as it does to the attractiveness of the treatise. All these subjects are illustrated by new and characteristic observations and experiences. M. Taine has profited largely by the speculations of the English thinkers with whom he most nearly agrees, and he fully acknowledges the debt; but his conception of the subject has only been enriched, not suggested by them; what they have taught him seems merely to have fallen into its place in a system of thought commenced within himself. The mutual support which he and they lend to one another is the accordance of independent thinkers.
When, in the fourth book, M. Taine arrives at the subject of our acquisition of general knowledge, he agrees fully, as to the principles of generalisation from experience, with the English writers on the logic of induction, and gives an excellent outline of the doctrines which he holds in common with them. But, as already intimated, there is another part of this final book in which he is at issue with those who are in general his nearest allies, namely, on the evidence of axioms, which he does not, like them, hold to be grounded on experience, and limited by its conditions. Neither does he, however, even in the case of the axioms of geometry, agree with those who consider them to be a peculiar class of truths, known à priori, or intuitively evident. He thinks that they may be demonstrated, and classes them among “analytic propositions”—that is, truths latently included in the ideas which are the subject of them, to be proved by evolving them out of the ideas; and he does, ingeniously and quite legitimately, demonstrate some of them in this way. But this does not seem to us at all to advance his main position. The fundamental properties of a straight line may be, and are, contained in our concept of a straight line; but if the concept itself is the product of experience, the truth of the properties comes to us from the same source. The concept can only be made up of properties which we observe: we put the properties into the concept, and what we have put into it there is nothing surprising in our afterwards finding in it. If, then, our idea of a straight line is derived from observation (and we are not sure that M. Taine denies it to be so), all that he maintains respecting the proof of the axioms of geometry may be, and much of it must be, admitted. In acquiring by observation the idea of a straight line, we necessarily acquire, and include in the idea, the knowledge that two straight lines joining the same two points coincide altogether; in other words, do not enclose any space. This property must be, expressly or by implication, a part of any sufficient account we can give of the concept which experience has left in our minds. But a straight line, and this property of it, become known to us simultaneously, and from the same source. When M. Taine goes on to claim for the first principles of other sciences—for instance, of mechanics—a similar origin and evidence to what he claims for those of geometry, and on the strength of that evidence attributes to them an absolute truth, valid for the entire universe, and independent of the limits of experience, he falls into what seem to us still greater fallacies; partly, as we think, by confounding the two meanings of the word Same—Identity, and Exact Similarity. But of this we must leave M. Taine’s readers to judge. The merits of his book are such as to command an unprejudiced consideration of that small part of it in which, according to our individual judgment, he has been deserted by that perception of the true conditions of scientific evidence which has guided him through the greater part of his course. The book deserves to be, and we hope will be, universally read by real students of psychology.
[[*] ]Histoire de la littérature anglaise, 4 vols. (Paris: Hachette, 1863-64).
[* ]Étude sur l’association des idées. Par P. M. Mervoyer, Docteur és-lettres. Paris: Aug. Durand, 7, Rue des Grès .
[a-a][exists in MS fragment]