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William James The Principles of Psychology 1890

Reasoning
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The brain grows to the exact modes in which it has been exercised, and the inheritance of these modes then called instincts would have in it nothing surprising. But in man the negation of all fixed modes is the essential characteristic. He owes his whole pre-eminence as a reasoner, his whole human quality of intellect, we may say, to the facility with which a given mode of thought in him may suddenly be broken up into elements, which recombine anew. Only at the price of in heriting no settled instinctive tendencies is he able to settle every novel case by the fresh discovery by his reason of novel principles. He is, par excellence, the educable animal. If, then, the law that habits are inherited were found exemplified in him, he would, in so far forth, fall short of his human perfections ; and, when we survey the human races, we actually do find that those which are most instinctive at the outset are those which, on the whole, are least educated in the end. An untutored Italian is, to a great extent, a man of the world ; he has instinctive perceptions, tendencies to behavior, reactions, in a word, upon his environment, which the untutored German wholly lacks. If the latter be not drilled, he is apt to be a thoroughly loutish personage ; but, on the other hand, the mere absence in his brain of definite innate tendencies enables him to advance by the development, through education, of his purely reasoned think ing, into complex regions of consciousness that the Italian may probably never approach.
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Social and domestic circumstances, that is, not material ones. Perceptions of social relations seem very keen in persons whose dealings with the material world are confined to knowing a few useful objects, principally animals, plants, and weapons. Savages and boors are often as tact ful and astute socially as trained diplomatists. In general, it is provable that the consciousness of how one stands with other people occupies a relatively larger and larger part of the mind, the lower one goes in the scale of culture. Woman s intuitions, so fine in the sphere of personal relations, are seldom first-rate in the way of mechanics. All boys teach themselves how a clock goes ; few girls. Hence Dr. Whately s jest, "Woman is the unreasoning animal, and pokes the fire from on top!"
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As the art of reading (after a certain stage in one s education) is the art of skipping, so the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.
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In short, the essence of plebeianism, that which separates vulgarity from aristocracy, is perhaps less a defect than an excess, the constant need to animadvert upon matters which for the aristocratic temperament do not exist. To ignore, to disdain to consider, to overlook, are the essence of the gentleman. Often most provokingly so ; for the things ignored may be of the deepest moral consequence. But in the very midst of our indignation with the gentleman, we have a consciousness that his preposterous inertia and neg* ativeness in the actual mergency is, somehow or other, allied with his general superiority to ourselves. It is not only that the gentleman ignores considerations relative to conduct, sordid suspicions, fears, calculations, etc., which the vulgarian is fated to entertain ; it is that he is silent where the vulgarian talks ; that he gives nothing but results where the vulgarian is profuse of reasons ; that he does not explain or apologize ; that he uses one sentence instead of twenty ; and that, in a word, there is an amount of interstitial thinking, so to call it, which it is quite impossible to get him to perform, but which is nearly all that the vulgarian mind performs at all. All this suppression of the secondary leaves the field clear, for higher flights, should they choose to come. But even if they never came, what thoughts there were would still manifest the aristocratic type and wear the well-bred form. So great is our sense of harmony and ease in passing from the company of a philistine to that of an aristocratic temperament, that we are almost tempted to deem the falsest views and tastes as held by a man of the world, truer than the truest as held by a common person. In the latter the best ideas are choked, obstructed, and contaminated by the redundancy of their paltry associates.
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I may appear to have strayed from psychological an alysis into aesthetic criticism. But the principle of selection is so important that no illustrations seem redundant which may help to show how great is its scope. The upshot of what I say simply is that selection implies rejection as well as choice ; and that the function of ignoring, of inattention, is as vital a factor in mental progress as the function of attention itself.
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