The Notion of the Implicit in Logic


Creighton, J. E. “The Notion of the Implicit in Logic.” The Philosophical Review 19, no. 1 (1910): 53. https://doi.org/10.2307/2177639


THE notion of the Implicit or Potential, in some form or other, has been regarded as an essential and valuable philosophical idea since the time of Aristotle. Though at the present day we don’t apply it as a principle of cosmic explanation with the confidence of the earlier Idealists, the notion still plays a great part, especially in all sciences dealing with the phenomena and achievements of life and mind. Nevertheless, in logical discussions its use and mode of employment have been from time to time sharply challenged, not merely by the representatives of the view that each element of experience is in its own nature distinct and separate from every other, but also by the Idealists, the champions of continuity. The latter, indeed, attack only the uncritical and mechanical employment of the idea and seek to distinguish sharply between the significant application of the concept, and its abuse as a merely verbal and abstract term.


In certain recent discussions, however, the Idealists are themselves represented as still under the fatal spell of the 'potential ‘and of allied verbal terms, and I seem to perceive a tendency income quarters to scoff openly at the Idealist's formulas, or at best to listen with a kind of humorous tolerance to his frequent references to presuppositions of experience, and the becoming explicit of what was formerly only implicit. It would be easy to retort in kind, for every school has its formulas. But it is rather the part of wisdom for the Idealist to rethink his favorite concepts in order to fix and define their legitimate use, and to inquire what clear ideas attach themselves to the words which he commonly employs to express them.


My remarks will take as their point of departure Profess Baldwin’s recent discussions of the concept of the Implicit. As is well known, Professor Baldwin, after dealing in a series of works with the general principles of evolution, as well as with their special applications to the mind of the child and the race, has recently published two volumes (with a third soon to follow) of a work entitled Thought and Things, or Genetic Logic. The author claims a certain advance in standpoint and method over the older logical discussions in virtue of the more genuinely genetic character of the concepts with which he has approached his inquiry. While conceding that Hegel and the neo-Kantian logicians generally employ a method that is to some extent genetic, Professor Baldwin finds that the treatment even of writers like Bosanquet, who have come nearest to grasping the nature of theological process as genetic, is still defective and vitiated by formalism and appeals to the potential. In view of this claim to a more adequate method of dealing with logical experience, it was important that Professor Baldwin should explain and defend the conceptions which were to guide his procedure, as he has done to some extent, at the beginning of his work. Here in particular we learn how it is necessary to interpret the logical series when conceived as genetic, or what the concept of a genetic series really implies. These pages, read in conjunction with some of the author's earlier writings which deal with the same topic, furnish a valuable and most suggestive treatment of fundamental logical problems; and here one must go in order to understand and estimate his claim to have gained a more concrete and fruitful point of view than that of the older writers In thus trying to understand Professor Baldwin's working concepts one finds in the list of canons of genetic logic, the canon of Actuality, which says that " no psychic event is present unless it be actual," and whose violation gives rise to the fallacy of the Implicit or Potential. This fallacy, we are told, “consists in treating something as implicitly or potentially present when it is not actual." And the illustrations given are "the finding logical process in the prelogical modes or a potential self in the impersonal modes." What is to be the criterion of presence or absence in the mind is not made clear in this connection, but, from the general form of his statements, as well as from other passages in his writings, it seems fair to assume that Professor Baldwin regards as actual only what is capable of appearing as a particular ‘psychic event' or phenomenal content. Elsewhere we are told that " what is, shows "; which apparently means that what is not discoverable as present to consciousness in the form of a particular phenomenon at any stage, must noting any sense be ascribed to that stage as real or actual.


If this interpretation is correct, it would seem that Professor Baldwin has for the moment forgotten his functional or genetic standpoint. For, as I shall attempt to show more fully later, that which can be pointed out as definite modes of existence. If minds are described functionally, the structural test of what is real cannot be invoked. It is impossible, then, to settle the matter off-hand by Berkeley's favorite prescription of looking into our consciousness and seeing what is there and what is not. A logical function, as the mind's process of realizing truth, cannot be called upon to show itself in the form of a particular psychic event, or other mode of phenomenal existence. To make this the test of logical presence is obviously exactly parallel to Hume's famous demand that the particular impression be pointed out from which the idea of the self is derived.


It is evident that the logical result of taking Mr. Baldwin's statement of the canon of Actuality thus literally, would be to dissolve all inner connection of ideas, and to throw us back on the principle of Association. But this is only one part of his teaching. For he had previously laid down as the first canon of genetic logic, the principle of Continuity, "all psychic process is continuous. “The corresponding fallacy of Discontinuity “consists in the treating of any psychic event as de novo, or as arising in a discontinuous series; so, the fallacy of the historical distinction in principle between ‘sense' and 'reason.' It is clear from this statement, as well as from other passages, that what is emphasized here is something more than the merely temporal or psychological consciousness of the developing experience. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to understand just how Professor Baldwin conceives the principle of organization or the nature of continuity. The difficulty is that the terms employed in repudiating the implicit seem logically to leave no place for any continuity. How is it possible to hold on to these two canons at once, to emphasize Continuity and to repudiate the Implicit?

It would not solve the difficulty to say, ‘by understanding the nature of a genetic series'; for that is the very problem at issue. Baldwin's theory may perhaps be set in a clearer light by reference to the two sets of views with which he contrasts his own position, and between which it is evident that he is attempting to steer, in a sense, a middle course. On the one hand, there is the atomistic, genetic theory of mind, which attempts to build up knowledge out of discrete mental states by employing the mechanical principle of cause and effect; and, on the other side, there is the view of the idealistic logicians. The former set of conceptions Professor Baldwin rejects as inadequate to deal with a developing experience. But, as we have seen, he also maintains that the idealists fail to reach a truly genetic view through their tendency to substitute references to the implicit for an account of the actual motives and conditions under which new modes of experience appear in the process of development. More specifically, Professor Baldwin objects to the Idealist's procedure of finding the gem of the subject-object relation, and of logical judgment, in the earlier forms of cognitive experience. It is impossible here to discuss at length the question whether these criticisms fairly apply to the method of those logicians against whom they are directed, or whether they are based on a misunderstanding of their views. As I have already said, however, Professor Baldwin is in a sense only repeating the warnings of the idealists against hypostatizing the implicit. The leading representatives of this way of thinking have repeatedly pointed out the barrenness of references to the implicit when thesis conceived as an abstract term. They have also emphasized the importance of tracing out the process in detail, of comprehending the universal in and through its particular manifestations, and have held that the truth is not merely the result, but the result viewed in relation to its process of becoming. Nevertheless, it cannot, I think, be denied that Professor Baldwin's protest is directed at a real abuse; and to fail to acknowledge that there may be some grounds for his criticism would be to forget that abstraction is an easily besetting sin. To think of the implicit as a preformed somewhat, actually existing in the earlier cognitive experience, and naturally unfolding ex vi propria, and to suppose that a general reference to this natural tendency of the implicit to become explicit is a sufficient explanation of the real process is, of course, to rest in the emptiest verbal abstractions. As is at once obvious, it is the standpoint of the older preformationist, and not properly a genetic view at all.

But, granting that a genetic account of logic must avoid botany atomistic and a preformation view of knowledge, the question still remains: How is the continuity of experience to be conceived? In what terms are we to think of the relation of the different stages and modes of knowledge, and what is the nature of the "one continuous function of cognition," to which Professor Baldwin in more than one passage refers? The answer to these questions is undoubtedly to be found in a conception which will adequately express the nature of a genetic logical series. In his canon of Progression, as well as in the later essays in his volume, Development and Evolution, Professor Baldwin has distinguished between a genetic and a genetic series, and between genetic and a genetic science. In these discussions, accordingly, we may expect to get additional light regarding the positive character of his working conceptions. The fundamental distinction between a genetic series and one that is genetic or mechanical, is that in the former there is real progression or development. Something new appears which was not present in the earlier stages, and which cannot be explained as made up of, or caused by, the events which preceded it. The genetic series, consequently, is not reversible like the mechanical, where cause and effect are taken as identical in virtue of the fact that they represent the same amount of energy. The universal category of science, then, is not mechanical cause and effect. There must be a genetic science and a genetic standpoint, which shall recognize the genuine character of development, the presence of a new element or form of synthesis at the later stages which is not simply the old over again. Moreover, this genetic series cannot be constructed apriorism: "No formula for progression from mode to mode, that is, no strictly genetic formula in evolution or in development is possible except by direct observation of the facts of the series which the formulation aims to cover, or by the interpretation of other series which represent the same or parallel modes."


Now there can be no doubt that Professor Baldwin is right in insisting that a genetic series is not mechanical and must ultimately be interpreted by a different category than that of cause and effect. But the question with which we are here concerned is whether his own statement of the principle of development is adequate, whether he himself ever reaches a 'genuinely genetic point of view.' For the distinction which he labors seems to be the familiar one between existence and value, between the causal and the teleological standpoint. It is possible that I have failed to understand Professor Baldwin, but I do not find that either in the passages which I have summarized, or in his discussion of the Retrospective and Prospective categories, he clearly puts the distinction in this way. Indeed, if we take his statements literally, it seems that he has not realized how completely the causal point of view is left behind when we think of things as developing. As we have seen, his way of stating the distinction between the mechanic-causal and the genetic or developing series, is that in the progression of the latter 'something new' appears in the consequent which is not present in the antecedent, and is not accounted for by it. Now this statement in itself would leave the series unintelligible; since the new factor or feature is asserted to come in simply as 'something new' without being related through identity to anything else. The identity of matter or energy which gives to the principle of cause and effect its explanatory power is denied, while the nature of the identity which it is proposed to put in its place is not exhibited. To explain, however, is just to link together differences through an identity; and it is essential to see clearly what the developmental point of view requires us to substitute, as a principle of explanation, for the quantitative identity of physical cause and effect. This, as have already said, must be the principle of teleology, the ideal identity of end and means.


Now, it is of fundamental importance to recognize that the adoption of this category implies a complete transformation of view and a shifting of emphasis from the parts to the whole. There can no longer be any question of the equality or inequality of the members of the series viewed as external to each other; but, as means or functional processes, they are now conceived as constituent parts of a teleological system. It may be that Professor Baldwin actually reaches the teleological point of view in his treatment of the genetic categories as 'prospective;' but, as I read him, he is there insisting on the necessity of recognizing the something new, 'the further career’ rather than looking at the whole process as an ideologically developing system. Moreover, the idea of teleological development carries with it another aspect of the genetic series which Professor Baldwin, I think, has not emphasized, and which he perhaps would not admit. A genetic series as teleological is a self-determining series, as opposed to the changes of a mechanical system which are determined from without. So long as we read a series in genetic terms, we must regard the different modes and stages which it presents as the movement and manifestation of an ideal unity or whole. Determination through external causality is simply unmeaning and inapplicable. To give a cause-mechanical explanation of evolutionist a contradiction in terms. When such a mode of explanation is adopted the evolutionary point of view has been abandoned, and the developing subject has been transformed into a series of objects, which are viewed as standing in causal relation to other objects.


When, on the other hand, the genesis of knowledge is conceived in Ideological terms, certain results are obtained which are of importance for our discussion. In the first place, it is to be noted that the conception of function has no meaning apart from teleology. In contemporary writing, however, it is not unusual to find the term used to denote a detached or isolated activity, in fact, to find the word 'functional' employed as synonymous with 'dynamic' or 'changing' as opposed to what is regarded as 'static.' The real opposition to the functional, however, is found in what is regarded as mechanical or causally determined. For a dynamic process or activity becomes a function only when it is viewed in relation to some permanent unity or ideal value, and as the bearer or representative of that unity. A function, as thus representative and pointing beyond itself, is a meaning, a universal, not a particular activity or psychic event. To take a functional point of view, then, is just to grasp the end or purpose of a series of events, and to read the parts as the means or members through which this ideal organization is realized. As thus representative and expressive of the whole, functions are ideal and universal in character, and cannot be reduced to the form of mental objects or events. A functional or genetic logic, then, must deal with cognitive experience as an immanent process of attaining truth through organization of meanings. It can by no means dispense with detailed explanations and analyses, but these must be descriptions in terms of 'end and means,' not in terms of external causality.


From this point of view, we are able to understand the miniband legitimate use of the notion of the Implicit. Indeed, we are able to see that this conception is indispensable, for to deny it, as Aristotle long ago remarked, would be to deny all movement and becoming in the sense of genesis. But it must never be forgotten that, when we look at experience functionally or teleologically, the implicit has not the form of an existing psychical content or object that can be thought of as a prior term, independent real apart from the process and the end. The earlier and later stages are held together in thought and form an intelligible unity just through the fact that they reflect light upon each other and exhibit their common identity. That is, the end throws light upon the means, thus disclosing that the latter, in virtue of its ideal meaning or representative function, is not an independent and detached mode of existence, but a necessary moment of the same system, and therefore implicitly identical with the end itself. When thus interpreted teleologically, the different stages of the developing process are not taken as something new and inexplicable but are explained as essential moments in the process through which the end is realized.


We may, then, emphasize the continuity of the process of cognition by describing it as one continuous function which is exhibited throughout its various modes and stages. This would mean that all the various functions of logical experience are subordinates means to the ends of some supreme function or unity. This function of unity in experience is, as Kant showed in his doctrine of the Unity of Apperception, the logical mind itself. Moreover, it is evident that any particular category or mode of experience is just the logical mind functioning at that stage. When we take the logical mind itself as the one continuous function, and think of experience as a process of development, we can express in somewhat different terms the relation of the implicit and the actual in experience. The undeveloped logical mind is not merely universal capacity or potentiality of knowing, but also movement toward actuality. Its real nature consists, one may say, in its striving for meaning, in its demand for completeness and coherence of experience. The ends of the logical process, the demand for meaning, which is the essential nature of theological mind, is functionally operative at every stage of development, so that each prior stage of experience, as representative of those ends, is connected through identity with the later. Or, in other words, the Implicit is just the logical mind, as expressed at every stage in the system of developing functions through which the ends of knowledge are realized. As the bearer of the logical idea, as the instrument of the logical end, each functional stage, as we have seen, a universal, and thus linked through identity to the other functions. In this sense the genetic process is continuous, exhibiting in its progression not merely 'something new,' but rather the development or realization of the ends which constitute the logical mind. The 'logical mind ' is thus the universal presupposition of experience, and its ends and demands must be regarded as necessary both to explain experience at every stage, and to furnish the dynamic or moving principle throughout the whole course of its development. In any genuine course of development, the end is functionally effective from the beginning; hence a theory of logic is necessarily a description or analysis in terms of teleology.


In conclusion, I would repeat that these conceptions do not render unnecessary a detailed account of the development of knowledge. They are intended to apply only to the question regarding the terms in which the account of its development is to be written. No one can doubt that the mind in its early stages of development is almost entirely immersed in practice, and that its functions appear to be directed only to the satisfaction of practical desires. But, if the genetic viewpoint is to be retained, it is necessary to maintain that the cognitive mind was never merely practical, but that, even in its first beginnings, logical functions and logical meanings were not entirely lacking though for the time overshadowed by more pressing interests. Genetic logic is then the story of the gradual emancipation of the logical mind from the direct control of the practical through the working out of the principles which constitute its own essential nature.


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