Chapter 11: Judgment and the Elements of Reasoning

James Rowland Angell

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The mental operations which we have thus far described find the culmination of their development in the process which we know as reasoning. This does not mean that reasoning is a totally new form of psychical activity, to which the others are subordinate. It means that in the process of reasoning the full implication and significance of these other conscious processes come clearly to light, while in it they reach their completed evolution. Moreover, it does not mean that reasoning is a form of process which appears only after the other processes which we have studied, have been developed. Rudimentary reasoning is present from the beginning of conscious life in the human being, and is clearly involved in each of the processes we have thus far analysed. But in the gradual unfolding of consciousness, by means of which it comes to maturity, we meet more and more complex instances of reasoning, and at each stage we find it involving perception and memory and imagination and conception. At each stage it affords the best index of the real value of these other processes, and in its most elaborate forms it brings out in the clearest possible way their real function. We shall revert to these points more fully later in the chapter. A technical definition of reasoning may well await our examination of certain of the facts upon which such a definition must be based. Meantime, we may define it broadly and provisionally as purposive thinking, that is to say, thinking carried on in the interests of some plan which we wish to execute, some problem which we wish to solve, some difficulty which we wish to surmount.


Analysis of Reasoning.-- We are often told that the great educational value of mathematics lies in teaching us to reason correctly. Some hardy iconoclasts have ventured to question the extent of the value to be gained from the subject on this score, but at least it seems to be universally admitted that mathematics involves reasoning, and we may, therefore, judiciously seek from it an illustration of the reasoning process for our examination, Take the following arithmetical problem, reminiscent of the perplexities of the days of our academic youth. If thirteen melons cost a dollar and forty-three cents, how much should twenty melons cost? Most of us would solve this problem by finding the cost of one melon through the division of one hundred and forty-three by thirteen; and then the cost of twenty melons by multiplying this quotient by twenty. When the problem is distinctly understood, there instantly comes into our minds, through our memory habits, the idea "cost of one melon"; and straightway we find ourselves executing the relatively habitual process of division. This accomplished, our minds immediately turn -- again by virtue of our mental habits -- to the multiplication of our quotient by twenty. The reasoning in a case of this kind, therefore, seems to involve the selection of certain ideas out of all those supplied us by the problem, the manipulation of these ideas in accordance with previously acquired habits, and the attainment of the solution by a proper combination of these two processes. So far as there is any originality in such a procedure, we must look for it in the skill and expedition with which we hit upon the right idea to work with, and the accuracy and promptness with which we apply to it the fruits of our previously acquired knowledge.

Should we examine a little more closely the nature of these ideas which we employ we should find that they are clearly concepts. Thus, melon is a concept, cost is a concept, cent is a concept, etc. Were we to give verbal form to the

(225) several steps in the process, which we do not always do, we should find that we had such expressions before us as this: one melon eleven cents -- eleven times twenty is two hundred and twenty, is two dollars and twenty cents. In other words, we put the concepts together in a form which the psychologists call a judgment. A judgment, when put into words, is what logicians call a proposition, and what grammarians call a sentence. It accordingly appears that a process of reasoning, such as that of our illustration, contains concepts combined in the form of judgments. We have already examined the nature of the concept, but judgment is a new mental operation to which we must now devote our attention.

Analysis of Judgment. -- It will facilitate our investigation to begin with those cases of judgment to which we give verbal expression, for they can readily be secured in a concrete form, stripped of the introspective difficulties which beset the analysis of other varieties. It will suggest itself at once that, if the judgment is in any measure equivalent to a proposition or a sentence, we ought to gain assistance, in the distinguishing of its principal forms, from the classifications of the grammarians and logicians. Although the exact meaning of mental judgments and linguistic propositions are not always identical, even where they have the same verbal form, nevertheless many of these classifications are undoubtedly available; and we may expect to find assertative judgments, hypothetical judgments, disjunctive judgments, and so on. In the judgment, " the book is heavy," we have the concept heavy united to the concept book. On the other band, in the judgment, " the book is not heavy," we have the concepts apparently sundered from one another. Even in this case, however, it is obvious that in the mental state, of which the judgment is the expression, the two ideas were together, as truly as in the first case. It is only so far as the ideas refer to objects distinct from themselves that their separation is asserted. In the judgment, " if the storm is severe, the ship

(226) will be imperilled," we have two pairs of concepts united to one another, i. e., " storm " and " severe," " ship " and " imperilled." Like the preceding cases, the ideas are brought together mentally, but the objective union of one pair is made dependent upon the objective union of the other. The judgment, " Mr. Smith is either a democrat or a populist," gives us a typical instance of disjunction. The concept " Smith " is conjoined mentally with the two concepts " democrat " and "populist," and the objective union is asserted of one or the other.[1] In all these verbal precipitates of judgment we seem then to have two or more ideas mentally united in meanings which may imply either the postulated union or severance of the objects to which they refer.

Analytic-Synthetic Judgments.-- Availing ourselves of a further classification which the logicians employ, we may speak of analytic or of synthetic judgments. " This wood is white," is an instance of the analytic judgment. It exhibits a property of the wood which is inherent in it, and may, therefore, be said to involve an analysis of the concept, " this wood." " Wood is a combustible " is a synthetic judgment, because it adds to the idea of wood the idea of combustibility, which is not immediately, nor obviously, implied in it. We shall presently see reason to believe that synthetic and analytic judgments are psychologically really one, and for our present purpose we can at least see that they involve, like all the other cases which we have examined, the mental synthesis of concepts, whose objective union, or separateness, we mentally predicate.


Genetic Relation of Concept and Judgment.-- Having discovered in these verbal judgments the constant presence of concepts, it will be well to revert to our account of their development, and detect, if possible, the relation of the judgment to this process.

We observed, when studying the origin of concepts, that they spring out of the mind's effort to mark off, and render distinct, the various meanings with which it has to deal. We saw that in the course of experience these meanings grow in definiteness and scope, so that a concept which meets the demands of childhood often needs for the purposes of the adult either to be reconstructed or else discarded in favour of some more adequate notion. If we examine once again some specific instances of the attainment and development of a concept, we shall come upon an instructive fact concerning the relation between conception and judgment. If we consider in this way our concept badness, we find that it has its origin in our very early childish experiences in connection with certain acts for which we were reproved or punished. The notion of parental disapproval quickly became attached to such acts, and, as soon as language could be comprehended at all, we remarked that they received the common appellation, " bad." Unless our account of the memory processes be fundamentally defective, the thought of such deeds should call to mind, in however vague a way, the undesirable consequences which bad previously accompanied them. At this early stage, then, we must in a nebulous sort of fashion have brought together in our minds the idea of the act and the idea of its effects in the nature of punishment.

Such a mental act obviously has implicit in it the beginnings of judgment, i. e., the assertion of a relation between two mental elements. When, with increasing age, language finally comes to our assistance, we are easily able to apprehend the usage of our elders, and we straightway apply the term "bad" to all acts of a certain character. At

(228) this point the idea of badness is for us synonymous with a certain list of acts with which various kinds of adult disapproval are connected. When we are inspired to perform such an act, we promptly execute mentally the judging process quivalent to labelling the act bad. Were we to put our thought into words, we should undoubtedly have a verbal judgment. All of which seems to indicate with no great uncertainty that the origin of such a concept as " badness " is to be found in mental processes which are in their nascent stages crude, vague, undeveloped judgments, involving a rudimentary recognition of relations between certain more or less distinct portions of our experience. We get at these elements of experience mentally by means of rudely distinguished ideas-in the case of our illustration the idea of the act and the idea of its consequences. Such concepts as this, i.e., badness, owe their creation, then, to elaborations of already attained ideas in a primitive form of judgment.

Moreover, if we turn our attention to the subsequent history of such a concept as badness, we find unmistakably, as was pointed out in the last chapter, that its develpoment (sic) is accomplished by means of new judgments which are brought to bear upon it from time to time. In childhood, for example, badness may for a long time mean, among other things, disobedience. There comes a time, however, when possibly disobedience seems in some crisis the only alternative to lying. We have also identified lying with badness. What shall we do? Well, whatever we do, we have at least laid the foundation for the reconstructive development of our concept of badness, by noting that disobedience may sometimes be necessary to the attainment of the maximal possible good. We necessarily make judgments about badness in such a case, and the transformation, whether shrinkage or enlargement, which the concept undergoes, is a direct expression of the effect of judgment. The development as well as the origin of such

(229) concepts is, accordingly, most intimately bound up with the judging operation.

Before generalising upon this single case, it would, of course, be desirable to examine every variety of concept in order to see if any of them originate independently of such judgments. This is, however, evidently impracticable, and we shall have to fall back upon the consideration that inasmuch as the concept is always a mental recognition, or designation, of specific meaning, there must, in the nature of the case, sooner or later be a judging process involved in it; for judgment is neither more nor less than the overt recognition and expression of just such relations as are embodied in the concept. The concept " gravity," for example, implies certain definite relations which we can only express in detail by means of judgments, and so with all other concepts. We shall accept this account of the relation between the two processes, then, with a large measure of confidence in its correctness.

Order of Development of the Cognitive Processes.-This analysis inevitably raises the question as to what is the most primitive and fundamental mode of conscious operation to which we have thus far given attention. We have shown that the conceptual element is present in perception, and we had already explained that in a genetic sense perception evidently antedates memory and imagination. Now we seem to find judgment as a precursor of the concept. What is the real order of development among these activities?

To secure a correct impression regarding the genetic relations among these processes, we must resort to an analogy which we have employed on a number of previous occasions. The development of an organism of any kind is accomplished by means of the gradual unfolding of structures, and the gradual evolution of functions, out of undifferentiated matrices. The fertilised ovum contains in a way, implicit within itself, all the potentialities of the fully developed

(230) organism which may subsequently grow out of it. But no inspection which we could make of the ovum would enable us to detect these invisible members. Step by step the homogeneity of the ovum gives way to more and more complex conditions, until finally the process of assimilation and differentiation issues in the full-grown organism. At each step in the progress toward maturity the several anatomical organs and the various physiological functions are moving together toward completion. At one stage one group of these elements may seem further advanced than others, but there is nevertheless mutual dependence of each of the factors upon the other, and each member of the several groups is from the beginning represented by some forerunner, however crude.

So it is with the psychical operations which we have been studying. Judgment, conception, memory, imagination, perception, and still other processes, which we have not as yet examined, are in one form or another present in consciousness from the very first; and each process, which we have described and analysed -under one or another of these names, really involves each of the other processes. At certain moments consciousness presents itself as dominantly engaged in the way we call perception, sometimes in the way we call imagination. But each operation involves the other, and it would hardly be possible to point to a stage in development where one was obviously present and the other obviously and altogether absent.

Judging is in a precisely similar situation as regards its primary or secondary nature, its early or late appearance, in the history of the individual consciousness. We may perhaps, make this point clear most easily by examining the case of perception which we have seen to be present past all reasonable question from the earliest moments of waking life. When we perceive a familiar object, say a chair, the mental operation of cognising the object is essentially equivalent to the assertion, "this is a chair," or "this is a thing to sit

(231) upon." True, we rarely put the conclusion in this explicit form to ourselves. Nevertheless, the mental process is precisely akin to the proposition, and in our first intelligent application of names to objects it is exactly of this character. Indeed, the first childish exclamations, which represent in however amorphous a fashion the precursors of language, are of this type. The whole mass of feelings which such early infantile vocalisation may serve to indicate is often extremely complex and extended. One sound may designate an experience, which as adults we should describe as "this-is-the-sound-of-the-coming-to-take-me-up-and-feed-me -which - is-a-delightful-experience." Another sound may represent judgments in the form of a command, such as " I-am-hot-and-I-wish-you-would-take-the-blanket-off."

Let it not be supposed that we mean to credit the half inarticulate infant with the mental recognition of all the differentiated elements in these cases to which we as adults are sensitive. Quite the contrary. It seems probable, as we saw, when we discussed attention and discrimination, that the early experiences of the baby are extremely vague, not in the sense of being positively confused, as adults sometimes are when embarrassed, but in the negative sense, in which vagueness means absence of distinct, well-recognised mental control. These primitive judgments are rudimentary expressions of just such reactions upon those indefinite, undifferentiated features of infant consciousness as we find appearing in ourselves when we make judgments about our more highly elaborated and more definitely discriminated ideas. The earliest rudimentary processes of judgment consequently involve the manipulation of unanalysed masses of experience, which we subsequently discover, through processes of dissociation, comparison, and judgment, to be extremely complex. It is quite possible, as has been already suggested, that the impersonal judgments, such as " it thunders," represent survivals of assertions of just this primitive kind about total

(232) experiences whose elements are only vaguely and imperfectly analysed.

Judgment as the Primitive Cognitive Activity.-- It seems highly probable from the foregoing that in its original form all judgment is essentially a reaction upon immediately present perceptual experiences. Undoubtedly, rude judgments in which memory and imagination play leading roles may occur at a very early period. But it seems quite certain that their most important functions must come somewhat later than the periods during which perceptual judgments are first clearly in evidence. Moreover, inasmuch as these rudimentary forms of judgment appear to involve as their most characteristic features, like the highly developed ideational judgments, the recognition, or assertion, of relations, it seems impossible to deny that the simplest case of perception, with its connection of a first sensory stimulation with something already familiar, is also implicitly, at least, of the same genus as the judgment.

When we ask, then, which of the several mental processes we have described is most fundamental, we must reply that if the question applies to the order of appearance in consciousness no single one enjoys this preeminence. They develop together, and are all, in one way or another, present from the outset of conscious life. If the question means, however, which process exhibits most conspicuously the whole scope of cognitive conscious capacities, then we must probably reply, judgment; because in this activity the detection and manipulation of relations is possibly most obvious, and this undoubtedly is the great mental achievement in the building up of knowledge and the controlling of conduct, to which ultimately all these processes revert for their final significance. In this sense, therefore , judgment is the most fundamental operation of consciousness on the cognitive side.

Before leaving this account of judgment and passing on to consider reasoning, a further word should be said of the fact

(233) which came to our notice a moment ago in speaking of the judging process in the primitive consciousness of infant life. Judgment undoubtedly begins with a process of disentangling the various constituents of some large and relatively vague experience. The operation which we described in an earlier chapter as discrimination is commonly identical with these rudimentary judging processes. Now in so far as judgment does really deal in this way with the analysis of ideational (or perceptual) experiences, which are to start with undifferentiated wholes, it would seem to be necessary to regard it as a process in which relatively vague ideas are resolved into their definite constituents, rather than as a process in which already distinct and separate ideas are brought together. It will be remembered that our previous description of it is more closely allied to the second of these views about it. As a matter of fact both views are correct in the conception which they emphasise, and the disparity between them is only apparent.

Just as we saw was the case in the differentiation of the various sensations out of the relatively homogeneous conscious continuum with which life probably begins, so the materials upon which our judgments are based and with which they deal are all necessarily elements of our own personal experience. So far as we predicate anything of an object,-- for example, "iron is a metal,"-- it may be said that we have simply dissected the idea of iron (our concept), which was already present to our minds, instead of adding to it some new idea, i. e., metal. Taken literally, this is a true statement of the facts. It is only false by virtue of that which it fails to add. The concept of iron is a concept distinguished from that of metal. We not only may bring these two concepts together mentally, but we frequently do unite just such concepts in the form of judgments, which are practically valuable to us in enabling us to emphasise such phases of our thoughts as are momentarily important for us. Judgment is, then, in its most explicit forms, undoubtedly a process in

(234) which we synthesise concepts in the course of noting and asserting relations. Yet the concepts which we thus unite are with equal certainty already elements of our stock of knowledge, and so we may seem to have made no gain by the judgment, much less to have added a new idea to some old idea. But the gain is often very real, because the synthesis may bring out relations of which previously we- were not clearly cognisant. From this point of view judgment is not so much a matter of creating wholly new mental material as it is a matter of ordering our mental equipment in the most efficient possible manner.


  1. The so-called "impersonal judgment" has caused logicians much controversy. " It rains" is an instance of it. At first sight it appears as though such a judgment could hardly be said to involve a synthesis of two ideas, or concepts, at all. On the whole it seems probable that this form of judgment represents a primitive type of the judging activity, out of which possibly our more elaborate forms have developed. If this be true, the nature of the impersonal judgment will become evident as we go on with our analysis.

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