1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abstraction

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ABSTRACTION (Lat. abs and trahere), the process or result of drawing away; that which is drawn away, separated or derived. Thus the noun is used for a summary, compendium or epitome of a larger work, the gist of which is given in a concentrated form. Similarly an absent-minded man is said to be “abstracted,” as paying no attention to the matter in hand. In philosophy the word has several closely related technical senses. (1) In formal logic it is applied to those terms which denote qualities, attributes, circumstances, as opposed to concrete terms, the names of things; thus “friend” is concrete, “friendship” abstract. The term which expresses the connotation of a word is therefore an abstract term, though it is probably not itself connotative; adjectives are concrete, not abstract, e.g. “equal” is concrete, “equality” abstract (cf. Aristotle’s aphaeresis and prosthesis). (2) The process of abstraction takes an important place both in psychological and metaphysical speculation. The psychologist finds among the earliest of his problems the question as to the process from the perception of things seen and heard to mental conceptions, which are ultimately distinct from immediate perception (see Psychology.) When the mind, beginning with isolated individuals, groups them together in virtue of perceived resemblances and arrives at a unity in plurality, the process by which attention is diverted from individuals and concentrated on a single inclusive concept (i.e. classification) is one of abstraction. All orderly thought and all increase of knowledge depend partly on establishing a clear and accurate connexion between particular things and general ideas, rules and principles. The nature of the resultant concepts belongs to the great controversy between Nominalism, Realism and Conceptualism. Metaphysics, again, is concerned with the ultimate problems of matter and spirit; it endeavours to go behind the phenomena of sense and focus its attention on the fundamental truths which are the only logical bases of natural science. This, again, is a process of abstraction, the attainment of abstract ideas which, apart from the concrete individuals, are conceived as having a substantive existence. The final step in the process is the conception of the Absolute (q.v.), which is abstract in the most complete sense.

Abstraction differs from Analysis, inasmuch as its object is to select a particular quality for consideration in itself as it is found in all the objects to which it belongs, whereas analysis considers all the qualities which belong to a single object.