Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/367

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353
EDUCATION AND SELECTION.

of hasty and confused reasons, on the mass of which we are lifted up and borne off. On the other hand, there are feelings under all our ideas which breed even under the cooling cinders of abstractions. The mind itself has a force, because it arouses all the feelings which it summarizes. Thus the simple words "honor" and "duty" resound through our consciousness in infinite echoes, giving rise to legions of images.

We talk of dead formulas, but they are few. The idea and the word are formulas of possible actions and of feelings ready to pass into acts; they are "verbs." Every feeling, every impulse that comes to the point of formulating itself into a kind of fiat, ac-' quires by that fact a new and in some sort creative force. It finds itself cleared up, defined, specified, and squared with the rest, and thus directed. It is this that renders formulas relating to actions powerful for good or evil. A child has a vague temptation, an inclination he can not account for. Pronounce the formula to him, change the blind impulse into a clear idea, and you give him a new suggestion, which will, perhaps, cause him to fall on the side to which he is inclining. On the other hand, there are formulas and generous suggestions that need only to be pronounced to carry entire masses. It sometimes falls to the man of genius to translate the aspirations of his epoch into ideas; he pronounces the word and a whole people follow. Great moral, religious, and social revolutions occur when feelings, long restrained or hardly recognized, come to be formulated into ideas or words. The way is then opened, the object is revealed with the means, selection takes place, and all the desires are turned at once in the same direction, like a torrent that finds a point where passage is possible.

Conduct depends, therefore, to a large extent on the circle of the ideas which one has received under the influence of experience, social relations, and æsthetic and intellectual cultivation. Every man possesses at the bottom a collection of general notions and maxims which becomes the source of his resolutions and actions, because the aggregate is, fused into a sentiment and a habit. The tendency to translate everything into maxims is manifested even in children, because the maxim is a generalization that satisfies the thought. If, then, the circle of ideas proves incomplete at any important point, if false notions or immoral maxims insinuate themselves, we are condemned to incurable weakness or to vice, like a nation whose code contains bad fundamental laws.

The mental faculties, like the physical faculties, develop in the individual into a relation of reciprocal action; but mental activity is more dependent than the other. If you have false ideas on a point of fact or reasoning, it is possible for me in a little while to