An ABSTRACT Idea, is some simple Idea, detach'd and separated from any particular Subject, or Complex Idea ; for the sake of viewing and considering it more distinctly, as it is in itself, its own Nature, &c. See IDEA, SIMPLE, COMPLEX, &c.
Thus, Magnitude and Humanity are Abstracts when consider'd in themselves, and without being attached to any particular Body, or Person ; tho they cannot have any real Subsistence without such Subjects, nor the Subjects without them.
Thus, also, Whiteness is an Abstract, or abstract Term ; inasmuch as it does not denote any one white Object, but that Colour or Idea in the general, wherever sound. See GENERAL.
From the Knowledge of Abstracts we arrive at that of Concretes, which is the opposite Term ; Concrete denoting a General or Abstract Idea's being attach'd to same particular Subject, or consider'd as combin'd with some other Ideas ; as, great House, white Wall. See CONCRETE.
Absolute, e. g. sometimes imports a Thing which does not include the Idea of Relation to another ; in which Sense it Hands oppos'd to Relative.
Thus, Man is an absolute Term ; and, on the contrary, Creature and Father are Relatives, the one referring to Creator, the other to Children. See RELATIVE.
In the like Sense, the Schoolmen hold Absolute to imply a Thing's not being
In this Sense too, the Terms of a Proposition are said to be taken absolutely ; that is, without Relation to each other.
The Faculty of Abstracting, stands directly opposite to that of Compounding — By Composition we consider those Things together, which in reality are not join'd together in one Existence. And by Abstraction, we consider those Things separately and apart, which in reality do not exist apart. See COMPOSITION.
Abstraction is chiefly employ'd these three ways— First, when the Mind considers any one Part of a Thing, in some respects distinct from the Whole ; as a Man's Arm, without the Consideration of the rest of his Body.
Secondly, when we consider the Mode of any Substance, omitting the Substance it self; or when we separately consider several Modes which subsist together in one Subject. See MODE.
This Abstraction the Geometricians make use of, when they consider the Length of a Body separately, which they call a Line ; omitting the Consideration of its Breadth and Depth.
Thirdly, it is by Abstraction that the Mind frames general or universal Ideas ; omitting the Modes and Relations of the particular Objects whence they are form'd. — Thus, when we would understand a thinking Being in general, we gather from our Self-consciousness what it is to Think ; and omitting the Consideration of those Things which have a peculiar Relation to our own Mind, or to the human Mind, we think of a thinking Being in general.
Ideas fram'd thus, which are what we properly call Abstract Ideas, become general Representatives of all Objects of the same Kind ; and their Names applicable to whatever exists conformable to such Ideas. — Thus, the Colour that we receive from Chalk, Snow, Milk, &c. is a Representative of all of that Kind ; and has a Name given it, Whiteness, which signifies the same Quality, wherever sound or imagin'd. See GENERAL.
'Tis this last Faculty, or Power of Abstracting, according to Mr. Locke, that makes the great Difference between Man and Brutes ; even those latter must be allowed to have some share of Reason : That they really reason in some Cases, seems almost as evident as that they have Sense ; but 'tis only in particular Ideas. They are tyed up to those narrow Bounds ; and do not seem to have any Faculty of enlarging them by Abstraction. Essay on Human Understanding, L. III. c. 3.