The Principles of Psychology - Vol. 1

By William James | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII.
CONCEPTION.

THE SENSE OF SAMENESS.

IN Chapter VIII, p. 221, the distinction was drawn between two kinds of knowledge of things, bare acquaintance with them and knowledge about them. The possibility of two such knowledges depends on a fundamental psychical peculiarity which may be entitled "the principle of constancy in the mind's meanings," and which may be thus expressed: "The same matters can be thought of in successive portions of the mental stream, and some of these portions can know that they mean the same matters which the other portions meant." One might put it otherwise by saying that "the mind can always intend, and know when it intends, to think of the Same."

This sense of sameness is the very keel and backbone of our thinking. We saw in Chapter X how the consciousness of personal identity reposed on it, the present thought finding in its memories a warmth and intimacy which it recognizes as the same warmth and intimacy it now feels. This sense of identity of the knowing subject is held by some philosophers to be the only vehicle by which the world hangs together. It seems hardly necessary to say that a sense of identity of the known object would perform exactly the same unifying function, even if the sense of subjective identity were lost. And without the intention to think of the same outer things over and over again, and the sense that we were doing so, our sense of our own personal sameness would carry us but a little way towards making a universe of our experience.

Note, however, that we are in the first instance speaking of the sense of sameness from the point of view of the mind's structure alone, and not from the point of view of the universe. We are psychologizing, not philosophizing.

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