What is Abstraction, What Does It Mean?June 26, 2021
Idealist abstraction absolutizes the concepts and ideas that are the result of abstraction and substitutes them for objective reality. In fact, abstraction is a necessary method in the process of knowing. Abstraction realized without falling into idealism is scientific and dialectical abstraction: concepts are obtained by abstractions. But they are tried and verified by objective facts. The criterion of the authenticity of abstract concepts and ideas is human practice. In order for the activity of abstraction to take place, the mind must understand that the things it separates do not exhibit an interdependent existence.
For this reason, the mind must be equipped with what it distinguishes from each other. According to Plato, such an equipment of the mind can be explained by its innate possession of ideal forms – at least their traces. Whereas, according to Thomas Aquinas, the mind does not innately have any object (tabula rasa). However, the active mind has a feature that shares from the light of the divine mind, and with this light, it reveals the activity of activating an object in which the relationship between the truth of the object and the truth of the mind can be observed. By accepting such light, Thomas Aquinas forms a partnership with Augustine’s illuminatio.
From this point of view, abstraction is one in reality; but we can say that the things constituting the unity – within the situations described above – are valid when one can be known without going to the other. That is, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, “we can only abstract from objects united in existence.” Since the unity here emerges as either part-whole or matter-form unity, we can talk about two different kinds of abstraction: abstraction of form from matter (Abstractio formae) or abstraction of whole from part (Abstractio totius).
In cases where the essential nature of form does not depend on a particular kind of substance, it is possible to abstract form from matter. By the term certain kind of matter here we must understand one of the two kinds of matter that we had the opportunity to explain earlier, namely materia signata. According to Thomas Aquinas, if the form to be abstracted needs and is based on some kind of substance by its very nature, then abstraction becomes impossible. However, accidents have an order among themselves. For example, quantity is the foremost of these accidents, and by its essential nature it does not depend on any sensible matter – other accidents, such as quality and passivity, are related to sensible matter. The type of matter on which it is based is intelligible matter, and therefore the accidental state that we call quantity is abstractable from sensible matter. In the emergence of this feature, it is important that quantity has a state that transcends the senses in the process of comprehending substance. Therefore, since the objects that emerge as a result of the abstraction of form from matter are quantity and its properties, this kind of abstraction (Abstractio formae) is the mode of activity put forward by the mathematician.
The abstraction of the whole from the part is also not an activity style that can be realized under all circumstances. According to Thomas Aquinas, some parts are parts of species or form, while others are parts of matter. In the first, the parts must be evaluated together with the whole in order to understand the whole, while in the second, the whole can be included in the definition independently of its parts. To give an example of parts of the form, it is necessary to include the letter in the definition in order to understand the syllable as a whole; otherwise, something will be missing about what a syllable is. Parts of matter do not have to be included in the definition of the whole; for the definition of man excludes the necessity of stating that man himself is rational, that he has fingers or hair. However, according to Thomas Aquinas, all the designated parts are related to man: like this soul or this bone. Because these are the parts that belong to the essence of Socrates or Plato, and therefore the mind can abstract them from -that-human. This kind of abstraction activity is called abstraction of the whole from the part (Abstractio totius).
The point that should not be forgotten is that the concepts that emerge as a result of abstraction are not objects of knowing (id quod intelligitur) but are tools of knowing (id quo intelligitur). If the concepts, which are a kind of construct of the mind, were knowledge itself; then our knowledge would be knowledge of the forms themselves. Such a style is not about the objects of science, of the formation we call the world outside us; but he would make judgments on the concepts themselves that found their way into our minds. According to Thomas Aquinas, although the mind is potential in terms of knowledge, it also does not have any innate knowledge (nihil est in intellectu quod prius non fuerit in sensu = there is nothing in the mind that does not occur primarily in the senses).
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Ataturk University Sociology B