Apperception

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Primer material from Monroe's Cyclopedia.

From A Cyclopedia of Education, edited by Paul Monroe, Ph.D. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911, vol. I, pp. 141-4).

Apperception

  • Ernest N. Henderson (Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Education, Adelphi College)

Literally, added to perception. In the current usage of to-day two somewhat distinct meanings are apparent. The psychologist means by apperception the interpretation of sensations. Thus to him apperception is necessary in order to get perception, since the latter is a form of consciousness in which sensations and their meanings are fused. To recognize an object, or to give it position and shape, or to ascribe to it reality, is to apperceive it. On the other hand, in educational discussions apperception usually means not the making of a perception, but rather the adding to the bare perception the richer significations that are brought by a broader experience. Thus the educational use of the term conforms a little more closely to its etymology than does the psychological one.

The philosopher Leibnitz introduced the use of the expression. By him mere perception was regarded as a purely immediate form of sentiency. When we become conscious of our perceptions, they are apperceived. Apperception thus relates the perceptions to the self, organizes them as its property, and as the representations by which it endeavors to describe to itself the external world. Before the advent of apperception, therefore, there is no self-consciousness, but only a confused mass of isolated mental elements. Apperception transforms these into genuine consciousness.

The next philosopher of importance to make special use of the term "apperception" was Kant. To him also it meant the unification of perception. By apperception one's perceptions are all united in being referred to a self which is aware of them in various moments of time. Again they are unified as referring to external objects, all of which belong to one world. Perception merely singles out the object in space and time. Apperception relates the perception to the self and to the world. Thus Kant emphasizes the organizing factor in apperception, while Leibnitz lays special stress on the factor of self-consciousness therein. The two uses of the term do not differ fundamentally. According to both, apperception is the spontaneous activity of the self, in reflecting upon and becoming conscious of its perceptions, and this process inevitably organizes them in relation to each other in a self, and also constitutes their external objects into the world of things.

There is, however, one difference between the views of Leibnitz and of Kant that leads directly over to the Herbartian conception of apperception. According to Kant, apperception unifies by applying its own principles of organization to the material given by sense. The product consists therefore of two factors, the organizing warp of a priori forms and the organized woof of a posteriori content. Both elements are equally distinguishable in the texture of experience. Thus apperception, and, indeed, perception, are to Kant the establishment of relations among the data given by experience, but these relations are not abstracted from experience by the analytic activities of a reflective mind. Rather they are added to experience by the synthetic activity of a constructive mind. Experiencing is the clash between the organizing form and the data of sense, and both factors are clearly discernible in the finished product. To Leibnitz, however, as to all whose psychology follows the lines of the faculty theory, mental activity consists in a manipulation of the data of sense by which these are set in certain relations, and made to reveal certain principles. Thus both form and content are analyzed out of experience by the differentiating power of intelligence.

The Herbartian like the Kantian theory of apperception is based on the conception that mental activity consists in the clash of two factors; that both unite to form the experience. But with Herbart these two factors are not a content given to the mind on the one hand and a form given by the mind on the other. On the contrary, he conceives them to be on the one hand a new datum for experience and on the other the mass of organized experience through which this new datum obtains meaning and interest. To be sure the apperceiving ideas according to Herbart differ from that which is apperceived in being organized, related, assimilated, and therein lies their power to apperceive the new idea. But they are not, as with Kant, mere principles of organization, forms to be applied to new given content. They are simply old experiences that have already been apperceived, and have thus acquired the power of apperceiving the new ones. Thus, experiencing to Herbart is the clash of two factors of content, a synthetic process as with Kant, but not a synthesis of factors radically different in quality. The idea that apperceives differs from the one that is apperceived only in having previously enjoyed the advantage of having been taken in, assimilated, or apperceived by the mind.

The differences between these views of apperception may be figuratively represented as follows. The apperception of Leibnitz is like the activity of a machine that manufactures by combining certain raw materials into finished products. The apperception of Kant is like the activity of a machine that manufactures by adding certain constituent elements to the raw material, as the warp that binds it together. The apperception of Herbart is like the assimilation of food by the body. As new material is assimilated, it becomes part of the living tissue, by contact with which new food can be made to live. According to Leibnitz, the mind thinks or apperceives its perceptions. According to Kant, this process means the imposition of forms of organization upon the perceptions. Hence one is not far wrong in saying that with Kant the a priori forms do the apperceiving or thinking. According to Herbart it is one perception, one idea, that makes or apperceives another. Ideas are not dead products of an active mind. They are living forces. They are in a very real sense the mind.

The Herbartian conception of apperception has two fundamentally important applications to educational theory. In the first place, it involves the rejection of the faculty theory, and consequently the theory of formal discipline as ordinarily held. In the second place, it leads to a formulation of method and curriculum from the point of view of the experience already attained by the child. The question of formal discipline is considered in a separate article. Here, however, it may be in place to note that, since according to the faculty theory the ability to carry on the mental process is a function of certain abstract inner powers, there is no reason to suppose that to one who accepts this theory the acquisition of knowledge need be of any educational consequence except in so far as it affords a means of disciplining these faculties. We do not think because we have ideas, but because we have faculties. We do not improve our powers of thought by increasing our stock of ideas, but by strengthening our power to manipulate them. According to the psychology implicit in the theory of Locke and Leibnitz, and even that of Kant, since it is the faculty that apperceives, the teacher should strive to improve this power by training. On the other hand, according to the psychology of Herbart, since it is the idea that apperceives, the teacher should strive to increase the stock of assimilated experience in the child's mind by instruction.

The Herbartian theory of apperception throws the emphasis not on the quality of the mind, but rather on its content; not on the self-activity by which according to many the child's development is wholly conditioned, but rather upon the activity of the ideas, the efficiency of which depends upon the thoroughness with which they have been assimilated. Now effective assimilation with Herbart is, to say the least, very largely dependent upon the arrangement of material in instruction. In other words, the excellence of the child's abilities is mainly the consequence of the efficiency with which he has been taught. However, it is perfectly evident that good teaching produces very different results on different minds. This fact is not neglected by Herbart. He grants the importance of the individuality of the child. But to him this individuality seems not so much the source of those energies by which mental development is to be brought about, as rather a mass of factors likely to interfere with the proper apperception of the material of instruction. Thus the positive factor in mental growth is afforded by instruction. The inner characteristics of the child are regarded rather as negative influences, interfering with or distorting the natural effects that might be supposed to spring from the teaching that has been given. Certain peculiarities, temperament, emotions, disease, are all physiological hindrances to the pure mental process of apperception. They must be known, not to be utilized, but to be counteracted.

Thus according to Herbart the fundamental consideration in education is the order in which material is presented to the child's mind. From the point of view of method, this leads to the so-called formal steps in instruction. From the point of view of subject matter, it involves the arrangement of the course of study in such an order that each piece of work constitutes the natural preparation for the next. Apperception with Herbart is analyzed into two processes: concentration, or absorption, and reflection. The first involves the taking in of new material, and the second its organization in reference to the whole body of ideas in the mind of the learner. Concentration means that the new idea possesses enough affinity for the contents of the mind to arouse attention, that is, to drag above the threshold of consciousness apperceiving ideas. Reflection means the gradual reorganization of thought under the influence of the new idea. To be absorbed, matter must be clearly presented. This first step Herbart called clearness. Rein analyzed it into two, preparation and presentation. The teacher must prepare the way for instruction by finding what ideas the child already possesses which may constitute a basis for apperceiving the new topic. He must then so present this topic that it is readily seized by the consciousness thus roused to expect it. The successive topics that are presented must also be interrelated so that each throws light on the other. Method must bring out this connection. Hence a second step of method, or association. Associated material grasped together in a unity of reflection gives system, the third step in method. When the mind, thus possessed of system, reacts upon the new thought, it does so with organized method. The step in instruction that aims to insure this result Herbart calls method. As we have seen, Rein breaks up clearness into preparation and presentation. System and method are by him called condensation and application. Professors Charles and Frank McMurry designate the formal steps as preparation, presentation, comparison, generalization, and application.

The requirements of apperception are fundamental in determining the formal steps. They are equally evident in Herbartian schemes for the arrangement of the course of study. Three interrelated conceptions, deduced either wholly or partially from the principle of apperception, have governed the schemes of arrangement of the followers of Herbart. These are correlation, concentration, and the culture epoch theory. By correlation is meant such arrangement of the different lines of work in the school that the work in each constantly bears upon the work that is being done at the same time in the other subjects. There are many schemes and degrees of correlation, but it is evident that the principle always is largely an application of the idea of apperception. So, too, concentration, which means that one subject of study is selected as the central one in the curriculum and all others are studied as means of comprehending it better, is merely a close application of the principle of presenting the new through its relation to the old.

The scheme of concentration has usually been associated with the culture epoch theory. According to this theory, the studies should be presented to the child in the order of their appearance in the history of the race. Thus the child will be led through a series of "culture epochs" corresponding to those in the history of civilization. The justification for this order of study lies in that it is supposed to be the order of clearest apperception on the part of the child. Two reasons may be offered for this; and each illustrates a somewhat different view in regard to the process of apperception. According to one of these views the order of growth in culture is its natural, its logical, its inevitable order. The child must pass through these stages because the nature of the material of culture is such that each stage is the logical and necessary preparation for the apperception of the next. Here we find the views of Lessing, Herder, and Hegel. Herbart, who himself gave a suggestion toward the culture epoch theory, may be said to have found in history the clew to the logical order of apperception.

The second consideration that led to the culture epoch theory was that of psychological recapitulation. This view was intimately related to, and indeed founded upon, that of biological recapitulation. According to it, the child manifests successively certain instincts. These instincts appear in the order of their racial evolution. Upon them depend the child's interests and activities, and upon interest and activity depend his ability to apperceive. To teach a child of 6 what appeals to instincts that do not develop until 12 is to fail utterly in results. The child apperceives only what he is interested in, and he is interested only in that which appeals to instincts that have at least begun to ripen.

According to the first, the Herbartian conception of culture epochs, the lack of apperception when culture material belonging to later civilizations is presented to a young child is due to the lack of experience. According to the second conception, it is not thus caused, but is rather the result of immaturity of the instincts to which the ideas and feelings of this later culture appeal. No amount of mere experience with words and facts can make a child of 8 comprehend fully tales of romantic love. Mere physical maturity brings with it a psychological maturity that after all counts most for power of apperception.

So far as the culture epoch is concerned, it is doubtless true that both lines of argument in support of it are in a measure justifiable. But for the treatment of the conception of apperception the differences between them is of great importance. It serves as an introduction to a modern interpretation of apperception somewhat different from that of Herbart. Just as with Herbart apperception is made to depend upon the activity of previously assimilated ideas, instead of as formerly upon that of abstract faculties, so in this modern theory it is made to depend upon the activities initiated by the instincts rather than upon the mere functioning of experience acquired earlier by the individual. Thus in a sense the more modern tendency has been to revive the notion of an inner activity lying behind the mental content and vivifying it.

There are two methods of conceiving this inner activity. According to the one, the conception of Wundt, apperception is "the activity of the will in the realm of ideas." The will is an agency determinative of the direction of attention, and in fulfilling this function it lifts certain ideas into the focus of consciousness or apperceives them. According to the other conceptional, apperception is incidental to the functioning of the instinctive activities. When these activities meet a check, that is, when they fail to gain in an automatic manner the results for which they exist, then dissatisfaction is aroused, attention is drawn to the situation, its characteristics are analyzed, and eventually their significance is so interpreted that a satisfactory learned reaction is substituted for the original instinctive one. Thus apperception is a mental activity roused by the need of readjustment, and operative only on those factors that must be distinguished and interpreted in order to secure this result. Instead of being merely a function of previous experience, it is rather a function of those inner instinctive needs around the satisfaction of which both the physical and the mental activities of the individual center.

The Wundtian theory differs from this instinct-motor theory of apperception only in that, after the fashion of Leibnitz and Kant, it emphasizes rather more the spontaneous activity of a purely mental factor. The mind in apperception, according to Wundt, asserts itself, fixing the attention, clarifying the ideas, and thus rousing certain corresponding physiological activities. We feel our mental energy innervating the muscles. Apperception is conation. It is the struggle of the will to determine the conduct of the individual. Thus it is immediately connected with movement, and in fact the sense of the physical activities that apperception initiates intensifies the absorption of the mind in the work of apperceiving.

Right here the instinct-motor or genetic theory makes its point that apperception appears only when there is forced upon the mind a sense of its activities through some failure of adjustment. Thus apperception is not merely a condition of willed movements as with Wundt, but also a result of a failure to move in a satisfactory manner. This failure rouses the mind to discover what it wishes to do, in what respect it has failed to accomplish its instinctive purposes, and the various factors in the situation that may suggest this or that reaction as likely to prove a successful method of dealing with it. The two theories are not antagonistic to each other. Rather they may be said to supplement each other. To Wundt apperception is the intellectual phase of conation. To the genetic theory it is the intellectual phase of readjustment. Wundt finds in it the manifestation of the free inner energy of the self. The genetic theory finds it to be the attention of the mind to its inner needs when these fail to be satisfied by hereditary reactions. When we pass to the educational application of these conceptions of apperception, we find that they lie essentially in the view that interest and effective application to any school work is not directly a function of experience in similar lines, but is immediately dependent upon a sense of the value of this work in satisfying the inner needs of the self. It is true, experience may lead one to see a value in work that to the inexperienced would seem mere useless drudgery. But the experience merely makes clear the connection between the work and the need. It cannot create the need. The energy in a motive comes from within, from instinct or free personality. Experience merely enables this energy to acquire clearness and direction, and thus to become a conscious motive.

Thus the modern schoolmaster, following the genetic theory of apperception, does not expect to get children interested in the matter of instruction merely by connecting it with something already known by the child. It is necessary rather to show that the schoolroom tasks are worth while. There are many things concerning which we know much and at the same time wish to know no more. Often enough the child betrays this attitude in the school. Instruction breeds the indifference of mere familiarity unless it connects itself with needs that to the child seem vital. Objects do not excite attention because they are well known. Indeed, the familiar thing, unless it suggests to us some new problem that we feel to be important, does not seize the attention at all. The important first step in instruction is not mere preparation that simply calls up what the child knows of a subject, but rather the foreshadowing of the application which is to be the final step, and in which all that is to be learned will find its meaning and value.

E. N. H.

References
  • Bagley. The Educative Process. (New York, 1908.)
  • James. Talks to Teachers on Psychology. (New York, 1902.)
  • Lange. Apperception. (Boston, 1803.)
  • McMurry. General Method. (New York, 1908.)
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