CONCEPTION (con. and capio).—The act of gathering up in a single mental
representation the qualities characteristic of one object, or of many objects.
Conception, the act: concept, the thing conceived. Conception and
commonly been taken as synonymous; "notion" is better reserved for the more generalised knowledge, expressed in general or abstract terms. Hamilton would
restrict both terms in this way (Reid's Works, p. 360, note). The German name is
Begriff, the gathering together, as if into a single grip. Every
includes, on the one hand, a variety of attributes, and on the other,
comprehends a variety of objects. The attributes included are called the
Intension, and the objects comprehended the Extension of the Concept (see these
terms). "Conception consists in a conscious act of the understanding, bringing
any given object or impression into the same class with any number of other
objects or impressions, by means of some character or characters common to them
all. Concipimus, id est, capimus hoc cum illo—we take hold of both at once, we
comprehend a thing, when we have learned to comprise it in a known class "
(Coleridge, Church and State, Prelim. Rem., p. 4).
Dr Reid begins his essay on Conception by saying:—"Conceiving,
imagining, apprehending, and understanding, having a notion of a thing,
are common words used to express that operation of the understanding
which the logicians call
simple apprehension" (Intellectual Powers, essay IV. ch. I.;
Reid, p. 360).
Hamilton says:—"The words conception,
concept, notion, should be limited to the thought of what
cannot be represented in the imagination, as the thought
suggested by a general term. The Leibnitzians call this
symbolical, in contrast to intuitive knowledge. This
is the sense in which conceptio and conceptus have
been usually and correctly employed" (Hamilton, Reid's Works,
p. 360, note; Hamilton, Logic, I. 40).
Mansel says:—"Conception must be carefully distinguished as well from mere
imagination as from a mere understanding of the meaning of words. Combinations
of attributes, logically impossible, may be expressed in language perfectly
intelligible. There is no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the phrase
bilinear figure or iron-gold. The language is intelligible, though the object is
inconceivable. On the other hand, though all conception implies imagination, yet
all imagination does not imply conception. To have a conception of a horse, I
must not only know the meaning of the several attributes constituting the
definition of the animal, but I must also be able to combine these attributes in
a representative image, that is, to individualise them. This, however, is not
mere imagination, it is imagination relatively to a concept. I not only see, as
it were, the image with the mind's eye, but I also think of it as a horse, as
possessing the attributes of a given concept, and called by the name expressive
of them. But mere imagination is
possible without any such relation... Conception, in its
lowest degree, implies at least a comparison and distinction
of this from that... The consciousness of a general notion
is thus an instance of symbolical as distinguished from intuitive knowledge"
(Proleg., Logic, 2nd ed., pp. 24-26).
"The distinction between conception and imagination is real, though it be too
often overlooked and the words taken to be synonymous. I can conceive a thing
that is impossible, but I cannot distinctly imagine a thing that is impossible.
I can conceive a proposition or a demonstration, but I cannot imagine either. I
can conceive understanding and will, virtue and vice, and other attributes of
mind, but I cannot imagine them. In like manner, I can distinctly conceive
universals, but I cannot imagine them" (Reid, Intellectual Powers, essay
Kant says:—"Intuitions and conceptions constitute the elements of all our
knowledge, so that neither conceptions without
an intuition in some way corresponding to them, nor intuition without
conceptions, can afford us a cognition. Both are either pure or empirical. They
are empirical, when sensation (which presupposes the actual presence of the
object) is contained in them; and pure, when no sensation is mixed with the
representation" (Critique of Pure Reason, Transc. Logic, introd., Meiklejohn,
p. 45; Max Müller, II. 42).