And here the question might seem to obtrude itself, whether, in relation to such a fluctuating mass of belief as that just reviewed, in which there appears to be so little common agreement, we can correctly speak of anything as objectively determinable. If illusion and error as a whole are defined by a reference to what is commonly held true and certain, what, it may be asked, becomes of the so-called illusions of belief?
This question will have to be fully dealt with in the following chapter. Here it may be sufficient to remark that amid all this apparent deviation of belief from a common standard of truth, there is a clear tendency to a rational consensus. Thought, by disengaging what is really matter of permanent and common cognition, both in the individual and still more in the class, and fixing this quantum of common cognition in the shape of accurate definitions and universal propositions, is ever fighting against and restraining the impulses of individual imagination towards dissociation and isolation of belief. And this same process of scientific control of belief is ever tending to correct widespread traditional forms of error, and to erect a new and better standard of common cognition.
This scientific regulation of belief only fails where the experiences which underlie the conceptions are individual, variable, and subjective. Hence there is no definite common conception of the value of life and of the world, just because the estimate of this value must vary with individual circumstances, temperament, etc. All that can be looked for here in the way of a common standard or norm is a rough average estimate. And this common-sense judgment serves practically as a sufficient criterion of truth, at least in relation to such extreme one-sidedness of view as approaches the abnormal, that is to say, one of the two poles of irrational exaltation, or “joy-madness,” and abject melancholy, which, appear among the phenomena of mental disease.
The foregoing study of illusions may not improbably have had a bewildering effect on the mind of the reader. To keep the mental eye, like the bodily eye, for any time intently fixed on one object is apt to produce a feeling of giddiness. And in the case of a subject like illusion, the effect is enormously increased by the disturbing character of the object looked at. Indeed, the first feeling produced by our survey of the wide field of illusory error might be expressed pretty accurately by the despondent cry of the poet—