Taking this view of illusion, we may provisionally define it as any species of error which counterfeits the form of immediate, self-evident, or intuitive knowledge, whether as sense-perception or otherwise. Whenever a thing is believed on its own evidence and not as a conclusion from something else, and the thing then believed is demonstrably wrong, there is an illusion. The term would thus appear to cover all varieties of error which are not recognized as fallacies or false inferences. If for the present we roughly divide all our knowledge into the two regions of primary or intuitive, and secondary or inferential knowledge, we see that illusion is false or spurious knowledge of the first kind, fallacy false or spurious knowledge of the second kind. At the same time, it is to be remembered that this division is only a very rough one. As will appear in the course of our investigation, the same error may be called either a fallacy or an illusion, according as we are thinking of its original mode of production or of the form which it finally assumes; and a thorough-going psychological analysis of error may discover that these two classes are at bottom very similar.
As we proceed, we shall, I think, find an ample justification for our definition. We shall see that such illusions as those respecting ourselves or the past arise by very much the same mental processes as those which are discoverable in the production of illusory perceptions; and thus a complete psychology of the one class will, at the same time, contain the explanation of the other classes.
The reader is doubtless aware that philosophers have still further extended the idea of illusion by seeking to bring under it beliefs which the common sense of mankind has always adopted and never begun to suspect. Thus, according to the idealist, the popular notion (the existence of which Berkeley, however, denied) of an external world, existing in itself and in no wise dependent on our perceptions of it, resolves itself into a grand illusion of sense.
At the close of our study of illusions we shall return to this point. We shall there inquire into the connection between those illusions which are popularly recognized as such, and those which first come into view or appear to do so (for we must not yet assume that there are such) after a certain kind of philosophic reflection. And some attempt will be made to determine roughly how far the process of dissolving these substantial beliefs of mankind into airy phantasms may venture to go.
For the present, however, these so-called illusions in philosophy will be ignored. It is plain that illusion exists only in antithesis to real knowledge. This last must be assumed as something above all question. And a rough and provisional, though for our purpose sufficiently accurate, demarcation of the regions of the real and the illusory seems to coincide with the line which common sense draws between what all