S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
The eye of the understanding is like the eye of the sense; for as you may see great objects through small crannies or holes, so you may see great axioms of nature through small and contemptible instances.
He who calls in the aid of an equal understanding doubles his own; and he who profits of a superior understanding raises his powers to a level with the height of the superior understanding he unites with.
In its wider acceptation, understanding is the entire power of perceiving and conceiving, exclusive of the sensibility; the power of dealing with the impressions of sense, and composing them into wholes, according to a law of unity; and in its most comprehensive meaning it includes even simple apprehension.
Every thinker, writer, and speaker, ought to be apprised that understanding is the basis of all mental excellence, and that none of the faculties projecting beyond this basis can be either firm or graceful. A mind may have great dignity and power whose basis of judgment, to carry on the figure, is broader than the other faculties that form the superstructure.
I use the term understanding not for the noetic faculty, intellect proper, or place of principles, but for the dianoetic or discursive faculty in its widest signification, for the faculty of relations or comparisons; and thus in the meaning in which Verstand is now employed by the Germans.
The power of perception is that which we call the understanding. Perception, which we make the act of the understanding, is of three sorts: 1. The perception of ideas in our mind; 2. The perception of the signification of signs; 3. The perception of the connection or repugnancy, agreement or disagreement, that there is between any of our ideas. All these are attributed to the understanding, or perceptive power, though it be the two latter only that use allows us to say we understand.
Nobody knows what strength of parts he has till he has tried them. And of the understanding one may most truly say, that its force is greater generally than it thinks, till it is put to it. And, therefore, the proper remedy here is but to set the mind to work, and apply the thoughts vigorously to the business; for it holds in the struggles of the mind as in those of war, dum putant se vincere, vicere. A persuasion that we shall overcome any difficulties that we meet with in the sciences, seldom fails to carry us through them. Nobody knows the strength of his mind, and the force of steady and regular application, till he has tried. This is certain: he that sets out upon weak legs, will not only go farther, but grow stronger too, than one who, with a vigorous constitution and firm limbs, only sits still.
The advantages of our study are to become more and more wise. Tis (says Epicharmus) the understanding that sees and hears, tis the understanding that improves every thing, that orders every thing, and that acts, rules and reigns: all other faculties are blind, and deaf, and without soul; and certainly, we render it timorous and servile in not allowing it the liberty and privilege to do any thing of it self. Who ever askd his pupil what he thought of grammar and rhetorick, or of such and such a sentence of Cicero? Our masters dart and stick them full featherd in our memories, and there establish them like oracles, of which the very letters and syllables are of the substance of the thing. To know by rote is no knowledge, and signifies no more but only to retain what one has intrusted to his memory. That which a man rightly knows and understands he is the free disposer of at his own liberty, without any regard to the author from whence he had it, or fumbling over the leaves of his book.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxv.
I know no evil under the sun so great as the abuse of the understanding, and yet there is no one vice more common. It has diffused itself through both sexes, and all qualities of mankind, and there is hardly that person to be found who is not more concerned for the reputation of wit and sense, than of honesty and virtue. But this unhappy affectation of being wise rather than honest, witty than good natured, is the source of most of the ill-habits of life. Such false impressions are owing to the abandoned writings of men of wit, and the awkward imitation of the rest of mankind.
By understanding I mean that faculty whereby we are enabled to apprehend the objects of knowledge, generals as well as particulars, absent things as well as present, and to judge of their truth or falsehood, good or evil.