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delay. A ' particular' proposition in logic is one that tells about some undesignated part (cf. 'particle ') of a class; but the student who reads his book in a hurry assumes that it is one that tells about some individual in particular. When student misinterprets statements in this way he is almost certain to misconceive the meaning of the whole paragraph or chapter in which they occur, or to gain no definite idea from it whatever. This may be partly the fault of the author, for if a book is intended as an elementary text-book, it is his business not to use words in these new senses without saying something about it. But it is also largely the fault of the student himself. He knows that the author is trying to convey some definite meaning; and if he took the trouble to inquire what that meaning really is, instead of being satisfied with his work when he has read the words or learned to jumble some of them together, he would see very easily that some of these words must be used in a strange sense.
The same trouble occurs also very frequently in history and literature. If a book was written more than a century ago, many of its word, will have been used in a sense with which we are no longer familiar; and here again unless we are very careful we are likely to misunderstand the author's meaning completely. What, for example, is the meaning of the italicised words in the following passages from the Bible ? “I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me” (Ps. 22:17). “I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word” (Ps. 119:147). “But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee” (Ps. 88: 13). “That I may show all thy praises within the ports of the daughter of Sion (Ps. 9:14, Prayer-book version). “My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil (Matt. 15:22). What also is meant by the word “let', by the word ‘meat ' in the phrase ' meat and drink ’, by ‘rod’ and staff' in Ps. 23, and by the phrase "What have I to do with thee?' What did the
Biblical writers mean by a ' prophet ', by ‘cherubim ', and by a penny' as the word is used in the story of the Prodigal Son ? What is meant in Magna Charta when it says, “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned . . . but by lawful judgment of his peers”?»*
If words do not mean anything when they are taken in a sense with which we are jamiliar, we can be sure that the author was either writing nonsense or using them in some sense with which we are not familiar. But even when they do mean something when taken in our ordinary sense, that may not be what the author meant them to mean. Hence students of historical methods say that we must not read some old writings for the purpose “ of extracting information from it without any thought of first ascertaining exactly what was in the author's mind”. If we do, we are sure to give the author's words our meaning instead of his. Therefore we must make it a rule to understand the exact meaning of what is said “ before asking what can be extracted from it for the purpose of history”,or for any other purpose. The Bible, for example, is full of the deepest truths; but most of us read it without finding them simply because the rhythm is pleasant and the words are familiar and it never occurs to us to inquire whether or not the men who wrote them meant to say anything that we have not thought already, and if they did, what it is.
This finding of the meaning, even where it seems plain enough already, is no mere perfunctory matter.
To be sure
* A student of philosophy should pay particular attention to the meaning of such words as · Idea', • Perception', •Impression ', · Reflection ', as used by Locke, by Berkeley, and by Hume; the phrase • Moral Philosophy’as used by Hume and his contemporaries ; Conceive' as used in different contexts by Herbert Spencer ; Substanz', Wirklichkeit, • Realität', · Noumenon', and · Ding an sich’as used by Kant, and the like.
+Langlois-Seignobos, - Introduction to the Study of History”, pp. 143-146 (Henry Fiolt & Co., 1898).
that we have done it aright we should have studied the language of the time and country as well as of the author himself. But the essence of the method is always the same -to find a meaning or a set of meanings for a word which will enable us to give a reasonable interpretation to every passage in which it occurs.
But we need not go to science and literature to find words misunderstood. Such misunderstandings occur continually in every-day life, and often do great mischief. There are various ways in which words
ambiguous, or get several meanings that are liable become am- to be confused. Jevons gives three of them as biguous.
follows: 1. From the accidental confusion of different words; e.g., the adjective mean may signify medium or average (from the French moyen), or despicable (from the Anglo-Saxon gemæne); light may signify the opposite of heavy (from the same root as levis) or the opposite of dark (from the same root as lux).
2. From the transfer of meaning from the original objects to others associated with them; e.g., the words house, court, church, all mean either a place or those that meet there.
3. From the transfer of meaning to analogous objects. The word sweet is applied to sounds and innumerable other things that give pleasant feelings, though none of these feel ings is similar in any other respect to sweet tastes. Similarly the foot of a mountain, the hand of a clock and the leg of a table do not bear any close resemblance to human limbs, but in certain respects they answer the same purpose.
As Whately puts it, “ leg : animal :: supporting stick : table”. It is by the same kind of analogy that recent writers speak of society as an organism.
* 66. These studies of words', said Fustel de Coulanges, ‘have a great importance in historical science. A badly interpreted term may be a source of serious error.' And, in fact, simply by a methodical application of interpretative criticism to a hundred words or so, he succeeded in revolutionizing the study of the Merovingian epoch." (Op. cit., p. 150.) The more difference there is between a word's different meanings the more likely we are to discover the ambiguity before it has done much harm. When any one What amspeaks of 'the church' we are not likely to con- are most
dangerous. fuse a building with the group of people that worships in it. The context soon shows which he means. But we very well might confuse different larger and smaller groups of worshippers. When we are told that such and such is the custom or practice of the Church ’ it might be hard to tell whether the speaker was referring to the communicants or voting members of a certain particular congregation, to the congregation as a whole, to the denomination, to a particular grotip of denominations, excluding Roman Catholics, Unitarians, or others that the speaker regarded as heretical, to the Western Church in all its branches, or to the whole body of those who call themselves Christians. Even when we are sure which of these bodies he means we may still be unable to say what proportion of the individuals in the body he intends to include when he says that such is the practice of the Church'. One person might say that something was the practice of 'the Church ’if it were done habitually by a third of the individual members; another might not say so unless it were done by two-thirds or threequarters; and still a third might deny that anything was the practice of the Church ’even if it were done habitually by all the members so long as it was not done officially by the body as an organized whole under the direction of the proper officers.
Words which are ambiguous because we cannot tell how much or how little they are intended to include are called Vague.
The word Church in the last example was vague because it did not show precisely what individuals the speaker intended to include in the group that he used it to indicate. In other cases the ambiguity is about relations: a word is used to indicate a group of them, but we cannot tell precisely what they are. This vagueness is characteristic of many of
our commonest words, and is explained by the way in which we begin to use them. In Geometry . .
we learn the definitions of the words used, point, line, parallel, etc., before we proceed to use them. But in common speech, we learn words first in their application to individual cases. Nobody ever defined good to us, or fair, or kind, or highly educated. We hear the words applied to individual objects; we utter them in the same connection; we extend them to other objects that strike us as like without knowing the precise points of likeness that the convention of common speech includes.
The more exact meaning we learn by induction from individual cases. Ugly, beautiful, good, bad—we learn the•words first as applicable to things and persons: gradually there arises a more or less definite sense of what the objects so designated have in common.
The individual's extension of the name proceeds upon what in the object has most impressed him when he caught the word; this may differ in different individuals; the usage of neighbors corrects individual eccentricities.
The more complex and intangible the object or relation which a word is used to indicate the greater is the danger of misunderstanding from its ambiguities. " Take such words as monarchy, tyranny, civil freedom, freedom of contract, landlord, gentleman, prig, culture, education, temperance, generosity. Let two men begin to discuss any proposition in which any such word is involved, and it will often be found that they take the word in different senses. If the relation expressed is complex, they have different sides or lines of it in their minds; if the meaning is an obscure quality, they are guided in their application of it by different outward signs.
“Monarchy, in its original meaning, is applied to a form of government in which the will of one man is supreme, to make laws or break them, to appoint or dismiss officers of state and justice, to determine peace or war, without control