Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Where

come

or groceries : all these are very concrete performances, and

any one can carry them on or tell about them precision is afterwards fairly well without a painstaking choice needed most.

of words. With the work of school and the first year or two of college the need for a careful examination and selection of words becomes more apparent ; and yet only a fair amount of care and skill in the use of words is required to tell about the concrete facts of history and geography, describe the processes involved in a chemical experiment, and even translate concrete statements from a foreign language, without confusion. But when we to the abstract sciences, and have to deal, not with the surface of things, but with their deeper relations, the case is very different. The political economist must make sharp distinctions between wealth, capital, and money ; the psychologist, between sensation and perception, conception and imagination, illusion, delusion, and hallucination; the student of ethics, between intention and motive, pleasure and satisfaction; the theologian, between wrong and sín, providence and predestination, substance and personality; the lawyer, between torts and crimes, corporations and partnerships, and so on. Here the things under discussion are not visible and tangible, and we cannot explain what we are talking about by merely pointing the finger. It takes much skill to talk or think about them without confusion, and the only way to be sure of doing so is to make absolutely clearcut, precise, and rigid definitions, and keep them in mind throughout the whole discussion. Such definitions are not conventional ornaments at the head of a page, they are necessities.

Although the meaning of every word, and therefore all definition, has reference to things, we do not define things.

Names are defined when we tell what they mean; Caution.

classes may be said to be defined 'when we point out their boundaries ; things may be described in sentences but never defined, for no words can make them any more definite than they are.

The question sometimes raised whether we define names or things depends, as Mill has shown, upon the fact that some definitions carry with them the assumption of the thing's existence in the real word (e.g., any definition of cow or horse), while others do not (e.g., a definition of a dragon or of a perfect man). But in each case it is the meaning of the word, not the thing, with which the definition is primarily concerned. To be sure in the former case we can prove a definition to be wrong by showing that it does not

agree with the thing; but that is because the name stands for the thing, and if the definition does not agree with the thing it cannot correctly explain the name.

In the following chapters it will be necessary to define a considerable number of logical terms. The definitions given were made with care, but doubtless some of them are incorrect. Every reader is urged to make out as well as he can from the explanations, the illustrations, and the definitions themselves exactly what each one of them was intended to express, and then go back and see whether it really did express it or not, and if not why not. This will help him to understand the book and what is far more important-it will give him good general practice in the accurate interpretation and use of words. To increase the opportunities for this practice there are among the exercises at the back of the book a large number of definitions of these same logical terms which are incorrect, and the reader is advised to go over as many of them as possible and state clearly and exactly what is wrong with each. This he will find much harder than to merely score them out and put correct ones in their places; but the practice is correspondingly better.

CHAPTER III.

THE MEANING OF STATEMENTS AS A WHOLE.

When we know the literal meaning of every individual word and phrase used by a speaker or writer there is still danger of misinterpreting him ; for often people do not intend what they say to be taken seriously and literally.

Not seriously, for he may be using some customary phrase which is hardly intended to mean anything at all. If a letter begins with the phrase "Dear Sir' and ends with

Yours faithfully' or Your obedient, humble Conventional phrases. servant', or even if the words are somewhat more effusive, we must not conclude that the writer necessarily meant any more than to be polite. He may be writing to his worst enemy.

And of course there are corresponding forms and phrases in every age and country. When a Spaniard tells you that his house is yours he does not expect you to ask for the title-deeds. Even official documents are not free from such polite phrases. The Grand Remonstrance was really an indictment containing over two hundred counts against the King himself, drawn up in 1641 when the Parliament and King were on the verge of civil war, and yet the petition with which it was presented begins as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign, Your Majesty's most humble and faithful subjects the Commons in this present Parliament assembled, do with much thankfulness and joy acknowledge the great mercy and favor of Cod in giving i your majesty a safe and peaceable return out of Scotland into

[ocr errors]

the Kingdom of England, where the pressing dangers and distempers of the State have caused us with much earnestness to desire the comfort of your royal presence, and likewise the unity and justice of your royal authority, etc.

In the United States such terms as “liberty' and 'home' have been used so much for all sorts of political purposes that they have ceased to have any very definite meaning when they are used in political and social controversies. The other day, for example, I read in a newspaper editorial that the Boers in the present war (1900) were fighting for their liberty and their homes'. Of course this is only a rhetorical way of saying that they are fighting for a certain form of political independence, but a reader who had no other sources of information might very well conclude from it that the British government really wanted to take forcible possession of private property and drag the owners off into slavery.

When a person expects something that he says to be taken seriously, he may still not expect to have it taken literally. “It is possible that he may have used

Oblique some expressions in an oblique sense ; there are several kinds of cases where this occurs : allegory and symbolism, jests and hoaxes, allusion and implication, even the ordinary figures of speech, metaphor, hyperbole, litotes. In all these cases it is necessary to pierce through the literal meaning to the real meaning, which the author has purposely disguised under an inexact form."'* The devil quoted scripture accurately enough, but took it altogether too literally when he set Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “ If thou art the Son of God cast thyself down : for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and on their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone”.

Many other examples of these oblique senses are to be

senses.

[ocr errors]

Langlois-Seignobos, p. 151. Hoaxes might have been omitted. They can hardly be said to contain a «real meaning disguised under an inexact form'.

found in the Bible. The Beast and the Scarlet Woman in the Apocalypse and the visions in the second part of Daniel are certainly not intended to be taken literally. And the books of job and Jonah? Shall they be taken in the direct sense as history or in the oblique sense as allegory ? Surely we must ask what a document really means before we can ask whether it is true or demand that any one accept the truth which it contains.

“A parallel difficulty occurs in the interpretation of illustrative monuments; the representations are not always to be taken literally. In the Behistun monument Darius tramples the vanquished chiefs under foot : this is a metaphor. Mediæval miniatures show us persons lying in bed with crowns on their heads : this is to symbolize their royal rank; the painter did not mean that they wore their crowns to sleep in." *

Exaggeration as a form of oblique speech demands special consideration. It is so common with some people that they constantly assume that what they say will be discounted, and

do not realize all that is meant by the statements Exaggeration.

of others unless they are likewise exaggerated. A picture that pleases them is the most beautiful they ever saw, a pleasant evening is the best time they ever had in their lives, and so on. A person who says what he means, no more and no less, may very well be deceived into attaching altogether too much importance to the statements of such people; and they, on the contrary, are likely to attach altogether too little to his. If he

says that some men are honest, they assume that he means to say that most are not; if he gives qualified praise they assume that he does not mean to praise at all/or that he means to damn with faint praise.

*

Langlois-Seignobos.-—"Only one general principle (for detection of oblique meanings] can be laid down, and that is, that when the literal sense is absurd, incoherent, or obscure, or in contradiction with the ideas of the author or the facts known to him, then we ought to presume an oblique sense.” (Op. cit., p. 152.)

« AnteriorContinuar »