Saturday, June 04, 2005

Whewell on Language

These lessons are of the highest value with regard to all employments of the human mind; for the mode in which words in common use acquire their meaning, approaches far more nearly to the Method of Type than to the method of definition. The terms which belong to our practical concerns, or to our spontaneous and unscientific speculations, are rarely capable of exact definition. They have been devised in order to express assertions, often very important, yet very vaguely conceived: and the signification of the word is extended, as far as the assertion conveyed by it can be extended, by apparent connexion or by analogy. And thus, in all the attempts of man to grasp at knowledge, we have an exemplification of that which we have stated as the rule of induction, that Definition and Proposition are mutually dependent, each adjusted so as to give value and meaning to the other: and this is so, even when both the elements of truth are defective in precision: the Definition being replaced by an incomplete description or a loose reference to a Type; and the Proposition being in a corresponding degree insecure.

William Whewell, Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (Bk XIII, ch. iii, art. 15), vol. 2, pp. 371-372.

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