Saturday, June 10, 2006

Definition as Part of Discovery

I thought this passage from Whewell was interesting in light of my recent post on proving before defining:

The business of Definition is part of the business of discovery. When it has been clearly seen what ought to be our Definition, it must be pretty well known what truth we have to state. The Definition, as well as the discovery, supposes a decided step in our knowledge to have been made. The writers on Logic in the middle ages, made Definition the last stage in the progress of knowledge; and in this arrangment at least, the history of science, and the philosophy derived from the history, confirm their speculative views. If the Explication of our Conceptions ever assume the form of a Definition, this will come to pass, not as an arbitrary process, or as a matter of course, but as the mark of one those happy efforts of sagacity to which all the sucessive advances of our knowledge are owing.

William Whewell, Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, vol. 2 (John W. Parker: 1847) p. 16.

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