Mind at the Crossways

Mind at the Crossways

Mind at the Crossways

Mind at the Crossways

Excerpt

It may be said that language has been devised in order that we may ask pertinent questions and may give answers which, even if tentative, are not incomprehensible. We have, however, to realise that new modes of thought often entail some change in the usage of the salient words in which both questions and answers must be couched. Hence as the years go by old words acquire new meaning, sometimes more extended, sometimes more restricted, and reciprocally new meaning is conveyed through old words. Definitions in yesterday's dictionary no longer bind us to-day.

Take the word "agent." A dictionary may state that an agent is a person or thing that acts or exerts power. Since this may include a motor car as an agent, I ask leave to substitute in what follows this definition: An agent is a person who acts with purpose. That leaves unaffected the secondary meaning: One who is authorised or delegated to transact business for another.

To illustrate my point of view let me go back to an early stage in reflective development. A boy who is learning the use of language is one who asks questions and hopes to get answers that he can understand. The word "agent" may not yet fall within his scanty vocabulary. But his reiterated question is: Who made it? or Who did it? He expects an answer in terms of someone, not only of something. His interest centres in the driver of the car. He watches him do this or that; and he wants to know why he does it. So he asks the further question: What for?

When I use the word "agent" in this book I mean always some person, or some being to whom I assign the status of a person. And to that person I impute some motive for his . . .

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