The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics

By Irving J. Lee | Go to book overview

Fictions, Hypotheses and Dogmas1

JEROME FRANK

Hans Vaihinger suggests a new and fruitful classification which divides all ideas, theories, into "fictions," "hypotheses," and "dogmas." A dogma is an idea unhesitatingly accepted as a correct statement about reality; as Vaihinger uses the word, it means what we often call a "fact" or a "law." Where some doubt as to the "objective reality of an idea exists, it is an hypothesis--a statement of what is perhaps "objectively" correct. Where, however, we use an idea as a means to aid thinking, but with no belief that it does or will ever correspond to reality, then it is a fiction. A dogma says, "This is so." An hypothesis says, "Perhaps this is so, let's see if it is." A fiction says, "This isn't so, but let's pretend that it is, let's act 'as if' it were so." An hypothesis, says Vaihinger, "hopes" to coincide with reality; it demands verification; it is an assumption" which, it is expected, will probably turn out to correspond to the truth. A fiction "is not concerned to assert a real fact but to assert something by means of which reality can be dealt with and grasped"; it is a statement of an erroneous fact with knowledge of its falsity. It is a "useful lie" recognized as such; if put forward in an effort to deceive, it is a "lie" in the usual sense; and if men generally believe it, it is a dogma or "myth." Now, says Vaihinger, the history of thought shows, curiously, that a given idea may be first expressed as a fiction, subsequently become an hypothesis, and later turn into a myth, a dogma, a "law," or even a "fact"; the shift may subsequently be from dogma, myth, or law to mere fiction.

Vaihinger has been criticized because, at times, he seems to suggest that all thought is "fictional," that thinking consists entirely of "useful lies." Yet his position, while an exaggeration, nevertheless can be taken as a helpful restatement of the attitude of undogmatic scientists towards scientific theories and "self-evident" truths. For, as those scientists

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1
From Fate and Freedom, pp. 184-187. Copyright, 1945, by Jerome N. Frank. Reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

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The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - The Recognition of Words as Such 1
  • Everything Has a Name 3
  • The Phenomenon of Language 6
  • Symbolic Pointing 7
  • The Mobile Word 15
  • Two Types of Names 19
  • Precision in Natural Language1 23
  • Part II - The Functions and Purposes Of Language in Use 29
  • The Three Forms of Discourse 31
  • The Condition of Clarity1 41
  • The Functions of Poetry 48
  • Behavior That Language Makes Possible 57
  • Talking About the Weather 59
  • Part III - Matters of Fact, Fiction and Opinion 63
  • Matters of Fact and Opinion - George Cornewall Lewis 65
  • The Semantic Conception of Truth - Alfred Tarski 67
  • Every Man His Own Historian 71
  • Literature as Revelation 78
  • Knowledge by Definition 82
  • On the Logic of Fiction 92
  • Fictions, Hypotheses and Dogmas 101
  • Part IV - Questions and Answers 109
  • The Nature of a Question 111
  • "Footless" Questions 121
  • The How and the Why of Things 129
  • Part V - The Ambiguous Word 135
  • On Definition 137
  • Nominal and Real Definitions 139
  • How is "Exactness" Possible? 141
  • Definitions and Reality 149
  • Interpretation 160
  • Ambiguity and Its Avoidance 164
  • Part VI - The Recognition of Differences 173
  • Of General Terms 175
  • Realists and Nominalists 178
  • On Knowing the Difference 180
  • The Passion for Parsimony 184
  • The Individuality of Things and The Generality of Language 188
  • Part VII - Verbal Fascination 205
  • The Attributive Attitude - Ellis Freeman 207
  • Riefication 214
  • The Context of Associations 224
  • Part VIII - The Structural Patterns and Implications Of a Language 245
  • Perception and Language 247
  • An Experimental Study of the Effect Of Language on the Reproduction Of Visually Perceived Form 251
  • Language and Thought 262
  • Languages and Logic 273
  • Part IX - Escape from Verbalism 287
  • Sensation and Cerebration 289
  • An Address on Words and Things 295
  • Experience with Languages 305
  • Two Kinds of Knowledge1 309
  • Preparation of the Child for Science 310
  • Significs 336
  • Index 359
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