The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics

By Irving J. Lee | Go to book overview

An Address on Words and Things1

T. CLIFFORD ALLBUTT, M.D.

In brief discourse--for an address may be brief and yet tedious--I desire to avoid those regions of metaphysical thought by which we are landed in remote and irreducible antinomies. It is not inconsistent, I hope, with a proper mistrust of common-sense to assume for current purposes an objective world and a subjective; that we are we and that things are things outside us. In this necessary assumption our concepts are models of the external world, and are useful in so far as they coincide with what we must venture to accept as "reality." Curiously enough, the human mind is not as the "mind" of animals seems to be, a mere print off of the outer world; it has an amazing liberty, or license, of speculation, largely independent of phenomena, a faculty at any rate of conceiving the world much other than it is; in part a dreaming faculty, in part an abstracting faculty; or in other words a compact of imagination and intellect. To make for himself an idea of the big world as it is must be the work of ages, meanwhile man has for working purposes this faculty of making little provisional images of it, on the lines of which he may make corresponding periodical progresses. But, as by enlargement of needs and experience mankind is prepared for larger and larger conceptions, the surviving images become idols, and these, like other idols, have from time to time to be smashed. Some men foresee more clearly the imperative iconoclasms; others see more clearly the converse side of progress--namely, that tradition, sincerely used and understood, is better than no provisional scheme of life at all. In the less mature periods of culture man is so proud of his mind, and of the little worlds it fashions, that he attaches himself most tenaciously to one or other of these images rather than to the objective world; and furiously resents any scrapping of his subjective worlds, however inadequately they may have come to represent the stage of contemporary experience. . . . By things, then, I mean what we sup-

____________________
1
From The Lancet, October 27, 1906, pp. 1120-1125. Reprinted by permission.

-295-

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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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