Life, Language, Law: Essays in Honor of Arthur F. Bentley

By Richard W. Taylor | Go to book overview

I Life, Language, Law

By RICHARD W. TAYLOR

ARTHUR BENTLEY'S CONTRIBUTION to science and the essays which follow are best indicated by the tide of this book and chapter; yet if the reader opens this volume expecting to find a treatise on biology, psychology, philology or law he may well be disappointed. This ambiguity involves a serious problem for inquiry which has vexed physical, biological, social and ethical sciences, namely the more precise use of language in descriptions of nature. One of the most profound students of the relation of language to scientific description is Bentley, who has spent his life focussing on this particular problem. The enigmatic tide poses the issues which this essay discusses: This chapter explains Bentley's contribution as originally developed in The Process of Government.1 It includes an appraisal of the criticisms of Bentley's approach, and the implications of his findings in the realm of values to which scientists are increasingly addressing themselves.

To sharpen the issues by way of introduction, it may be useful to remember that life is full of wonderful things like rocks, rivers, mountains, flowers, trees, stars and people and that one element which distinguishes people from other forms of life is their ability to exchange opinions in many languages about their experiences. In one sense science is the effort to make these communications ever more precise and understandable. Many people have been perplexed, however, because, while scientific enterprise seems increasingly able to divulge and communicate the secrets of the physical and biological world, the ability of man to interpret and communicate systematically behavioral and more specifically political facts and ideals becomes ever more difficult. The words which men use to describe their experiences may serve to confuse as well as to clarify. As George Sarton puts it, "each word is a treasure house of realities and illusions, of truths and enigmas"2 and often, one may add, a word may open a Pandora's box.

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