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to the word the importance that belongs to the idea. We think as though to give a thing a name were to know it; as if we had grasped a conception, because we know the sound of the word by which others denote it. The vocabulary of every man is full of words that he uses glibly and unquestioningly, but into whose meaning he has never inquired, whose ambiguities he has never taken the trouble to resolve.
We justly honour men who have laboured and struggled and made sacrifices for an idea or a principle, even though it appear erroneous to us. But are there not indications that many have fought, not for an idea, but for a word—not for a principle, but for a phrase? And what is heroic devotion to a principle, however mistaken, is surely intellectual slavery, when rendered to an uncomprehended form of speech.
And we may well fear that now the watchwords and formulas of parties and schools are nothing but watchwords and formulas to many who waste their enthusiasm on them ; for while they seize on the phrase, they have failed to comprehend the conception that the prophet who first used it meant it to represent. If this be true, surely there is nothing more melancholy in the history of human
Nor is any duty clearer to the lover of truth than to inquire within himself diligently and patiently, whether he really knows the meaning of the most familiar terms he uses, and the propositions that serve as the axioms and principles of his moral reasoning.
So thoroughly inherent is this bane in language, that the very attempts of great teachers to improve it have often led to fresh developments of the evil. Philosophy enriches language with a scientific terminology, and then in its turn the terminology of the preceding generation governs and limits the philosophy of a less original age. The worthless mysticism of the Neo-Platonists was based on the corruption of the words, rather than the thoughts, of Plato. The Gnostics supported their worse than useless theories by crooked interpretations of the language of St. Paul. And throughout the history of the Christian Church no doctrine has been so corrupt, no heresy so scandalous or so far removed from the spirit of Christian truth, but its supporters have believed it to be firmly founded on the words of Scripture. So we are bound to confess that even Christ Himself could not free language from the taint.
Even the divine truths He set forth could not but suffer by the imperfect human medium through which they were conveyed.
Even really great men have contended over differences that were mere accidents of language; hence so many of the controversies in which philosophers of old time spent their powers possess only a historical interest for us. Not that we have solved the questions, but we have discovered that the differences of words represented no real difference in fact or principle.
To return to another branch of the subject : the ambiguity of terms which we have noticed is a necessary imperfection of language, is a fruitful source of error, not merely on the misapprehension of ideas communicated by others, but in the mental processes that are carried on in a man's own mind, even without audible speech. Of course we can think without words, but in fact we do habitually use words in thinking; and so the imperfections of our language impress themselves on our inmost thoughts. Hence if a thinker has not investigated every ill-defined term and tracked out its hidden ambiguities, he is in perpetual danger of using it in one sense in the premises and in another in the conclusion of the reasoning processes that seem to him most clear and accurate. How easily men fall into such errors we can see at once, from the case of an equivocal term in another language which our own tongue happens to distinguish. "Thus we find that the clearest thinkers do not escape this danger. Because the same Greek term was used to represent two different ideas, the pages of Plato himself contain an argument in ethics that has no more logical validity than a conundrum or a pun, and the fallacy of which discloses itself directly, if we try to translate the passage into our own language. Yet even Plato's acute pupil and critic Aristotle seems to have failed to resolve the ambiguity and detect the fallacy. If even the greatest thinkers err so, terrible indeed must be the confusion which the clumsiness of language produces in the minds of ordinary men. Who can tell how many intellectual sins-unconscious sins no doubt, yet possibly avoidable to some extent by a little more carefulness—are committed every day by average thinkers ?
We are constantly using terms the definition of which is inexact and unsettled, with as much confidence as if their interpretation admitted no doubt. We give our assent to propositions on the most momentous subjects, forgetting that the simplest of them must contain some element of vagueness, and so if carelessly used be liable to misconception. To take an important example: there is no term that has been defined in so many different ways as the term soul. There is therefore none which we have less right to use without careful preliminary deliberation. Yet to propositions about the soul, of which it is impossible to fix the meaning without diligent inquiry and qualification, one is expected to yield an unhesitating assent. Doubtless there are propositions on transcendental subjects which we must accept without understanding them.
But we may at least avoid the error of thinking we know, where we only ignorantly acquiesce.
Mill has pointed out the ambiguities of the term nature and cognate words. He has shown how the imperfections of speech have made such terms “one of the most copious sources of false taste, false philosophy, false morality, and bad law." His criticism would apply to many other words, especially those borrowed by the vernacular from the vocabulary of the scientific thinker. Political economists are ever complaining of the abuse of the terms of their science. Too often the incorrect use of a scientific term gives the appearance of scientific accuracy to a worthless argument. In ordinary political discussions many terms, either in themselves too vague to be of any real value, or insufficiently understood by those who employ themsuch as class, expedient, patriotic, un-English, constitutional, liberty, conscience, balance of power, and a host of others—are bandied about with reckless confidence; and so public opinion is formed rather by the words themselves, than by any great ideas that may underlie them.
It was from such errors that Socrates first tried to free men. He perpetually went about among the people of his day-the self-satisfied sophists, with their neatly-expressed theories and rounded aphorisms; the respectable citizens, with their hoard of proverbial philosophy and time-honoured opinions; and, by his searching crossexamination, compelled them reluctantly to acknowledge that they did not really know what they meant by the words and phrases that were most familiar to their lips—words that they had daily used without misgiving till the irresistible elenchus was brought to bear upon them. He was content if he could convince them of their error, even if he left them still in doubt. He had at least led them to take the first step to true wisdom- -a step surely worth taking even if it be the only one possible : he had administered the numbing torpedo shock that brought consciousness of ignorance in place of false conceit of knowledge : he had aroused the conviction of sin that must precede intellectual regeneration.
Such faults of language we should not overlook, even when we contemplate the immeasurable services it has rendered to mankind. It is to this unique power of communicating thought with some approach to accuracy, that man owes his immense elevation over the rest of creation, and has been enabled to take the vast strides he has made towards knowledge. Without speech his intellectual predominance would still remain an unrealised potentiality. By this power wise men through successive generations have handed down to posterity the accumulated inheritance of knowledge and wisdom they received from their predecessors, enriched with the accessions of their own genius. Yet while admiring the splendid capabilities of this instrument, we should not forget its imperfections, and the dangers inevitably arising from its use. For while language will be the willing and helpful servant of those who are strenuous to secure their mastery over it, it is too sure to become the intellectual despot of those who idly submit to its influences. Without its aid we can know nothing, yet none the less it is ready at every turn to throw stumbling-blocks in the way of the seeker after truth.
LEAVES FROM A TOURIST'S NOTE-BOOK.
BY JOHN RYLEY ROBINSON, LL.D.
NO. IV. VENICE.
EAVING Padua, we proceeded by way of Mestre, and had not
long left the latter place when we caught our first view of Venice. We were delighted with the fairy picture of islands, towers, and palaces rising from out the sea. We crossed what we were told was the longest bridge in the world—above two miles in length, two hundred and twenty-two arches on piles innumerable, built at a cost of £187,000—and entered the city. We at once engaged a gondola, and were specially fortunate in securing the services of a most intelligent gondolier. So much pleased were we with him, and so useful did we find him, that we employed none other during our stay in Venice. We were unusually favoured. The sky was of cloudless brightness; a gondolier of more than ordinary intelligence, with a knowledge of every palace and public building which came into view, and moreover a smattering of English, which, with our limited knowledge of Italian and French, helped us to get on very well; the gentle motion of our gondola, and its owner's marvellous command over it-managing, with a single oar, to take us among other boats, and round the bends of the canals, with a rapidity and ease astonishing to see, often within a couple of inches of the walling on one side, or a passing gondola on the other, yet never grazing either; and, as we had early expressed our surprise thereat, it seemed as if he took pleasure in showing us his skill. And how very rapidly the palaces succeeded each other on the banks of the Canalazzo. Now it was the Palazzo Contarini della Scrigni, built by Scamozzi, that attracted our attention; then a magnificent edifice called the Palazzo Rezzonica, followed by Palazzo Giustiniani; Palazzo Malipiera, built in the seventeenth century; Palazzo Grassi; Palazzo Guistiniani (Pension Anglais), erected in the fifteenth century; then the Palazzo Foscari, where Francis and Henry of France were entertained as guests of the Republic, with the King and Queen of Poland, the Emperor Frederic, Cassimir of Hungary, and a host of others. Then our guide pointed out the Palazzo Balbi, from the windows of which Napoleon and Josephine frequently witnessed aquatic sports. Above half a century has passed away since his eventful career terminated. His mighty empire melted from his grasp whilst yet in comparative youth; yet these waters are as sparkling in the brilliant sunshine, the buildings around us are still as magnificent, and the sky as bright, as when all the nations around lay prostrate at the feet of the mighty conqueror. Alas ! how transitory are human pleasures and human greatness. What is that ancient building in front of which we rest the oar and pause awhile? The Palazzo Pisani, erected in the fourteenth century. It was from one of the rooms of this palace that but a few years ago a single painting was sold for £12,000 sterling : it is now in England. Close at hand we see the Palazzo Grimani and Palazzo