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4. Whether it is concrete or abstract.
5. Whether it is positive, or negative, or privative.
6. Whether it is relative or absolute.

It will be fully pointed out in the next lesson that most terms have more than one meaning; and as the one meaning may be general and the other singular, the one concrete and the other abstract, and so on, it is absolutely necessary that the reader should first of all choose one precise meaning of the term which he is examining. And in answering the questions proposed it is desirable he should specify the way in which he regards it. Taking the word sovereign, we may first select the meaning in which it is equivalent to monarch; this is a general term in so far as it is the name of any one of many monarchs living or dead, but it is singular as regards the inhabitants of any one country. It is clearly categorematic, concrete, and positive, and obviously relative to the subjects of the monarch. Read Mr Mill's chapter on Names, System of Logic

Book 1. chap. 2.



THERE is no part of Logic which is more really useful than that which treats of the ambiguity of terms, that is of the uncertainty and variety of meanings belonging to words. Nothing indeed can be of more importance to the attainment of correct habits of thinking and reasoning than a thorough acquaintance with the great imperfections of language. Comparatively few terms have one

single clear meaning and one meaning only, and whenever two or more meanings are unconsciously confused together, we inevitably commit a logical fallacy. If, for instance, a person should argue that “punishment is an evil,” and according to the principles of morality “no evil is to be allowed even with the purpose of doing good,” we might not at the first moment see how to avoid the conclusion that “no punishments should be allowed,” because they cause evil. A little reflection will show that the word evil is here used in two totally different senses; in the first case it means physical evil or pain; in the second moral evil, and because moral evil is never to be committed, it does not follow that physical evils are never to be inflicted, for they are often the very means of preventing moral evil.

Another very plausible fallacy which has often been put forth in various forms is as follows: “A thoroughly benevolent man cannot possibly refuse to relieve the poor, and since a person who cannot possibly act otherwise than he does can claim no merit for his actions, it follows that a thoroughly benevolent man can claim no merit for his actions." According to this kind of argument a man would have less merit in proportion as he was more virtuous, so as to feel greater and greater difficulty in acting wrongly. That the conclusion is fallacious every one must feel certain, but the cause of the fallacy can only be detected by observing that the words cannot possibly have a double meaning, in the first case referring to the influence of moral motives or good character, and in the second to circumstances entirely beyond a person's control; as, for instance, the compulsion of the laws, the want of money, the absence of personal liberty. The more a person studies the subtle variations in the meaning of common words, the more he will be convinced of the dangerous nature of the tools he has to use in all


communications and arguments.

Hence I must ask much attention to the contents of this Lesson.

Terms are said to be univocal when they can suggest to the mind no more than one single definite meaning. They are called equivocal or ambiguous when they have two or more different meanings. It will be observed, however, that a term is not equivocal because it can be applied to many objects when it is applied in sense or meaning to those different objects. Thus cathedral is the name of St Paul's, the York Minster, and the principal churches of Salisbury, Wells, Lincoln and a number of other cities, but it is not ambiguous, because all these are only various instances of the same meaning ; they are all objects of the same description or kind. The word cathedral is probably univocal or of one logical meaning only. The word church, on the other hand, is equivocal, because it sometimes means the building in which religious worship is performed, sometimes the body of persons who belong to one sect or persuasion, and assemble in churches. Sometimes also the church means the body of the clergy as distinguished from the laity; hence there is a clear difference in the sense or meaning with which the word is used at different times.

Instances of univocal terms are to be found chiefly in technical and scientific language. Steam-engine, gasometer, railway train, permanent way, and multitudes of such technical names denoting distinct common objects, are sufficiently univocal. In common life the names penny, mantelpiece, teacup, bread and butter, have a sufficiently definite and single meaning. So also in chemistry, oxygen, hydrogen, sulphate of copper, alumina, lithia, and thousands of other terms, are very precise, the words themselves having often been invented in very recent years, and the meanings exactly fixed and maintained invariable. Every science has or ought to have a series


of terms equally precise and certain in meaning. (See Lesson XXXIII.) The names of individual objects, buildings, events, or persons, again, are usually quite certain and clear, as in Julius Cæsar, William the Conqueror, the first Napoleon, Saint Peter's, Westminster Abbey, the Great Exhibition of 1851, and so on.

But however numerous may be the univocal terms which can be adduced, still the equivocal terms are astonishingly common. They include most of the nouns and adjectives which are in habitual use in the ordinary intercourse of life. They are called ambiguous from the Latin verb ambigo, to wander, hesitate, or be in doubt; or again homonymous, from the Greek óuós, like, and övoua,

Whenever a person uses equivocal words in such a way as to confuse the different meanings and fall into error, he may be said to commit the fallacy of Equivocation in the logical meaning of the name (see Lesson xx.) ; but in common life a person is not said to equivocate unless he uses words consciously and deceitfully in a manner calculated to produce a confusion of the true and apparent meanings.

I will now describe the various kinds and causes of ambiguity of words, following to some extent the interesting chapters on the subject in Dr Watts' Logic. In the first place we may distinguish three classes of equivocal words, according as they are

1. Equivocal in sound only.
2. Equivocal in spelling only.

3. Equivocal both in sound and spelling. The first two classes are comparatively speaking of very slight importance, and do not often give rise to serious error. They produce what we should call trivial mistakes. Thus we may confuse, when spoken only, the words right, wright and rite (ceremony); also the words rein, rain and reign, might and mite, &c. Owing partly



to defects of pronunciation mistakes are not unknown between the four words air, hair, hare and heir.

Words equivocal in spelling but not in sound are such as tear (a drop), and tear pronounced tare, meaning a rent in cloth ; or lead, the metal, and lead, as in following the lead of another person. As little more than momentary misapprehension, however, can arise from such. resemblance of words, we shall pass at once to the class of words equivocal both in sound and spelling. These I shall separate into three groups according as the equivocation arises

From the accidental confusion of different words.
From the transfer of meaning by the association of

3. From the logical transfer of meaning to analogous


Under the first class we place a certain number of curious but hardly important cases in which ambiguity has arisen from the confusion of entirely different . words, derived from different languages or from different roots of the same language, but which have in the course of time assumed the same sound and spelling. Thus the word mean denotes either that which is medium or mediocre, from the French moyen and the Latin medius, connected with the Anglo-Saxon mid, or middle; or it denotes what is low-minded and base, being then derived from the Anglo-Saxon Gemæne, which means

“ that belonging to the mone or many,” whatever in short is vulgar. The verb to mean can hardly be confused with the adjective mean, but it comes from a third distinct root, probably connected with the Sanscrit verb, to think. As other instances of this casual ambiguity, I

may mention rent, a money payment, from the French rente (rendre, to return), or a tear, the result of the action of


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