Outline of the Laws of Thought

From time to time I save things as drafts in the blog, things I’ve come across hither or thither and mean to come back to them.  Sometimes I come back and dust them off a bit and post them.  Other times I read through them again and delete because I am not longer interested in the topic, or I ended up addressing it a different way in another post.  And really, embarrassingly often, I come back to it and think, “What?  What was I thinking?”

This is one of those what was I thinking.  It’s largely a quote or excerpt from something.  But I don’t know what and I can’t find it again.  My current commentary follows each quoted section and if anybody knows what I was quoting, I’m quite curious about it.

“Hitherto we have assumed that the adequate object matter of Logic is thought, rather than language; that having explained the laws of thinking, it is not bound to examine under what conditions these manifest themselves in speech.”

So, previously, a class of persons (‘we’) focu tsed on ideas and the ‘laws of thinking,’ without paying attention to the words and language necessary to convey the laws of thinking or to discuss, or even thinking about, logic at all.

“But logicians do not invariably follow this course; those who regard it as an act of reasoning, seeing that reasoning is not conducted but by languages, and that many of the chief impediments to the correct performance of the processes, lie in the defects of expression, make speech and not thought the matter with which they are primarily concerned. the name of Logic itself would not be inconsistent with this view; since ‘logos’ may mean the outer or the inner word, the ‘sermo internus or the sermo extermus, the articulate expression of thought itself. Here then the relation between thought and language must be ascertained.”

But this was silly, because language both hinders and helps the process of logic and the practice of talking about it, explaining it, engaging in it.  Also logos is the root of logic and it means word, so we really need to determine the connection between thought and language.  Words, language, are not merely the delivery system for logic, reason, ideas- they are themselves part of that process.

“Language, in its most general acceptation, might be described as a mode of expressing our thoughts by means of motions of the organs of the body; it would thus include spoken words, cries, and involuntary gestures that indicate the feelings, even painting and sculpture, together with those contrivances which replace speech in situations where it cannot be employed, – the telegraph, the trumpet-call, the emblem, the hieroglyphic.* For the present, however, we may limit it to its most obvious signification; it is a system of articulate words adopted by convention to represent outwardly the internal proofs of thinking.”

We communicate in various ways- with words, body language, sounds, even art, and… what? If the telegraph is a contrivance which *replaces* speech, why isn’t a book?  At any rate, we’re not going to talk about those things, we’re going to talk about language  using a shared, mutually agreed on vocabulary to represent or communicate to others the evidence of our thinking.
” But language, besides being an interpreter of thought, exercises a powerful influence on the thinking process. ”

Language doesn’t just work for conveying our thoughts, it influences our thinking as well.  Ah.  I think this is my favourite part, Much of the above strikes me as ‘well, d’oh.’ Or even, “Huh?”

“The logician is bound to notice it in four functions: – (i) as it enables him to analyze complex impressions, (ii) as it preserves or records the result of the analysis for future use, (iii) as it abbreviates thinking by enabling him to substitute a short word for a highly complex action, and the like, and (iv) as it is a means of communication.”

I found the source after checking a dozen previous sentences- the first point above led me to archive.org and An outline of the necessary laws of thought : a treatise on pure and applied logic
by William Thomson, published in the mid 1800s.
Thomson was a bishop in the church of England, a prolific writer, and father of quite a number of children.

That began to sound familiar, so I looked it up further and realize the reason I was interested is because Miss Mason strongly recommended that parents should read at least two chapters of this book, specifically the chapters on language and conceptions. As I said here, I am astonished at the high opinion Miss Mason had of parents and their capabilities. It’s also the source of the anecdote she tells about the tracker and the lion in volume 2.

Here’s more from Thomson chapter that Miss Mason thought all parents should read:
“The language of words never records an impression, whether internal or external, without some analysis of it into its parts. Besides the objects which we observe, and their qualities, we can reproduce in speech the mutual relations of objects, the relations of our thoughts to objects, and, lastly, the order and relation of our thoughts themselves.

Now as the mind does not receive impressions passively, but reflects upon them, decomposes them into their elements, and compares them with notions already stored up, language, the close-fitting dress of our thoughts, is always analytical, — it does not body forth a mere picture of facts, but displays the working of the mind upon the facts submitted to it, with the order in which it regards them.
This analysis has place even in the simplest descriptions. ” The bird is flying ” is an account of one object which we behold, and in its present condition. But the object was single, whilst our description calls up two notions — ” bird ” and ” flying,” — and it is plain that this difference is the result of an analysis which the mind has performed, separating, in thought, the bird from its present action of flying, and then mentioning them together.

In painting and sculpture, on the contrary, we have languages that do not employ analysis; and a picture or statue would be called by some a synthetic or compositive, sign, from the notion that in it all the elements and qualities of the object which would have been mentioned separately in a description, are thrown together and represented at one view.

The statue of the Dying Gladiator gives at one glance all the principal qualities so finely analyzed by the following description, which, however, includes also the poet’s reflections upon and inferences from the qualities he observes; the objective impression is described, but with a development of the subjective condition into which it throws the narrator.

” I see before me the Gladiator lie:
He leans upon his hand — his manly brow
Consents to death but conquers agony,
And his drooped head sinks gradually low —
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
The arena swims around him— he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won.
” He heard it, but he heeded not — his eyes
Were with his heart, and that was far away;
He recked not of the life he lost, nor prize,
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay:
There were his young barbarians all at play.
There was their Dacian mother — he, their sire.
Butchered to make a Roman holiday!
All this rushed with his blood — shall he expire
And unavenged? Arise! ye Goths, and glut your ire! ” ~Byron.

Here the analysis of the impression is carried to its farthest; and in the second stanza the object becomes quite subordinate to the inferences and fancies of the subject. But it is all the more striking as an illustration of the principle, that language presents to us the analysis, as painting and sculpture the imitations, of a sensible impression.

§ 21. But different languages are more or less analytic, and the same language becomes more analytic as literature and refinement increase. This property indicates, as we should expect, corresponding changes in the state of thinking in different nations or in the same at different times. With increasing cultivation, finer distinctions are seen between the relations of objects, and corresponding expressions are sought for, to denote them; because ambiguity and confusion would result from allowing the same word or form of words to continue as the expression of two different things or facts.

Many ambiguous phrases, however, are suffered to remain, although the inconvenience of them must have been perceived from the first; thus in Greek, the words idovai tekvv bear the two opposite senses of “pleasures which children feel” and “pleasures derived from one’s children,” and in Latin metus hostium may mean either “the fear we have of our enemies,” or “the fear our enemies have of us.”
In the Bible, words as important as “the love of God” express the pious regard we have towards our Father or his benignity towards his creatures. Prepositions are our interpreters to clear away this confusion. Again, where the powers of a particular case of a substantive were once sufficient to denote the person whose action the verb described, whilst the pronoun was only used as an additional mark when great emphasis was required, more modern habits, exalting the notion of personality, always assign a distinct word to the person.

Thus the Greeks were able to express ” I have a pain in my head ” by three words, ‘klyu ttjv Keav: they needed no word to distinguish the person, and merely qualified the verb by ” the head,” to express the seat of the pain. Our expression analyzes the verb into three distinct notions, ” I,” the person, ” pain,” the thing I suffer, and ” have,” the relation; and shows more explicitly by the preposition ” in ” that the head is the seat of the pain. As a language acquires more of this character, and multiplies pro-nouns, prepositions, and conjunctions, it begins to forget its inflections, because it can express all their powers by circumlocution with these new expletives.
As syntax becomes more complex, inflections grow simpler. Our own language has almost lost the terminations of cases and persons; and French writers attribute part of the clearness of their own tongue to the same cause, and to the consequent necessity of determining the relations of words clearly by proper connectives. The Greek has preserved its inflections, although it has also acquired a full and complicated syntax; which is owing probably to the fact that the Homeric poems moulded and set the former before the necessity for the latter had arisen. Perhaps the Greek of Homer shows more than its original complexity of syntax, from the touch of later editorial hands, like that of Peisistratus.

Here then is a further use of language, and a proof of its intimate adaptation to thought As the distinctions between the relations of objects grow more numerous, involved, and subtle, it becomes more analytic, to be able to express them; and, inversely, those who are born to be the heirs of a highly analytic language must needs learn to think up to it, to observe and distinguish all the relations of objects, for which they find the expressions already formed, so that we have an instructor for the thinking powers in that speech which we are apt to deem no more than their handmaid and minister.

§ 22. The superiority of spoken language over the language of painting and sculpture, has been the fre- quent subject of remark. One reason for it is that whilst the artist can only effect with certainty an impression upon the eye, and must depend upon the sensibility, often imperfect, of the spectators for the reproduction in their minds of the emotions that sug- gested his subject and guided his hand, the poet by his description can himself call up the appropriate feelings. Upon the forehead of the Dying Gladiator what chisel could inscribe plainly that which the poet bids us read there? — “his manly brow Consents to death but conquers agony.” In the picture of the Crucifixion at Antwerp, by Rubens, one of the most powerful specimens of ” the brute-force of his genius,” the action and purpose of more than one of the figures have been variously understood, and therefore by one party or another misunderstood. It is a disputed question whether the mounted soldier is looking with reverence at the chief Figure, or with cruel calmness at the agonies of one of the thieves; and whether the soldier on the ladder has broken the legs of the thief, or is pre- paring to do so. Art finds few to understand its sweet inarticulate language; but the plainer and fuller utterances of poetry cannot be misunderstood.

Another reason of its superiority may be found in the greater power of words to suggest associations that knit up our present impression with others gained from the past, or, better still, bring our emotions and moral feelings into connection with our present impression. What painting of a house can ever convey so much to a feeling heart as the short description — ” This is the home in which I spent my childhood? ” The sculptor raises a tomb, and covers it with the ensigns of piety and death, but his art tells us less after all than the brief inscription, ” He died for his country,” or, “he looks for immortality.” The painter cannot dip his pencil in the hues of the spirit; the sculptor’s drill and chisel cannot fix in matter the shapes which the mind assumes. The artist’s thought remains unexplained, or depends upon the casual advent of congenial interpreters. In the comments upon our famous pictures and statues we have so many acknowledgments of the inferiority of the language of art to that of speech. Art would need no commentators, if it were thoroughly competent to tell its own story.”

So I’m curious- if you’ve read this much (and God bless you for it), what do you get that? What parenting help do you find here? ARe you eager to read the rest of the chapter?

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