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Philosophical Terminology/Part I


By Dr. Ferdinand Tönnies.
(Translated by Mrs. B. Bosanquet.)

I. Signs.
1-11. Natural signs. 12-21. Artificial signs—language—social will. 22-28. Individual will—forms of will—signs through will. 29-39. Customs and legislation—custom in language and legislation in language. 40. Science and language. 41-47. The social will of others in language. 48-53. Compact—connexion of convention—legislation—science. 54-55. Analogy of money. 56-60. Classification of the forms of the social will—methods of communication and explanation. 61. Science as form of the social will.


The theme for the Prize Essay runs as follows:—

“The causes of the present obscurity and confusion in psychological and philosophical terminology, and the directions in which we may hope for efficient practical remedy”.

In explanation of the theme was added:—

“The donor of the prize desires that general regard be had to the classification of the various modes in which a word or other sign may be said to possess ‘meaning,’ and to corresponding differences of method in the conveyance or interpretation of ‘meaning’. The committee of award will consider the practical utility of the work submitted to them as of primary importance.”

The author of this essay has noted that both in the theme itself and in the explanatory note he is called upon to investigate anew the nature of signs in general and of words in particular. He considers himself all the more justified in this course that in former days several of the most influential philosophical authors, with the same object of removing the obscurity and confusion of terminology, considered it uniformly necessary, in the same way, to give a thorough account of the nature and origin of verbal meanings in general.

But the present author believes that by his determination and division of the concept “Will,” more especially by distinguishing the forms of a social will, he provides a better basis for such an account.

The “practical utility” of this contribution he finds,—in addition to the fact that every deep inquiry into important problems may be considered useful,—in that it aims itself at promoting the end in question, i.e. unanimity concerning concepts and concerning the expressions devised to denote them. For with a view to this end he holds it to be indispensable to create or confirm for thinkers, especially for thinkers at the beginning of their career, a clear and strong consciousness of their power over their material, of their free disposal, not only of sounds and other signs for the notification of concepts, but also of ideas for the formation of concepts. Owing to the darkness and inadequacy of the concept which is usually connected with the word “will,” this “opening of the door to choice” invariably leads to the absurd conclusion that groundless, i.e. irrational, caprice is to reign. As if in giving a man free disposal over a large property, I thereby intended to convey to him that he should waste his property or lay it out in a foolish manner. No doubt I give him the right to do so, but I give him also the right to the wisest disposal, division and determination of every part of it, and if I have any influence over his will I shall teach him to dispose of his means according to clearly conceived ends; and if I can further influence him in choosing his ends I shall teach him to aim at living as far as possible like a noble human being, and not to direct his efforts to sensuous enjoyment or idle honours. The freedom of the thinker must be understood in the same way. It must be assumed that his will is directed towards knowing reality in its nature and connexions, or it must be made clear to him that this is at least his immediate end. But if he is clear about this, then at once he has before him, instead of wild dissipation, a most difficult task: he has to dispose of the powerful means of thought in the way which is most real, most useful and most appropriate; he has to form the best concepts, i.e. the concepts which conform most perfectly to that end; and he has to coin and connect with those concepts signs, which shall be the most useful, the most convenient and the most easily understood. Not every one, not the apprentice or the journeyman, will feel himself equal to so high an art, and Goethe’s verse of the mason is peculiarly appropriate here:—

Wer soll Lehrling sein?—jedermann.
Wer soll Geselle sein?—der was kann.
Wer soll Meister sein?—der was ersann.[2]

But all alike must know that they belong to a great alliance which runs through all nations, the Republic of scholars; and to work in and for this, to be recognised in it and to find in it a following and co-operation, has always been the highest aim of the master. There at once the individual will, at the height of its enjoyment of power and of its artist’s pride, finds itself over against a more powerful social will which commands its respect, and which, forming itself in a council wherein the most distinguished masters have the greatest natural weight, and exercising its office of distinction and selection, determines with decisive sovereignty, what is to hold universally, what permanently, and what both universally and permanently.

How little progress we have made in the scientific knowledge of man—which is the essential business of all Psychology and Philosophy in the modern sense—we may estimate from the fact that we have attained to so extraordinarily little clearness and agreement concerning the objects and methods of these sciences. At any rate we shall allow, what we seldom act upon, that we must not philosophise in words alone, but that the word is a sign indifferent in itself, the value of which depends entirely upon its being appropriately formed and upon its serving to arouse the desired clear and distinct idea, or—in proper, that is abstract, thought—to recall the activity whereby we, or another, or all in common, formed a concept, and thereby to recall the content of the concept. Much less do we recognise the possibility and importance of free choice in the formation of concepts, or we tend to confuse it with the mere determining of the meaning of a word. And yet we have here the source of the mastery of the greatest problems. Conceptual matter is the iron which we, as thinkers, have to forge. Many kinds of implements must be made thereof; for digging, for ploughing, for fighting, for forging itself. Scientific thought is not a matter of chance. It must be learned by hard work and practised in persistent endurance and eager striving; its rules and methods must be known. Natural capacity is called for, as for every other art; but even the most capable will go astray if he allows himself to be led by, or encouraged in, the fancy that philosophy must be characterised by lively intuition, fancy, and poetic diction, instead of by exact and strict thought.

But we think that an honest endeavour to find a deeper basis for these branches of knowledge, even though its success should not be recognised, deserves at least to be respected as good will, and we venture to appropriate the utterance of a famous predecessor: “The consideration then,” says John Locke (Essay on Human Understanding, iv., 21, 4), “of ideas and words, as the great instruments of knowledge, makes no despicable part of their contemplation, who would take a view of human knowledge, in the whole extent of it. And perhaps, if they were distinctly weighed and duly considered, they would afford us another sort of logick and critick than what we have been hitherto acquainted with.” And with reference to the utility of the treatise, again, we may say with him (ibid., iii., 5, 16): “I shall imagine I have done some service to truth, peace and learning, if by any enlargement on this subject, I can make men reflect on their own use of language; and give them reason to suspect, that, since it is frequent for others it may also be possible for them, to have sometimes very good and approved words in their mouths and writings, with very uncertain, little or no signification. . . . And therefore, it is not unreasonable for them, to be wary herein to themselves, and not to be unwilling to have them examined by others.”


1. We call an object (A) the sign of another object (B), when the perception or recollection A has the recollection B for its regular and immediate consequence. By object we mean here everything which can enter into a perception or recollection, things therefore as well as events. Perception is all apprehension through sense; recollection includes, besides the reproduction of perceptions, the reproduction of all other sensations in so far as they have an object, or at any rate a content which can be regarded as object. Human recollection is also thought. Thought, as we understand it here, is itself for the main part recollection of signs, and by means of signs of other things which are denoted. In what follows the name “ideas” is occasionally used to include both perceptions and recollections, but may also include feelings.

Some signs are natural signs, i.e., when the sequence to which they give rise is based upon the natural relation between sign (A) and object signified (B). Natural relations of this kind are manifold. They may be derived from an ideal case in which that sequence is self-evident; from the case of the identity of A and B, of the sign and the thing signified. This identity may (1) be present in the act of knowing of the perceiving subject; then B is in no sense another thing, and the proposition that A is the sign of B, tells us nothing else than that the perception or recollection of an object has the recollection of itself as a regular and immediate consequence. When said of the recollection it means only that it has a certain duration which may be regarded as a reproduction of itself; when said of the perception it is true in so far as perception cannot take place without recollection—a judgment of which we must here assume the correctness. But this reduces the proposition to the first alternative (that it is said of the recollection); but for a perceiving or thinking subject identity is indistinguishableness. (2) The identity is not present in the act of knowing of the perceiving subject and is yet capable of becoming known through a process of thought. Such is—according to a philosophical doctrine which again must be assumed for the purpose of this conceptual division—the identity of the living organism with its (in the ordinary view “indwelling”) soul; in other words the identity of organic “external” movements with the “internal” sensations and feelings expressed therein. For perception according to its concept, sensations and feelings (in future “sensations” will include both these) are not present as objects—they are not perceivable; on the other hand all bodily movements are perceivable, yet in reality most movements of the living organism are not perceived, only a few of those movements which are also called expressive movements, are uniformly objects of perception.

But if sensations and movements are thought of as identical, then it follows that the apprehension of these (external organic) movements is really also the apprehension of sensations, though it may be quite indefinite; and to this there corresponds the fact that there is sympathy between organic beings, and that for sensuously perceptive subjects this sympathy takes place in one undivided act with sensuous perceptions (in “intuition”). In such cases—e.g., when through the cry of the young sympathy with its hunger enters into the mother animal—we can say: the cry is the sign of the feeling of hunger which is identical with it; and if we divide that undivided act into the two: perception (of the sound, i.e., of a movement) and sympathy (a sensation), then the invariable and immediate sequence is self-evident, i.e. it is explicable by the identity. But in proportion as the activities of knowledge separate themselves from the total mass of experiences, i.e., of psychical facts, it becomes obvious that expressive movements become signs of the sensations (which are fundamentally identical with them), i.e., according to our definition, the perception or recollection of such organic external movements has for invariable and immediate consequence sympathy, i.e., recollection of a sensation.

2. But from sympathy arises subsequent feeling, and ultimately the inference, which is obtained discursively and therefore the more exposed to error. The inference from the expressive movement to the “will” remains nearer to intuition in proportion as the two are unambiguously connected with each other, and that is more emphatically the case the less a specifically human “rational” will is present or developed, so that what may be objectively comprehended as sign may be forthwith actually and subjectively received as the thing itself by the recipient (person understanding), or at least as a combination of both the thing and its sign. So the despot receives and understands prostration both as the actual submission demanded and as its sign. In this and similar cases we may see how the sign arises out of the thing itself, or at any rate separates itself from it, i.e., the mere sign which is no longer also the thing itself, although its connexion with the thing itself was originally the chief element in it. The slaying of the victim is originally intended quite straightforwardly as nourishment for the departed spirits, while at the same time it is meant as a sign to them of the mindfulness, fear and piety of their relations. Gradually it becomes a mere sign of these feelings, even for those who make sacrifice; the end becomes means and the means becomes more and more independent of the end, i.e., more and more distinct from it.

3. Thus it is that, in general, organic external movement becomes for perceiving subjects the sign of sensation and feeling. And since natural thought is metaphorical, that is, translates the unperceivable into sensuous pictures, this is also expressed by calling it the external sign of the inner, as if the soul were spatially present in the body, and both therefore parts of a perceivable whole. And so this case, which is immediately appropriate to the concept, is reduced by language (which expresses natural thought) to a more remote one derived from identity.

4. The next case which can be measured by Identity is the sensuously perceivable Similarity of one thing to another, which in its perfection is called complete likeness. Thus a portrait is a sign of the original, and is more so—i.e., has the recollection of the original more immediately and invariably as consequence—in proportion as it is more similar, or approaches more nearly to complete likeness. But even the shadow is by its similarity a natural sign of an object, and in the same way the print of the foot, etc.

5. That the part is the natural sign of the whole, can be derived from the case of Identity from another point of view. For it is the nature of recollection to pass from part to whole. This rests ultimately upon the laws of custom and habituation, which again regarded from a material point of view are special cases of “the least expenditure of energy,” but arise psychologically from the impulse to self-preservation (the will to live); the more deeply and closely a perception or recollection is connected with this impulse, the more easily, rapidly and frequently is it reproduced, and the more will it be the case that perceptions of the parts of a whole will suffice to excite the idea of the whole as present. On the other hand, this completion becomes more difficult, takes therefore more the form of an inference, in proportion as the part is more trivial or less characteristic in comparison with the whole.

6. In the same way the part is natural sign of another part, especially of one adjacent in space or in time; hence every antecedent may become the sign of a consequent, and vice versa; something external the sign of something internal, etc.,

That is a sign which acts as a sign.

Here there is as much variety as in the facts of the association of ideas in general, which are admittedly reducible to a few fundamental rules. It is rightly taught—though not yet in a definite form—that even for the process of simple cognition, especially for the spatial ordering of sensations as perceptions, one becomes “sign” for the other, that act of memory becoming possible for us through the transition—unconscious inferences—from the more known to the less known which we know as orientation. But further, all the higher kinds of cognition also attach themselves as comparisons—identification, distinction, inference—to characteristics which lead to reflexion, to expectation, and to certainty. The judgment is grounded upon signs.

7. Natural signs appear either in that course of nature which is independent of human will, or they are “made,” “given,” “formed” by men, and these latter again are either (as such, i.e., as signs) made involuntarily or with the purpose of “denoting” something, they are to denote something. A made sign is either intended to serve the person himself who made it for his future recollection, or it is to serve others for their present or future recollection.

8. All human expressive movements are, or become, involuntary signs of the psychical states expressed in them. These signs vary between the limits of that which takes place contrary to our will or wish (e.g., blushing, growing pale) and involuntarily (the so-called reflex movements, e.g., starting, wrinkling the brow)—hence the signs which “betray” us—and these belong entirely to the independent course of nature; and at the other extreme that which is involuntary as sign, but nevertheless is done with the assent of the subject, e.g., the cry of joy and springing to embrace when lovers meet.

9. To make expressive signs is, or becomes, necessary for any one who desires to impart his sensations and feelings, especially the wish that another being should do or omit to do something. Signs which are made for this purpose may even be understood by many animals; to them belong more especially tones and gestures, but also action which affects the general sense-organ of the skin either pleasantly or unpleasantly.

10. The use of signs of different kinds, which is so infinitely important for the whole cultured life of humanity, depends principally upon made signs. Sensation in common, thought and belief in common, make themselves known in the use of signs, even when these have no other purpose than to afford expression to just this feeling and fellow-feeling, to be “symbols” of the community.

11. But most signs of this kind serve also for mutual understanding, and are easily understood in proportion as they are natural signs of the will which “utters itself,” or “reveals itself” through them. Here then action upon the sight (gesture-language) is capable of much greater variety than action upon general sensation, while action upon the hearing again (sound-language) surpasses this in much higher degree owing to the plasticity of the material in which the signs can be, as it were, coined. It is true that at first the development of gesture-language is the easier, just because it deals with a greater number of natural signs; hence in the earlier phases of human development it is only supplemented by sound-language; a relation which afterwards reverses itself, until finally the sound-language as fixed in writing acts by itself alone and lacks even the explanation which the speaker gives to his words by the modulation of his voice. The progress from sensuous and particular to conceptual and universal communications develops itself in general in the same relation.

12. For out of articulate sounds arise almost exclusively the completely different genus of signs, which we oppose to natural signs as being artificial signs. Here there is no longer any natural relation or bond between the sign and that which it signifies; it is the human will alone which produces the relation of ideal association through which the word becomes sign of the thing, as also the relation through which writing becomes sign of the word, and the letter-unit becomes sign of the sound-unit. But the separation of artificial from natural signs is a process which moves gradually and in imperceptible transitions; the memory has to accustom itself to signs which are more and more unnatural, therefore more inconvenient; and which nevertheless are for human purposes facilitations, because the natural signs do not suffice, or would cost a far greater expenditure of trouble to be sufficiently elaborated. The natural signs upon which linguistic sounds are based are sometimes involuntary expressive movements of the vocal organs; sometimes imitations, i.e., copies, of heard and familiar sounds; and finally, sometimes they are attempts, formed according to the principles of analogy and contrast, to reproduce the impressions of objects, which have then, favoured by relatively fortuitous circumstances, maintained themselves, i.e., have entered into a more or less firm connexion with the ideas (perceptions or recollections) of the objects.

13. A certain word has a certain meaning, i.e., it is sign of a certain (perceivable or thinkable) object, according to the will of one or more persons. When it is according to the will of one person, then either he alone understands the sign, and then it is a private sign; or it is understood by others also, and then it is a social sign. Here again it is a question of transitions. Understanding is itself a kind of willing, it is the will of recognition, of acceptance, i.e., of appropriation, and thus understanding in common is like possession in common. Thus by understanding a social will issues from the individual will. But the less social validity a word has, the more effort it needs for the individual to make himself understood; he then strengthens by natural signs—tones and gestures—the meaning which he desires to give to the word.

14. But words are essentially and according to the law of their development social signs; and the social will which expresses itself in them, which settles and gives to them their meaning, is—like all social will—of various kinds.

15. Here we must first of all indicate the profound difference between the social will which has formed itself in a natural way, and that which is made consciously. From this difference arises the fundamental difference of the sense in which a word means anything. But before we can consider this in detail a general exposition must precede.

16. In every case the meaning is a kind of equation; a word is equal to one or more other words by which it is explained, and is thus mediately or immediately equal to the object of a perception or recollection. But these equations are not generally thought of as something willed, but as something actual, which therefore we know or do not know, and concerning which we can have a right or wrong opinion; we know or do not know what a word means, i.e., for what it is the sign, or what a thing is “called,” i.e., by what word it is denoted. The question from what cause a thing is called so and so, is at first as remote from us as the question from what cause a thing is green or blue.

17. In every circle of human beings, that which all know (or at any rate may learn), that therefore to which all feel themselves bound, is held to be so real (i.e., like the natural), the connexion between name and thing becomes so firm, that it is felt and thought of as necessary. The name is held to belong to the thing, and to have a mystic connexion with it like that of a picture or a shadow. This is especially the case with the names of persons, giving rise to the fear that knowledge of the name gives power over body and soul, and hence to anxiety to conceal proper names and avoidance of uttering the names of the dead lest their rest should be disturbed, and much allied superstition. Even in philosophy it is not easy to overcome the view that certain names belong to things by nature (φύσει), and the Christian thinkers laid it down that Adam assigned the right name to things; even in the beginning of this century the doctrine that all languages are to be derived from Hebrew was again received. Nay, there are still famous authors to-day who regard the possession of language, that is of an elaborated system of sound-signs, as an absolute cleft between man and the lower animals; a theory which needs for its completion only the other theory that a new absolute cleft has been opened between men who possess the sign-system of writing in letters and those who do not possess it, so that the former cannot be descended from the latter.

18. Now we know that there are different human “languages,” by which we mean the total systems of sound-signs which are understood and used in a certain group of men, in a nation or in related nations. The fact that within such a group smaller groups are again distinguished, chiefly with reference to the sound-forms or “pronunciations” of the same words, but partly also through a certain number of deviating peculiar word-signs, is expressed by saying that within a language we find various “ways of speaking” or “dialects”. As a matter of fact there are in every larger or smaller group of men, who live together and have common experiences, particular words which are regularly used, and are often so considerable and striking that we speak again of a particular “language”—student’s language, sailor’s language, “thieves Latin,” etc. Not seldom, again, there is in the narrowest and smallest groups, as between married people or brothers and sisters, a private language, i.e., numerous names of things which they alone understand or use, and which they, or one of them, have invented; such a name may be an arbitrary and otherwise meaningless sound, or a sound which in other connexions means something else, or a sound attached to one which is thus familiar.

19. It is true that for mutual understanding a common idea-system is as necessary as a common sign-system; nay, more so, for if the ideas are there the signs are more easily and quickly gained, and therefore also substituted; while the knowledge of signs is worthless without knowledge of the ideas to which they are to be referred, and this knowledge is much more difficult to gain or replace, especially when we are no longer dealing with perceivable, but only with thinkable objects. Hence the fact that two men speak the same language is no guarantee for their understanding each other to any great extent. The question here is not only of capacity for perceptions (we speak in vain of colour to the blind), ideas and abstractions, but also of the whole range of specific technical and scientific “concepts,” the names of which help us nothing unless we are familiar with the objects. Finally, for an intimate understanding we need, especially when we are dealing with merely subjective feelings and experiences, a positive (“good”) will to understand, hence an active sympathy, in so far as this is not replaced by interests, i.e., by the thought for which the understanding is means to another end. In every case the understanding of another’s meaning is, as reproduction, a kind of constructive effort, which is more or less successful, and the success of which is made more probable by attention and practice, but also by the knowledge of rules according to which we may infer the real meaning of the speaker who wishes to impart it, partly from the phenomenon (the sign used) and partly from the accompanying phenomena (e.g., of emphasis). It may be that a stammering or babbling will suffice for the understanding of one, which is incomprehensible to all others; or there may be needed a long apprenticeship, and—even for learned men—the unfolding of a thought in many complicated sentences.

20. Thus not only mutual, but even one-sided, understanding presupposes a similar knowledge of ideas and signs on both sides. Signs are themselves ideas, and their connexion with the ideas signified is that which must be forthcoming to make an understanding possible. When other than natural signs are to be understood this connexion can only be gained by learning, i.e., by increasing and confirmatory experience, which may be obtained chiefly for oneself or chiefly by the help of others. In every case the development of those associations of ideas which are known as habitual and involve a knowledge (though it may remain latent), is conditioned by our own practice and the habit which grows with it. But the habitual and familiar is felt and thought as natural, hence it is not easy for the naïve spirit to raise the question why the object has this name or the word this meaning, or the question is answered like similar questions as to the origin of modes of action, customs, etc., by reference to common agreement and to tradition from our ancestors. The power of the fact, when regarded as actual and natural, is indeed weakened in that there are many languages, and that it is only in this language of ours that the fact is so—for this leads us to regard the meaning or name as fortuitous instead of as necessary, to think of it as fixed by human will and therefore capable of change (νόμω) instead of as natural and immutable (φύσει). But the particular “language” appears as a natural or supernatural kind of being, it has a “spirit,” we make use of it as of a living instrument. We use it as a whole, and it presents itself as a whole because through it (if we will to use it) the particular words are held together in a logical non-arbitrary manner, and are therefore prescribed or offered to us in such a way that we must use them; hence too there are “rules” for their combination which must not be “transgressed,” if we are not to be guilty of a wrong, awkward, incomprehensible, or at any rate clumsy, form of speech.

21. The spirit of language is one of the forms in which we recognise what we define as the social will. To recognise the nature of the social will is necessary in order to analyse the different senses in which it can be said of words or other social signs that they have a “meaning”. It is for this reason that we have premised the distinction between social will which has formed itself in a natural way, and that which is made consciously, we might almost say, arbitrarily. By social will in general we mean the will which is valid for a number of men, i.e., which determines their individual wills in the same sense, in so far as they themselves are thought of as subjects (originators or sustainers) of this will which is common to them and binds them together.

22. By individual human will we mean here every existing combination of ideas (thoughts and feelings) which, working independently, acts in such a way as to facilitate and hasten, or hinder and check, other (similar) combinations of ideas (makes them probable or improbable).

23. In this sense human will may be thought of as the cause of human activities or conscious omissions; for activities and conscious omissions are, from a psychological point of view, nothing but successions of ideas.

24. In these causal combinations of ideas the relatively constant elements are the feelings (affirmation or negation), and the relatively variable elements are the thoughts. The relation of the latter to the former must therefore constitute the principle of division and of classification. Upon this principle is based the dichotomy of the individual as of the social will. The will in which the feelings predominate we call natural, that in which thoughts predominate artificial. That is to say: in the one case the relation to the activities (to put it briefly) in which will in general “utters” or “realises” itself precedes more as a feeling—this may also be expressed by saying it is felt as an objectively present tendency,—in the other case it precedes more as a thought. As a feeling it is by nature indefinite and develops itself from general to particular relations. As thought, it starts from particular determinations and passes over into more general ones combined from them. From this antithesis we get the following characteristics. In the former—the feeling will— the ultimate end rules; i.e., the idea of a general good directs feelings and thoughts to the particular good; in the latter—the thinking will—the idea of a particular good (the object) guides all other ideas and subordinates them to itself. In the former—to point out a still more definite contrast—his task, his vocation, “becomes” manifest (or has become manifest) to the man, “I ought to do this”; in the latter he “makes” (or has made) his plan, “I must do this”. Finally, to have recourse to current scientific conceptions, in the former the unconscious predominates in the will, in the latter the conscious.

25. There is a further classification of the forms of will which crosses this division, and is guided by that relation to activities which is common to both types. According as the sensuous element (sensations, perceptions), or the intellectual element (ideas, thoughts) preponderates therein, i.e. in the corresponding succession of ideas, there arise in each instance two chief forms, one of the beginning and one of the end; but between these we place the large mass in which the elements in question appear to be so mingled as to stand in a relative equilibrium.

26. There arise then six classes of forms of will, each of which, however, can be analysed again into subdivisions. We will indicate them here by letters:—

      W F s       W F s i       W F i
      W T s       W T s i       W T i

How far these conceptually constructed forms are really forthcoming, or coincide with such as are really forthcoming, is not the question here; nor, therefore, whether it is possible to denote them by words which are otherwise in use.

27. An object (A) becomes by an individual—e.g., my—will, sign of another object (B); this is, in order to represent the contrast with natural signs, the next problem. Reduced to the simplest and natural expression it runs: when I perceive A—although it stands in no natural connexion with B—I will think of B. But this “I will” may refer (in German literally) both to the present and to the future; it may imply a recollection which is to occur once or occasionally, or again one which is to be uniformly repeated. The recollection itself is bound essentially either to the perception or only to the idea, hence is of a more sensuous or a more intellectual type. But the will which forms the association, or is present in it, is here divided according to our scheme into its forms. On the one side stand two “events,” which are connected with each other by the “feeling-tone” of the one, or of both, or of a third. The hopeful, courageous man, who e.g. goes out to battle, easily “accepts” any casual occurrence as a “good sign” for himself (accipio omen),—the idea of victory so excites him as to assimilate to itself every other idea; that idea combined with the wish is here the will. But the connexion between sign and signified is here only loose and superficial, it comes into existence and passes away again easily with the sensuous perception of the sign. A more permanent connexion is made by a permanent wish, an “interest”; there is always as basis the “wish” for favourable events, hence for favourable signs; delight in the former transfers itself to the latter, and for this reason recollection is as pleased to “linger” over them as perception. It is thus that the practical man who is dependent upon accidents, e.g., a farmer or a sailor, accustoms himself to make many kinds of observations and to connect them with the particular stages of his work in such a way that the recurring perception invariably is for him a favourable or unfavourable sign. It is of such habits of thought that the whole mass of traditional superstition is composed. Finally we may be incited by just such motives of will to actually learn, whether from others or from our own experience and reflexion, to “give a meaning” to events, e.g. to dreams, which stand in no natural relation with future events but can be brought into arbitrary connexion with our opinion about them. Here the recollection itself becomes of a markedly intellectual kind; e.g. the “conviction” arrived at by private thought that a dream of fat cows signifies fortunate years. In all these cases what we think of is only how something becomes for an individual through his will the sign of something else. In reality such signs generally have also, or obtain, a social significance preceding or through the individual significance. But this social significance is only necessary when signs become the objects of social use.

On the other hand we notice, that the wish for a given recollection constitutes of this an End and of something else, which is first connected with the idea of it, a Means, i.e. an assumed cause of the recollection. The desire may select for this purpose the natural sign, or a socially valid sign, or finally—and this alone concerns us here—it may connect with the idea a sign which is significant for it alone. The form of the will may be sufficiently illustrated for our present purpose by instances. 1. I make for myself a sign to be used once or upon occasion—e.g. a knot in my handkerchief, to remind me to-morrow of a letter to be written; marks in a book, to remind me at the next reading of my pleasure or displeasure. 2. I place as permanent memorial (e.g.) a stone in my field to remind me that in this place I received important news. 3. I invent a sign, in order that I may recognise something by it, i.e. to remind me that an object stands in a certain relation to me, e.g., is my property. It is thus that I “mark” my animal in the herd; the essential point of my act is the intellectual certainty that I can at any time select it out of the herd as mine. Here the individual significance of the sign easily passes over into an exclusive one, i.e. into a “secret” one. The sign is to be either comprehensible for me alone or perceptible for me alone.

28. To show now how the social will variously presents itself in an analogous way, we will start from the most marked and principal types of its two genera, the concepts of which coincide almost completely with verbally recognised social forces. But at the same time we must make the application to valid meanings of words which are created by such forces.

29. The type of the former category is custom, of the latter law, in the sense in which we think of it as proceeding from deliberations and conclusions of an individual or of an assembly (“statute”-law).

30. The essence of custom lies in actual practice; it corresponds psychologically to what is known in the individual as habit, and it is also called expressly Volksgewohnheit (habit of the people). As will, it is most simply recognisable in the general ill-will, often indeed anger or horror, which is excited by its violation; but also in the forms of speech which proceed from general thought, such as: custom commands, custom demands, custom is strict and inexorable, etc.

31. In languages this view of custom is combined with that of a merely objective activity, of habit as mere usage, i.e., regular usage. But any one knowing the “spirit” of his language will easily note, as by some inward accent, whether custom is being spoken of in the one sense or in the other; just as we can distinguish also an individual application of the word from the social, though in German this is characterised by the plural form and by the fact that it corresponds only to the second and objective application of the social concept (ein Mensch von lockeren Sitten).

32. Synonyms of the word in its social sense are, in German, das Herkommen (tradition), der Brauch (usage); the former expression indicates the foundation of custom through the usage of preceding generations, and the constraining power of that which our fathers have done and held to be good; the latter (der Brauch) refers more to living practice.

33. The German language forms for the concept of custom in its application to the meanings of words, the special word Sprachgebrauch. In it we are thinking less of tradition than of actual usage, though of course it is also conditioned to a large extent by the former and this is sometimes emphasised by the expression herkömmlicher Sprachgebrauch (traditional use of language). That the use of language, like other customs, has also a subjective side is obvious with so psychical an act as that of speech; and yet the object is so far intellectual that deviations and errors ought not to excite ill-will. Still, in every linguist there is another kind of dissatisfaction, or at any rate dissent, which makes itself felt, often only as at something ludicrous, and in less marked cases simply as the judgment which denies something as false, and as the wish to correct. But that the actual usage, by which the individual is guided, and which every one recognises as “decisive” for the meaning of words, is based upon something like a general and consentaneous will, may be seen again from the fact that we are accustomed to speak of language as a “property,” a “national inheritance,” a “sacred possession,” attacks upon which have often led and still lead to hot combats of speech and weapons. “We will speak our language”: what does that mean if not “we will use these signs with these meanings”? The willing of the usage involves the willing of the meanings, and that these are not thought of as included in the will is due to grounds already indicated. Will is not recognised in habit (though in language we may find traces of this recognition, which is lacking to Psychology. Think of the Greek word εθέλω, where the identity is directly indicated, and the corresponding Germen pflegen, where it is indirectly indicated), though it declares itself strongly enough, especially as resistance. There is always dimly before us the argument (true enough in itself) “if this were taking place by my (our) will, then my (our) will could at any moment change or annul it”. What is not true is only the tacit assumption that the (individual or social) will is something which can come into being at any moment without sufficient cause. The real fact is, that the more deeply rooted a habit is, the more improbable and difficult is its counteraction by our own or another will.

34. It is through Volksgewohnheit, or custom, that the social forms arise and grow which touch the life of the individual most profoundly, and which we call “law” (G. Recht); legislation brings consistency into these manifold forms, and makes law consciously and in accordance with a plan. The former, the law of custom, appears partly in facts, proverbs, or rules handed down by word of mouth or in writing; partly in the practice of judges, in judicial custom, i.e., in judgments which are passed invariably, or only once, in a given typical case. The latter, legislation—i.e., the social force which is capable of carrying out its will,—attempts to think of all possible cases beforehand, and after consideration of their appropriateness for definite ends, to establish rules according to which judgments and sentences must be passed.

35. In its great variety and numerous contradictions customary law frequently leaves the “spheres of right” of persons confused, crossing one another, and having common elements which are difficult to deal with; legislative law, on the other hand, endeavours to draw sharp divisions and limits between the particular spheres, to leave nothing in common which is not derived, or at any rate derivable, from individual property or right. Legislative law, when moving freely on its own lines, is as far as possible rational. In so far as customary law is contained in propositions or judgments its language follows general usage, and shares therefore in the indefiniteness and uncertainty of usage.

36. Customary law always involves a certain usage of language, in which it makes itself explicit. It is the affair of the judicial judgment to know whether a thing is so and so, i.e., whether a certain name belongs to it, e.g., the name “wine” to a drink, the name “poison” to an addition to it. It is ascertained whether the thing has the qualities which customary language intends to denote by the name, which it takes to be its characteristics.

37. Legislation must concern itself directly with the determination of the meanings of words. In the penal code not everything which is called deception or theft by the people and in ordinary use, is recognised as a crime of this type and threatened with penalties; what happens is that definitions of these concepts are laid down, and prescribed as standards of meaning. Modern socio-political legislation and the regulations depending upon it, cannot avoid stamping as concepts expressions of daily life such as workshop, labourer, manual worker; i.e., it gives them fixed and easily recognised limits, and indeed different laws, different regulations, determine these limits in different ways, and it is then said (e.g.) “manual worker in the sense of this law means . . ., a labourer in the sense of this regulation,” etc.

38. But just as to a large extent laws merely fix, extend or limit, and more especially make consistent the norms of customary law, so also legal determinations treat the meanings of words. On the other hand this often occurs without any respect to customary usage, even in opposition to it. New concepts are formed, and for them new words are created or new meanings given to old ones. The legislator disposes freely of the material of language, but always holds it expedient to respect customary usage, by which indeed he often remains bound, even when he no longer feels himself to be so.

39. With exception of the indirect cases we have mentioned, there is not really any legislation for language, as opposed to the customary usage of language, which to so large an extent contains the great mass of social will referring to the meanings of words that we may almost always call it simply language. Nevertheless we find an important analogue in the activity of grammarians and lexicographers, when provided with social authority by the state, or able to earn it by personal prestige, the former case being nearer to legislation. Typical of this is the French Academy, the dictionary of which has undertaken with so much success to unify and purify the language; a satirist has called the hypercritical founders, “souverains arbitres des mots”. A much weaker analogy is afforded by the influence of authors who are accepted as models; and we shall revert to this analogy in another place.

40. Like these authorities, and often in direct contact with legislation, science also handles and influences language. It is legislative for the meanings of the words, which it takes from customary language for its own ends and defines—i.e., fixes the meanings as they are to be. Nor is the formation of new words strange to it—words which do not occur at all in customary language, which it calls into life while fixing their meaning, either by inventing them, or more usually by borrowing them from a foreign language. The meanings themselves, again, it may express either by similar artificial words (Kunstwörter), or by natural words to which it has left their ordinary meaning or given a new one. But it first exerts its complete sovereignty when it makes its own objects; i.e., when independently of what is already presented and thought of, it constructs objects and assigns to them old or new names. Its terms then gain a particular significance. E.g., the word “circle” (Kreis) has in customary language manifold other meanings, by legislation the word in German becomes the name of an artificially bounded administrative district, in science it (and in every civilised language a corresponding word) signifies the concept of a thing which is completely possible in no experience, of a closed line, of which every point is equally distant from a central point; and here again the terms line and point have just such a specific, scientific significance. This again we sometimes call a scientific “way of speaking” (Sprachgebrauch)—in our customary language. But here we are distinguishing and defining, and take therefore no account of customary language; thus affording, ourselves, an instance of scientific freedom in forming and classifying concepts; a freedom limited only by criticism of its conduciveness to the end in view. (It is in this way that we expect to justify our ideas in the course of the treatise.)

41. But if we investigate social habit, usage, more closely, we find that something of the kind always arises where the living together of men rests upon the bases most natural to it. Just as the habits of individuals develop most easily and frequently from original and strong inclinations (tastes, needs), so also social habits develop from mutual and common inclination. All inclination reveals itself, and still more completes itself, in activity, for it is the beginning of such activity. From the strength and frequent renewal of the inclination follows a frequent renewal of the corresponding activity; subjectively this becomes a habit, when the inclination becomes strengthened or even exclusively conditioned through its frequency, since the repeated action may also proceed from less voluntary sources. Habit is always a disposition to certain activities distinct from inclination, and more binding and regulative. The freedom of the will is determined by it in a particular way, it is felt as constraining, even as compelling; “man” is the “slave” of his habits, and yet they are essentially only more fixed forms of impulses which are fluid, but not on that account less necessary and constraining. Just so usage acts in social life and is related to the social instinct, or whatever we may call the elementary constraining force, which is also regulative for the meaning of signs.

42. The understanding of natural signs, e.g., of gestures and cries, is conditioned by similarity of organs, and facilitated by social feelings and habitual living together; and where these advantages are present artificial signs differ from them hardly at all. Where the impulse to help—whether reciprocal or not—is strong, there the attempt to indicate a certain danger by a sound (even when the sound is no longer, or not primarily, imitative or expressive) is quickly understood, comes easily into circulation, is taken up and accepted. Since mutual imitation is the expression of unanimity, this, the natural harmony of minds, may be regarded as the first cause of a current meaning of words, as of other signs. In every nursery, in the bosom of every happy family, we may see how new names for men and things are invented and understood, how they are taken up and repeated from delight in them or in their inventor—e.g., the child who imitates the sound. It is similar when, in larger communities of language, orators and authors introduce new and special words, or new meanings for old words; through the fact that they please, or through the impressiveness and influence of the inventor, they become current for a time at least, i.e., they are imitated, repeated. And with respect also to the origin of language we must suppose that these springs of free invention, of attempts at introduction and at temporary validity, flowed freely when once the organs were accustomed to form a variety of sounds. What then maintains itself in permanent use and is handed down to younger generations, is obtained by selections from this wealth of original word-germs; selections which are themselves being constantly renewed. The psychological causes of those luxuriantly abounding germs in which words are created together with their sensuously felt meaning, we may denote as speech-feeling, or speech-instinct, or better as the impulse to the formation of speech; and this we may then show to be the basis of customary language. It is well-known that just the crudest languages are burdened with a superfluity of synonyms, and also that in them dialects generally vary according to the smallest local districts.

43. Language, like other systems of signs such as writing, notes, signals, is handed on by teaching. With reference to one’s native language, it is true that the teaching is generally mingled with custom and given in imperceptibly small doses, which act all the more strongly from their continuity. But it is always the authority of the teacher which communicates as a fact that the thing is called so and so, that the word and the sentence (as unity of several words) have such a meaning. This statement must be met, not only by the desire and ability to understand, to impress it upon the memory and to show oneself as imitative, but also by the belief of the learner. But everything is easily believed which finds no psychological hindrances in opposed knowledge, in personal mistrust, or in dislike of the subject. Belief is acceptance and confirmation, as it were endorsement by signature, and therefore an action of will; and since the teacher has also received with belief that which he hands on, we may claim common belief also as one of the forms of the social will which give to words as to other signs their meaning.

44. But this is noticeable in a marked manner when we are dealing with special signs and special words to which belief, or allied forms of a feeling will, such as reverence or inspiration, lend a special and heightened meaning. To a large extent this occurs with ceremonies and the mystical words connected with them, which are held to be sacred and to act in a supernatural manner. Words of which the true meaning is not understood, e.g., when they are taken from a foreign language, thus get the significance of containing a power which far surpasses the power of ordinary words in arousing human feelings and sensations. Faith declares that they act upon Nature, or upon gods and demons which through and for faith are present in Nature. Thus common superstition has characteristically taken the uncomprehended words of the Eucharist, “Hoc est corpus meum,” and as “Hocus pocus” simply made them into a charm, which belongs like the witches’ multiplication-table to the necessary apparatus of those who appear to realise the impossible. So too the theologians do not think of the Creator as immediate originator of heaven and earth, as it were through his nature or will alone, but he must speak the creative fiat (this is in no way peculiar to the Judaic-Christian idea; “in the Indian and Persian religious systems the creative power of the word is placed at the apex of being”; the sound is “Brahma,” it is said in the Mimansa, through the spoken word Parabrahma creates the universe. “When Ahriman, the wielder of death, stormed through the earth, spoke Ormuzd the Honover, the pure, the holy, the swift-working word, to maintain and protect creation” (Bastian).). Thus speculation, attaching itself to such naive ideas, makes the word itself into God, or into the revealed Son of God; and as the word can create all and change all it creates and changes itself into flesh, and moves as man among men. But even beyond the sphere of the miraculous a mysterious actual value is attributed to the word, and to certain words therefore a good or evil significance as omens. And the power of the spoken word, especially in public speaking, depends largely upon the fact that certain words and turns of speech are endowed by the hearer with an additional meaning which arouses his feelings—his love, reverence, enthusiasm; his hatred, horror, wrath. Think, for instance, of the “charm” in words such as liberty, equality, fraternity; and on the other hand of the gloomy associations which are aroused by the words compounded with “blood,” such as blood-guiltiness, blood-feud, etc.

45. It is a part of the art of the orator, to awaken and to maintain by the right application, emphasis and accentuation of such words, the “mood” which prepares his hearers to accept his thoughts and to follow his counsels.

46. Artistic and poetic language is essentially allied to religious and all ceremonial speech. It, too, gets its original power and validity from the popular belief for which that is real and true which endures as image and simile in poetic language. Credulous imagination fills the world with living active spirits; natural man, and the teachers who lead him—priests and poets—believe that with all things it is as with men; they read human will, human passions into things, and in this way make them familiar and comprehensible—poesy is also explanation. All remarkable natural phenomena, and also events in human life, are for such modes of thought supersensuous demons, giants, gods and the like, or they are caused by these. The inclination and habit of filling, as it were, every corner with living beings, is heightened and strengthened by particular stories, fables and myths, in which it reveals itself; and there is constant interaction between these myths and language—sometimes the verbal expression is evoked by the myth, sometimes the myth by the verbal expression. But the former relation is by far the most frequent; the personification of things, or of the causes of events, is the natural assimilation of the strange to the familiar, and this naturally happens when speech is there through the material which it offers, though this material is modified by the myth for its use. The stories, as well as the generic modes of expression, are taught, handed down, and felt in and with the language; they grow with the spirit of the people, with custom, with religion, but they fall apart from it when the common mode of thought becomes more sober, thoughtful and reasonable, when poetry elevates itself as art above life. The meaning of many words, once as real as that of statements about actual experiences, is diminished, they are no longer regarded as signs of realities, but only as signs of images, and so “thoughts that had once a more real sense, fade into mere poetic forms of speech” (Tylor). But on the other hand, language also makes, first myths, and then at least sensuous ideas of things which persist much more obstinately than the myths. And apart from its personifications of the inanimate, the economy of language treats all processes after the analogy of animal activities, all that is thought after the analogy of what is perceived, all that is perceived after the analogy of the organic beings to which the “I” of the speaker himself belongs. But where there appear to be activities of things—an appearance often due to our mode of speech—then the inference is given ab esse ad posse, from action to the power of action, and thus the “properties” of the “thing,” perceptible and concealed (occult qualities), become “forces,” from which the actual events necessarily, or, at any rate, in a comprehensible manner, proceed. We may take it as a familiar fact that these interpretations through the vehicle of so-called metaphysics, penetrate deep into the sciences, and can only be weeded out again with great difficulty. By the attribution of names, natural thought immediately satisfies the recurring need for knowledge and explanation; and this is closely connected with that imaginative-poetic animisation of nature which is always drawing fresh material from it, even though it becomes gradually drier and more prosaic. Even after scientific thought has proceeded so far as in our days among the best educated, that need is still always satisfied, when the activity of a human being is asserted or indicated as the cause of a phenomenon; at most we ask perhaps about his motives, and these again we refer to names which denote something familiar to all, e.g. anger, revenge, love, hate, etc. Natural thought explains everything by this analogy; and in the form in which it remains current with us also, outside the sphere of human activities, it is satisfied by a reduction to the analogy, after we have ceased to believe in the anthropomorphic interferences of supersensuous beings. We find an oak-tree shattered. “The lightning has done that,” “the lightning must have struck here with terrific force”—it is something of this kind which we say when we follow our natural way of thinking; the imaginative and superstitious man of earlier times or of simpler culture says and thinks, “Zeus or God is angry with the possessor of this plot of ground, so he has shattered this oak with lightning”. But we may speak in this or a similar way even when we do not believe it, and then it is a poetical or rhetorical figure; from such a point of view and fiction there may finally arise a merely metaphorical expression, e.g. lightning has raged here. All figures of speech, of which the metaphor is by far the most important and most characteristic, have this in common, that in them the words have a non-literal (uneigentliche) in addition to their literal meaning—the former is as it were to shine through the latter, in so far as the figure is to be understood. But it may also happen that the speaker does not wish to be understood, or at any rate not by all who hear him; he is content, indeed he prefers it, if only a few understand him, perhaps he even wishes not to be understood at all—that is, not in the complete way in which the nonliteral meaning is included. He desires then only to understand himself, and to communicate his real meaning only partially or apparently, or indeed to communicate only the exact opposite of it. Thus oratorical diction, e.g. irony, and especially hyperbole, borders on falsehood, and passes over into it. Falsehood is a use of words for a private end which is alien to them (i.e. to the social will contained in them)—for the end of exciting by apparent communication of our own thought an idea which differs from it, and in extreme cases is opposed to it. Here again in this special sense it is the power of belief—or as we might say by an obvious simile, the credit which the speaker enjoys—which gives their true significance to the words. This significance differs again according to the personality of the speaker and the words he uses; the same words have the full weight of their proper meaning when it is an honest man who has used them, and are empty words in the mouth of a knave or a downright swindler.

47. We contrasted with each other as the chief forms of the social will which gives meaning to words, the customary usage of language, and legislation in language. We now see that “popular belief” and “science” correspond to each other as opposites in a similar manner. Both forms of the social will may be regarded as delegates, popular belief of the customary use of language, science of legislation; i.e. as deputies which, within the whole sphere submitted to the formative power of custom or legislation, are armed with a special mandate, which they fulfil by attaching distinctive meanings to groups of words. In its application to language we will call popular belief the genius of language.

48. There is still one important form of the social will to be mentioned, which is as much the basis of legislation and science as the natural, we might say, animal conformity, “agreement,” is the basis of custom and popular belief. This form we call in its general nature “compact,” and in particular application to the meaning of signs Verabredung (convention). If we presuppose completely isolated individual wills, then compact is the natural and necessary form in which they “come together,” the form of their connexion or union into a social will. This form presupposes the existence of two or more free persons, i.e. persons who allow themselves to be determined by their own wish to remain strangers or to come together. The given matter, i.e. the conceptually simplest content of the compact, is the exchange of things. Here two wills, which were before opposed, each wishing to attach the greatest value to his things, unite in agreeing that two things shall be of the same value, or where the expression of value in one commodity is customary, that a given thing shall be worth so much, i.e., shall be equal in value to so many units of the standard of value, whether this value outlasts the act of exchange or not. But in the same way any number of wills may agree upon a standard or norm of value, even though the “how much” value of particular things must be left, either to the comparison, or more exactly to the measurement, of one or more persons, or indeed to manifold agreements. (The Greek language denotes such union best as “composition” ξυνθήκη—here the common will arises, as it were visibly, through the fact that several furnish thereto a contribution of their own will; and this can only take place by their “explaining” their will, i.e. making it known by signs. Such a sign may be the transference of a thing; but as an abbreviation, a spoken sentence, or finally a word may suffice. And it is only in words that the present will of a future will—a promise—can be expressed. Only in words again can an order, in general a proposition containing something willed for a time extending beyond the moment, be expressed. But such a one is the proposition about the value of signs, hence possibly also about the meaning of words. The Imperative concerning it either remains without expression, or it expresses itself in words). Measures, weights and coins, again, are signs, that is, signs of a covenanted or otherwise established unit of measurement, or of a compound of such, which certainly exists primarily only in thought.

49. Conventional signs between two or more are a matter known to every one. They are characterised by the fact that they may depart to any extent from the nature of natural signs and as a rule do so depart, more than signs of which the meaning is based upon the naturally growing social will. For instance, a stamp placed askew upon the envelope or a yellow rose in the button-hole, has not the slightest similarity or other relationship with the announcement “This afternoon at five, rendezvous in the confectioner’s shop”; and yet both may serve the purpose of such an announcement excellently, if only there has been a previous covenant. The power of the human will to make something into a sign here appears in its elementary (socially effective) form. The convention again about the special meaning of words, even of otherwise meaningless words, plays an important part in the social life. Especial occasion for this is afforded by the speedy but expensive communication between remote places; e.g., in the intercourse between England and India there arises a conventional “cable-language,” at first perhaps within a family or a business, so that the syllable “tar” may have the meaning given to it beforehand “I have arrived safely,” or the syllable “ver” the meaning “The price of silver is rising”. It is a short step from this to make such signs as a means of secret, i.e., exclusive, understanding, as opposed to the public common property of the popular language. In this sense there is a much older and larger application of written signs, which get their special value in the same way as the means of secret notifications and communications. But all such systems of private signs, like writing itself, presuppose an existing language, and refer to it, so that they represent signs of signs; in abbreviated writing, such as stenography, they are as it were signs to the third power. The sign-quality of the original sign may be completely forgotten, and is generally forgotten; indeed it may be stated as a rule that in so far as they are accredited through a natural social will, they have never been in clear consciousness as willed signs. This is quite clear when they are felt as, indeed taken to be, natural signs; to which individual as well as social habituation conduces. On the other hand, it belongs to the nature of the derivative signs here under consideration to be thought and willed as signs, hence as means for common ends, by those who give them their meaning. Others indeed, who have not been active in this direction, may accede to the content of such a convention; they then take it into their will without needing to reflect upon the nature and origin of the signs, which may therefore become as natural to them as the “mother-tongue,” and the habitual forms of intercourse. But not even origin is decisive for the conventional character of signs and sign-systems. Whatever their origin, signs may become conventional, through the fact that they are felt, thought, applied as such, i.e., essentially as external means. This is clear in the forms of intercourse themselves. We may maintain a naive and credulous attitude towards them, taking assurances of esteem, reverence, sympathy, as sterling coin, and returning them only when we can utter them with “a good conscience,” i.e., when our thought assents; then we have a right to be wrathful at social lies. Or again we may give and take them as mere “tokens”; we know that they are nothing but means of expressing a readiness for intercourse, and of proving that we belong to a certain society, especially to that which calls itself good society. For this, according to its concept, there is only the one way, that of observing its rules, and one of these rules is the use of such modes of speech. They are not meant seriously, they are mere forms, without any content, or without any corresponding content, “hollow phrases” or whatever we may choose to call them. But whoever plays the game must submit to its rules. It is clear how this use of words is related to that of figures of speech. Here as there, transitions into the sphere of falsehood are easy. Falsehood emphasises the ordinary meaning, the literal sense of the words, and demands that this should be accepted, believed; what the liar has in his mind is not the non-literal meaning, but none at all. But lying is greatly facilitated by the figurative meaning—think of the rhetoric in the oaths of love and the asseverations of friendship. It is facilitated also by the social significance, or rather depreciation of words. A man endeavouring to obtain advantages by the use of flattery may limit himself to employing turns of speech which are current in his society; he merely needs to utter them with a special accent, with the warmth of tone which is wont to “come from the heart”; while if any one should seem to suspect him he can always take refuge in the plea that he has only been using the ordinary conventional language. The variations which may be observed here are manifold.

50. In this sphere, then, portions of the current language are, as it were, damped and kneaded into a dough; and it is possible also to have a whole language in which all word-meanings would have a conventional character, whether they refer immediately to objects, or (what is more probable) to many empirical (natural) languages. Old and new attempts to construct a universal language correspond to a thoroughly reasonable and necessary idea, which in the present extension of intercourse will sooner or later take deeper root and make rapid growth. We cannot indeed deny that in many respects it would be better to elevate a given, natural language to the rank of an international means of communication; and towards this end economic and political developments are pushing powerfully forward. Most indications are in favour of the English language, which happens to have certain constitutional advantages for such a universal social use, advantages which make it also more easy to learn than other modern languages. We are to-day inclined to forget that our life of culture still has all its roots in a condition which was characterised by the universal predominance of such a language—of Latin; that many most important remains of this predominance still exist; that in certain spheres, i.e., as the language of courts and of diplomacy, it was directly succeeded—in the seventeenth century—by French, and that this language also still retains a high degree of international application. In all these cases we have good ground to speak of a “conventional” acceptance. The relation which every one feels to a foreign language, especially when it has not yet “entered into his flesh and blood,” is very different from his relation to his mother-tongue; the former resembles more the use of an instrument, the latter the use of an innate organ. Hence also when several people together use such an instrument for their mutual understanding, they are related to it as if they had established the meanings of these signs by agreement. At first, indeed, they are chained to the spirit, i.e., the will or associations of this foreign language; but the more they express their particular common affairs in this material, the more easily they handle it with a certain freedom, without meeting the hindrances which the “language-feeling,” the habit and memory of the rules of their own language, opposes. But even in the mother-tongue there is developed by “business,” i.e., by all human intercourse in which each consciously pursues his own profit, an invention and use of words and turns of speech having a specific acceptance, which is similar to a conventional one. The social will contained therein differs from the naive impulse to form language in its “reflective” nature; it is conceivable in its ripe form only upon the basis of an old culture, its language is essentially a written language, its style a paper style.

51. The free handling of a given material is characteristic for all forms in which a free social will shapes itself; but such a one is the will which must be reduced to the acts of the allied individuals themselves. We include here both the will which attains to expression in a normal legislation, and that which attains expression in a normal science. It is clear how legislation can proceed from convention. When any society elects a Commission, and instructs it to draw up the conventional rules accepted in it, altering them as may seem good, replacing the less expedient by the more expedient, and determines unanimously to conform to these new rules—then this Commission becomes a legislative body. Such an origin and authorisation of legislation is here thought of as a normal case. It is true that in experience we find individuals and bodies who vindicate their right to issue laws in quite another way, preferably by a supersensuous ordering of things (Jus divinum). But experience teaches also that legislations of this kind aim far more at maintaining given conditions and habits, than at free, purposive, conscious innovations. They invariably belong to that form of the social will which we have called popular belief. This is indeed—even in its relation to customary language—formally free to create and to shape; but it is avowedly and essentially prejudiced in favour of the old, as that which is approved and consecrated, without reflecting upon its utility with reference to particular ends. Even the speech of religion is archaic, and not seldom uttered in language which is comprehensible only to the initiated and learned. Such is the language of the sacred art of pious song; elsewhere the development of language, as of all sign-systems, aims at abbreviations, but here preference is intentionally given to long stretched-out forms as to those which are traditionally solemn. Speaking generally, the “legislation” which is accredited in this way extends more to the forms than to the content of life. It is thus in close contact—and this is entirely true of popular belief—with convention, so that the conventional is often “only” another name for that which is held to be sacred. Convention also is primarily, and to a certain extent always remains, “conservative,” hence the “stiffness” of “etiquette,” the circuitous, ceremoniously solemn form of the language of old-fashioned courtesy, epistolary style, etc. But it is also natural to it to break away and to become a capriciously mutable, novelty-seeking “fashion”. Law, again, as practised and spoken, taught and explained, on the basis of customary law, moves between popular belief and convention with a much stronger preponderance of that preference for the old. So too the special language of law, which as technical approaches to learned and sacred language, but then as the language of a caste (of an order or faculty) is appropriated and transformed in a more free, i.e., more conventional way. Then too conscious legislation deals with it quite arbitrarily—this we already presupposed—as it does with the law itself and in close connexion with it. We have said that in its free handling of the given material of thought and speech science resembles convention and legislation. Here again, as with legislation and strictly speaking with convention also, it is our concept of science of which we are speaking. That which in customary language is called so (at any rate in German), e.g. Theology, Jurisprudence, political and moral disciplines, is not (in our sense) free science; it has so far remained fettered to tradition and popular belief, often also to convention and legislation. Mathematics and the mathematical sciences correspond most closely to our concept of science. Everything which is called science, like everything which is called art, has its terminology, its technical concepts. But for the most part these are not concepts in the sense we are now using, but only special names for special objects—things and activities which, in the experience of those devoted to such arts and sciences, have prominent significance. This in no way involves that those things and activities are not objective, therefore given for every one. It is different in science properly so-called. It (that is the mental activity devoted to it) forms its concepts, exclusively for its own ends, as mere things of thought, indifferent whether they occur in any experience, even knowing the impossibility of such occurrence. The natural growth of universal concepts, better called universal ideas, is not generally, or at any rate not with sufficient clearness, distinguished from this artificial, conscious formation of “abgezogener” (as in the last century “abstract” was translated into German) concepts. The natural growth of universal ideas precedes the growth of particular ideas; the former is an incomplete defective idea, with which an appropriate name is regularly attached to a few or even to one single prominent characteristic of perceived objects. Characteristics are, as the word (Merkmale) indicates, marks to help the memory, and indeed for the speaker they are the immediate causes of the name occurring. All names are originally both proper names and generic names. The often-cited instance of the little child who calls every man “papa” who does not by a new characteristic excite new feelings, is typical of the connexion of general ideas with names. Every apperception-mass (in the sense of Herbart and Steinthal) which, once connected with a verbal sign, sets free the idea of this verbal sign when it is excited by actual perception, is a universal idea. The progress of knowledge attaches itself to the possession and knowledge of several names for the same object, to the distinction between them, i.e., reference to different grounds or simply to the fact of being so-called; it is therefore connected also with the knowledge of different names for known objects in so far as they differ from each other, as with the knowledge of like names for the same object in so far as they are in some way similar to each other. To think of a condition as yet untouched by anything which we can understand as science, the child is taught that this dog is called “Phylax” (without needing to learn the ground for this name), just as it is taught that both this animal and those which accompany its neighbour on the chase “are dogs,” i.e. have this name in common. The difference is, that in order to apply this name rightly the child must learn to know the ground for it. We do not call all four-legged animals “dog,” but these with the grave looks, which attract attention by their “barking”; other larger quadrupeds with manes are called “horse,” while both dogs and horses are called “animal”. Upon the ground of this easy discrimination by rough universal ideas, there begins with the learning of characteristics which do not force themselves upon immediate perception, the more specific naming of particular groups within an already established whole, and the comprehension of several wholes within the limits of larger wholes; for at first it is true that the more universal the idea the more indefinite. But while all practical knowledge consists and develops in the knowing of these specific universal ideas and names, theoretical interest depends much more on generalisations and their more accurate grounding and determination by actual characteristics. Thus side by side with the universal ideas, such as horse, dog, animal, which are elaborated into concepts, there arise new concepts, which afterwards become universal ideas, such as mammal, vertebrate mollusc, and finally concepts of living beings of which not only do the common characteristics remain unknown without study, but which are themselves imperceptible for the natural senses, e.g., the concept “bacillus”. But in all these actual constructions of concepts nothing more takes place than the connecting of many presented objects into a single new apperception-mass, which possesses fewer characteristics in proportion as it is more universal. There is no essential difference when the objects or concepts are not things, but qualities or events. They are always just particular—sensuous or non-sensuous—impressions, to which there is attached a name, which now shows itself to be applicable to many such impressions. None of these concepts, any more than the natural universal ideas, are “abstract” concepts in our sense, but the names attributed to them denote many concrete objects in reference to certain characteristics common to them all. Of course it makes a great difference whether we intend to denote objects or ideas; the universal is not in the objects, but in the ideas.

52. We do not form an “abstract” concept until with the name there is “invented,” i.e. made and constructed, the object to be named; so that here idea and object coincide—whether the object is thought of as thing or as event. That which we desire to say of the concept we must apply immediately in the construction of our concept of the abstract concept. We define the abstract concept as a work of art of scientific thought, but scientific thought as an operation with such creations by comparing them, partly with one another, partly with concrete concepts or with particular ideas. The abstract concept is an object to which any characteristics are given, whether presentable to sense or not, whether found connected in reality (“in experience”) or not; it is determined only by the end which the creation is to serve, and this end is knowledge of the relations between objects experienced, and capable of being experienced. There stands therefore at the head of abstract concepts, the concept of the simply thinkable, to which any name, e.g. A, may be attached as representing it. The operations of scientific thought begin by equating this concept to itself, which takes place through “words” in the form of the judgment A = A, the so often misunderstood proposition of identity. The proposition signifies the will of the scientific thinker to treat his concept as equal to itself, i.e. not subjected to change; and this will claims to be a valid will, because it is appropriate to that end within wide limits. For in a certain degree it is true that all objects of experience are not subject to change, i.e., they may be so thought of, and this thought again serves an end, is indeed necessary, because it is only upon this assumption that we can compare such objects with concepts and therefore with each other. For the comparison of objects of experience is completely effected by referring them to the thought-object and expressing them therein. The thought-object is a standard. It may be described as an individual. While the universal idea becomes poor in characteristics in proportion as it is wide and more general, the abstract concept, no matter to how many phenomena it is to be referred, may be as richly furnished with characteristics as the end demands. It represents its own idea, the idea of a universal which is at the same time singular (particular); it is itself a sign, a symbol, and nothing else. It serves its end the better in proportion as its characteristics are clear and determinate, and in proportion as they are conditioned by each other and therefore referable to each other in equations; on the other hand it becomes useless if its characteristics are even in thought mutually exclusive, or—what is the same thing—contradict each other.

53. Definitions, according to the ordinary meaning of the word, are nothing but explanations of words which denote universal ideas. They are then meant to state what is comprehended in these general ideas. The old rules are familiar, that this must be done by combining the genus with the specific difference, and its corollary: that the definition must not be too wide, nor yet too narrow, hence that it must exactly cover that which the word really means. The investigation of the meanings actually accepted, i.e., almost always in customary language or in some particular branch of customary language, is in itself an important scientific problem; but it has nothing to do with pure scientific thought. In this application the problem is generally confused with the quite different one which supposes that the person defining is to state in what sense he wills to use the general name. We say the problems are confused, for in the first place we are far from being always conscious of the difference, and in the second place it is expected that the scientific subject shall not behave as if he were sovereign; i.e., that he should keep as closely as possible to customary usage. It is even assumed that the person defining apprehends his problem best when he really only unfolds the customary usage, in other words, when he thinks what every one thinks. If now it happens that a fluid and manifold usage is brought into a fixed and uniform form, then indeed such a limitation of the meaning may suffice for many ends. It is in this sense that laws determine the meaning of words; but then the theory breaks down that we are dealing with the explication of usage; it is manifest that we are aiming at establishing indisputable limits within which the law shall hold. Quite analogous is the end to which scientific definition must always refer; the fixing of a meaning within a train of thought, hence within a book, a system, etc. In coining a scientific concept therefore, we do it upon our own responsibility and with complete freedom in respect of customary usage. This is what Pascal means when he says: “nothing is more free than definitions”. And so the more acute logicians have always seen that scientific definitions are propositions, the truth of which rests upon the will of the person advancing them. Even if a name already denotes a concept in some (e.g.) scientific usage (i.e. denotes a definitely limited universal idea), still the person defining must appropriate this concept and the name, if the definition is to hold in his mental context also, i.e. is to be true for him. But free definition is completely necessary when we are operating with those works of thought of the individual which we here call abstract concepts. Such a definition is more than the explanation of what a name ought to mean (and still further removed from that which it may mean “in reality”); it aims chiefly at describing the matter, i.e. the object thought of, and then assigns to it, as an abbreviated mark, a name which is best chosen arbitrarily as one free from every other meaning. The description is here not merely a statement of limits, which must essentially refer to the comprehension of the concept; but it is as complete as possible a determination of its content, without regard to what the comprehension may be. It is only a make-shift when it is expressed in (not-defined) words of customary usage; science avails itself of this when and in so far as it has no other expressions defined by itself. Sigwart expresses this exactly in the words: “every definition presupposes a scientific terminology”.

Note 1. Like other modern logicians, Sigwart distinguishes from merely analytic definitions “in which the value of a word is expressed by an equivalent formula,” synthetic definitions, “which introduce the term for a new concept”. But he does not notice that all definitions of scientific meaning are, at any rate in intention, synthetic definitions, and must be estimated by this idea; nor that in the postulate of real-definitions we are dealing with nothing else than with these; although he speaks in the context of formulae which “are externally like a nominal definition, but really different from it,” yet he holds (a few pages before) that the concept of the so-called real-definition “has no longer any meaning for us in logic”.

Note 2. The doctrine of Bishop Berkeley that nothing general can be thought, can only be disputed when it has been agreed what is meant by general and by thinking. But when he gives as example (and is followed therein by more recent writers) that we cannot have an idea of a triangle which is neither equilateral nor scalene, etc., then this is indeed true, but proves nothing. For no one will maintain that there is a natural universal idea of the triangle; but concerning the abstract concept triangle this is in fact sufficiently described as a plane surface enclosed by three straight lines, if the concepts of straight and of lines have been previously defined. The different sorts of triangle which are actual in idea or in diagram, are not related to the concept as species to genus, but are copies or realisations of it (in the first and second degree) and as such are, for and with reference to the concept, all of one kind. For the rest they are related to it as isolated experiments to an ideal case thought in abstracto.

54. But how far that which is valid in science is thought as valid by the social will, we still have to consider briefly, after we have first dealt with a most important other sign.

55. It is almost traditional in philosophy to compare words (or “concepts,” only then we merely mean the names of the concepts) with money; as indeed we have already done in this essay, when—e.g.—we said that conventional forms of speech are sometimes taken for “sterling coin”. The analogy is really far-reaching. It is essential to the word as to money that it is a sign, and that it shall be “valid” (in German gelten from which the word Geld), i.e. that they shall be through the social will substitutes for the objects of which they are signs. The word is the sign of objects as images or ideas; money is the sign of objects as values; i.e. in so far as they are thought of as useful-agreeable, and therefore make an impression upon what we may call in men will or endeavour, in short are affirmed. But we can without difficulty extend the analogy to the different senses in which money, like the word, has “meaning”. In case A, it has its meaning through the natural social will, i.e. all coined money; in case B, through the artificial social will, that is all paper money. Just as the names of concepts may empirically be almost all derived from natural language, so also paper money has empirically a meaning through the fact that it is referred to “natural money”; but as in idea the names of concepts refer directly to artificial, constructed, and therefore equivalent objects, so also paper-money may be necessarily thought of as referring directly to artificial values, e.g. to equal hours of human labour. The antithesis demands somewhat closer consideration. As the word develops out of something which is not yet a word, so money develops out of that which is not yet money. Money is originally not different from other values, and then only slightly different. It is well known that in lower stages of economic development many values have the functions of money. “How quickly the saleability of an object makes it possible to naturalise it as money, is shown in innumerable instances by the reports of modern travellers” (v. Phillippovich.) Here the social will differs little or not at all from social practice, just as the individual will at its lowest stages is only the feeling of activity and the feelings necessarily developed from it of checked activity (pain) and facilitated activity (pleasure). But (2), “practice and custom have gradually raised the most saleable commodity (it should be the most saleable commodities) to a universally used medium of exchange (rather, to universally, i.e. within certain circles of intercourse, valid mediums of exchange)” (v. Phillippovich). These commodities are the metals, and with increasing property the precious metals. Then comes the guarantee of the community for a given weight and given content. In Asia Minor “coinage developed by marking pieces of metal of a given weight with the arms of the city community, which was coining, as with a kind of common stamp” (Nasse). This guarantee is essentially a moral one, and therefore in fact always religious. The word Moneta which has gained universal significance by its passing into English (money), comes from the temple of Juno Moneta, the original Roman mint. But with the guarantee of public credit there is opened the door to deception and falsehood; here come in the historical debasements of the currency, which have played such a discreditable part, chiefly in times of transition to the modern state. The State, generally represented in its first phase by princes and their war-chests, lends value to the coins, not so much by moral guarantee as by force, which makes the universal medium of exchange into a legal medium of payment. The nature of this constraint first shows itself in its pure form in giving value to paper, by which printed notes are made into legal tender and are thereby also made current; their actual value being conditioned not so much by the moral as by the mercantile credit of the Government. This mercantile credit is the basis of whatever value substitutes for money may have, whether they are written, printed, or lithographed paper. It makes also conventional paper-money (whether so-called or not) in the manifold forms of circulating credit, and it is this which we regard as the earlier stage of a state papermoney. Here belong “bills of exchange, orders, cheques, coupons, stamps,” and characteristically also “convertible state paper-money” (A. Wagner). Quite similar again is the bank-note, which is issued by a bank having a monopoly of notes, when the State has handed over to the bank the power of regulating the notes. But the management of every large bank, in a far greater degree than the management of any State, takes place according to scientific principles, especially according to the rules of the calculus of probabilities. We may call the bank-note (in accordance with its idea) scientific money. It is for this reason that philosophical schemes for a reconstruction of economic society are so often and easily connected with the thought of a purely credit-system, which is conceived of as a synthesis of the natural and the money system. The social value-sign would—like paper-money—derive its validity only from the social will; but instead of referring to money—the half-natural sign of all values—it would refer like money directly to all values. Values are elsewhere made equal by exchange, in general therefore by trade; their equality has the conventional character. Here, on the contrary, an equation of values would take place according to scientific principles; values would all be referred to the necessary work incorporated in them, while the work again would be most simply referred to the average time of work. We often find a compromise between the former real and the latter ideal equation, e.g. in the legal determination of honoraria, or of official salaries, and it is also the basis of legal limitations of hours of work, and other interferences with free contract as the price-regulator of human labour. But the idea of reference to a “congealed labour-time” may further be aptly compared with the titles of property and claims which are both current in trade and legally valid; these have a reference indeed to a sum of money, but in pure titles to property (deeds) this reference is insignificant compared with its significance as participation in a capital, which figures only in the account with its money value.

56. The many senses in which we can say of a word or other sign that it has meaning, may then be classified as follows:—

1. Meaning according to the intention of the individual making use of the word or other sign (subjective meaning which is put into it).

2. But this meaning is essentially conditioned for the word, as for all socially valid signs, by the meaning which they have in regular usage (objective meaning). But the objective meaning is essentially different according as the social will which we regard as its originator develops this meaning by creating it together with the sign, or has assigned it for definite purposes to the sign. We call the former the natural, the latter the artificial meaning. The former is modified according to three forms of the will upon which it is based, and which we distinguish according to a principle which corresponds in the first genus (A) to the division of volitional actions into impulsive, habitual, and reflective; they were called, natural harmony, custom, belief, or in reference to language the impulse to form language, the usage of language, the genius of language.

57. But the forms of the social will of the other genus (B) were distinguished in an analogous manner according as it:—

1. Proceeds at its earliest stage from the individual will (sensuous stage); 2. Is represented by a constant recognised (Träger) wielder;

3. As thinking is represented by several, even if not recognised, subjects (purely intellectual stage). Thus we distinguish convention, legislation, science, which in application to the meaning of words we may call—


Now we must briefly show how to the kinds of meaning which are thus classified there correspond different methods for communicating and explaining the meaning of words and other signs. First of communication, and primarily with reference to words; here we must observe the speaker or writer. At the first stage communication, and correspondingly understanding, is easy under certain primitive conditions.

1. It is easy in proportion as there is intimate mutual affection, sympathy, or even mutual knowledge and familiarity. How easily here every sign is understood, every indication suffices, may be noticed in daily life even where language is fully developed, e.g. between lovers or married people, or among intimate friends, etc. The meaning of the word is here generally allied to and interwoven with the meaning of the sound, therefore with music, the “language of feeling”.

2. It is easy again in wider range, in proportion as the vocal signs approximate to the natural signs (expressive and imitative sounds).

3. It is easy in proportion as they are supported by other signs, especially by gesture language (demonstrative sounds), or again as the merely associative sounds are supported by these and by the two kinds already mentioned. Communication is inversely more difficult, needs therefore the corresponding aids, where it lacks these. Gesture language most commonly appears as a substitute understood by every one where word-language is wanting or defective, or fails owing to organic defects. But in written communication the aids mentioned under 1. and 2. disappear; we can only indicate the desired intonation, partly by special signs, partly by the construction of the sentences. The understanding of what is written may further be facilitated by illustrations—from which writing is derived as articulate speech is from inarticulate—or under some circumstances be replaced by them. At this stage therefore communication is attached to individual and natural conditions. Its language (which is largely understood) is not yet a complete social organ, of which any one, born and bred in this society, makes use with comparative ease and certainty. This is the case in proportion as the customary usage of language has become a power. Here a mass of fixed meanings has been elaborated, so that word-idea and object-idea are regularly blended. Nevertheless, in many expressions, especially those which are more remote from everyday life (the expressions of complex ideas) the customary usage is uncertain, and leaves therefore greater freedom to individual application. The more this freedom is used, the more the speaker has recourse to the conditions of the first stage, or must explain his thought (i.e. the meaning which he desires to see attributed to his words), in more ordinary words, hence in words more firmly established in usage, he must as it were “translate” them (explicate the complex ideas). The language of customary usage as a universal opposed to the many dialects, distinguishes itself in advanced states of culture as the written language from the language of intercourse. Here the communication of an individual meaning in a social material is indeed still liable to all the defects which are inevitable in using signs of signs; but knowledge of the language as fixed in writing forces us also to a more conscious subordination to the norms and rules which are imparted by teaching, and the observance of which again facilitates understanding, hence social application. This is true again of oral communication at the third stage. Communication here takes place to a large extent in fixed forms, which are consecrated by age and authorities, and are therefore handed on as valuable inheritances and familiar to every partaker. Here too the communication of ideas which predominates at the second stage is connected with the more easy excitation of feelings which characterises the first stage: of social feelings of a more differentiated kind, we may say of festival-feelings. In so far as this is what is realised, it is not hindered by the language being less comprehensible, or even incomprehensible; it then misses its proper determination, the words being reduced to the associations of their sound-meanings. Allied to this again is poetical language. Although like all art it is originally strictly fettered by popular intuition, tradition, culture, it still inclines in obedience to its imaginative inspiration to a freer use of language, and so becomes more hard to understand, unless this tendency is again frustrated by the imagination to which it has recourse in figurative expressions, in comparisons, in rhythm and metre. True poetry is the purest form of the genius of language itself.

58. In written communication again, artistic, elevated or beautiful speech lacks the best of its means of expression. Where nevertheless such speech is to serve for permanent record, hence for the understanding of later generations, it has recourse, partly to short comprehensive formulae and to “symbolic actions,” the meaning of which is more easily comprehensible and preserves its meaning better; partly to diffuse “circumlocutions”. Hence we get the brevity of the lapidary style side by side with the breadth of the legal style—both aim at a deep impression of the meanings of their words. The language of writing is considerably influenced by these styles, and still more by all artistic styles in the use of words; and thus its reaction upon the oral use of language is increased.

59. The following stages correspond in a certain degree, as we have already noticed, to the three first; but they stand also in a social connexion, in such a way that the fourth in the whole series attaches itself to the third, the fifth to the fourth, etc. All three of the later stages presuppose in general a high culture, a language elaborated to a manifold use, hence also a written language. We have already said that they make free use of language as of an instrument; the word is consciously formed as a means to the end of communication. Hence all unessential “accessories” fall away, which express feelings and excite feelings; language becomes prosaic, and the “dry” written expression is therefore adequate; the individual element is submerged, and definite social styles, forms, and methods rule as patterns—and this all the more in proportion as what corresponds to these ideas presents itself clearly in reality. On the other hand we find just here a basis of developed individualism or egoism—endeavours which will succeed at any cost, hence also at the expense of others, and which regard even social ordinances and rules only as means to their ends, and subordinate themselves to them only unwillingly and conditionally. Thus the social and individual principles balance and struggle against each other, the sharp accentuation of both leading to antagonism. From this it follows for communication in words that here again understanding is only easy for one who knows the “language,” but also the ideas; often indeed it is only possible through a process of “initiation”. For the rest, it is to a large extent further conditioned by knowledge of the personality of the man who is uttering his will or his thoughts. It is from his trustworthiness that we must know whether he is concerned to communicate something real, or whether he desires only to reiterate meaningless conventional phrases, if not actually to deceive or at any rate to express himself ambiguously. In the same way we must know whether the legislator is laying traps or snares by using ambiguous words (we remember the so-called “elastic paragraphs”); whether the scholar is intentionally shrouding himself in obscurity, and increasing the volume of words because concepts fail him. It is always here, especially when we have only the written signs of the words, that the widest field remains for explication (interpretation). This is essentially always translation into a more easily understood language or mode of expression. Generally speaking it is the more difficult within the same language, i.e. within a formally connected system, in proportion as the words have diverged from the social will originally contained in them. Hence the methods of interpretation are, (1) at the first stage Etymology; (2) at the second, inquiry into the best, i.e. most fixed and regular usage; (3) at the third, the fundamental intuitions, opinions, comparisons, images, etc., by which we can derive special meanings from general, higher from simpler, nonliteral from literal. Such derivation comes into play also at all the following stages. Here we must investigate, not only the original but also the most recent, modern sense, which the words are meant to have according to the intention of the conventionally bound individuals, according to the intention of the legislator, according to the intention of the scientific authors. It is chiefly concepts which are here denoted, i.e., mental constructions of definite intention, which can only be explained in the words of ordinary language (1-3). In proportion as these words are ambiguous, of uncertain origin, wavering in usage, and figurative, a clear and certain interpretation is difficult. Hence the abundance of commentaries and of controversies upon ritual prescriptions of all sorts, after they have grown conventional; upon codes which attain or are to attain the force of law; upon philosophical systems in proportion as these are unhesitatingly recognised as valid, as for so many years were the Physic and Metaphysic of Aristotle; as recently upon Kant and for some time upon Hegel. So too poets and other authors who are held to be “classic” need explanations of their use of language. Holy books again and “oracles,” which wilfully make use of ambiguous words.

60. We need only refer briefly to the fact that the analogy between the sign “money” and the sign “word” may be also extended to the kinds of communication and explanation, although this analogy cannot be carried into detail. In narrow circumstances of life, where needs are homogeneous, permanent values are easily accepted as money; where development is more advanced only pieces of metal. But these the individual must test as to content and weight, until the guaranteeing stamp facilitates currency, and makes money the equivalent of all values. Generally no doubt is raised, although forgery endangers every one who partakes in the interchange. Paper-money is strictly speaking only a reference to money, thus a sign of a sign, but it may be a complete substitute for it, hence also it may stand for all possible values. It is still more exposed to forgery than coin; but more especially the danger is heightened of an injuriously increased output, which depreciates each unit, i.e., depresses the actual value which is recognised as reasonable below its “nominal value”. We may compare here the superfluity of words which is fraudulently or carelessly issued by orator or writer; and credulous commentaries thereon may well be estimated as the simplicity of one who has let himself be talked into accepting assignats, and thinks that they must be accepted from him again at their full value, because this value stands there printed and confirmed by stamp and signature.

61. In this context it still remains to explain the sense in which we have determined “science” as a form of the social will; the sense therefore whereby conceptual names receive their meaning, or let us say their currency. For this sense is in its normal form completely conditioned by the methods of handing on and interpreting such meanings. At earlier stages this is not the case. It is true that at all stages teaching is combined with the other ways in which the public or secret meanings of words are made known or become known; but at none does it exclusively form the essence of the social will, so that this will arises, is maintained and propagated by teaching. But of this nature is science. By teaching a community forms itself, which shares in the possession of its concepts; i.e., in knowledge of their meanings, and in the art of operating with them. We found that for the (corresponding) third stage also teaching was characteristic; but there it is only the appropriate form of tradition which, in its less developed form, promotes spontaneous imitation by leading up to it. The social will, which we there defined as belief, exists before it and itself conditions it. But here it is thought—this again is only an ideal limiting-case—that the social will is primarily represented only by the individual person of the teacher; around him there gather the scholars, who acquiesce of their own free insight in the recognition of the concepts formed by him, and agree that their signs shall hold good. Here teaching is far from bringing about a belief in the signs, participation in their special and consecrated or even only aesthetic meaning. For it the signs are in and for themselves completely indifferent, they are nothing but signs, i.e., means for naming, without any “inner value”. It is thus that we distinguish the concepts, and we are not inquiring here how the kinds of teaching are really related to each other; but we easily see that it presents numerous transitions from the one genus into the other. On the other hand it is clear that the “free assent,” which Locke so earnestly recommends those who seek the truth to handle carefully, is founded more upon doubt than upon belief; but that it must before all be given to those concepts which are contained in judgments; that again it is this free assent which stamps concepts into conventionally valid means of knowledge. As a matter of fact free persons can, without being related as teacher and pupil, come to an agreement as to the validity of concepts and make compatible the meanings even of these words. But by the abstraction of science we express the thought—to which a wide reality corresponds—that the construction and coining of concepts is always originated by individuals of genius, who therefore to a certain extent, and primarily in their own school, occupy the position of legislators. Though in this sphere as in every other, tradition and blind belief play an important part, yet in a period of scientific life the development, transformation, and renovation of concepts, like the revolutions of industrial technics, is most widely open to observation. “The more of spiritual life a period contains, the more it will change the received condition of terminology” (Eucken).

  1. The Welby Prize of £50 was awarded to this admirable essay by Dr. Ferdinand Tönnies of Hamburg (Editor, G. F. S.).
  2. Who must be apprentice? every one. Who must be journeyman? he who can do something. Who must be master? he who has invented something.