Friday, June 23, 2017

this verbal disease (eliot)

"During a good part of history the philosopher endeavoured to deal with objects which he believed to be of the same exactness as the mathematician’s. Finally Hegel arrived, and if not perhaps the first, he was certainly the most prodigious exponent of emotional systematization, dealing with his emotions as if they were definite objects which had aroused those emotions. His followers have as a rule taken for granted that words have definite meanings, overlooking the tendency of words to become indefinite emotions. 

"If verbalism were confined to professional philosophers, no harm would be done. But their corruption has extended very far. Compare a medieval theologian or mystic, compare a seventeenth-century preacher, with any 'liberal' sermon since Schleiermacher, and you will observe that words have changed their meanings. What they have lost is definite, and what they have gained is indefinite.

"The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information—deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts." 

~ T. S. Eliot, excerpt from “The Perfect Critic” (1920) published in Athenaeum.  Complete article here.  

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