A System of Logic, by John Stuart Mill

Chapter II.

Of Names.

§ 1. “A name,” says Hobbes,7 “is a word taken at pleasure to serve for a mark which may raise in our mind a thought like to some thought we had before, and which being pronounced to others, may be to them a sign of what thought the speaker had8 before in his mind.” This simple definition of a name, as a word (or set of words) serving the double purpose of a mark to recall to ourselves the likeness of a former thought, and a sign to make it known to others, appears unexceptionable. Names, indeed, do much more than this; but whatever else they do, grows out of, and is the result of this: as will appear in its proper place.

Are names more properly said to be the names of things, or of our ideas of things? The first is the expression in common use; the last is that of some metaphysicians, who conceived that in adopting it they were introducing a highly important distinction. The eminent thinker, just quoted, seems to countenance the latter opinion. “But seeing,” he continues, “names ordered in speech (as is defined) are signs of our conceptions, it is manifest they are not signs of the things themselves; for that the sound of this word stone should be the sign of a stone, can not be understood in any sense but this, that he that hears it collects that he that pronounces it thinks of a stone.”

If it be merely meant that the conception alone, and not the thing itself, is recalled by the name, or imparted to the hearer, this of course can not be denied. Nevertheless, there seems good reason for adhering to the common usage, and calling (as indeed Hobbes himself does in other places) the word sun the name of the sun, and not the name of our idea of the sun. For names are not intended only to make the hearer conceive what we conceive, but also to inform him what we believe. Now, when I use a name for the purpose of expressing a belief, it is a belief concerning the thing itself, not concerning my idea of it. When I say, “the sun is the cause of day,” I do not mean that my idea of the sun causes or excites in me the idea of day; or in other words, that thinking of the sun makes me think of day. I mean, that a certain physical fact, which is called the sun’s presence (and which, in the ultimate analysis, resolves itself into sensations, not ideas) causes another physical fact, which is called day. It seems proper to consider a word as the name of that which we intend to be understood by it when we use it; of that which any fact that we assert of it is to be understood of; that, in short, concerning which, when we employ the word, we intend to give information. Names, therefore, shall always be spoken of in this work as the names of things themselves, and not merely of our ideas of things.

But the question now arises, of what things? and to answer this it is necessary to take into consideration the different kinds of names.

§ 2. It is usual, before examining the various classes into which names are commonly divided, to begin by distinguishing from names of every description, those words which are not names, but only parts of names. Among such are reckoned particles, as of, to, truly, often; the inflected cases of nouns substantive, as me, him, John’s; and even adjectives, as large, heavy. These words do not express things of which any thing can be affirmed or denied. We can not say, Heavy fell, or A heavy fell; Truly, or A truly, was asserted; Of, or An of, was in the room. Unless, indeed, we are speaking of the mere words themselves, as when we say, Truly is an English word, or, Heavy is an adjective. In that case they are complete names — viz., names of those particular sounds, or of those particular collections of written characters. This employment of a word to denote the mere letters and syllables of which it is composed, was termed by the schoolmen the suppositio materialis of the word. In any other sense we can not introduce one of these words into the subject of a proposition, unless in combination with other words; as, A heavy body fell, A truly important fact was asserted, A member of parliament was in the room.

An adjective, however, is capable of standing by itself as the predicate of a proposition; as when we say, Snow is white; and occasionally even as the subject, for we may say, White is an agreeable color. The adjective is often said to be so used by a grammatical ellipsis: Snow is white, instead of Snow is a white object; White is an agreeable color, instead of, A white color, or, The color white, is agreeable. The Greeks and Romans were allowed, by the rules of their language, to employ this ellipsis universally in the subject as well as in the predicate of a proposition. In English this can not, generally speaking, be done. We may say, The earth is round; but we can not say, Round is easily moved; we must say, A round object. This distinction, however, is rather grammatical than logical. Since there is no difference of meaning between round, and a round object, it is only custom which prescribes that on any given occasion one shall be used, and not the other. We shall, therefore, without scruple, speak of adjectives as names, whether in their own right, or as representative of the more circuitous forms of expression above exemplified. The other classes of subsidiary words have no title whatever to be considered as names. An adverb, or an accusative case, can not under any circumstances (except when their mere letters and syllables are spoken of) figure as one of the terms of a proposition.

Words which are not capable of being used as names, but only as parts of names, were called by some of the schoolmen Syncategorematic terms: from σὺν, with, and κατηγορέω, to predicate, because it was only with some other word that they could be predicated. A word which could be used either as the subject or predicate of a proposition without being accompanied by any other word, was termed by the same authorities a Categorematic term. A combination of one or more Categorematic, and one or more Syncategorematic words, as A heavy body, or A court of justice, they sometimes called a mixed term; but this seems a needless multiplication of technical expressions. A mixed term is, in the only useful sense of the word, Categorematic. It belongs to the class of what have been called many-worded names.

For, as one word is frequently not a name, but only part of a name, so a number of words often compose one single name, and no more. These words, “The place which the wisdom or policy of antiquity had destined for the residence of the Abyssinian princes,” form in the estimation of the logician only one name; one Categorematic term. A mode of determining whether any set of words makes only one name, or more than one, is by predicating something of it, and observing whether, by this predication, we make only one assertion or several. Thus, when we say, John Nokes, who was the mayor of the town, died yesterday — by this predication we make but one assertion; whence it appears that “John Nokes, who was the mayor of the town,” is no more than one name. It is true that in this proposition, besides the assertion that John Nokes died yesterday, there is included another assertion, namely, that John Nokes was mayor of the town. But this last assertion was already made: we did not make it by adding the predicate, “died yesterday.” Suppose, however, that the words had been, John Nokes and the mayor of the town, they would have formed two names instead of one. For when we say, John Nokes and the mayor of the town died yesterday, we make two assertions: one, that John Nokes died yesterday; the other, that the mayor of the town died yesterday.

It being needless to illustrate at any greater length the subject of many-worded names, we proceed to the distinctions which have been established among names, not according to the words they are composed of, but according to their signification.

§ 3. All names are names of something, real or imaginary; but all things have not names appropriated to them individually. For some individual objects we require, and consequently have, separate distinguishing names; there is a name for every person, and for every remarkable place. Other objects, of which we have not occasion to speak so frequently, we do not designate by a name of their own; but when the necessity arises for naming them, we do so by putting together several words, each of which, by itself, might be and is used for an indefinite number of other objects; as when I say, this stone: “this” and “stone” being, each of them, names that may be used of many other objects besides the particular one meant, though the only object of which they can both be used at the given moment, consistently with their signification, may be the one of which I wish to speak.

Were this the sole purpose for which names, that are common to more things than one, could be employed; if they only served, by mutually limiting each other, to afford a designation for such individual objects as have no names of their own: they could only be ranked among contrivances for economizing the use of language. But it is evident that this is not their sole function. It is by their means that we are enabled to assert general propositions; to affirm or deny any predicate of an indefinite number of things at once. The distinction, therefore, between general names, and individual or singular names, is fundamental; and may be considered as the first grand division of names.

A general name is familiarly defined, a name which is capable of being truly affirmed, in the same sense, of each of an indefinite number of things. An individual or singular name is a name which is only capable of being truly affirmed, in the same sense, of one thing.

Thus, man is capable of being truly affirmed of John, George, Mary, and other persons without assignable limit; and it is affirmed of all of them in the same sense; for the word man expresses certain qualities, and when we predicate it of those persons, we assert that they all possess those qualities. But John is only capable of being truly affirmed of one single person, at least in the same sense. For, though there are many persons who bear that name, it is not conferred upon them to indicate any qualities, or any thing which belongs to them in common; and can not be said to be affirmed of them in any sense at all, consequently not in the same sense. “The king who succeeded William the Conqueror,” is also an individual name. For, that there can not be more than one person of whom it can be truly affirmed, is implied in the meaning of the words. Even “the king,” when the occasion or the context defines the individual of whom it is to be understood, may justly be regarded as an individual name.

It is not unusual, by way of explaining what is meant by a general name, to say that it is the name of a class. But this, though a convenient mode of expression for some purposes, is objectionable as a definition, since it explains the clearer of two things by the more obscure. It would be more logical to reverse the proposition, and turn it into a definition of the word class: “A class is the indefinite multitude of individuals denoted by a general name.”

It is necessary to distinguish general from collective names. A general name is one which can be predicated of each individual of a multitude; a collective name can not be predicated of each separately, but only of all taken together. “The 76th regiment of foot in the British army,” which is a collective name, is not a general but an individual name; for though it can be predicated of a multitude of individual soldiers taken jointly, it can not be predicated of them severally. We may say, Jones is a soldier, and Thompson is a soldier, and Smith is a soldier, but we can not say, Jones is the 76th regiment, and Thompson is the 76th regiment, and Smith is the 76th regiment. We can only say, Jones, and Thompson, and Smith, and Brown, and so forth (enumerating all the soldiers), are the 76th regiment.

“The 76th regiment” is a collective name, but not a general one: “a regiment” is both a collective and a general name. General with respect to all individual regiments, of each of which separately it can be affirmed: collective with respect to the individual soldiers of whom any regiment is composed.

§ 4. The second general division of names is into concrete and abstract. A concrete name is a name which stands for a thing; an abstract name is a name which stands for an attribute of a thing. Thus John, the sea, this table, are names of things. White, also, is a name of a thing, or rather of things. Whiteness, again, is the name of a quality or attribute of those things. Man is a name of many things; humanity is a name of an attribute of those things. Old is a name of things: old age is a name of one of their attributes.

I have used the words concrete and abstract in the sense annexed to them by the schoolmen, who, notwithstanding the imperfections of their philosophy, were unrivaled in the construction of technical language, and whose definitions, in logic at least, though they never went more than a little way into the subject, have seldom, I think, been altered but to be spoiled. A practice, however, has grown up in more modern times, which, if not introduced by Locke, has gained currency chiefly from his example, of applying the expression “abstract name” to all names which are the result of abstraction or generalization, and consequently to all general names, instead of confining it to the names of attributes. The metaphysicians of the Condillac school — whose admiration of Locke, passing over the profoundest speculations of that truly original genius, usually fastens with peculiar eagerness upon his weakest points — have gone on imitating him in this abuse of language, until there is now some difficulty in restoring the word to its original signification. A more wanton alteration in the meaning of a word is rarely to be met with; for the expression general name, the exact equivalent of which exists in all languages I am acquainted with, was already available for the purpose to which abstract has been misappropriated, while the misappropriation leaves that important class of words, the names of attributes, without any compact distinctive appellation. The old acceptation, however, has not gone so completely out of use as to deprive those who still adhere to it of all chance of being understood. By abstract, then, I shall always, in Logic proper, mean the opposite of concrete; by an abstract name, the name of an attribute; by a concrete name, the name of an object.

Do abstract names belong to the class of general, or to that of singular names? Some of them are certainly general. I mean those which are names not of one single and definite attribute, but of a class of attributes. Such is the word color, which is a name common to whiteness, redness, etc. Such is even the word whiteness, in respect of the different shades of whiteness to which it is applied in common: the word magnitude, in respect of the various degrees of magnitude and the various dimensions of space; the word weight, in respect of the various degrees of weight. Such also is the word attribute itself, the common name of all particular attributes. But when only one attribute, neither variable in degree nor in kind, is designated by the name; as visibleness; tangibleness; equality; squareness; milk-whiteness; then the name can hardly be considered general; for though it denotes an attribute of many different objects, the attribute itself is always conceived as one, not many.9 To avoid needless logomachies, the best course would probably be to consider these names as neither general nor individual, and to place them in a class apart.

It may be objected to our definition of an abstract name, that not only the names which we have called abstract, but adjectives, which we have placed in the concrete class, are names of attributes; that white, for example, is as much the name of the color as whiteness is. But (as before remarked) a word ought to be considered as the name of that which we intend to be understood by it when we put it to its principal use, that is, when we employ it in predication. When we say snow is white, milk is white, linen is white, we do not mean it to be understood that snow, or linen, or milk, is a color. We mean that they are things having the color. The reverse is the case with the word whiteness; what we affirm to be whiteness is not snow, but the color of snow. Whiteness, therefore, is the name of the color exclusively: white is a name of all things whatever having the color; a name, not of the quality whiteness, but of every white object. It is true, this name was given to all those various objects on account of the quality; and we may therefore say, without impropriety, that the quality forms part of its signification; but a name can only be said to stand for, or to be a name of, the things of which it can be predicated. We shall presently see that all names which can be said to have any signification, all names by applying which to an individual we give any information respecting that individual, may be said to imply an attribute of some sort; but they are not names of the attribute; it has its own proper abstract name.

§ 5. This leads to the consideration of a third great division of names, into connotative and non-connotative, the latter sometimes, but improperly, called absolute. This is one of the most important distinctions which we shall have occasion to point out, and one of those which go deepest into the nature of language.

A non-connotative term is one which signifies a subject only, or an attribute only. A connotative term is one which denotes a subject, and implies an attribute. By a subject is here meant any thing which possesses attributes. Thus John, or London, or England, are names which signify a subject only. Whiteness, length, virtue, signify an attribute only. None of these names, therefore, are connotative. But white, long, virtuous, are connotative. The word white, denotes all white things, as snow, paper, the foam of the sea, etc., and implies, or in the language of the schoolmen, connotes,10 the attribute whiteness. The word white is not predicated of the attribute, but of the subjects, snow, etc.; but when we predicate it of them, we convey the meaning that the attribute whiteness belongs to them. The same may be said of the other words above cited. Virtuous, for example, is the name of a class, which includes Socrates, Howard, the Man of Ross, and an undefinable number of other individuals, past, present, and to come. These individuals, collectively and severally, can alone be said with propriety to be denoted by the word: of them alone can it properly be said to be a name. But it is a name applied to all of them in consequence of an attribute which they are supposed to possess in common, the attribute which has received the name of virtue. It is applied to all beings that are considered to possess this attribute; and to none which are not so considered.

All concrete general names are connotative. The word man, for example, denotes Peter, Jane, John, and an indefinite number of other individuals, of whom, taken as a class, it is the name. But it is applied to them, because they possess, and to signify that they possess, certain attributes. These seem to be, corporeity, animal life, rationality, and a certain external form, which for distinction we call the human. Every existing thing, which possessed all these attributes, would be called a man; and any thing which possessed none of them, or only one, or two, or even three of them without the fourth, would not be so called. For example, if in the interior of Africa there were to be discovered a race of animals possessing reason equal to that of human beings, but with the form of an elephant, they would not be called men. Swift’s Houyhnhnms would not be so called. Or if such newly-discovered beings possessed the form of man without any vestige of reason, it is probable that some other name than that of man would be found for them. How it happens that there can be any doubt about the matter, will appear hereafter. The word man, therefore, signifies all these attributes, and all subjects which possess these attributes. But it can be predicated only of the subjects. What we call men, are the subjects, the individual Stiles and Nokes; not the qualities by which their humanity is constituted. The name, therefore, is said to signify the subjects directly, the attributes indirectly; it denotes the subjects, and implies, or involves, or indicates, or as we shall say henceforth connotes, the attributes. It is a connotative name.

Connotative names have hence been also called denominative, because the subject which they denote is denominated by, or receives a name from the attribute which they connote. Snow, and other objects, receive the name white, because they possess the attribute which is called whiteness; Peter, James, and others receive the name man because they possess the attributes which are considered to constitute humanity. The attribute, or attributes, may therefore be said to denominate those objects, or to give them a common name.11

It has been seen that all concrete general names are connotative. Even abstract names, though the names only of attributes, may in some instances be justly considered as connotative; for attributes themselves may have attributes ascribed to them; and a word which denotes attributes may connote an attribute of those attributes. Of this description, for example, is such a word as fault; equivalent to bad or hurtful quality. This word is a name common to many attributes, and connotes hurtfulness, an attribute of those various attributes. When, for example, we say that slowness, in a horse, is a fault, we do not mean that the slow movement, the actual change of pace of the slow horse, is a bad thing, but that the property or peculiarity of the horse, from which it derives that name, the quality of being a slow mover, is an undesirable peculiarity.

In regard to those concrete names which are not general but individual, a distinction must be made.

Proper names are not connotative: they denote the individuals who are called by them; but they do not indicate or imply any attributes as belonging to those individuals. When we name a child by the name Paul, or a dog by the name Cæsar, these names are simply marks used to enable those individuals to be made subjects of discourse. It may be said, indeed, that we must have had some reason for giving them those names rather than any others; and this is true; but the name, once given, is independent of the reason. A man may have been named John, because that was the name of his father; a town may have been named Dartmouth, because it is situated at the mouth of the Dart. But it is no part of the signification of the word John, that the father of the person so called bore the same name; nor even of the word Dartmouth, to be situated at the mouth of the Dart. If sand should choke up the mouth of the river, or an earthquake change its course, and remove it to a distance from the town, the name of the town would not necessarily be changed. That fact, therefore, can form no part of the signification of the word; for otherwise, when the fact confessedly ceased to be true, no one would any longer think of applying the name. Proper names are attached to the objects themselves, and are not dependent on the continuance of any attribute of the object.

But there is another kind of names, which, although they are individual names — that is, predicable only of one object — are really connotative. For, though we may give to an individual a name utterly unmeaning, which we call a proper name — a word which answers the purpose of showing what thing it is we are talking about, but not of telling any thing about it; yet a name peculiar to an individual is not necessarily of this description. It may be significant of some attribute, or some union of attributes, which, being possessed by no object but one, determines the name exclusively to that individual. “The sun” is a name of this description; “God,” when used by a monotheist, is another. These, however, are scarcely examples of what we are now attempting to illustrate, being, in strictness of language, general, not individual names: for, however they may be in fact predicable only of one object, there is nothing in the meaning of the words themselves which implies this: and, accordingly, when we are imagining and not affirming, we may speak of many suns; and the majority of mankind have believed, and still believe, that there are many gods. But it is easy to produce words which are real instances of connotative individual names. It may be part of the meaning of the connotative name itself, that there can exist but one individual possessing the attribute which it connotes: as, for instance, “the only son of John Stiles;” “the first emperor of Rome.” Or the attribute connoted may be a connection with some determinate event, and the connection may be of such a kind as only one individual could have; or may at least be such as only one individual actually had; and this may be implied in the form of the expression. “The father of Socrates” is an example of the one kind (since Socrates could not have had two fathers); “the author of the Iliad,” “the murderer of Henri Quatre,” of the second. For, though it is conceivable that more persons than one might have participated in the authorship of the Iliad, or in the murder of Henri Quatre, the employment of the article the implies that, in fact, this was not the case. What is here done by the word the, is done in other cases by the context: thus, “Cæsar’s army” is an individual name, if it appears from the context that the army meant is that which Cæsar commanded in a particular battle. The still more general expressions, “the Roman army,” or “the Christian army,” may be individualized in a similar manner. Another case of frequent occurrence has already been noticed; it is the following: The name, being a many-worded one, may consist, in the first place, of a general name, capable therefore in itself of being affirmed of more things than one, but which is, in the second place, so limited by other words joined with it, that the entire expression can only be predicated of one object, consistently with the meaning of the general term. This is exemplified in such an instance as the following: “the present prime minister of England.” Prime Minister of England is a general name; the attributes which it connotes may be possessed by an indefinite number of persons: in succession however, not simultaneously; since the meaning of the name itself imports (among other things) that there can be only one such person at a time. This being the case, and the application of the name being afterward limited by the article and the word present, to such individuals as possess the attributes at one indivisible point of time, it becomes applicable only to one individual. And as this appears from the meaning of the name, without any extrinsic proof, it is strictly an individual name.

From the preceding observations it will easily be collected, that whenever the names given to objects convey any information — that is, whenever they have properly any meaning — the meaning resides not in what they denote, but in what they connote. The only names of objects which connote nothing are proper names; and these have, strictly speaking, no signification.12

If, like the robber in the Arabian Nights, we make a mark with chalk on a house to enable us to know it again, the mark has a purpose, but it has not properly any meaning. The chalk does not declare any thing about the house; it does not mean, This is such a person’s house, or This is a house which contains booty. The object of making the mark is merely distinction. I say to myself, All these houses are so nearly alike that if I lose sight of them I shall not again be able to distinguish that which I am now looking at, from any of the others; I must therefore contrive to make the appearance of this one house unlike that of the others, that I may hereafter know when I see the mark — not indeed any attribute of the house — but simply that it is the same house which I am now looking at. Morgiana chalked all the other houses in a similar manner, and defeated the scheme: how? simply by obliterating the difference of appearance between that house and the others. The chalk was still there, but it no longer served the purpose of a distinctive mark.

When we impose a proper name, we perform an operation in some degree analogous to what the robber intended in chalking the house. We put a mark, not indeed upon the object itself, but, so to speak, upon the idea of the object. A proper name is but an unmeaning mark which we connect in our minds with the idea of the object, in order that whenever the mark meets our eyes or occurs to our thoughts, we may think of that individual object. Not being attached to the thing itself, it does not, like the chalk, enable us to distinguish the object when we see it; but it enables us to distinguish it when it is spoken of, either in the records of our own experience, or in the discourse of others; to know that what we find asserted in any proposition of which it is the subject, is asserted of the individual thing with which we were previously acquainted.

When we predicate of any thing its proper name; when we say, pointing to a man, this is Brown or Smith, or pointing to a city, that it is York, we do not, merely by so doing, convey to the reader any information about them, except that those are their names. By enabling him to identify the individuals, we may connect them with information previously possessed by him; by saying, This is York, we may tell him that it contains the Minster. But this is in virtue of what he has previously heard concerning York; not by any thing implied in the name. It is otherwise when objects are spoken of by connotative names. When we say, The town is built of marble, we give the hearer what may be entirely new information, and this merely by the signification of the many-worded connotative name, “built of marble.” Such names are not signs of the mere objects, invented because we have occasion to think and speak of those objects individually; but signs which accompany an attribute; a kind of livery in which the attribute clothes all objects which are recognized as possessing it. They are not mere marks, but more, that is to say, significant marks; and the connotation is what constitutes their significance.

As a proper name is said to be the name of the one individual which it is predicated of, so (as well from the importance of adhering to analogy, as for the other reasons formerly assigned) a connotative name ought to be considered a name of all the various individuals which it is predicable of, or in other words denotes, and not of what it connotes. But by learning what things it is a name of, we do not learn the meaning of the name: for to the same thing we may, with equal propriety, apply many names, not equivalent in meaning. Thus, I call a certain man by the name Sophroniscus: I call him by another name, The father of Socrates. Both these are names of the same individual, but their meaning is altogether different; they are applied to that individual for two different purposes: the one, merely to distinguish him from other persons who are spoken of; the other to indicate a fact relating to him, the fact that Socrates was his son. I further apply to him these other expressions: a man, a Greek, an Athenian, a sculptor, an old man, an honest man, a brave man. All these are, or may be, names of Sophroniscus, not indeed of him alone, but of him and each of an indefinite number of other human beings. Each of these names is applied to Sophroniscus for a different reason, and by each whoever understands its meaning is apprised of a distinct fact or number of facts concerning him; but those who knew nothing about the names except that they were applicable to Sophroniscus, would be altogether ignorant of their meaning. It is even possible that I might know every single individual of whom a given name could be with truth affirmed, and yet could not be said to know the meaning of the name. A child knows who are its brothers and sisters, long before it has any definite conception of the nature of the facts which are involved in the signification of those words.

In some cases it is not easy to decide precisely how much a particular word does or does not connote; that is, we do not exactly know (the case not having arisen) what degree of difference in the object would occasion a difference in the name. Thus, it is clear that the word man, besides animal life and rationality, connotes also a certain external form; but it would be impossible to say precisely what form; that is, to decide how great a deviation from the form ordinarily found in the beings whom we are accustomed to call men, would suffice in a newly-discovered race to make us refuse them the name of man. Rationality, also, being a quality which admits of degrees, it has never been settled what is the lowest degree of that quality which would entitle any creature to be considered a human being. In all such cases, the meaning of the general name is so far unsettled and vague; mankind have not come to any positive agreement about the matter. When we come to treat of Classification, we shall have occasion to show under what conditions this vagueness may exist without practical inconvenience; and cases will appear in which the ends of language are better promoted by it than by complete precision; in order that, in natural history for instance, individuals or species of no very marked character may be ranged with those more strongly characterized individuals or species to which, in all their properties taken together, they bear the nearest resemblance.

But this partial uncertainty in the connotation of names can only be free from mischief when guarded by strict precautions. One of the chief sources, indeed, of lax habits of thought, is the custom of using connotative terms without a distinctly ascertained connotation, and with no more precise notion of their meaning than can be loosely collected from observing what objects they are used to denote. It is in this manner that we all acquire, and inevitably so, our first knowledge of our vernacular language. A child learns the meaning of the words man, or white, by hearing them applied to a variety of individual objects, and finding out, by a process of generalization and analysis which he could not himself describe, what those different objects have in common. In the case of these two words the process is so easy as to require no assistance from culture; the objects called human beings, and the objects called white, differing from all others by qualities of a peculiarly definite and obvious character. But in many other cases, objects bear a general resemblance to one another, which leads to their being familiarly classed together under a common name, while, without more analytic habits than the generality of mankind possess, it is not immediately apparent what are the particular attributes, upon the possession of which in common by them all, their general resemblance depends. When this is the case, people use the name without any recognized connotation, that is, without any precise meaning; they talk, and consequently think, vaguely, and remain contented to attach only the same degree of significance to their own words, which a child three years old attaches to the words brother and sister. The child at least is seldom puzzled by the starting up of new individuals, on whom he is ignorant whether or not to confer the title; because there is usually an authority close at hand competent to solve all doubts. But a similar resource does not exist in the generality of cases; and new objects are continually presenting themselves to men, women, and children, which they are called upon to class proprio motu. They, accordingly, do this on no other principle than that of superficial similarity, giving to each new object the name of that familiar object, the idea of which it most readily recalls, or which, on a cursory inspection, it seems to them most to resemble: as an unknown substance found in the ground will be called, according to its texture, earth, sand, or a stone. In this manner, names creep on from subject to subject, until all traces of a common meaning sometimes disappear, and the word comes to denote a number of things not only independently of any common attribute, but which have actually no attribute in common; or none but what is shared by other things to which the name is capriciously refused.13 Even scientific writers have aided in this perversion of general language from its purpose; sometimes because, like the vulgar, they knew no better; and sometimes in deference to that aversion to admit new words, which induces mankind, on all subjects not considered technical, to attempt to make the original stock of names serve with but little augmentation to express a constantly increasing number of objects and distinctions, and, consequently, to express them in a manner progressively more and more imperfect.

To what a degree this loose mode of classing and denominating objects has rendered the vocabulary of mental and moral philosophy unfit for the purposes of accurate thinking, is best known to whoever has most meditated on the present condition of those branches of knowledge. Since, however, the introduction of a new technical language as the vehicle of speculations on subjects belonging to the domain of daily discussion, is extremely difficult to effect, and would not be free from inconvenience even if effected, the problem for the philosopher, and one of the most difficult which he has to resolve, is, in retaining the existing phraseology, how best to alleviate its imperfections. This can only be accomplished by giving to every general concrete name which there is frequent occasion to predicate, a definite and fixed connotation; in order that it may be known what attributes, when we call an object by that name, we really mean to predicate of the object. And the question of most nicety is, how to give this fixed connotation to a name, with the least possible change in the objects which the name is habitually employed to denote; with the least possible disarrangement, either by adding or subtraction, of the group of objects which, in however imperfect a manner, it serves to circumscribe and hold together; and with the least vitiation of the truth of any propositions which are commonly received as true.

This desirable purpose, of giving a fixed connotation where it is wanting, is the end aimed at whenever any one attempts to give a definition of a general name already in use; every definition of a connotative name being an attempt either merely to declare, or to declare and analyze, the connotation of the name. And the fact, that no questions which have arisen in the moral sciences have been subjects of keener controversy than the definitions of almost all the leading expressions, is a proof how great an extent the evil to which we have adverted has attained.

Names with indeterminate connotation are not to be confounded with names which have more than one connotation, that is to say, ambiguous words. A word may have several meanings, but all of them fixed and recognized ones; as the word post, for example, or the word box, the various senses of which it would be endless to enumerate. And the paucity of existing names, in comparison with the demand for them, may often render it advisable and even necessary to retain a name in this multiplicity of acceptations, distinguishing these so clearly as to prevent their being confounded with one another. Such a word may be considered as two or more names, accidentally written and spoken alike.14

§ 6. The fourth principal division of names, is into positive and negative. Positive, as man, tree, good; negative, as not-man, not-tree, not-good. To every positive concrete name, a corresponding negative one might be framed. After giving a name to any one thing, or to any plurality of things, we might create a second name which should be a name of all things whatever, except that particular thing or things. These negative names are employed whenever we have occasion to speak collectively of all things other than some thing or class of things. When the positive name is connotative, the corresponding negative name is connotative likewise; but in a peculiar way, connoting not the presence but the absence of an attribute. Thus, not-white denotes all things whatever except white things; and connotes the attribute of not possessing whiteness. For the non-possession of any given attribute is also an attribute, and may receive a name as such; and thus negative concrete names may obtain negative abstract names to correspond to them.15

Names which are positive in form are often negative in reality, and others are really positive though their form is negative. The word inconvenient, for example, does not express the mere absence of convenience; it expresses a positive attribute — that of being the cause of discomfort or annoyance. So the word unpleasant, notwithstanding its negative form, does not connote the mere absence of pleasantness, but a less degree of what is signified by the word painful, which, it is hardly necessary to say, is positive. Idle, on the other hand, is a word which, though positive in form, expresses nothing but what would be signified either by the phrase not working, or by the phrase not disposed to work; and sober, either by not drunk or by not drunken.

There is a class of names called privative. A privative name is equivalent in its signification to a positive and a negative name taken together; being the name of something which has once had a particular attribute, or for some other reason might have been expected to have it, but which has it not. Such is the word blind, which is not equivalent to not seeing, or to not capable of seeing, for it would not, except by a poetical or rhetorical figure, be applied to stocks and stones. A thing is not usually said to be blind, unless the class to which it is most familiarly referred, or to which it is referred on the particular occasion, be chiefly composed of things which can see, as in the case of a blind man, or a blind horse; or unless it is supposed for any reason that it ought to see; as in saying of a man, that he rushed blindly into an abyss, or of philosophers or the clergy that the greater part of them are blind guides. The names called privative, therefore, connote two things; the absence of certain attributes, and the presence of others, from which the presence also of the former might naturally have been expected.

§ 7. The fifth leading division of names is into relative and absolute, or let us rather say, relative and non-relative; for the word absolute is put upon much too hard duty in metaphysics, not to be willingly spared when its services can be dispensed with. It resembles the word civil in the language of jurisprudence, which stands for the opposite of criminal, the opposite of ecclesiastical, the opposite of military, the opposite of political — in short, the opposite of any positive word which wants a negative.

Relative names are such as father, son; ruler, subject; like; equal; unlike; unequal; longer, shorter; cause, effect. Their characteristic property is, that they are always given in pairs. Every relative name which is predicated of an object, supposes another object (or objects), of which we may predicate either that same name or another relative name which is said to be the correlative of the former. Thus, when we call any person a son, we suppose other persons who must be called parents. When we call any event a cause, we suppose another event which is an effect. When we say of any distance that it is longer, we suppose another distance which is shorter. When we say of any object that it is like, we mean that it is like some other object, which is also said to be like the first. In this last case both objects receive the same name; the relative term is its own correlative.

It is evident that these words, when concrete, are, like other concrete general names, connotative; they denote a subject, and connote an attribute; and each of them has, or might have, a corresponding abstract name, to denote the attribute connoted by the concrete. Thus the concrete like has its abstract likeness; the concretes, father and son, have, or might have, the abstracts, paternity, and filiety, or sonship. The concrete name connotes an attribute, and the abstract name which answers to it denotes that attribute. But of what nature is the attribute? Wherein consists the peculiarity in the connotation of a relative name?

The attribute signified by a relative name, say some, is a relation; and this they give, if not as a sufficient explanation, at least as the only one attainable. If they are asked, What then is a relation? they do not profess to be able to tell. It is generally regarded as something peculiarly recondite and mysterious. I can not, however, perceive in what respect it is more so than any other attribute; indeed, it appears to me to be so in a somewhat less degree. I conceive rather, that it is by examining into the signification of relative names, or, in other words, into the nature of the attribute which they connote, that a clear insight may best be obtained into the nature of all attributes: of all that is meant by an attribute.

It is obvious, in fact, that if we take any two correlative names, father and son for instance, though the objects denoted by the names are different, they both, in a certain sense, connote the same thing. They can not, indeed, be said to connote the same attribute: to be a father, is not the same thing as to be a son. But when we call one man a father, another a son, what we mean to affirm is a set of facts, which are exactly the same in both cases. To predicate of A that he is the father of B, and of B that he is the son of A, is to assert one and the same fact in different words. The two propositions are exactly equivalent: neither of them asserts more or asserts less than the other. The paternity of A and the filiety of B are not two facts, but two modes of expressing the same fact. That fact, when analysed, consists of a series of physical events or phenomena, in which both A and B are parties concerned, and from which they both derive names. What those names really connote, is this series of events: that is the meaning, and the whole meaning, which either of them is intended to convey. The series of events may be said to constitute the relation; the schoolmen called it the foundation of the relation, fundamentum relationis.

In this manner any fact, or series of facts, in which two different objects are implicated, and which is therefore predicable of both of them, may be either considered as constituting an attribute of the one, or an attribute of the other. According as we consider it in the former, or in the latter aspect, it is connoted by the one or the other of the two correlative names. Father connotes the fact, regarded as constituting an attribute of A; son connotes the same fact, as constituting an attribute of B. It may evidently be regarded with equal propriety in either light. And all that appears necessary to account for the existence of relative names, is, that whenever there is a fact in which two individuals are concerned, an attribute grounded on that fact may be ascribed to either of these individuals.

A name, therefore, is said to be relative, when, over and above the object which it denotes, it implies in its signification the existence of another object, also deriving a denomination from the same fact which is the ground of the first name. Or (to express the same meaning in other words) a name is relative, when, being the name of one thing, its signification can not be explained but by mentioning another. Or we may state it thus — when the name can not be employed in discourse so as to have a meaning, unless the name of some other thing than what it is itself the name of, be either expressed or understood. These definitions are all, at bottom, equivalent, being modes of variously expressing this one distinctive circumstance — that every other attribute of an object might, without any contradiction, be conceived still to exist if no object besides that one had ever existed;16 but those of its attributes which are expressed by relative names, would on that supposition be swept away.

§ 8. Names have been further distinguished into univocal and æquivocal: these, however, are not two kinds of names, but two different modes of employing names. A name is univocal, or applied univocally, with respect to all things of which it can be predicated in the same sense; it is æquivocal, or applied æquivocally, as respects those things of which it is predicated in different senses. It is scarcely necessary to give instances of a fact so familiar as the double meaning of a word. In reality, as has been already observed, an æquivocal or ambiguous word is not one name, but two names, accidentally coinciding in sound. File meaning a steel instrument, and file meaning a line of soldiers, have no more title to be considered one word, because written alike, than grease and Greece have, because they are pronounced alike. They are one sound, appropriated to form two different words.

An intermediate case is that of a name used analogically or metaphorically; that is, a name which is predicated of two things, not univocally, or exactly in the same signification, but in significations somewhat similar, and which being derived one from the other, one of them may be considered the primary, and the other a secondary signification. As when we speak of a brilliant light and a brilliant achievement. The word is not applied in the same sense to the light and to the achievement; but having been applied to the light in its original sense, that of brightness to the eye, it is transferred to the achievement in a derivative signification, supposed to be somewhat like the primitive one. The word, however, is just as properly two names instead of one, in this case, as in that of the most perfect ambiguity. And one of the commonest forms of fallacious reasoning arising from ambiguity, is that of arguing from a metaphorical expression as if it were literal; that is, as if a word, when applied metaphorically, were the same name as when taken in its original sense: which will be seen more particularly in its place.

7 Computation or Logic, chap. ii.

8 In the original “had, or had not.” These last words, as involving a subtlety foreign to our present purpose, I have forborne to quote.

9 Vide infra, note at the end of § 3, book ii., chap. ii.

10 Notare, to mark; connotare, to mark along with; to mark one thing with or in addition to another.

11 Archbishop Whately, who, in the later editions of his Elements of Logic, aided in reviving the important distinction treated of in the text, proposes the term “Attributive” as a substitute for “Connotative” (p. 22, 9th edit.). The expression is, in itself, appropriate; but as it has not the advantage of being connected with any verb, of so markedly distinctive a character as “to connote,” it is not, I think, fitted to supply the place of the word Connotative in scientific use.

12 A writer who entitles his book Philosophy; or, the Science of Truth, charges me in his very first page (referring at the foot of it to this passage) with asserting that general names have properly no signification. And he repeats this statement many times in the course of his volume, with comments, not at all flattering, thereon. It is well to be now and then reminded to how great a length perverse misquotation (for, strange as it appears, I do not believe that the writer is dishonest) can sometimes go. It is a warning to readers when they see an author accused, with volume and page referred to, and the apparent guarantee of inverted commas, of maintaining something more than commonly absurd, not to give implicit credence to the assertion without verifying the reference.

13 “Take the familiar term Stone. It is applied to mineral and rocky materials, to the kernels of fruit, to the accumulations in the gall-bladder and in the kidney; while it is refused to polished minerals (called gems), to rocks that have the cleavage suited for roofing (slates), and to baked clay (bricks). It occurs in the designation of the magnetic oxide of iron (loadstone), and not in speaking of other metallic ores. Such a term is wholly unfit for accurate reasoning, unless hedged round on every occasion by other phrases; as building stone, precious stone, gall-stone, etc. Moreover, the methods of definition are baffled for want of sufficient community to ground upon. There is no quality uniformly present in the cases where it is applied, and uniformly absent where it is not applied; hence the definer would have to employ largely the license of striking off existing applications, and taking in new ones.” — BAIN, Logic, ii., 172.

14 Before quitting the subject of connotative names, it is proper to observe, that the first writer who, in our times, has adopted from the schoolmen the word to connote, Mr. James Mill, in his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, employs it in a signification different from that in which it is here used. He uses the word in a sense co-extensive with its etymology, applying it to every case in which a name, while pointing directly to one thing (which is consequently termed its signification), includes also a tacit reference to some other thing. In the case considered in the text, that of concrete general names, his language and mine are the converse of one another. Considering (very justly) the signification of the name to lie in the attribute, he speaks of the word as noting the attribute, and connoting the things possessing the attribute. And he describes abstract names as being properly concrete names with their connotation dropped; whereas, in my view, it is the denotation which would be said to be dropped, what was previously connoted becoming the whole signification.

In adopting a phraseology at variance with that which so high an authority, and one which I am less likely than any other person to undervalue, has deliberately sanctioned, I have been influenced by the urgent necessity for a term exclusively appropriated to express the manner in which a concrete general name serves to mark the attributes which are involved in its signification. This necessity can scarcely be felt in its full force by any one who has not found by experience how vain is the attempt to communicate clear ideas on the philosophy of language without such a word. It is hardly an exaggeration to say, that some of the most prevalent of the errors with which logic has been infected, and a large part of the cloudiness and confusion of ideas which have enveloped it, would, in all probability, have been avoided, if a term had been in common use to express exactly what I have signified by the term to connote. And the schoolmen, to whom we are indebted for the greater part of our logical language, gave us this also, and in this very sense. For though some of their general expressions countenance the use of the word in the more extensive and vague acceptation in which it is taken by Mr. Mill, yet when they had to define it specifically as a technical term, and to fix its meaning as such, with that admirable precision which always characterizes their definitions, they clearly explained that nothing was said to be connoted except forms, which word may generally, in their writings, be understood as synonymous with attributes.

Now, if the word to connote, so well suited to the purpose to which they applied it, be diverted from that purpose by being taken to fulfill another, for which it does not seem to me to be at all required; I am unable to find any expression to replace it, but such as are commonly employed in a sense so much more general, that it would be useless attempting to associate them peculiarly with this precise idea. Such are the words, to involve, to imply, etc. By employing these, I should fail of attaining the object for which alone the name is needed, namely, to distinguish this particular kind of involving and implying from all other kinds, and to assure to it the degree of habitual attention which its importance demands.

15 Professor Bain (Logic, i., 56) thinks that negative names are not names of all things whatever except those denoted by the correlative positive name, but only for all things of some particular class: not-white, for instance, he deems not to be a name for every thing in nature except white things, but only for every colored thing other than white. In this case, however, as in all others, the test of what a name denotes is what it can be predicated of: and we can certainly predicate of a sound, or a smell, that it is not white. The affirmation and the negation of the same attribute can not but divide the whole field of predication between them.

16 Or rather, all objects except itself and the percipient mind; for, as we shall see hereafter, to ascribe any attribute to an object, necessarily implies a mind to perceive it.

The simple and clear explanation given in the text, of relation and relative names, a subject so long the opprobrium of metaphysics, was given (as far as I know) for the first time, by Mr. James Mill, in his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind.


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