New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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dlementof the validity of what semanticists call "real" or "metaphysically realistic" or "quasi" definitions. These are definitions which pretend to reveal the "true nature," "ultimate characteristic," "whatness," "Essence," or "Reality" of their referents.
The reasons given in support of this type of definition, which I shall henceforth call a "real definition," appear to be of three interconnected, perhaps overlapping sorts: (a) a conviction (which has already been spoken of and which any dictionary would explode) that only one true or proper referent for a word exists; (b) a vague but firm contention that words are in fact something more than words, i.e., a "type of reaction which somehow sees in the words themselves the very 'things' which the words are intended to represent";13 and (c) an "organic" view of semantics which repudiates the "referential" view indicated by the triangular diagram and which supposes that words and their referents can be so fused that the words will simultaneously define and say something significant about these referentsa supposition which I shall consider a few pages farther on.
Since semanticists have challenged at length these notions supporting the value and legitimacy of real definitions, it is only necessary, for my purpose, to touch upon the main arguments in their refutation. In the first place, it is manifestly impossible to comprehend anything fully and completely, for however much one may know and say about any referent, one is always "abstracting" certain properties and omitting others. "Evidently complete knowledge of anything, if we include all its natural and ideal relations, is incompatible with mortality and with the biological basis of thought." 14 It follows that, pace Plato and many other philosophers, nothing can be known "as it really is," and that language cannot therefore in
13.  I. J. Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs (New York, 1941), p. 131.
14.  George Santayana, Obiter Scripta (London, 1936), p. 100. J. Buchler and B. Schwartz, eds.