New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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THE SEMANTIC BACKGROUND                               13
nal," "arbitrary," "acting," and "empirically descriptive." As these various adjectives suggest, such definitions differ both from conventional, dictionary ones which, by providing verbal synonyms, report or explain the meanings words already have been given, and from real ones which purport to convey the Essence of something. Volitional definitions, in brief, are arbitrarily chosen means of describing an object, quality, situation, relation, and so forth. Most words, up to a point, may mean what we wish to have them mean; we can therefore voli-tionally define them, intending by our definitions simply proposals for a working agreement in the use of certain terms: "Let us agree that by 'art' we will mean such and such." In this procedure, which contrasts with those of making both dictionary and real definitions, we are primarily giving words meaning, not searching for meanings in them. Thus, for vivid contrast with Ransom's remark quoted in the preceding paragraph, consider these wise words of Henri Focillon: "The critic will define a work of art by following the needs of his own individual nature and the particular objectives of his research." 19
By pointing next to a major distinction between volitional definitions, on the one hand, and propositions, on the other, we can throw further light upon real definitions and, at the same time, reveal the ambiguous character of that organic view of meaning which so strongly advocates the validity of these real definitions. Volitional definitions, in contrast to propositions (or to statements and judgments), are about language; they define words, not things; they do not assert facts, and hence do not raise issues of truth and falsehood. Such a definition "is not true or false, being the expression of a volition, not of a proposition." 20 Propositions, on the contrary,
19.  The Life of Forms in Art (New Haven, 1942), p. 1. C. B. Hogan and George Kubler, trans.
20.  Whitehead and Russell, Principia Mathematica (Cambridge, Mass., 1910), I, 11.