New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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H
PROBLEMS IN MEANING
are true or false, inasmuch as the meanings of their terms are (or should be) already known; but this situation in the case of volitional definitions does not confront one. This contrast between volitional definitions and propositionsand a similar contrast might be made between dictionary definitions and propositionsis of first importance in semantics; for truly, as Richards asserts, "The great snare of language . . . is the confusion between a definition [by which he of course refers to a volitional one] and a statement that is not about the use of words/' 21 While a hard and fast separation between these categories is, doubtless, neither possible nor desirable in ordinary discourse, a careful distinction between them is essential to the more specialized kind of analysis required in discussions of beauty and art. Unfortunately this distinction is ignored or blurred by writers who give us the hybrid category of real definitions which may now be more clearly seen as misguided effortswhich are perhaps conscious, perhaps unconsciousto straddle the alternative possibilities of volitional definitions and of propositions in an attempt simultaneously to define terms and to state truths.
In the following section of this part I shall attempt to illustrate specifically the point that an ability to recognize the virtues of volitional definitions and the vices of real definitions is a principal method of understanding and so of eliminating semantic confusion. Before doing this, however, I am anxious to anticipate the likely objection that I am exaggerating the importance of volitional definitions. Not wishing for an instant to claim that such definitions can be a complete cure for
21. Interpretation in Teaching, p. 253. In How To Read a Page (New York, 1942), p. 167, Richards comments upon the same problem in this way: "The writers usually wobble every bit as much as their readers between naming something with their sentences and saying something about some other thing. ... But we suppose them (and they suppose themselves) to be laying down an alleged truth about something which is set up otherwise. Whence most of our intellectual woe. Any training we can give ourselves, any techniques we can develop for handling this prime shift, will be inimitably rewarding/'