The Humanity Of Words - online book

A Primer Of Semantics

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102
THE HUMANITY OF WORDS
a description, we blur what evidence we have to support the inference. We destroy the criteria by which to evaluate the worth of an inference.
The descriptive level is more reliable than the levels of inference, first, because the descriptive level should be essentially similar for all competent reporters; and, secondly, because various inferences may be drawn from the same description. The following description, for example, may be accurate and impersonal:
Mrs. A passed me on the street this morning and did not greet me.
This description may be the basis for several possible interpretative inferences:
Mrs, A was preoccupied.
Mrs. A is shy and waited for me to greet her first.
Mrs. A is nearsighted.
Mrs. A was looking straight ahead and didn't see me.
Etc.
But we are likely to move from an interpretative inference to a value judgment inference with the merest flip of the tongue:
Mrs. A is a snob.
Mrs. A is a narrow-minded anti-whateveryouhappentobe.
Etc
This is opinion based upon opiniontwice removed from the level of description!24
The "sane** order is from description to inference, from observable fact to opinion.
To confuse the levels of description and inference is to obliterate the criteria by which to evaluate the worth of the inference, whether it be interpretative or appraisive.
24 See Morris's distinction between designative and appraisive language Part Four below.