Front Page Titles (by Subject) 153.: SMART'S OUTLINE OF SEMATOLOGY  EXAMINER, 1 APR., 1832, PP. 211-12 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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153.: SMART’S OUTLINE OF SEMATOLOGY  EXAMINER, 1 APR., 1832, PP. 211-12 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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SMART’S OUTLINE OF SEMATOLOGY 
For the context and the entry in Mill’s bibliography, see No. 151. This second part is headed “An Outline of Sematology; or, an Essay towards establishing a New Theory of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. / (Concluded from the Examiner of last week.)” It is listed as “Review of ‘An Outline of Sematology’ concluded” and enclosed in square brackets in the Somerville College set.
the principal fault of this work is its pretension to the character of a New Theory. There is no room now for a new theory in the sciences here treated of. We shall not, probably, be suspected of upholding old opinions because they are old, and we are less inclined than almost any one, to underrate the importance of original thinking. Much remains to be done towards perfecting these sciences: the author before us has contributed to this end something not inconsiderable, and has shown a capacity, which, if fitly improved, may enable him to effect much more; an abundant harvest will also remain for subsequent inquirers: but whatever scope there may be for new theories of particular points, now mysterious, or misunderstood, any thing which can justly be called a New Theory of Grammar, Logic, or Rhetoric, will most assuredly be erroneous. These subjects have now occupied the attention of thinking men for upwards of two thousand years, without intermission; and have formed the principal subject of the meditations of some of the most powerful and comprehensive intellects, which the world, we may safely predict, will ever see. No doubt, there still remains to be done, much which they have left undone, and to be undone, much which they have done. But it would argue a very slender faculty of appreciating the mass of valuable truth which their successive labours have called into existence, to imagine that what can be added to the heap by any single individual, can ever bear more than a very insignificant proportion to the entire bulk. A new contribution, whatever may be its absolute importance, cannot now alter the face of a science, as it might formerly have done. The most powerful thinker, in constructing a scheme of the entire science, can be indebted for a small part only of the materials to his own genius; the far greatest portion will be derived from the thoughts of his predecessors. Indeed, the greatest proof of genius, perhaps, which any person of our times has it in his power to give, consists in being able to see the worth of existing materials, from which half-taught mediocrity turns away in scorn; to disengage a great and pregnant thought from the trammels of a language suited to the comprehension of another age, or involving philosophical theories now exploded, and clothe it in the phraseology of the present day; to dare to think that a great man of a former age was substantially in the right, when some flaw, unavoidably or unguardedly left in the mere accidents of his theory, has sufficed to disguise the intrinsic truth of its essentials from the intellects of the minute philosophers who succeeded him. He who perpetually and systematically does this, is a great man; for, the very attempt to do it, or the conception of it as a thing proper to be done, seems to be a stretch of intelligence which not many have attained to. Without it, however, mankind would be no wiser after twenty generations than after one, since each generation would be unable to profit by any inquiries but its own.
The author before us has not afforded this evidence of genius; yet he is not so blind to the merits of his predecessors, as might be suspected from his laying claim to be the founder of a new theory of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric; that is, if the words have any meaning, to have placed those three sciences upon an entirely new foundation. We fully believe that whatever, in this work, is either expressly, or by implication, laid claim to as original, has been the bonâ fide produce of the writer’s own thoughts; and this is saying a great deal, even where the thought has occurred to others before him. He often shows, too, that he is acquainted with what others have done, and can appreciate it; so often, as to make us confident that he will hereafter feel the value of much which hitherto he has not known, or has not appreciated.
His own contribution to philosophy consists fundamentally of one idea; which having clearly conceived and firmly grasped, he has followed it out into numerous ramifications, and traced its bearings upon the general problems of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, in a manner evincing no ordinary capacity for metaphysical investigation. Where he has failed, it is, we suspect, from being in too great a hurry to finish his book. We do not blame him for not carrying the precept, nonum prematur in annum,1 into literal excecution; for we should have been sorry to forego for so long a period the pleasure and instruction which he has afforded us: but the results of any intellectual process must suffer greatly by being given out to the world the moment they are conceived in the author’s mind. The first principles of the work are set forth in a manner giving token of mature consideration; but as the exposition advances, marks of haste become visible:—after having arrived at some results which he thought important, the writer seems to have been impatient to bring the inquiry to a conclusion, and has therefore not unfrequently stopped short in an interesting train of thought, or left its results in a state of vagueness, which is, we think, the source of the only material errors we have to lay to his charge. This vagueness is by no means a general characteristic, either of our author’s conceptions, or of his style; both, wherever his mental powers seem to have been fully called into play, are clear, vigorous, and masculine.
Sematology, from σήματα, signs, is the name which our author gives to the doctrine of Language; the office of which, as an instrument of thought, he well understands, and the several uses of which he considers to form the subjects respectively of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Now the one idea, which is the basis of his speculations, is the following.
What we wish to communicate on any one occasion, by means of words, is some state of our consciousness; say, for instance, the bodily sensation we are experiencing at that particular moment. This we might express by one single word, if we chose; as many things are expressed in a state of nature by single cries. But, it being impossible to have a separate word for every state of feeling which we desire to communicate, we are obliged to express our states of feeling by a limited number of words, variously combined. Now, (says our author,) although the state of feeling we desire to express, may be complicated to any extent, and of course susceptible of being analysed into parts; it is by no means true, that the words which we put together to express this state of feeling, will, when separated, express severally those parts. It is not true that the meaning of a sentence, is made up of the separate meanings of the words composing the sentence. If we take the separate meanings of the separate words, and add them together, the sum total includes much more than is intended to be conveyed by that one sentence; for it includes all that we otherwise know of the objects which we find it necessary to name in order to convey a notion of that one matter of fact.
Let us take, for our first fact, the cry for food of a new-born infant. That is an instinctive cry, wholly unconnected, we presume, with reason and knowledge. In proportion as the knowledge grows, that the want, when it occurs, can be supplied, the cry becomes rational, and may at last be said to signify, “Give me food,” or, more at full, “I want you to give me food.” In what does the rational cry (rational when compared with the instinctive cry) differ from the still more rational sentence?—Not in its meaning, but simply thus, that the one is a sign suggested directly by nature, and the other is a sign arising out of such art, as, in its first acquirement, (we are about to presume) nature, or necessity, gradually teaches our species. Now, that the artificial sign is made up of parts, (namely the words that compose the sentence) and that the natural sign is not made up of significant parts, we affirm to be simply a consequence of the constitution of artificial speech, and not to follow from any thing in the nature of the communication which the mind has to make. The natural cry, if understood, is, for the purpose in view, quite as good as the sentence, nor does the sentence, as a whole, signify any thing more. Taking the words separately, there is indeed much more contained in the sentence than in the cry, namely, the knowledge of what it is to give, under other circumstances, as well as that of giving food; of food, under other circumstances, as well as that of being given to me; of me, under other circumstances, as well as that of wanting food; but all this knowledge, in this and similar cases for which a cry might suffice, is unnecessary, and the indivisible sign, if equally understood for the actual purpose, is, for this purpose, quite adequate to the artificially compounded sign.
. . . Collectively, that is in sentences, they (words) can signify any perception by the senses, or conception arising from such perception, any desire, emotion or passion—in short, any impression which nature would have prompted us to signify by an indivisible sign, if such a sign could have been found:—but individually (we repeat) each word belonging to such sentence, or to any sentence, is not the sign of any idea whatever which the mind passively receives, but of an abstraction which reason obtains by acts of comparison and judgment upon its passively-received ideas. The sentence, “John walks,” may express what is actually perceived by the senses; but neither word, separately, can be said to express a part of that perception, since the perception is of John walking, and if we perceive John separate from walking, then he is not walking, and consequently it is another perception; and so, if we perceive walking separate from John, it must be that we perceive somebody else walking, and not him. The separate words, then, do not stand for passively-received ideas, but for abstract notions:—so far as they express what is perceived by the senses, they have no separate meaning; it is only with reference to the understanding that each has a separate meaning. The separate meaning of the word John is a knowledge that John has existed and will exist, independently of the present perception, and the separate meaning of the word walks is a knowledge that another may walk as well as John. This is not an idea of John or an idea of walking such as the senses give, or such as memory revives; for the senses present no such object as John in the abstract, that is, neither walking, nor not walking; nor do they furnish any such idea as that of walking independently of one who walks. There is then a double force in these words,—their separate force, which is derived from the understanding, and their united force, by which, in this instance, they signify a perception by the senses.
This, as the reader will have perceived, is far from new; but it has never, perhaps, been presented precisely in this manner. Most metaphysical writers of name have said the same thing, or things distinctly implying it:—equally true is it, however, that they have said other things, as distinctly implying the contrary, and that much of the received language seems to take for granted that the meaning of a sentence is the sum of the meanings of the separate words. Our author has, therefore, rendered a useful service, by making the principle so clear, and illustrating it so copiously and forcibly, that no one who reads him with due care and thought, will be in danger of ever forgetting or overlooking it. And its consequences will be found to be more important than most persons would at first suspect.
For instance, our author is, we think, perfectly right in deeming the truth which he has expounded to be the only rational foundation for philosophical grammar, affording the only explanation of the real nature of the distinction among the parts of speech. It seems to be taken for granted, says he,
That the parts of speech have their origin in the mind, independently of the outward signs, when, in truth, they are nothing more than parts in the structure of language. . . . We are not to confound the instrument with the intelligence that uses it, nor to suppose that the parts of which it is composed, have, of necessity, any parts corresponding with them in the thought itself. It is not what a word signifies that determines it to be this or that part of speech, but how it assists other words in making up the sentence. . . . As to the meaning, that does not of necessity differ because a word is a different part of speech; the following words, for instance, all express the same notion: Add, Addition, Additional, Additionally, With,* And.†
This view of the nature of the parts of speech accords in the main with that taken in a work, with which our author is apparently unacquainted, Mr. Mill’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind.2 It is not surprising that both writers should have fallen into the same train of thought, since it was evidently suggested to both by the etymological discoveries of Horne Tooke.3
In the spirit of these general observations, our author proceeds to inquire into the nature and object of each of the several parts of speech. There is much instruction to be gathered from this part of the work, and the results he brings out are, we think, substantially correct. His definition of the verb appears to us to fall short of perfect philosophical precision; the author should analyze more particularly the meaning of a phrase he often uses; viz., to make a communication. What is it we do when we assert a matter of fact, more than when we merely suggest the idea of the same fact? What is the difference between belief and simple conception? What do I communicate when I say there is a God, more than when I merely say God? When our author can answer this question, he will not only be able to perfect his definition of a verb, but he will discover that the distinction between the subject and the predicate of a proposition, is something more than a merely grammatical distinction, which is the notion he has of it.
The second chapter of the work, which relates to Logic, is that of which we think least highly. We are not surprised that our author should join in the common cry against the doctrine of the syllogism, since we find it is his opinion that errors in philosophising are always in the premises, and never in the reasoning process. But though men often reason from false premises, or without taking into consideration all the premises which might be obtained, it is surely very common also to conclude from the premises which we have, more than those premises will warrant. If our author will but duly advert to this circumstance, he will, we think, discover that nearly all which he says respecting the nature of the syllogism may be true, and the syllogistic doctrine may nevertheless be of great utility. But a popular journal is not the proper place for explaining ourselves fully on this topic.
Our author’s views as to the manner in which general terms serve us in the investigation of truth, are just and profound, notwithstanding some superficial inaccuracies and even contradictions, and although his language in many places is far from satisfying us in point of definiteness and precision, owing to his having not yet analyzed some of his notions into their ultimate elements.
The third chapter, on Rhetoric, is, in our opinion, the best of all: it is full of valuable truth and high moral feeling. We regret that the length to which this notice has extended, renders it impossible for us to attempt even the most meagre abstract of this portion of the work.
In addition to the other merits displayed in this volume, the author is evidently no contemptible scholar. On the whole, there are few works among those recently produced, which do so much credit to the writer.
What has most displeased us, is the tone with which, in more places than one, the author permits himself to speak of so eminent a person as Archbishop Whately, and which we are sure, on reflection, he must feel to be unworthy of him. He naturally cannot value very highly the Elements of Logic, from the opposite views which he himself entertains on the subject, but even that work he admits to possess considerable merit; and the author of the Elements of Rhetoric, the Lectures on the study of Political Economy, and The Errors of Romanism traced to their origin in Human Nature,4 has afforded evidences of intellectual power, which might have been sufficient to protect him against this disrespectful and jeering style of criticism; a style which certainly would not be adopted by those, if any such there be, who could be entitled to adopt it towards such a man.
[1 ]Horace, Ars poetica, in Satires, Epistles, and Ars poetica (Latin and English), trans. H. Rushton Fairclough (London: Heinemann, 1926), p. 482 (388).
[* ]The imperative of the Saxon verb withan, to join. [Smart’s note.]
[† ]The imperative of the Saxon verb ananad, to add. [Smart’s note.]
[2 ]James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, 2 vols. (London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1829), Vol. I, pp. 83-168 (Chap. iv), esp. pp. 148-68 (Sects. vii-viii).
[3 ]John Horne Tooke, Ἐπεα πτεροεντα; or, The Diversions of Purley (1786), 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London: Tooke, 1798-1805), esp. Vol. II, pp. 15-426.
[4 ]Richard Whately, On the Errors of Romanism Traced to Their Origin in Human Nature (London: Fellowes, 1830).