Front Page Titles (by Subject) 159.: LEWIS'S REMARKS ON THE USE AND ABUSE OF POLITICAL TERMS EXAMINER, 22 APR., 1832, PP. 259-60 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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159.: LEWIS’S REMARKS ON THE USE AND ABUSE OF POLITICAL TERMS EXAMINER, 22 APR., 1832, PP. 259-60 - 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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LEWIS’S REMARKS ON THE USE AND ABUSE OF POLITICAL TERMS
Mill reviewed this work at greater length in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine for May 1832 (see CW, Vol. XVIII, pp. 1-13). On 29 May, 1832, outlining for Thomas Carlyle his recent activities, Mill evaluates his writings in the Examiner on France, his review of Smart, Nos. 151 and 153 (by implication), and his two reviews of Lewis: “On the whole, the opinions I have put forth in these different articles are, I think, rather not inconsistent with yours, than exactly corresponding to them; & are expressed so coldly and unimpressively that I can scarcely bear to look back on such poor stuff. I have not yet come up even with my friends the St. Simonians; & it would be saying very little even if I had.” (EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 105. Cf. the concluding sentence of the introductory paragraph of No. 158.) This review, the first in the “Literary Examiner,” is headed “Remarks on the Use and Abuse of some Political Terms. By George Cornewall Lewis, Esq., Student of Christ Church, Oxford. [London: Fellowes, 1832.]” The item is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A review of Geo. Cornewall Lewis’s Remarks on the Use and Abuse of certain political terms. In the Examiner of 22d April 1832.” (MacMinn, p. 20.) It is listed as “Review of Geo. Cornewall Lewis’s ‘Use and Abuse of Political Terms’ ” and enclosed in square brackets in the Somerville College set of the Examiner, with one correction: at 450.33 “to other” is altered to “to draw other”. One passage of the “poor stuff” was deemed worthy of quotation in A System of Logic; in the variants resulting from its collation, “L” signifies A System of Logic.
mr. lewis is already known as one of the accomplished translators of Müller’s Dorians, and Böckh’s Public Economy of Athens;1 but, with the exception of a little tract on Logic, of considerable merit, published a few years ago,2 he now appears (we believe) for the first time before the public as the author of an original work.
The nature and purpose of the book are accurately enough expressed by its title. Such works are the natural results of the call which is now making itself heard, for stricter and more precise thinking on political topics. Whoever is au courant of the great intellectual movement of the age, is aware that the scientific study of politics as a branch of philosophy, (though scarcely half a century old), is now the chief and engrossing occupation of thinking and instructed minds throughout Europe: whether as embodied in the speculations of Mr. Bentham and his successors; in the labours of the French and English economists; or in the attempts which have been made with various success in France and Germany (from Herder and Johannes Müller3 down to Guizot and Saint-Simon), to philosophize upon the facts of history considered as a connected whole, governed by determinate and assignable laws. In England, (where the hindmost minds remain longer ignorant than in any other reading nation, of what is doing by the foremost) the bare idea that such studies exist, for any purpose which a sensible man can attach value to, has only within this last year or two, if at all, been diffused and popularized. Yet even in England all minds are now turned to politics, if not as yet with great comprehensiveness of views, at least with the certainty of great results, for good or for evil. And though the questions immediately at issue are likely to be decided by more summary methods than those of logic, yet on a subject on which the magnitude of the interests at stake forces all to think after some manner, such as have any capacity for philosophy will endeavour to think philosophically, and to contribute what lies in their power towards enabling as many others as are so disposed to do the like; of which this work of Mr. Lewis is an example.
It is a highly creditable production; less however in itself, than as an earnest of better things to come. Were it to be considered as the ultimatum of a completed and ripened mind, we should have nearly as much to say of it for ill as for good. But there is no other ill in it than that of not being good enough; the most hopeless of all faults in a mind which has attained maturity, the most excusable in one which is in a state of adolescence. Every thing in the book which is justly liable to objection, proves merely that Mr. Lewis has begun to think and to inquire, and has yet only partially realized any result from his thinking and inquiring. It is already no little matter to have fairly and in singleness of purpose set about the task:—above all, when we consider of how many voluminous and even popular writers and instructors it may be said, that they have never, properly speaking, thought at all; that to have had a thought of their own, or even to have made a thought completely their own which was originally another man’s, is an event in their lives which is yet to come, and which, if it ever should come, would most certainly effect an entire change in their whole manner of existence. Mr. Lewis belongs to a very different category; and we have far other hopes from him. Many a mind of the highest capabilities, if it had attempted to fix upon paper such views of things, or such views of other men’s views, as passed through it in the middle stage of its growth, while rising from the learner into the teacher, would have made a far less advantageous appearance than Mr. Lewis has done. This middle stage is the most critical period in any man’s intellectual history, and few are they who pass through it. There is nothing in the work before us which forbids us to believe that Mr. Lewis is destined to be one of those few; unless, unfortunately (what sometimes happens), impressions, some of which would naturally be evanescent, should derive from the very process of committing them to paper, that fixity and tenacity which is frequently given to a notion by much pondering over it.
Mr. Lewis’s purpose in this work, as a political philosopher, is to set people right in their use of terms. An important object; yet not all-important; and, indeed, essentially secondary in its nature, the primary end being, to set people right in their notions of things. True it is, that our judgments of things are frequently vitiated by fallacies which creep in by means of words; but this is only the common case of an effect reacting upon its cause, since an illogical use of words also still more frequently arises from an imperfect conception of the nature and properties of the things which these words are employed to designate. Almost all the faults of this book may be traced, we think, to the attempt to treat one of these two classes of errors independently of the other. aFew people have reflected how great a knowledge ofbthingsb is required to enable a man to affirm that any given argument turns wholly upon words. There is, perhaps, not one of the leading terms of philosophy which is not used in almost innumerable shades of meaning, to express ideas more or less widely different from one another. Between two of these ideas a sagacious and penetrating mind will discern, as it were intuitively, an unobvious link of connection, upon which, though perhaps unable to give a logical account of it, he will found a perfectly valid argument, which his critic, not having so keen an insight into the cthingsc , will mistake for a fallacy turning on the double meaning of a term. And the greater the genius of him who thus safely leaps over the chasm, the greater will probably be the crowing and vain-glory of the mere logician, who, hobbling after him, evinces his own superior wisdom by pausing on its brink, and giving up as desperate his proper business of bridging it over.a
When it shall be deemed as essential to the character of a logician to be able to recognise the substance of sound reasoning, howsoever overshadowed, as to detect irregularities in the form; it will be acknowledged, that in order to sit in judgment upon any man’s philosophical phraseology, it is often necessary to be more thoroughly master of his ideas than he is himself.
But if there needs all this knowledge, not of words but of things, to ascertain whether one man has preserved sufficient clearness and consistency in the use of language, never to make a stumbling-block to himself of his own terminology; how much more of such knowledge does it require to determine what meanings can be annexed to what words, most conveniently for the general purposes of philosophy! Language to a philosopher is like an army to a general-in-chief; like that, too, it is often all too scanty for the work it has to do. To judge what positions must be occupied, and what may be left unguarded; to make the most advantageous disposition of a small force for the defence of an extensive territory,—requires the most familiar knowledge and careful study of the localities. To give the law to philosophical nomenclature, requires the most intimate acquaintance with the strong and the weak points of philosophy and of general opinion; so as to know where on one quarter a fallacy creeps in, because the most common name of an object suggests a part only of its essential properties, and not the whole; on another, an all-important distinction lies unheeded for want of a short and compact expression pointing it out:—to save words from being engrossed, as they are apt to be, by objects or thoughts which are safe from being overlooked by their own obviousness; and afford the aid of language to draw other less palpable and familiar (though possibly more important) combinations of ideas out of obscurity.
Yet we blame no one, if, in the present state of the human mind, he begins to be a critic in words, before he is adequately conversant with the things which they signify. The greatest intellects, in our time, have had scarcely any other beginnings.
Quintilian remarks, that in a youthful production, redundancy of invention and exuberance of fancy are faults which the teacher should see not merely with indulgence, but with pleasure; since every year of experience and culture helps to cure defects of judgment, but the imagination which is not overflowing in youth, will surely be jejune and scanty in maturer years.4 In our own times Quintilian’s observation must give place to its exact opposite. Circumstances for which no individual can with justice be held responsible, have reversed the order in which the capabilities of the youthful intellect successively unfold themselves. What even the best minds of our day are remarkable for in the outset, is seldom fertility and fulness, but the forced and premature predominance of the faculty of judgment, or rather, of judging; exercised, be it well understood, not upon their own stores, but upon other people’s. What remains to be accomplished by subsequent culture is nowise to root out weeds, and prune luxuriant growth, but rather to plant anything in the mind, which else would remain almost a waste. The first lesson, that which men begin by teaching themselves, is not to do anything, great or little, but to perceive that other people have not done it. Some imperfect faculty of criticism is what men first attain to. Imperfect it must necessarily be, for none know really what is false but he who knows also what is true: the knowledge of good and of evil are fruits which grow upon the same tree. Accordingly the criticism generally addresses itself not to the substance of what is taught, but chiefly to the qualifications of the teacher. Criticising in our time is mostly confutation only of the man, not of what he delivers as his opinion: it ends not in throwing any new light upon the subject treated of, but in shewing that some man who is undertaking to treat of it, is inconsistent, or puzzle-headed, and is incapable of giving instruction upon the matter to any one, or at least has not succeeded in giving any to the critic. It is scarcely necessary to add, that even the man, in this mode of proceeding, seldom meets with fair play; for when the presumption set out with is that every man, even though he be a great man, is at least as likely to be wrong as right, what more natural than to conclude that he is talking without a meaning, rather than take any considerable trouble to make out what his meaning is? The critic squares his author’s understanding by his own; and if the two do not exactly fit, with whom is it more natural to suppose the fault to lie—his author, or himself?
All this must be; or, at least, in an age of transition like the present, will be; which is all that in such a case can be meant by must. Numbers of persons who make considerable noise in the world, never emerge from the state of mind above described. Even the best must generally pass through such a state, but rapidly, and without exemplifying any of its more baneful consequences.
Mr. Lewis has begun where it is scarcely possible, just at present, even for the most vigorous minds, not to begin: he has obtained some insight, not into the truth, but into the deficiencies of others in seeking for it, or in setting it forth. And if amidst many sound and valuable criticisms on the established usage of language, and on the phraseology of particular writers, he occasionally condemns what he has not seen to the bottom of, and for want of sufficient familiarity with an author’s ideas, does not see correctly what that author means by his words; if at other times he is almost captious in refusing to writers the use of, perhaps, the only familiar terms which the language affords them to express their meaning, because he has laid hold of those terms to mark distinctions of his own, the importance of which he more clearly sees; all this is but the almost necessary consequence of attempting to settle the language of a science before mankind have agreed about the science itself. Instead of blaming Mr. Lewis because his work contains such blemishes, we will rather give him all praise that it consists of anything else; and will exhort him to persevere in his attempt to reform philosophical language, but to remember that such reform cannot proceed faster than the reform of the doctrines of philosophy; that the two must go hand in hand, and that it is as impossible to use language precisely while ideas are uncertain and confused, as it is for ideas to remain clear without a nomenclature suitable for the accurate expression of them.
[1 ]Karl Otfried Mueller (1797-1840), The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race (1820-24), trans. Henry Tufnell and George Cornewall Lewis, 2 vols. in 1 (Oxford: Murray, 1830); and August Boeckh (1785-1867), The Public Economy of Athens (1817), trans. Henry Tufnell and George Cornewall Lewis, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1828).
[2 ]An Examination of Some Passages in Dr. Whately’s Elements of Logic (Oxford: Parker, 1829).
[3 ]Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), philosopher and theologian; and Johannes von Mueller (1752-1809), author of Vierundzwanzig Bücher allgemeiner Geschichten, 3 vols. (Tübingen: Cotta’schen Buchhandlung, 1810).
[a-a][quoted in L, CW, VII, 153n-4n]
[4 ]Quintilian (ca. 35-95), II, iv, 4-7, in The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian (English and Latin), trans. H.E. Butler, 4 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 224-6.