Rightly termed, witcraft

Eric Schliesser’s note on translation put me in mind of one of my favorite books. Early in my graduate career I discovered in the Stanford stacks a series of reprints, mostly in English, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, published by Scolar Press, now sadly defunct. Among the many wonderful facsimile volumes in the series was Ralph Lever’s The arte of reason, rightly termed, witcraft teaching a perfect way to argue and dispute (1573). This is said to be, after Thomas Wilson’s Rule of reason (1552), the second logic book written in the vernacular. And boy is it…
To give you a taste, here is an excerpt from the chapter which in our English would be entitled “Of the subjects and predicates that are in a simple proposition”. The “storehouses” are the categories of Aristotle; a “naysay” is a negation.
Of the foresets and back sets that are
in a simple shewesaye. Chap. 3.
1 The foreset is a nowne placed afore the verbe, and the backset after, as, man is juste: man is the foreset, and just, is the backeset.
2 Sometymes a whole sentence or a clause of a sentence is a backset, or a foreset: as to rise earely is a holesome thing: in this shewsay, to rise earely, is the foreset, and a holesome thing is the backsette, they both supplying the roome and office of an nowne.
To what use foresettes and backesettes serve.
3 The storehouses serve to shew the nature of wordes as they are taken and considered by themselves alone.
4 The foreset & backset of a shewsay declare the respecte that wordes have one to [71|72] an other, as they are coupled and linked together in a perfect saying.
To knowe what respecte the backset hath to the foreset
in every simple shewsaye of the seconde order.
5 If the backset is deuided and parted a sunder from the foreset by a naysay, then doth it but eyther differ from it, or els it is a gainset to it.
6 What differing words and gaynsets are, we have shewed afore in the. 12. Chapter of the first booke.
7 If it be affirmed & coupled to the foreset by a yeasay: then muste the foreset and backset be such as either may be saide of other turne for turne, or not saide.
8 If either may be said of other turne for turne, then is the one of them the kindred, and the other his saywhat: or els one the kindred and the other his propertie.
9 For onelye the saywhat and the propertie compared to the kindred, maye bee said of it, and it of them, turne for turne: but the saywhat expresseth what the kindred [72|73] is, and the propretie doth not.
Lever was very deliberate in his coining of terms; the new terms are intended to replace the Latin-derived terms hitherto in use, to the advantage of those “english men” not versed in the Classical languages. There is no question but that English is up to the task of teaching logic; the only problem will be that some new words will have to be used.
As for devising of newe termes, and compounding of wordes, our tongue hath a speciall grace, wherein it excelleth many other, & is comparable with the best. The cause is, for that the moste parte of Englyshe wordes are shorte, and stande on one sillable a peece. So that two or three of them are ofte times fitly joyned in one.
Of these kinde of wordes, I have devysed many, and am now to give a reason of my doing. But first I desire thee (gentle Reader) not to scoffe at them afore thou knowe what they meane […] (“Forespeache”, pp v)
Rather than adapt terms from Latin, it is preferable to make the new words from existing parts, because every English speaker will be able to conceive what the term denotes by virtue of understanding the parts.
Nowe the question lyeth, whether it were better to borrowe terms of some other toung, in whiche this sayde Arte hath bene written : and by a little chaunge of pronouncing, to seeke to make them Englishe wordes whiche are none in deed : or else of simple usual wordes, to make compounded termes, whose severall partes considered alone, are familiar and knowne to all english men: For trial hereof, I wish you to aske of an english man, who understandeth neither Greek nor Latin, what he conceiveth in his mind, when he heareth this word a backset, and what he doth conceive when he heareth this terme a Predicate. And doubtless he must confesse, if he consider ye matter aright or have any sharpnesse of wit at al, that by a backset, he conceiveth a thing that muste be set after, and by a predicate, that he doth understand nothing at all (“Forespeache”, pp v-vi)
Interestingly enough, Lever does not eschew Latinate terms altogether. ‘Substaunce’ (note the spelling, which reflects the Gallic pronunciation of the word in Lever’s time) passes the test; so do ‘qualitie’ and ‘quantitie’, which apparently everyone could understand. But ‘subject’ and ‘predicate’ give way to ‘foreset’ and ‘backset’. So too ‘inholder’ and ‘inbeer’ replace ‘substance’ (in the logical sense) and ‘accident’, and so forth.
Lever’s neologisms did not catch on, despite their supposed advantage. English speakers, perhaps because of the widespread familiarity of the Latin terms among those who would have an interest in logic, took the path of borrowing and adaptation rather than (as the Germans would in the eighteenth century) that of “loan-translation” and native coinages. And so the Arte of reason for us requires translation…
I rather regret the loss of the wonderful ‘inholder’ and its companion ‘inbeer’. Many jokes have been denied to philosophy as a result. One might well wonder what anglophone philosophy would have been like had Lever’s approach, which is not unlike the one Eric seems to favor, carried the day.

LinkNovember 4, 2011 in History of Philosophy · Language