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TREATISE ON LANGUAGE:
RELATION WHICH WORDS BEAR TO THINGS
IN FOUR PARTS.
BY A. B. JOHNSON.
PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS.
Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, by HARPER & BROTHERS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for the Southern District of New-York.
HENRY W. REES, STEREOTYPER,
IN 1828 the following work was first published. It was entitled “The Philosophy of Human Knowledge, or, A Treatise on Language;" and was the first part of a series of experimental investigations which were to include language, physical actions, thoughts, and feelings. The publication of 1828 was limited to the investigation of language; and as the present publication possesses the same limitation, and the other topicks, though in progress, may never be completed, the first half of the original title is omitted, and the present publication is designated A Treatise on Language.
Except many gratifying letters received by me from strangers in various states of our Union, and one extensive review, the preceding edition of this work excited no attention. The edition has, however, been long since absorbed spontaneously by the publick, and I have received repeated applications for further copies.
The form of lectures to which the preceding work was subjected, has been retained as a means of lessening the natural wearisomeness of instruction. In other respects, the work has been newly arranged and simplified. The present edition contains also much that is not in the former; yet the lectures are still little more than heads of discourses. They are sufficient to indicate my views of language; while persons who shall accord with me in these views, will readily discover new illustrations of the rules which I have given, and new rules for verbal positions to which I have not adverted. Indeed, all that the book contains is the elucidation of but one precept: namely, to interpret language by nature. We reverse the rule and interpret nature by language. The precept itself which I have sought to illustrate, 1 profoundly respect; but whether I have demonstrated its importance, the publick must determine. Amid active and extensive employments, and with no external stimulus to literary pursuits, I shall be satisfied if the succeeding discourses shall commend the doctrine to the efforts of men whose understandings are more comprehensive than mine, and whose labours the world is accustomed to respect. As, however, the following sheets are the painful elaboration of many years, when my language or positions shall, in a casual perusal, seem absurd, (and such cases may be frequent) I request the reader to seek some more creditable interpretation. The best which he can conceive should be assumed to be my intention : as on an escutcheon, when a figure resembles both an eagle and a buzzard, heraldry decides that the bird which is most creditable to the bearer, shall be deemed to be the one intended by the blazon.
CON TEN TS.
impracticabilities Section 3.-We are in danger of wasting time in verbal investi
gations . . . . . . . . . . . SECTION. 4.–To ascertain the capacity that language possesses for
discoursing of external existences which our senses cannot discover, will enable us, more understandingly than at present,
to estimate theories . . . . . . . . . Section 5.—No knowledge is more important than a correct
appreciation of language . . . . . . . . SECTION 6.-Verbal discourse contains defects which have escaped
detection . . . . . . . . . . SECTION 7.-Significant verbal inquisition is not unlimited . SECTION 8.-Language may be formed into propositions whose
results, though incontrovertible by logick, are irreconcileable
with our senses . . . Section 9.-The verbal defects which these discourses will dis
cuss, are inseparable from language, and differ from any defects
that you may anticipate . . . . . . . . SECTION 12.These discourses concern not the relative meaning
which words bear to each other, but the relation which words
bear to created existences . . . . . . . . Section 13.-—We translate sensible existences into words, instead
of interpreting words by the information of our senses. . SECTION 14.-We must make our senses the expositors of words,
instead of making words the expositors of what our senses
reveal . . . . . . . . . . . Section 15.-- To understand these discourses, a slight perusal of
detached parts, or of the whole, will be insufficient .