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Dictionaries, 1 (1979) DICTIONARIES OF PHILOSOPHY: A SURVEY AND A PROPOSAL Philip W. Cummings One would suppose that philosophers, with their professional selfconsciousness about language, would have spawned numerous dictionaries of philosophical terms, and of rather higher quality than one might expect from professionals in other fields. One would also expect to find that English-speaking philosophers of the twentieth century, who are often taken to task for an alleged over-concern with verbal niceties, would be even better represented than continental philosophers. The truth is quite otherwise. Philosophers' general interest in dictionaries has been spotty. They very often quote dictionary definitions, but they seem most often to quote the most impressionistic definitions from the OED, or even the Concise Oxford, as any others. One philosopher did a computer study of circular defining in Webster's 7th Collegiate. In the past there has been more interest: Noah Porter, who was remarkable as a philosopher only in comparison to the general mediocrity of mid-19th century American philosophy, co-edited the 1864 edition of Webster's American Dictionary, and edited the 1890 edition of Webster's New International Dictionary. The St. Louis Hegelian, William Torrey Harris, a much more important philosopher, edited the next edition, but the philosophical terminology was defined by an otherwise unknown consultant, also German idealist in orientation , from the Dakotas. Also around the turn of the century, America's greatest philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce, contributed to the Century Dictionary. Peirce, besides being an enormously original philosopher, logician, and mathematician , was an incredibly learned man, and his Century articles, though prescriptive and idiosyncratic, are still very useful. However, a general dictionary cannot fill the specialized needs of philosophers and students of philosophy. And the language of an anglicized German idealism (which is still the heart of philosophy definitions in Webster's Third New International) or of Pence's pragmaticism is not the philosophical language of today. (And Peirce is, with Jeremy Bentham and S. T. Coleridge, one of the great inventors of neologisms in English.) So one looks to the specialized dictionaries in philosophy, and finds very little, and even fewer that are really dictionaries, in whole or in part. What the distinguished Australian philosopher, John Passmore, wrote thirteen years ago still holds: "The best-known 'philosophical dictionaries' in the English-speaking world would more accurately have been defined 'concise encyclopedias.' " He went on "There is still need, then, of good philosophical reference works along the lines of the Italian Encyclopedia filosófica (1957) and a scholar's handbook 97 98PHILIP W. CUMMINGS of the sort exemplified in the Oxford 4COmPaTUOnS.' The first of these needs will, it is hoped, be met by the projected InternationalEncyclopedia ofPhilosophy to be published in America; the second, where the emphasis would be on compact information about a multitude of terms and authors, still remains a desideratum ."1 The Encyclopedia ofPhilosophy (its name was changed before publication ) does, if a senior editor of it can judge, meet the standards Passmore had in mind—thanks to Passmore himself and other such generous philosophical scholars . But the second desideratum has been only partly met. In fact, in the almost two centuries between 1780 and today, one finds only nine so-called "dictionaries" of philosophy. Of those published before 1900, only William Fleming's The Vocabulary ofPhilosophy, Mental, Moral, and Metaphysical, with Quotations and References, for the Use ofStudents (1857) was, for its day, an adequate philosophical reference work. It went through numerous editions, including several edited by Charles P. Krauth or Henry CaIderwood , between 1857 and 1890. Fleming's work was produced in an era when philosophical instruction in American colleges was dominated by the so-called Scottish school of common sense, and by its most uncommonsensical member, Sir William Hamilton. The concentration on the tenets of this not totally unjustifiably forgotten school is obvious, and I have found Fleming of little use through the years. In 1901 there appeared James Baldwin's Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology. It consists of two volumes of moderately brief encyclopedia articles, and two half-volumes of bibliography. It is still an indispensable reference work, particularly for the bibliographies, but it has never been revised. Its contributors include...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 97-101
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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