09 May 2008

Every New Word a Neologism

I have been traveling so much recently (Florida, Vienna, now California) that I have not had time to post! But here is a curiosity for today.

Samuel Johnson once said that a book you haven't yet read is for you the same as if it has been recently published. (The Odyssey fresh every generation.) Can we say similarly that a word that you didn't know is as if it had recently been coined?

I encountered a word today which I know I had never seen before, and yet which for all I know may not be uncommon. It's not surprising that there should be words like that, but I don't know if this is such a word. So I ask you, have you seen this word before in English?

The word is: hypothecate.

It's used in two senses in English (see the OED entry below). Its more common sense is 'to support a loan with a pledge of property', e.g. you borrow money, and you pledge collateral for the loan; the creditor has the right to take possession of the property and liquidate it if you default on the loan, but you remain the owner of the property in the meantime. The loan is secured not by you, but by the property: that is, if the liquidation of the property ends up not being sufficient to repay the principal of the loan, you are off the hook for the rest (A pawnshop works in that way: the pawnbroker lends money for a fraction of the value of the pawned property and cannot take possession of it until some period for repayment has elapsed.)

In the less common sense, to hypothecate is to hypothesize (see Ezra Pound's pedantry, below).

Wikipedia says that maybe the noun, 'hypothecation', is used now in a third sense, as an abbreviation of 'hypothetical dedication' (yikes!), as in the earmarking of tax receipts for some particular purpose, to wit: "The new gasoline tax is a hypothecation for the funding of public transportation."

So, be honest with me: Did you know this as an English word already? (Yes, I am aware that anyone who knows the word will think it obvious that everyone does, and so a confession of ignorance is hazardous. But by the same token a confession of ignorance may be refreshing.)

(I suspect it's not common in English, even as a legal term of art, because the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1993 decided a case which hinged on the meaning of the word as used in a corporate charter.)

1. trans. To give or pledge as security; to pledge, pawn, mortgage.
1681 STAIR Instit. IV. xxv. §5 (1693) 619 The Fruits of the Ground..which by the Law were Hypothecat for the Rents of the said year. 1754 ERSKINE Princ. Sc. Law (1809) 197 The whole cattle on the ground..are hypothecated for a year's rent, one after another successively. 1755 N. MAGENS Insurances II. 55 We oblige ourselves and hypothecate, for the Security and Payment of the Sum of this Writing, the said Ship..and we oblige ourselves not to dispose thereof in any manner, until the said Sum be entirely paid. And whatever is done to the contrary, let it be null, as a Thing done against an express Prohibition and Hypothecation. 1756 ROLT Dict. Trade, Hypotheca, among the moderns to hypothecate a ship, is to pawn or pledge the same for necessaries; and into whose hands soever the ship comes, it is liable. 1797 BURKE Regic. Peace III. Wks. VIII. 319 Whether they to whom this new pledge is hypothecated, have redeemed their own. 1827 SCOTT Napoleon (1834) I. vi. 206 The assembly adopted a system of paper money, called assignats, which were secured or hypothecated upon the church lands. 1855 MACAULAY Hist. Eng. xii. III. 148 He had no power to hypothecate any part of the public revenue.

2. trans. = HYPOTHESIZE v. 2.

1906 Nature 7 June 136/1 Mr. Cowell hypothecated a resisting medium through which the earth travels. 1912 R. FRY in Gt. State ix. 271 Mr. Wells's Modern Utopia..hypothecates a vast superstructure of private trading. 1915 E. B. HOLT Freudian Wish i. 4 One will best..not hypothecate to this end any such thing as ‘psychic energy’. 1920 E. POUND Let. 12 Sept. (1971) 161 You are talking through your hat when you suggest that I..was ever ass enough to have picked ‘La Figlia’ for the fantastic occasion you hypothecate. 1952 Pediatrics IX. 724 One had to hypothecate the existence of a mutation of organisms.

Hence hy{sm}pothecated ppl. a.; also hy{sm}pothecator, one who hypothecates or pledges something as security.

1779 SIR W. JONES Comm. Is├Žus Wks. 1799 IV. 205 The property..was distinguished like all other hypothecated estates, by small columns, and inscriptions..containing a specification of the sum for which they were pledged. 1828 WEBSTER cites Judge Johnson for Hypothecator. 1865 Day of Rest Oct. 574 The iron box in the back sitting room, containing the hypothecated jewels, had been rifled.

01 May 2008

Scholarship in Logical Empiricism

It's always interesting to see how scholarship in ancient philosophy looks from the outside. Consider this paragraph from the review today in NDPR of the Cambridge Companion to (of all things) Logical Empiricism:

Another feature of much recent work on logical empiricism on display in this Companion is that comparatively less attention is paid to detailed argument reconstruction and assessment, and comparatively more to uncovering the causes -- both 'internal' and 'external'/socio-historical -- of the logical empiricists' beliefs. This follows the wider trend in history of philosophy more generally, but logical empiricist scholarship, unlike other subfields such as ancient and early modern philosophy, lacks the argument reconstructions and evaluations of earlier generations of scholars. Of course, there are very able philosophers, like Scott Soames, who have engaged in detailed argument reconstruction and assessment of logical empiricists' views (Soames 2003). However, readers hoping for work like Soames' in this Companion will likely be disappointed.
There are all kinds of interesting questions here.

Is it really the case that scholars in ancient philosophy, as the reviewer suggests, now have greater license in speculating about 'internal' and 'external' causes of philosophical views, because a previous generation of scholars spent lots of time giving logical paraphrases of arguments in classical texts? Does anyone now see things in that way, or isn't it rather that efforts of the earlier generation are viewed as flawed because limited and distorting?--whereas the minority of scholars who do regard the earlier analyses as valuable continue still to read texts in that way.

Also, I wonder about the comparison of 'logical empiricism scholarship' with 'ancient philosophy scholarship', in this sense. That is, I wonder if, quite counterintuitively, scholars in ancient philosophy as a whole have the same interests in mere history as does 'logical empiricism scholarship'. I once heard Warren Goldfarb say that he studied Wittgenstein's Tractatus because he wished it were true (although he knew it wasn't); but I don't think that generally 'logical empiricism scholars' think that, say, Carnap's Aufbau just might be true. Yet I wouldn't be surprised to find that a common motive among scholars of Plato, Aristotle, or (say) the Stoics, is that they indeed suspect (and not merely wish) that what they are studying is true--and they engage in the historical scholarship with a view to the truth. So ironically it might be the case that scholarship in ancient philosophy ends up being, in intention, less a matter of history than scholarship in logical empiricism.

Also consider this. That logical empiricism is being studied historically, by 'scholars of logical empiricism', shows that it is now part of the history of philosophy. But if Quine (say) is part of 'history', then which philosopher --even those alive today--isn't a part of 'history', and why isn't 'history' completely on a par with what is written by philosophers active today? That is, 'scholarship in logical empiricism' tends to break down the supposed difference between philosophy and history of philosophy.

Also consider: if logical empiricism is a matter of 'history', then it is one philosophical movement among others in 'history', in which case, surely, it needs to be argued for that it deserves special prominence of influence over any other school or movement in the history of philosophy, and yet, demonstrably, the landscape of philosophy in the U.S. is a direct result of logical empiricism. (The landscape is not that which one would see if, for instance, the most dominant members of a previous generation were unreconstructed Kantians or Thomists.) So isn't the profession, then, captive to arbitrary accidents of power and influence?