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2. The Power of Words[edit | edit source]

Symbols as a perennial source of wonder and illusion. The prevalence of symbol-worship among the uneducated, 24. Language a vehicle of the most primitive ideas and emotions of mankind, 25. The name as soul. Secret names, 27.

Verbal superstition still rife. -- Reasons for its wide diffusion. -- Purely verbal constructions in modern philosophy, 29. The alleged world of Being; Bertrand Russell as a neo-Platonist, 30.

The Greek view of language. -- Platonism as the product ofprimitive word-magic, 31. Heracleitus, Pythagoras, 32. Parmenides. -- Plato's 'ideas' developed from the Pythagorean name-soul. -- Neglect of Plato's Cratylus, 33. Aristotle's dependence on words; his logic based on grammar. -- Testimony of Whewell and Gomperz. -- Linguistic tricks characteristic of Greek dialectic, 34. Mauthner's critique of Aristotelian verbalism. -- The De Interpretations, 35. Verbal superstitions in Rome, 36. Evidence that the Greeks realized the misleading influence of language, 37. Buddhism even more explicit. -- But Aenesidemus and the Sceptics alone in antiquity approached the problem of signs scientifically, 38.

The East the true home of verbal superstition. -- Spells: verbal magic and verbal medicine, 39. Verbal magic still practised freely to-day. -- But in new forms. -- Logicians as mystics, 40. Rignano on the verbal carapace. -- Affective resonance in metaphysics, 42. Word-magic in modern medicine, 43.

Only by an analysis of sign and symbol situations can we escape such influences. -- The existence of the problem only realized in recent times. -- Forerunners of a scientific treatment from William of Occam to Mauthner, 43.

The next step. A theory of signs indispensable to an analysis of the meaning of symbols. -- Light thrown on verbal magic by this theory, 47.


The magic of words has a special place in general magic. Unless we realize what have been the natural attitudes towards words until recent years we shall fail to understand much in the behaviour of logicians and others among modern mystics, for these same attitudes still persist in underground and unavowed fashion. At the same time the theory of signs can throw light upon the origins of these magical beliefs and their persistence.